CHARITY STANDEFER b 1795 VA; d after 1870, Monroe County, MS
I was born in 1939 at Parham, Monroe County, Mississippi. Within an easy walk down the gravel road west from my house was New Hope Cemetery, a favorite gathering place for the children of our community, and location of one of the oldest burial grounds in the county. The large trees provided good shade and the many large tombstones made excellent places on which to sit and think. One small marker almost hidden by the overgrown bushes near the edge of the cemetery was said to be the oldest marked grave in all of Monroe County, the grave of Charity Standefer. Legend stated that her marker was erected about the time of her death in 1826 --- but did she die in 1826?
The question about when Charity Standefer died probably started with the writing of Dr. W.A. Evans, Jr., in 1939. And for the past 68 years, the statements of Dr. Evans have been told and retold to the point that many have confused the issue completely. I was about six months old when Dr. Evan’s article about Charity Standefer first appeared --- and I was 67 years old before I noticed that his statement could possibly be incorrect.
Here is what Dr. Evans stated in his January 19, 1939, article “The Oldest Marked Grave” from his “Who’s Who in Monroe County Cemeteries” as reprinted on page 128 of MOTHER MONROE: “Charity Standifer Born Oct. 1795. Died Sept. 10, 1826. To a woman belongs the honor of burial in the first marked grave in the county. At least the first over which the monument still stands. When Charity Standifer died, Monroe had been a county just five years. The Cotton Gin settlers had been in the county just ten years.”
But if Charity died and was buried in 1826, who was the Charity Standefer who continued to live in Monroe County until after 1870? Have we been misinformed about her early date of death? Was the written material incorrect with the statements that Charity Standefer died in 1826? And have the countless others who have passed on this information as fact all been incorrect? What an interesting and baffling set of circumstances!
Here is some of what I have come to know about Charity Standefer (or Standifer as some folks spell her name).
1. Charity Standefer was born in Virginia in 1795, the daughter of Luke Standefer and Mary Ann Price Standefer. There is some evidence that the Standefer family arrived in Monroe County about 1817. The Standefer family owned land near what is thought to be the extinct post office village of Walls Tan Yard, now present-day Parham.
2. Charity Standefer was named as a child of Luke Standefer in the estate papers filed after his death in 1834 in Monroe County.
3. Charity Standefer was named in 1842 in the will written by her mother, Mary Ann Price Standefer. That will was filed in Monroe County in 1848.
4. Charity Standefer is named in a Standefer family Bible was being born October 1795 in Virginia.
5. Family history indicates that Charity Standefer never married, was a strong influence in her family, was a Methodist Missionary, and a very devout person.
6. Charity Standefer, in her old age, lived in a small house in the yard of relatives, the family of Addison Fletcher Burdine of Monroe County. Mrs. Burdine, nee Ruth Henrietta Standifer, was her niece.
7. Charity Standefer shows on the Monroe County Census for the years 1850, 1860, and 1870.
A. In 1850, “Charity Standefer” age 40 is listed in the household of Ben C. White and Judith Standefer White, her sister and brother-in-law, in the Easter Division of Monroe County. In 1850, Charity Standefer’s age was 55.
B. In 1860, “Ch. Standifer” age 55 is listed in the household of Sarah Suggs in the Eastern Division of Monroe County, Aberdeen Post Office. The lands of Sarah Suggs were just west of those owned by the Standefer family near present-day Parham. Her true age would have been closer to 65 in 1860.
C. In 1870, “Charity Standifer” age 70 is listed in the household of Judith Standefer White in Township 12, Smithville Post Office. Judith and Charity were sisters. In 1870, Charity Standifer would have been 75 years old.
On all three census records, Charity Standefer’s age varies slightly because of mistakes make by whoever gave the information for her or by design.
8. The grave marker at New Hope Cemetery for Charity Standefer reads:
Born Oct. 1795
Joined the Methodist Church Mar. 18, 1821
Obtained the blessing of sanctification Sep. 10, 1826
9. No where on the marker is any reference to a date of death.
10. The early Methodist Church often had a period of time between joining the church and being accepted into membership of the church. The concept of “sanctification” as defined by Methodist leader John Wesley, and according to several church historians with whom we have consulted, almost never means “death.” One researcher states,” Instead, it [sanctification] is a term describing the transformation of the Holy Spirit following salvation, which leads to Christian perfection.” For Charity Standefer to have placed upon her stone that she obtained the blessing of sanctification in 1826 did not mean that she had died, rather it means that she recognized through God’s love that her transformation was complete.
It seems obvious that Charity Standefer, daughter of Luke and Mary Price Standefer, early Methodist Church member and resident of the Walls Tan Yard (now Parham) community of Monroe County, lived past 1870. “Miss Charity” was a 75-year old spinster in 1870, the last census record of her existence. The report that she died in 1826 has been widely republished.
I wish I could say that my home community’s burial ground was the location of the oldest marked grave in Monroe County but based upon the above, I think that would be a mistake. It was interesting, however, to learn about the life and times of Charity Standefer, born 1795 in Virginia and died sometimes after 1870 in Monroe County, Mississippi, buried at New Hope Cemetery. It was also most interesting to learn about her belief in the blessing of sanctification.
Since I first saw Charity Standefer's grave so many decades ago, the burial ground at New Hope Cemetery has been cleared of many of the trees and bushes that once made finding the older graves almost impossible. Today, thanks to those who have cleared this historic cemetery of its overgrowth of trees and shrubs, Charity Standefer's grave is easily accessible. Standing in front her grave marker puts one in contact with a person born more than 210 years ago; reading her stone about her beliefs and her church and of her blessing of sanctification puts one in contact with some of the notions upon which this great country of ours is founded --- the freedom to worship, to believe, and to express oneself.
And I now believe that Charity Standefer didn't die in 1826 but rather she died after 1870 having lived a full and rich life of between 75 and 80 years. And I believe she was then buried at New Hope among her friends and family, especially her sisters and her parents who are lying nearby.
Thanks to the following for assistance in preparing this report: Rita Thompson for providing the Chancery Court record that showed Charity Standefer surviving past 1826 in Luke Standefer’s estate papers; Mary Anna Riggan for sharing an 1984 photograph she made of the grave marker of Charity Standefer; Judy Westbrook Sullivan for making two trips to New Hope Cemetery to verify the wording on the tombstone; Jerry A. Harlow for information about Charity Standefer in the years 1850 – 1870; Lori Thornton for information about early Methodist Church history, membership, and sanctification and for the 1850 census image showing Charity Standefer; Debra McIntosh, Librarian at the J.B.Cain Archives of Mississippi Methodism, Millsaps-Wilson Library, Jackson, for her help with defining sanctification; Bob Franks for links to establish census data on Charity Standefer; Carol Lee Yarbrough whose Internet page, Standerfer, etc. Research Site, is an excellent source of Standefer information including the will of Mary Ann Price Standefer as well as the will of Luke Standefer; and James Alverson for his assistance. Without help of the members of the Monroe County Discussion Group, this project would have been impossible.
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