The Gravestone

Early American Dalzells and Delzells

The Discovery of John Delzell’s Gravestone with the help
of Ms. Inez Burns and my dear friend Bert Garner

One of the greatest adventures of my life. was the discovery of John Delzell’s gravestone. In the spring of 1954 I traveled from California to Maryville, Tennessee to learn more about my ancestors. By lucky chance, I had written to the library in Maryville and contacted Miss Inez Burns. I didn’t know how lucky I was! Not only was Miss Burns the author of the primary source book on Blount County, she was a wonderfully warm person who treated this stranger from California like an old friend. John Delzell, and perhaps other members of this family, were buried in the Hamill/Tedford cemetery which is located 4.9 miles, as the crow flies, southwest of the County Court house in Maryville. It is 0.1 mile north of Carpenter’s Grade road and 0.4 mile south of it’s intersection with Allegheny Road.

Map Showing the Location of the Hamil/Tedford Cemetery

On the morning after I arrived, and before she had to be at the library, Miss Burns drove me out to meet an old gentleman who lived in the woods and who knew a great deal about the early settlers of Blount County. We parked the car, after driving into the woods as far as we could go, and hiked another quarter mile on a path until we arrived at a small cabin. Miss Burns shouted “Hello Bert!” and soon a tall man with a white beard and a big smile came out of the cabin to greet us. Miss Burns had to get back to the library, so she left me with Bert Garner, one of the friendliest, most interesting men I had ever met. We talked about the old days and Bert remarked that when he was a small child he used to trace the name DELZELL on a gravestone in the old, abandoned Hammil/Tedford commentary, but that I was the first living Delzell he had ever met. This alone was exciting news, but when Bert offered to hike down to the graveyard, maybe a mile away, I couldn’t wait to get started.

The cemetery was now part of a cow pasture. There were a few stones Standing and several enclosures, but nothing else to indicate that it was the burial ground of my oldest know ancestors. Bert suggested that we weren’t likely to find anything because most of the stones had been carted off by local farmers to be used as foundation stones. Nevertheless, we started to search the whole area. Before long, Bert let out a whoop and I came running to where he had located John Delzell’s gravestone! It was partially buried in the grass and mud of the cow pasture, but when we pulled it out, there was the hand-carved inscription “John Delzell, died 1807.” I think Bert was as happy as I was. I was ecstatic and awe-struck by the experience of standing here, one hundred and forty seven years after my ancestors had stood on this spot and grieved the passing of the husband and father that had opened the wilderness and started a great family. Now, as I write this in 1997, 190 years later, I still feel the joy and excitement of that wonderful moment.

The gravestone was about a foot wide, two feet long and about four inches thick. I was a naturally occurring, smooth, gray mountain stone which weighed about 75 pounds. Bert suggested that since the commentary had been abandoned, we could take better care of the stone at his cabin. It was almost too much for me to lift, but Bert threw it on his shoulder and away we went back up the hill to his cabin.

The stone is very hard. I tried to scratch it with a knife and it was difficult to do. Whoever carved John’s name and the year that he died on this very tough stone must have really cared about making a lasting memorial. So it is not only a tribute to John Delzell but to those who carved his name. Very likely it was his oldest son William.

Bert kept the stone by his cabin door where it excited a great deal of interest, but when Bert got sick, he shipped the stone to my brother in Stevens Point, Wisconsin where it was kept in the company garage. A fire there cracked the stone, but I was able to move it to Waupaca, Wisconsin where I encased it in concrete and kept it at the family cottage for many years. When the cottage was in danger of being sold, I shipped the stone to California where it now resides in my home. It is wonderful to have at least this memorial of John Delzell. I hope someday that it can find a permanent home where it is properly taken care of and available to future generations of Delzells.


On October 13,2001, my son, Robert, and I loaded John Delzell’s gravestone, which I had shipped from California, into a rental car in Roanoke, VA, and drove down to Maryville, TN to return this wonderful heritage of the Delzell’s of Maryville, TN, to the very old abandoned cemetery where John and probably his wife, Margaret, found their last resting place.

The owner’s of the property on which the gravestone was found are Max and Jimmie Mize, and it was with their generous, permission and help, that we embedded the gravestone in concrete. Max and Jimmie stood with Robert and I as we said the words below to commemorate this occasion.

On the Return of John Delzell’s Gravestone
Presented by Robert O. Delzell
October 13, 2001

Thanks to Miss Inez Burns, and to my friend Bert Garner, and especially to our friends Max and Jimmie Mize, we find ourselves, after almost fifty years, returning John Delzell’s gravestone to it’s rightful place in the old pioneer Tedford/Hamil/Best/ Delzell cemetery, here on Carpenters Grade Road five miles south of Maryville, Tennessee.

John Delzell died in 1807 after building a farm and home and raising a family with his wife Margaret McFaren. We will probably never know much about John Delzell, but his pioneering spirit and his willingness to face the unknown with faith and courage were present then and are with us today.

Robert E. Delzell, my son and the GGGG Grandson of John Delzell and I are privileged to be able to pass this pioneer heritage on to future generations.

Bert Garner, "Thoreau of the Smokies,"
from "Smoky Mountain County" by North Callhan.
Published by The Smoky Mountain Historical Society in 1988.

     "Near the neighboring community of Mountvale lives a man called the "Thoreau of the Smokies." His name is Bert Garner and he is no dyed-in-the-wool-hat hillbilly either, having spent years of his life in Philadelphia working for the Saturday Evening Post as—of all things—the official in charge of returning rejected manuscripts to writers. Past middle age, Bert now lives all alone in a cabin squarely in the middle of a thirty-acre patch of woods. In his old house he has no electricity, telephone, plumbing, or any of the other modern inconveniences. He doesn;t want them. He prefers to live close to nature. Bert  goes barefoot part of the time, and when he wants to, wears his shirtail out, because it's more comfortable and nobody much sees him anyway.  He takes a shower by pouring water into a big tin can perforated with tiny holes, hoisting it up[ to the limb of a tree, and standing underneath. His house is filled with booksm and he says he spends mone money for books than for food—most of which he raises himself, grinding his own meal. When a boy I lived near Bert and heard how he "saved cousin Bige's life" by using herb remedies. His fathe, herb doctor, had also "saved the life" of my own mother, after the regular doctors had given her up."

     "So Bert Garner, thin and graying; lives here alone, like his admired Thoreau. He did not always live alone; he had a wife, but she didn't like the woods, so she picked up and went to live in Washington, D. C. Oh yes, Bert has another custom—he keeps snakes in the house. Pet snakes, that is, not poisonous ones, They kill rats better than cats, Bert says. Ferthemore, he likes 'em."

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