I came to Springdale, Arkansas to visit the grave of Jacob Briggs Heavilin, my great great great grandfather, and to try to get more details on how he ended up here but I leave with this photo and more questions.
The family story is that after a lifetime in Ohio and Indiana as a carpenter and farmer, he became a circuit preacher for the United Brethren Church and in 1898, on his way to or from a service, he tried to cross a swollen stream and his horse was swept from under him.
It’s bothered me that we only know the year he died so I figured I’d be able to see some sort of death record to get a more precise date. No, they didn’t keep death records until a decade into the 20th century around here. So, there should be an obituary or news story, I hoped. No, at least nothing has been indexed with the Heavilin name around that time. It is possible that’s it’s been missed. I tried reading the Fayetteville Democrat for the year 1898 off microfilm and it’s eye-crossing work. I could easily have missed it.
The tombstone you see is all there is. I’d hoped for something more than just our family name on the stone in Forest Park Cemetery. There aren’t even any cemetery records to consult. There’s a stone right next to his for Billy & Bobby Barrett, twins who died on the same day they were born in 1934. On the other side is another Barrett child who died in 1933. Maybe there’s a family connection but since they were buried more than thirty years after him, it’s just as likely there isn’t.
As I wandered from library to library, it was suggested I visit the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History in Springdale and, while they didn’t have any information for me, their researcher looked up the United Brethren Church and found that it had been absorbed by the Methodists and their archives weren’t far away in Conway at Hendrix College.
Fortunately, the archives were open the following day and so I was able to go through the conference minutes from the UBC for the latter part of the 19th century. I could find no evidence that Jacob Briggs Heavilin was associated with them at all. I looked through their lists of circuits and who “labored” over each and he did not appear. He also didn’t attend any of their yearly conferences nor did his name appear in the “in memorium” sections.
That doesn’t mean the entire family story is wrong but it does mean that we’ve forgotten or confused some important detail over the generations. I wouldn’t be surprised if we screwed up the name of the denomination he worked for or maybe he’d gone rogue and was just preaching to anybody who’d listen.
If you have a time machine, let me know in the comments below.
My gratitude to Rachel at the Shiloh Museum and Carole & Ellen at the Arkansas United Methodist Archives for all their help with this research.