The Covenanter Church of Southfield and Its Early History

Related by Miss Mary E. Thompson

Copied from the Birmingham Eccentric of Birmingham, Michigan
Published February 1915

The Covenanter Church of Southfield, Michigan

About equidistant from the two avenues, Woodward and Grand River, running northwest from Detroit, almost at the intersection of the Eleven Mile and Evergreen roads, standing beyond the brow of a hill with level farms stretching away beyond, is a large, unadorned, white church with green shutters and two giant spruce tree spires. To the north of the church is the little old fashioned graveyard. God’s half acre. To many this historic church and grounds brings to mind pioneer life, childhood, parents and friends gone before, tender ties of affection, hopes and aspirations of the past, formation of moral habits, salvation, etc. No one who has ever lingered about the spot in the days of his youth will ever quite forget it. It is the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Southfield, or Covenanter church as it is commonly called, because it embraces in its teaching the principles of the second reformation or covenant of Scotland. It is derived from and is a true representative of the Church of Scotland in her purest days. The Reformed Presbyterian Church of Southfield township is one of two original churches in America, and first of its kind in the State. The Covenanter church has been called the strictest and one of the most historic in America.

It is not the present purpose to state its distinctive principles, of which it has many, suffice it to say that the form of worship is kept as simple and direct as possible, and the supremacy of God and Christ, the King, is acknowledged supreme both in heaven and earth. The church has had a powerful influence in the development of Southfield and the adjoining towns. It has been sort of a parent church, and many are the people, now widely scattered, who “said their psalms” and “answered their questions” in the old Covenanter Sabbath school. Those of us who did are proud of the fact and often feel like saying:

“Turn backward, turn backward O Time, in your flight,
And make me a child again just for tonight.”

The fond, vivid, recollections of the good old people gone before must ever be the most precious and lasting pictures on memory’s Wall.

History of the Church

Before Michigan was a state, before the time of regular roads, before the virgin forest had felt the bite of the woodman’s axe, before the name of Birmingham was heard and the place itself little more than two or three road houses on the crest of the hill went by the name of Hamilton’s or Willer’s, before all these, in the fall of 1831, David Stewart, a man past sixty-five years of age and a Covenanter, came to Michigan from White Lake, Orange County, N.Y. and settled on land now opposite Caleb Jackson’s in Southfield, a few miles southwest of Birmingham.

Soon after his arrival, he found that one of his neighbors, Wm. Connery, living on and clearing the land of James Beattie, later known as the Neil farm, was of Covenanter origin, David Stewart also took up a farm opposite to and surrounding the present Covenanter church for his son-in-law, John Parks, who came from New York City with his family and that of David Stewart in May 1832. Through the influence of David Stewart other Covenanters and relatives from Orange county, N.Y. and the East settled round about, notably the McClellands, Browns, McKinneys, Lowes, McClungs, Harmons, also some “New Lights” as the Erwins, etc. As the new settlers came in they were made welcome not only in the houses of David Stewart and John Parks, but in the next oldest settlers’ houses as well. The government land was $1.25 per acre for your pick, some people choosing “the openings,” where no heavy timber had to be cleared off, in preference to the heavily timbered land farther north. The swamps around Detroit were passed over as being undesirable and left to French settlement mostly. Detroit itself was only a little larger than Birmingham at the present time.

In 1834 there were a sufficient number of Covenanters in Southfield to organize a church. Previous to this, the people had been gathered together in prayer of “Society” by David Stewart. In fact for nine years after this the “Society” was the binding influence, as no minister was ordained until 1843. On a yellow slip of paper in one of David Stewart’s books, published in 1790, and in his own hand is written this “Society” topic, James 4:14. For what is your life? How ought we to improve life so as to be ready for death? As the writer sat the other day in the very room in David Stewart’s house in which this topic was discussed some eighty years ago, it was easy to imagine the whole scene. The rugged pioneers in the early style of dress, the earnest reading of Scripture by Mary B. Stewart, or “Aunt Mary” chosen because as her father said, “You have a brave, coarse voice,” the singing of a psalm led by Matthew Ervin, a senior of all, the fervent prayer, and then the pleasant exchange of goodbyes for another week.

A Sermon of 1836

Some Covenanters lived at “The Flint,” Wm. Marshall, Woodburns, and others, and some in West Bloomfield, Samuel Blackwood, etc. During the summer months when a supply minister rode the circuit from Ohio to “The Flint,” and landed at David Stewart’s Saturday, David Stewart would shoulder his gun and follow the trail to John Parks’ to tell them that the minister had come and there would be preaching in his barn on Sabbath. Then back he would go to tell his neighbors, all of them, for church was a social center indeed. John Parks would in turn walk down to the openings to invite the people there. The people came from far and near behind their ox teams and over stumpy trails to hear a real sermon and greet their friends. At other times the meetings would be held in the Mason James barn (the W. L. Rundell farm at the present time), the Anthony McClung barn or in a vacant log house of John Parks just north of the present church. Through the eyes of one who was present we see again the old barn meetings, see the ladies decked in city finery seated on rough slab benches set on the barn floor, see the boys and men dressed in homespun reclining on the hay mow; see the minister, John Wallace, behind Aunt Mary’s candle stand, upon which this is written, and hear him deliver a rousing Covenanter sermon on July 11, 1836 from Psalm 119:106 (noted in a David Stewart book). We see John McClelland slowly rise in front to “line the psalm,” hear the many voices fill the barn loft, feel the solemn hush fall over all as the benediction is pronounced. When the last words are said we watch the unselfish, saintly crowd file out and homeward go strengthened to face the hard toil of another week. But we must leave them, no matter how much we may love to linger over the memories of the old folks of early Michigan days.

