The Year 1869 in the life of ....
John Henry and Louisa Jane Kerr Dancy
This profile is based on the 1869 Journal╣ of Louisa Jane Kerr Dancy
The 1869 Journal╣ of Louisa Jane Kerr Dancy was written 4 years after General Robert E. Lee surrendered the South to General U.S. Grant. The country rewarded Grant by electing him President and he was inaugurated our 18th President, March 4, 1869. Other milestones during the year were: Major John Wesley Powell began exploration of the Grand Canyon; Train service began on the Trans-Continental Railroad when the golden spike was driven at Promortory Point, Utah; Mark Twain published the Innocents Abroad, and received national recognition.
John Henry Dancy (1831-1924) was the son of Isaac Dancy and Mary Lamb Dancy. Louisa Jane Kerr Dancy (1834-1887) was the daughter of Francis Bradley Kerr and Ann Reid Neal Kerr. John and Louisa were married February 27, 1856, he was 25 and she was 16 years of age. The Kerrs (pronounced Karr), were some of the earliest settlers in and around Dancyville and the town was named after John's father, Isaac Dancy.
John Dancy was involved in several work and hobby activities. He was the area undertaker in the period of the horse drawn hearse. As often was the case with undertakers, John was a cabinet maker and carpenter. In addition to hand made polished and lined wooden coffins, he made and repaired furniture, window sash and fireplace mantels. Although no description of the power source is given, John's workshop contained mechanical tools such as, wood lathe, powersaw, etc. He also repaired the mechanical equipment of the day including harvesters, saw mills, sewing machines, gearboxes and cotton gin whirly D's.
John's favorite reading material was apparently technical and religious books and papers and included: Brick's Scientific American, American Artisan, Comb's and Brown's Book of Mechanical Movements and Sunday School Visitor.
Hobbies centered around science and technology. He ordered a spyglass (telescope), built a platform in his oak tree, and observed the stars. He observed the Solar Eclipse at 4:00PM, August 7, 1869, by smoking a piece of glass and attaching it to his telescope. He purchased a microscope but no explanation was given how he used the instrument. John was also active in the local Masonic Lodge leadership and business.
John's business as an undertaker did not resemble what we know today. He custom made the wooden coffin, often measuring the corpse and making the coffin to those dimensions. He polished the outside and the inside was lined (often by Louisa). The coffin was sealed and transported to the cemetery by horse drawn hearse. No charges for services were mentioned, however, a child's coffin could cost as little as $10 and an adult between $20 and $30. Rich or poor a coffin was a must. Louisa wrote,"One old Negro man held on, refused to die, until he knew his coffin was made." John did provide some metal coffins, ordered and delivered to the Stanton rail depot.
John farmed and maintained his property when he was not engaged in his funeral business and carpentry. He raised beef, pork and sheep. His main crops were corn, cotton and potatoes. He seemed to continuously be splitting and hauling fence rails. Land owners were required to work, or hire others in their place, to maintain the public roads on Road Work Days.
If one thinks John stayed busy, they should have walked in Louisa's shoes. Her day could include any of a great variety of chores: Cooking meals, scrubbing and scalding beds and floors, sewing clothes for the family, knitting socks and gloves, dying cloth, molding candles, curing meats, planting her vegetable garden, tending her chicken flock, killing and dressing chickens, making soap and poaching coffee. She had a spinning wheel and carded and spun her wool. She also had a sewing machine and commented, "The sewing machine was a great labor saving invention." She had a quilt frame and was frequently making quilts. Louisa ordered a knitting machine, spent at least six months trying to get the company to deliver and seemed frustrated when it did not arrive.
In addition to her many chores Louisa supervised the children. It seemed at least one was sick all the time and the little ones were a very active group. In Louisa's words, "Lulu liked to kill baby chicks every chance she got and Lauella liked to pull up freshly planted flowers and vegetables." Even Isaac Bradley got into the act, he pulled up the new potato plants, broke off the tops and wanted his Pa to help him 'set out his potatoes.' The children were taught at home as well as formal school.
John and Louisa seemed to look forward to their Sunday worship. They went to Sabbath (Sunday) School , 'Classes' and preaching. According to the Goodspeed History of Haywood County they were members of Methodist Episcopal Church South - later to be the Dancyville United Methodist Church. On the same Sunday after their Sabbath School or Classes they often attended the Presbyterian Church or preaching at Asbury. In 1873 John built and donated a Pulpit, to the Asbury Church, near Dancyville. When the Asbury Church closed in 1934, the Pulpit was donated to Joyner's Camp Ground▓, in Fayette County, and is still in existence today. John also built a Walnut bookcase for the Sabbath School.
The Dancys worked hard at the difficult chores of the times. They appeared at least moderately prosperous. In other business they seemed to 'settle up' their obligations quickly. Louisa never failed to note she had paid, in cash, for purchases. You could almost feel her pride in being able to 'pay as she went.'
John and Louisa did not live in Dancyville proper. The exact location is not known at this time but believed to be very near Dancyville since he and Louisa, on occaision, walked to Dancyville. John conducted his court and other government business in Dancyville and Brownsville. He also paid income taxes in Dancyville on March 23, 1869, and when he donated the pulpit to Ashbury Church he signed it John Henry Dancy, Dancyville. This would support the theory he and Louisa lived in Haywood County and very near Dancyville. Louisa's father, Frances Bradley Kerr, had a farm near Sheps (purchased in 1869 from Sheppard) and stopped by often, when traveling between the farm and his home in Northern Fayette County.
The 1869 growing season was very late in West Tennessee. Cool weather into May created a poor stand for many crops. Cotton and other crops had to be re-planted and Louisa stated, "Many did not have the seed for re-planting." The late season did not appear to effect the family diet. The Dancy's protein included beef, pork, lamb, mutton, squirrel, fish, oysters, chicken and guinea. Lousia enjoyed fishing and also trapped wild game. There were vegetables from the garden and fruits included: apples, pears, peaches, berries and watermelon.
The Dancys shopped at Dancyville and Stanton Depot (later to be Stanton,TN.). They purchased a variety of dry goods, food items, supplies, etc. at Stanton Depot. They mention settling and dealing with 'Chaney'. (Captain F.W. Chaney was Stanton's first merchant and also the first postmaster - the post office was located in his store.) John received his metal cases (caskets) and bought flour, salt and meal in barrels at Stanton Depot.
Louisa recorded more than 30 funerals conducted by John in 1869. She also recorded 7 births for the year, including her own, eighth child, Lillie Belle, born October 12th.
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