Charity James, also known in the Ash Grove community as “Aunt Charity” began life in Tennessee as Charity Berry. According to her gravestone, Charity was born on March 18, 1842. Her death certificate states that Charity's father’s name was Labe Berry; whether or not Charity was related to William H. Berry remains unknown. Berry family oral history says that she was involved in some way with the Underground Railroad. About 1860, Charity gave birth to a daughter, Mary Whitfield, her only child. Charity would later take the Whitfield surname herself. In the 1880 census, Charity Whitfield was living as a farmer in Manlysville, Tennessee. About six years later, she moved to southwest Missouri with her daughter’s family (see entry for Simmons, Ralph). The U.S. Census indicates that by 1900, Charity was widowed, had begun to identify as Charity James, was living on South Calhoun Street in Ash Grove with two of her grandchildren (Hetty and Enoch Simmons), and working as a washerwoman. Her daughter, Mary Simmons, and two other grandchildren (Anna and Julia Simmons) were living nearby on Calhoun St. at the time. According to her death certificate, Charity died of "chronic nephritis and general debility" on March 31, 1914, in Ash Grove. The certificate states that Charity was buried in "Ash Grove," meaning the Berry Cemetery, as this was the only local burial ground for Black individuals at that time (Russel 2012).
Grave Marker: Charity James is memorialized by two adjacent gravestones, about two feet apart. One of these is a limestone tablet style marker, shown below, bearing the engraved words "MOTHER CHARITY JAMES" on the west face. This marker may have been set as a footstone or the original head stone marking the grave of Charity James.
West face in Summer of 2010
West face in Winter of 2021
North face in Summer 2010
Text on West Face
MOTHER CHARITY JAMES
A second gravestone memorializing Charity James is shown below. This is a marble cross vault obelisk that bears the names of four individuals: Charity James (south face), her grandson Enoch Simmons (east face), grandson Jasper Simmons (west face), and son-in-law Ralph Simmons (west face). The monument records death dates for Enoch, Jasper, and Ralph that precede Charity's death, suggesting that this stone commissioned by surviving relatives after Charity died as a memorial to all four individuals. This monument is set on a marble upper base and limestone lower base. This monument bears text and ivy imagery on its south, east, and west faces. In 2009, the upper part of the monument was detached from its base. In 2017, through a grant from the Phenix Marble Company, the upper portion was re-attached to the base. Excluding the base, the monument is now 31 x 10 x 10 inches in size. The two-part base is 8 x 15 x 15 inches in size.
Monument in 2009, before repair
South face after repair
Bird's eye view
Text on South Face
CHARITY JAMES MAR 18 1842 MAR 31 1914
Text on East Face
ENOCH SIMMONS AUG 13 1886 FEB 1 1900
Text on West Face
RALPH SIMMONS JULY 4 1854 MAY 6 1904
JASPER SIMMONS MAY 2 1882 JAN 11 1908
Sketch of ivy leaves design on upper part of each side of the monument