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Grave marker restored at Bradford-Willis Cemetery

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The restored grave marker of Sgt. Henry Bradford. SUBMITTED

The Bradford-Willis Cemetery has been a landmark of Hendersonville for over 200 years. Located on the property of the Bradford-Berry House, over the years both the home and the cemetery have fallen into disrepair. The once elegant home that stood proudly on the outskirts of town is now boarded up and is declining rapidly. Likewise, the family cemetery, where Revolutionary War soldier Sgt. Henry Bradford and approximately 16 descendants are buried, has also been neglected for many years.

Bradford, who enlisted shortly after the war broke out in 1775, was assigned to the Third Virginia Regiment and under the command of Captain John Chilton and Colonel Thomas Marshall. Bradford was wounded at the Battle of Brandywine, a battle fought between the American army under the command of General George Washington and the British commander Sir William Howe on Sept. 11, 1777. In December of that same year Bradford was discharged from the army. Following the end of the war, he was granted land bounty by Virginia in payment for his service.

In 1784 Bradford came to this area, still a part of North Carolina, settling in a part of Davidson County that is now Sumner County, the second county to be formed in "Cumberland," or what became known as Middle Tennessee. During that same year, he married Elizabeth Chichester Payne Blackmore, a young widow with a two-year-old daughter Molly. The family grew to include six additional children: Larkin, Ira, Henry, Priestly, Cecelia, and Sophia. Cecelia's lavish wedding in 1813 to William Carroll, who later served four terms as the governor of Tennessee, was held at the Bradford house, the only one of Bradford's children to be married at the house.

Bradford's original marker was stolen by vandals under the cover of darkness on a snowy winter night. That marker was never recovered. In 1973 the French Lick Chapter dedicated a new marker at his gravesite. Since that time the concrete base has deteriorated and the barely visible marker has sunk deep into the ground. The gravestones of his descendants are no longer visible at all. The obelisk, which does not mark any graves but is a monument listing names of some of Bradford's descendants, no longer stands erect but leans to one side. The markings on it are barely visible due to years of weathering.

In early 2014 Mrs. Narcissa Mahurin, a descendant of the Bradford family, approached the French Lick Chapter of the D.A.R. with a request that the chapter, of which Mrs. Mahurin is a member, take into consideration the restoration and preservation of the cemetery, particularly the obelisk and the grave marker of Bradford. The process has been slow and tedious. Approval from various sources was required and funds needed to be raised. Thanks to the generous donations of numerous Bradford descendants, members of the French Lick Chapter, and other patrons, the goal of restoring and preserving the obelisk and marker has been achieved.

On Oct. 15, descendants of Bradford, French Lick members, local and state dignitaries, and citizens of Hendersonville will gather at the Bradford-Willis Cemetery to celebrate the life of Henry Bradford and to rededicate the restored obelisk and grave marker. The event is open to the public.

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