Saturday, March 15, 2014

Polk's religion and burial

I was reading about Polk's religion today, which interestingly enough was Methodist, despite the fact that his wife was a devoted Presbyterian:
Although Polk was a religious man, his faith seldom equaled the stern beliefs of Sarah's outspoken devotion. Raised a Presbyterian, Polk had never been baptized due to a family argument with the local Presbyterian minister in rural North Carolina. At age thirty-eight, Polk experienced a religious conversion to Methodism at a camp meeting, and thereafter he thought of himself as a Methodist. Out of respect for his mother and wife, however, he continued to attend Presbyterian services even if he was not overly fond of their Calvinist content. But whenever his wife was out of town or too ill to attend church, Polk worshiped at the local Methodist chapel. On his deathbed, he summoned the man who had converted him years before, the Methodist Reverend John B. McFerrin, who at last baptized Polk.

The issue with the ministers over Polk's original baptism was that his father and grandfather were deists:
Polk's father and grandfather were deists, which prevented James from being baptized as a child (the minister refused to baptize James unless his father reaffirmed his faith, which he would not do), and eventually led to the Polk family's move from North Carolina to Tennessee. Polk's mother, on the other hand, was a strong Presbyterian, and her influence seems to have had a more lasting effect on Polk.

Polk was actually buried three times. I found these various stories at the Nashville Cemetery Association that talks about the progression of spots that ended with both Polks being buried on the State Capitol in Nashville (I have actually been to this gravesite). This tells about the final internment:
Yesterday in the bright sunlight of a glorious September day, this community once more did honor to the memory of President James K. Polk and the wife who shared his honorable career. At 5 am the morning the immediate family gathered about the tomb at Polk Place and lovingly transferred the two caskets to the house, a hundred yards distant, and there they were placed in the cedar boxes and sealed. The caskets are of copper and both were in a perfect state of preservation. The ceremonies were set for 11 o’clock. By 10 o’clock the yards from both Park avenue and Vine street contained a large gathering of people of all ages and classes, among them gray-haired men who were present at President Polk’s burial in the old City Cemetery on June 16, 1849, and again at his removal to Polk Place in May of the following year. And there were younger people, who know of President Polk only as a figure of history, whom they have been taught to regard as worthy of their patriotic regard. Inside the mansion, the near friends of the family, the pall-bearers and a few of the prominent older citizens of the city occupied the parlor, drawing rooms and halls. The caskets rested under the mantel-piece in the drawing room and immediately above hung oil portraits of President and Mrs. Polk and President Washington. Flowers were seen here and there about the house, but on top of each of the cedar-boxes was simply a wreath of Mermot roses tied with a satin ribbon, placed there by the grand-niece of Mrs. Polk, Mrs. G.W. Fall, and the latter’s daughter, Mrs. M.M. Gardner. There was one other floral token, it may be added --- a simple bunch of violets, placed by Miss Jane Thomas, 91 years old, a school-mate of Mrs. Polk’s. The boxes bore each the date of death of the two distinguished deceased…
 
Just before the procession moved from Polk Place, the Washington Light Artillery began firing twenty one guns, finishing as the hearse reached the Capitol grounds. A thousand people were awaiting its arrival there. They filled the grounds on the east side of the building, terraces, esplanades, and occupied the east balcony and even the cupola. They were of all classes and both races, and the inevitable crowding was prevented only by a detachment of polite policemen under the command of Sergt. Mitt Marshall from obstructing the passage of the cortege to the elevated spot. Arriving there a passage way just wide enough to permit the pall-bearers and attendants to go through was made from the driveway to the place of entombment. There the principal actors in this historic event gathered around the spot and the caskets were reverently lowered.
 
Dr. S. A. Steel, pastor of McKendree Methodist Church delivered a prayer…
 
A benediction by Dr. McNeilly closed the ceremonies and assemblage dispersed. It was the intention of the family to remain until the grave was filled, but as it was attended with construction of more or less masonry, they retired after the benediction…
 
The final resting place of President James K. Polk and his wife is a gentle well-shaded knoll in the northern section of the grounds surrounding the State Capitol, and about 300 feet from the equestrian statue of President Andrew Jackson. It was selected by the near relatives of Mrs. Polk, in company of Gov. Turney and his official staff last spring, in pursuance of a resolution by the last General Assembly providing a resting place on the Capitol grounds. The expense of the removal, estimated at $1,500, and which included the removal also of the tomb at Polk Place, will be borne by the heirs to President Polk’s estate. The tomb will be taken down and erected on selected within a short time. It is a four-pillared canopied structure and is appropriately inscribed…

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