Cemetery filled with ‘mama’ stories

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 28, 2000

&uot;Surely you know about Cousin Sarah?&uot; Dunbar Flinn asks with a smile. &uot;You don’t? … well come on over here and hear about Cousin Sarah,&uot; she says, walking across the shaded cemetery.

Cousin Sarah is, of course, Sarah Anne Ellis Dorsey, who died April 1, 1879.

&uot;She was a great admirer of Jefferson Davis,&uot; Joess Trimble said with a leading smile.

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So great, in fact, that Dorsey willed Davis &uot;Beauvoir, plus everything else she had&uot; when she died, Flinn said. In addition to the Mississippi Gulf Coast house, that estate included two plantations in Louisiana.

&uot;She had no children of her own, and her husband had died earlier,&uot; Flinn said. &uot;So she willed it all to Jefferson Davis … you know, they say people either loved him or hated him.&uot;

It’s the story of Cousin Sarah, and the dozens of other Routh family relatives, that Flinn and&160;Trimble are sharing this Sunday afternoon as they walk through their family’s history.

That history is well-preserved in the stories — &uot;Mama stories,&uot; as the pair call them — and the markers inside the walls of the Routh Family Cemetery.

Located atop a hill along Homochitto Street in Natchez, the cemetery is the final resting place of Job Routh and dozens of his descendants and relatives.

Job Routh was the holder of several Spanish landgrants and in the early 1800s ran cotton plantations in Adams County and neighboring Louisiana. He built his family’s home — the original Routhland — on what is now the site of Dunleith.

That home burned in the early 1800s, and a second Routhland was built on the same property. When it was sold out of the family, the name was changed to Dunleith. A third named Routhland today sits off Winchester Road, on property that was once part of Job Routh’s estate, which included Ashburn and Kenilworth plantations.

For Trimble and Flinn — both great-great-great-granddaughters of Job Routh — preserving the family’s cemetery is constant goal.

They began in 1988, when they first contacted many of the area’s Routh descendants seeking donations to help repair and clean the cemetery, which had fallen into disrepair from age and lack of upkeep.

&uot;You all should’ve seen it 10 years ago,&uot; Flinn said as she stood beside a headstone that had be pieced together. &uot;It was like putting a jigsaw puzzle together.&uot;

Vandals and weather had wreaked havoc on the cemetery. Dozens of headstones were broken and smashed, many beyond repair. Trees and limbs had fallen across the brick walls, crumbling the old bricks under the weight.

&uot;The steps (up from the Homochitto Street sidewalk&uot; were just falling apart,&uot; Trimble said.

And the dog — the massive, cast iron Newfoundland statute that once stood atop a marker in the back of the cemetery — had lost its legs and tail, at the hands of vandals.

&uot;People used to peek through the gates to see the dog,&uot; Flinn said. &uot;He saved one of the cousins, way, back, from drowning.&uot;

And, as the Mama story goes, the dog is a statue cast by Walton Pembroke Smith in honor of his beloved childhood pet — named Rory O’Moore, who apparently pulled a drowning 9-year-old Smith from a river and dragged the child to safety.

The pair’s efforts culminated last month, when they along with several other Natchez relatives hosted a Routh Family reunion, drawing more than 150 descendants from across the country to Natchez to raise funds for the cemetery’s preservation.

Thanks to the reunion, family members have been able to trim two of the massive oak trees that shade the cemetery, as well as make other needed repairs. Plans include repairs to the brick wall, the replacing of a brick walkway to the cemetery, and continued care and upkeep of the gravesites — as well as passing along some of the family’s favorite Mama stories.

The Dart is a weekly feature in which a reporter throws a dart at a map and finds a story wherever it lands.