Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mollie's Story

Mary Elizabeth Barner's life was short, but full of contrasts. She lived long enough to acquire an education, but died before she could experience the wonders of matrimony and motherhood. She lived a comfortable life as a child and young woman, but later saw her town and country divided by politics and war.

Sometimes called Mollie, she was the third child born to Sterling M. Barner and his wife, Sarah Jane West. Their first child was stillborn and their next child was a son, Joseph, born about 1840. Mollie was born 2 October 1842 in Tennessee, shortly before the Barner family moved from Nashville to Smithland, Kentucky. In Smithland, the family settled into the home of Sterling's brother, Benjamin Barner, on Charlotte Street. The Barner brothers were commission merchants, storing and shipping goods via the Ohio and Cumberland rivers. Sterling's background as a steamboat captain was, no doubt, instrumental in the brothers' business success.

Mollie's childhood remains a mystery, but it is known that the Barner family was wealthy enough to enjoy a comfortable life. Mollie was probably a bit spoiled as she was the baby of the family until 1849, when her sister, Pattie, was born. Another child was born in 1855, but was either stillborn or died shortly after birth. Mollie would remain the "middle child" in the Barner family for a number of years.

The daughters of wealthy Southerners were often sent to Nashville to be educated at the Nashville Female Academy. We don't know how long Mollie attended Nashville Female Academy, but she was there long enough to graduate. Founded in 1817, the Academy was located at Church and McLemore Streets. Students received lessons in manners, good morals, and were encouraged to read the types of books suitable for young ladies.

The Nashville Female Academy closed in 1862, when the school was occupied by Federal officers. The closing of the school coincided with a year of tragedy for the Barner family. In June of 1862, Mollie's father, Sterling, passed away at the age of 71 years. Then, on 30 November 1862, Mollie succumbed to typhoid fever. Her body was placed in a vault in Nashville City Cemetery. A later survey of burials indicated that Mollie's remains were no longer in the vault. Many bodies buried during era were moved to Mt. Olivet Cemetery when Nashville City Cemetery flooded, but Mt. Olivet has no record of a transfer and reburial. It is assumed that Mollie's body was removed to Smithland Cemetery, where there is a broken tombstone next to the tombstone of her sister, Pattie.

The 2 December 1862 issue of the Nashville Daily Union published the following notice of Mollie's death: "Mary E. Barner, 21, daughter of late Capt. S.M. Barner of Smithland, Ky, died 1 Dec. 1862 of typhoid; graduate of Nashville Female Academy."

Mary E. Barner
Dau. of S.M. & S.J.
Died Nov. 30, 1862
Aged 20 yrs, 1 mo, 8 days

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