By Betty Ashler
As we reflect on the current pandemic that we are currently living through at the moment, it may be wise to look at some of the stories that are being passed along to us from the stones in our historic cemeteries. The history researchers in the St. John’s Cemetery in downtown Tallahassee are discovering stories from those who came before us and learning the value of passing along a better path for those who will walk this way in the future. Sometimes we have been called “stone whisperers” . . . let’s take a look at the following story involving two St. John’s families during the pre-Civil War era and their struggles following the postwar years of reconstruction.
The story begins with the Higs/Whitfield family and the Miller family just three rows apart within the first two sections of the historic cemetery. Lucy Whitfield Higs and her sister [both single] arrived in Tallahassee by stage coach from Alabama and stayed with some of their cousins. The Moseleys were later best known for their cousin, Gov. William D. Mosely, who became the first governor of the State of Florida in 1845. Eventually, Lucy married John Higs and together they had three little girls.
From the 1820s to the 1850s Leon County attracted planters from Georgia, Virginia, Maryland and North/South Carolina. Sarah Houstoun Miller and her husband, John, were among some of the early settlers during the 1820s to the 1850s who migrated to north Florida and settled in the Lake Miccosukee area and built medium size plantations. Sarah and John were both from wealthy North Carolina landowners. Sarah’s grandfather, Dr. William Houstoun, was a physician and politician. Sarah and her husband, John, had many of life’s comforts . . . but, they had no children. The main source of economic income of family units during the mid 19th century was the male head of the household. When John Higs passed away, this left Lucy in a terrible situation with three young girls and no husband to depend upon. Sadly, one of the girls passed away. This still left Lucy with two children to raise and nurture. The epitaph on grave #4 of Lot #6 had the following inscription:
It became evident that Lucy had used the adoption process with the Miller family to help her support herself and Ida. Dora, who had been adopted by the Millers, passed away on September 4, 1864 at the tender age of four years.
No doubt, at first . . . adoption had seemed like a wonderful arrangement for both couples during the ravages of the Civil War. However, at Dora’s passing . . . how sad for both the Millers [adoptive parents] and for her biological mother, Lucy. Parish records indicate that both the Millers and the Higs were members of St. John’s Church; the one common bond of encouragement shared by the two families was the faith they shared together at St. John’s Church. No doubt little Dora’s death brought great sadness as indicated by another epitaph on the other side of her small obelisk . . . .
Sweet Dora! thou art gone,
to the land of repose,
Where sorrow and sighing
and pain never come.
Thy short pleasant life
was soon brought to its close
For thy Father in Heaven
hath now called thee home.
“Though lost to sight,
to memory dear.”
Searching the additional evidence on neighboring taller obelisks in the Miller lot showed that tragedy was still in store for the family who had arrived in the north Florida territory from North Carolina with hopes of prospering with a family of their own in the new territory.
In 1865 John Miller passed away. No doubt, this was another devastating blow to Sarah Miller with the loss of their four year old adopted daughter and her husband. Now, Sarah [like Lucy at one point in her life] was a single widow without any immediate family of her own. Fortunately, the Miller family fortune was able to help her continue to be a very good contributor to the church in the years ahead.
Sarah’s grief can be felt in the last verse on her husband’s obelisk.
In Fond remembrance
of my beloved husband
who was born Feb. 5, 1799 ,
and departed this life
August 27, 1865.
He was a Native of Duplin County
and moved to Florida while the
state was in it infancy.
Possessing noble and generous
principles, and a warm heart, he won
the love and admiration of all who
knew him. Towards his relations
especially he was an affectionate and
long tried friend. And in that most
endearing of societies, the family
circle, his place cannot be filled.
He is dead, his spotless spirit took its flight
to realms of heavenly bliss.
I would not call him back again
to such a world as this.
Meanwhile, Lucy Higs married again to one of her Whitfield cousins. General George Whitfield, Lucy and Lucy’s oldest daughter, Ida, moved to Lloyd to live on the Whitfield Plantation. After the ravages and hardships of the Civil War, the Jefferson County plantation was sold and a home was purchased and turned into a boarding house. The Whitfield House was turned into a well-known diner along the railroad tracks at Station #2 in Lloyd. For nearly 50 years the family business fed passengers on the east-west bound Seaboard Air Line train along the route from Pensacola to Jacksonville. A parrot would announce the arrival of the east-west bound trains from the front porch. Farmers for miles around furnished the meat, poultry, and fresh vegetables that went on the table. Gardens accommodated the passengers who had to eat in shifts. Twenty minutes were allowed for dinner, and everything was in readiness. Guests ate country style. Sometimes as many as 150 passengers from the two trains ate dinner there.
During the prosperous years the Whitfield family and employees in the surrounding community worked in the dining room. Ida [Lucy’s only remaining daughter of the three girls] married George Dennis and they had children and grandchildren of their own.
After the war, dining cars were added to the train and it no longer stopped in Lloyd. Eventually, the Whitfield House closed and later, it burned to the ground. The traveling time on the rail was reduced by 20 minutes. Young people begin to move away from Lloyd and sought employment in Tallahassee and other surrounding communities.
When the train no longer stopped in Lloyd, the economy plummeted along with the church membership. In 1959 the little church was moved from Lloyd to Tallahassee right next door to the Church of the Advent on Piedmont Drive.
Over time, as the Whitfield family members passed away, they were interred in the St. John’s Cemetery. Today, the graves from the extended Whitfield family members can be found in all three sections of the historic cemetery.
When Lucy Winifred Higs Whitfield passed away in 1910, her daughter, Ida, gave a beautiful silver communion service to St. Clements Church in Lloyd as a memorial to her mother. Today, it is still used on occasions at St. Clements Chapel on Piedmont Road.
Sarah Miller lived to be 83 years old and she continued to contribute both time and talents to St. John’s Church the remainder of her life. Her devoted efforts to her church are reflected on all four sides of her epitaph. Here is one side:
King James version: Rev. 14:13
To the Glory of God and in memory of Mrs. Sarah E. Miller
Whose Generous Bequest to St. John’s Church
Is thus Commemorated by the
Vestry and Congregation
In summary, two biological children – Dora and Ida – and two different mothers – Lucy and Sarah – were bound together by their faith as a spiritual support for their families during difficult times in the Civil War era and afterwards.
Grave photos & memorial gifts – Phil Ashler
Portraits & Whitfield House– FL Memory
Church sketch: Mildred Van Aiken
Lloyd RR Depot – National RR Historical Society