|Dr. Benjamin Franklin Riley|
Tuesday of this week marked a unique anniversary in Conecuh County history. It was the 189th anniversary of the death and burial of Murdock McPherson of Sparta, who is believed to have received the first Masonic funeral in the history of Conecuh County.
According to Benjamin F. Riley’s 1881 book, “History of Conecuh County, Alabama,” it was on Nov. 27, 1829 that McPherson “is said to have been the first Mason buried with the honors of that Fraternity upon the soil of Conecuh.”
Little is known about McPherson, but from all indications, he was an interesting man. He was among the first settlers at Sparta and is said to have been the first county clerk of Conecuh County. The first school at Sparta was directed by a man named John McCloud, who taught at Sparta’s first school for only a brief period, Riley said. McPherson succeeded McCloud as the director of the school, but McPherson must have died a short time later. (Some sources say he died before 1825, but others confirm that he passed away on Nov. 27, 1829.)
By 1820s standards, McPherson’s funeral was a big event, so big that Riley made sure to include it in his history of Conecuh County. “To give marked solemnity to the occasion, a fiddle was brought into requisition, and its solemn tones were evoked in the strain of a funeral march, by a wooden-legged doctor, named Ogden,” Riley wrote in his book.
Given the details about his funeral, McPherson was obviously a prominent early Freemason in Conecuh County, and he was likely around when Conecuh County’s third courthouse building was built at Sparta in 1823. According to Riley, this building was built by a man named Simmons from Tallahassee, Fla. and the local Masonic fraternity paid him $500 more to add a Masonic lodge room and attic to the building. Adjusted for inflation, this was no small amount of money. In 1823, $500 was worth $11,364 in today’s dollars.
I first read about McPherson in Riley’s “History of Conecuh County” a few years ago, and on and off since then I’ve tried to find out more about him. Riley’s book didn’t contain his exact date of death, but historian Sherry Johnston at the Evergreen-Conecuh County Public Library was able to supply me with that some time ago.
I’ve often wondered about where McPherson is buried and if his grave is accessible to the public today. Is he buried in the Old Beulah Cemetery as some say or is he buried somewhere on private property near the site of Old Sparta? Can anyone just walk up and visit his grave today or has the location been lost to time?
If anyone in the reading audience knows, I’d like to hear from you. Anyone with more information about Murdock McPherson is encouraged to contact me at The Courant office at 251-578-1492 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.