Finding Tennessee’s John Haywood: The Story Continues

Nov. 19, 2021 – Jeff Sellers, director of education and community engagement at the Tennessee State Museum and vice president of the Nashville City Cemetery Association, shared with us in a recent episode of “Reelfoot Forward” the story of the hunt for the grave of “the Father of Tennessee History,” John Haywood. In a recent update, a chancery court ruled that his remains, if any are located, will be allowed to be moved to the Nashville City Cemetery.

Although today Haywood has been forgotten by most, he has been called “the father of Tennessee history,” “a fascinating eccentric,” “an overlooked Tennessee historian” and “the author of the most important legal innovation in antebellum southern history.” Haywood, the namesake of Tennessee’s Haywood County, authored three histories of the Old Southwest and authored four legal works, each of which served as a template for legal practice in the states of North Carolina and Tennessee. In 1820, he also played a central role in founding the first historical society in the state, The Tennessee Antiquarian Society.

After his death in 1826, Haywood was buried at his family farm in Tusculum, Tennessee. In 1911, a memorial was scheduled to be placed at his and his wife’s gravesite by the Tennessee Historical Society. The farmer who owned the land did not want a monument in the way of his crops, so the Historical Society placed the marker on adjacent property pointing to the gravesite nearby. In 1959, an obelisk was placed on the adjacent property near a church that had been built there. The obelisk remains standing today. Despite the markers, the actual location of Haywood and his wife’s graves had been lost to decades of progress and land development.

Thanks to the fieldwork and data analysis of Middle Tennessee State University’s Department of Geosciences, Dr. Joe D. Collins and graduate student Oluwatosin Obe, th graves have likely been located.

Sellers and the group of volunteers now have full legal authority to locate and remove any remains located from the commercial property where they think the graves currently reside. The next step in the process is to raise funds to begin the archaeological excavation. Donations can be made to the Nashville City Cemetery Association, Inc. or by mailing a check to the Nashville City Cemetery Association, Inc. (care of the Haywood Cemetery Project) to:

The Nashville City Cemetery Association, Inc.

P.O. Box 150733

Nashville, TN 37215

To learn more about the search for John Haywood’s grave, listen to our podcast episode, read the petition or check out this article written by Main Street Nashville.