HAYWOOD COUNTY, TENNESSEE
JOHN HENRY DANCY (1831-1924)
John Henry Dancy, son of Isaac Dancy (1783-1863), for whom the town is named,
was an early undertaker in Dancyville. In the 1869 Diary of Johns wife, Louisa Jane
Kerr Dancy (1834-1887), she lists at least 25 burials for John. In addition to burials
in Dancyville, he traveled to surrounding communities in Haywood County and also Northern
Fayette County. Some burials were overnight trips. John used his horse drawn hearse for
burial services. On occasion the return trip from a burial would include hauling supplies
back to Dancyville in the hearse.
Many of the early undertakers were cabinetmakers. Some believed making coffins was a logical extension of their business. It may also be; a cabinetmaker with good wood working skills, might find the funeral business an extension of the cabinet business.
John Henry was a cabinet maker and made all his wooden coffins, with wife Louisa doing the coffin linings and trimmings. He made coffins for both White and Black people. Most of the coffins made for Black folks were on order from their White employers. Wooden coffins were custom made from walnut or poplar. When a coffin was required the measurements were either sent to John or he would go to the deceased to do the measurement. It was very important for a terminally ill person to know arrangements for their coffin had been made. In her diary Louisa notes, " an old Negro man would not go until he knew his coffin was finished."
When Louisa died (1887), John Henry bought two identical, extra nice coffins - one for Louisa and one for him. By the time he passed away (1924), his coffin was so badly deteriorated it could not be used for his burial.
Louisa recorded the 1869 prices of several coffins provided by John Henry. Price was based on the wood used and the size of the coffin. Childrens coffins generally sold for $10.00 and adults between $20.00 and $35.00.
Mildred Dancy Duck has one of her grandfathers ledgers from the funeral and gristmill business. Coffins were entered at $20.00 to $35.00 each, and many sold for around $10.00. She only found one at the relatively high price of $75.00 (probably a metallic case -ed). The ledger also lists ground corn meal, from Johns gristmill, at 50 to 60 cents per bushel. First date on the ledger was 1880 - on record of meal, work, etc. was 1896. All journal entries are marked paid.
Mildred remembers John Henry would place his cash receipts in a large pickle jar, kept in a compartment in his desk. When the jar was full, he would make a trip to the nearest bank in Somerville, 12 miles away, to make a deposit
Metal coffins, which Louisa recorded as metallic cases, were also kept on hand. They were ordered and delivered by rail to Stanton Depot and John would haul them back to Dancyville. Being able to obtain a metallic case depended on John having the proper size on hand to fit the measurements of the deceased.
No mention of who did the body preparation is found. Tradition has it, that embalming came into use at the time of the Civil War, so dead soldiers could be preserved while being shipped home for burial.. Whether John did any embalming is not known.
In addition to the undertaker business, John Henry made cabinetry, farmed and sometime after 1869, opened a gristmill. He also did mechanical repair on the machinery of the day, including the cotton gin, gearboxes and the sawmill. As a farmer, he grew the family food supply and basic crops for sale.
Mildred recalls John Henry lived on the road going from Dancyville to Stanton, the gristmill was on the left side of the road and John Henrys house and casket shop were on the right side of the road.
ISAAC BRADLEY DANCY (1866-1952)
by Mrs. Mildred Mil Ethlene Dancy Duck
Daughter of Isaac Bradley Dancy
Granddaughter of John Henry Dancy
February 11, 2002
My dad, Isaac Bradley Dancy, son of John Henry Dancy, as a youth, helped his father build wooden caskets. When he became an undertaker, he ordered his caskets from Memphis and picked then up at Stanton. Occasionally I helped dad by attaching store bought decoration, such as lambs and angels, to a casket, or by holding the lining in place while he tacked it.
Isaac Bradley, known as Bradley by family and friends, conducted burial services for many years and used John Henrys horse drawn hearse. Dad was also a gristmill operator and farmer. Some family members and neighbors remember the hearse being stored in a side room of the gristmill. The fate of the hearse is unknown but the coach lamps, from the hearse, are in a private collection.
The hearse was very pretty. The horses were kept at our house (Bradley & Lena Dancy place.) Their names were Maude and Emma. They were kept well groomed - brushed and trimmed manes and tails. The teams first encounter with a car became very dangerous because the noise frightened them. Dad had to pull the hearse off the side of the road, go to their heads and hold the bridles. After this episode, he put blinders on the team.
Dads shop was beside the little house that John Henry lived in, toward town. Dad had moved his father into town when his (John Henrys) eyesight began to fail. The shop included a gristmill. To enable John Henry to find his way back and forth, from his house to the gristmill/funeral shop, a rope was tied from his back gate to the shop, and he would follow the rope, as he moved along, between the shop and his house.
John Henry and Louisa Jane Kerr Dancy; and
Isaac Bradley and Maggie Ethelene Lena Hughes Dancy,
are buried in the Dancyville United Methodist Church Cemetery.
The 1869 Journal (Diary) of Louisa Jane Kerr Dancy
The original Journal is in the Methodist Archives, Lambuth University Library, Jackson, TN.
Mrs. Mildred Ethlene Dancy Duck,
daughter of Isaac Bradley and Lena Hughes Dancy,
granddaughter of John Henry and Louisa Jane Kerr Dancy.
Family members and Dancyville residents.
Mary Kay Dancy Smith and James K. Dancy
(Great-grand and grandchildren of the Dancyville Undertakers)
March 1, 2002
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