|Construction crews working on the new Siena Hall dormitory at Aquinas College unearthed the tombstones of several members of the Charles Bosley Jr. family, who originally owned the property where Aquinas is located. The tombstones unearthed date as far back as 1825. Archaeologist Jared Barrett talks to Amanda Garvin and Sister Mary Sarah, O.P., about the progress in exploring the Bosley family cemetery. Photos by Andy Telli
Construction crews working on the new dormitory at Aquinas College unexpectedly found a bit of history when they dug up several tombstones of members of the Bosley family, the original owners of the land where the Dominican Campus sits.
On Tuesday, Aug. 23, “one of the gentlemen was grading for landscaping,” said Sister Mary Sarah Galbraith, president of Aquinas. “There was a slight mound of dirt. He went to smooth that out and that’s when he revealed Charles Bosley’s grave.
“It was a surprise to everyone,” Sister Mary Sarah said. “We stopped immediately and then we contacted the state.”
State Historian Ben Nance inspected that site that afternoon and confirmed there were at least two graves at the site.
Based on Nance’s recommendation, the college called in archaeologist Jared Barrett of TRC Solutions, to further excavate the site and determine what is there.
|The tombstone of Charles Bosley Sr., above left, was unearthed. It reads “Charles Bosley who died Oct. 19, 1870 aged 93 years.”
In the end, Barrett and a crew from TRC identified 10 graves, six headstones that were all laying flat and were buried, and a rock wall around what was apparently the Bosley family cemetery. A piece of a casket handle – shaped like a small hand gripping a bar – also was discovered at the site.
The school also contacted Eleanor Bosley Whitworth, a descendant of the Bosley family still living in Nashville, who thought the remains had all been moved to Mount Olivet Cemetery, Sister Mary Sarah said.
Barrett has not yet determined if the remains are still in the graves, but has been working under the assumption that they are.
The school will have two options, Barrett said. They can keep the graves where they are and build a fence around the small cemetery, he said, or go to Chancery Court to ask for a ruling to determine how to proceed. The college will work with the family to determine how to go forward, Sister Mary Sarah said.
The Bosley family originally owned about 2,000 acres along Harding Pike that includes the present day sites of Saint Thomas West Hospital, Aquinas College and the rest of the Dominican Campus. The land was given to Capt. James Bosley as a land grant for his service in the Revolutionary War, Sister Mary Sarah said.
His son Charles Bosley Sr. moved to the land in 1818 with his wife, Eliza.
Only three of the tombstones have been identified, Barrett said: Charles Sr., who died in 1870 at the age of 93; Eliza, who died in 1870; and their infant daughter Mary, who died in 1825. Two of the other tombstones are believed to be for the Bosleys’ daughter-in-law Martha, who died in 1847, and their son Charles Jr., who died three months later. Both Martha and Charles Jr. are believed to have died from typhoid fever, Sister Mary Sarah said.
“Charles Sr.’s tombstone is pretty elaborate,” Barrett said. “He was a pretty prominent member of Nashville society, so it doesn’t surprise me.”
The Joseph Warner family acquired the property early in the 20th century, and the Bosley family home was torn down and a new home – now known as the White House on the Dominican Campus – was built in 1913 on the original foundation. The Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia congregation bought the property from the Warner family in 1923 and over the years built three schools there: Aquinas, St. Cecilia Academy and Overbrook School.
The Bosley family cemetery is located on what will be a large lawn in front of the new Siena Residence Hall, the college’s first-ever on-campus dormitory. The discovery did not slow construction on the building, which is scheduled to be open by the end of September, Sister Mary Sarah said.
“I’m really enjoying this,” said Sister Mary Sarah, who has a degree in history. “It gives you a greater sense of the continuity to be on a property with so much lived history.”