Covenanter Ministers

Some time after 1834, John Parks gave one acre of land for a church site. A small church was erected amid the stumps and woody background but it is hardly likely that the donor ever entered it as his death occurred in January 1838.

For nine years after a church was organized in 1834, the congregation was without a pastor. In 1843, Rev. Jas. Neil was installed and preached in the little church until 1851. The next minister was Rev. J. S. T. Milligan whose ministering added so greatly to the membership that a new church was built on the old site about 1862. The little old church was moved to the Neil east eighty where it stood many a day. Rev. Mr. Milligan, in 1871, went to Dennison, Kansas and started a church, many from Southfield going with him. He was succeeded by Rev. Jas. R. Hill who remained four years. Following this, Rev. Joseph McCracken was pastor from 1878 to 1903. Rev. H. G. Patterson succeeded and remained some five years. The present pastor is Rev. Mr. Robb, who resides in Birmingham.

The Covenanter Churchyard

When John Parks, donor of the church site, died suddenly January 24, 1838, aged 36 years 24 days, he was buried in the cemetery at the Presbyterian church of Southfield, as there was none at the Reformed Presbyterian church at that time. His family years later had too much respect for the husband and father to attempt removal consequently by his side are laid his wife, Margaret Stewart Parks, 1800- August 20, 1880, and his daughters, Mary Ruth Parks, 1935- September 11, 1872, and Sarah Jane Parks, aged 34 years, 11 months. A short time after his death, his wife added another half acre just north of the church site for a cemetery. Twenty-one years later, Sarah Jane Parks, the youngest daughter, gave the whole amount out of her portion of her father’s estate. After her death, the property not being deeded, went to Margaret Parks, the mother, whose death in 1880 left the oldest daughter, Margaret Ann Parks Thompson, to give the acre and a half site out of her share. Some dozen or more years ago the Reformed Presbyterian church asked for a deed and it was gladly given.

The Past

The first cemetery plat was inclined to be wet, as the surrounding ground was level and the soil mostly clay. Many Covenanter families had started lots in the older cemeteries where the soil was sandy. David Stewart, father of the Covenanter church of Michigan, loved his church too well to wish to be buried in any other place than beside it, consequently when he died February 24, 1852 his body was sorrowfully laid away in the rough stumpy ground. A little later a large, strong iron fence was placed around his lot which still stands as good as ever. Years ago the church tiled the cemetery – Wm. Young also laid a private drain – so that now the ground is as dry as that of any other and the top soil much adapted to the growth of plants.

The church people of olden times took pride in caring for the cemetery for they were interested in the people buried there and had known them every one. Many a Sabbath morning has the writer, when a child, walked hand in hand with the best of mothers through the old churchyard with its bright flowers flaunting their perfume and bloom to the breeze, with its quaint tombstones and grassy mounds; many a time peeped through the old fashioned lot fences and listened to the life stories, the heroisms of those sleeping below. The flowers, the stories, the friendly morning greetings of others, these all made the place seem God’s Album in which each sleeper had written his best thoughts and laid down to pleasant dreams.

The Present

But times have changed. The old people are gone. Many of the present church members have no interest in the little cemetery. The very few who have can’t be expected to care for all the churchyard. Some of the thoughtful ones have wanted something done for the cemetery in the way of improvements, better care and permanency, for years back. It is a historic spot the most fitting burial place for those buried there. The churchyard cemetery is an old, old idea found in all old cemeteries and early settled parts of the United States. Removal of the dead buried years ago in the old way is a farce. The better and more Christian-like way is to help make the little old cemeteries permanent, better cared for and beautiful. The famous men and women of history are nearly all buried in them. The First Lady of the Land of our own country was recently laid away in a little town cemetery in Georgia beside her mother and within sight of her childhood home.

Last October a few interested persons presented the matter to the church organization, and as a result the presiding officer appointed a committee of two, Edward McKinney and Mary E. Thompson, to discover some plan of bettering conditions. After due consideration of circumstances and conditions existing and investigations of the laws, the committee reported to an official meeting of the Reformed Presbyterian church that township ownership seemed to be the best solution. It was voted to retain the acting committee and power given to the chairman to appoint three more. These three are Milligan Henning, James Cannon, Jr. and Renwick McKinney. The committee was empowered to deal with the township board in the way of finding out the requirements and putting the cemetery into such shape as to meet these requirements, also given power to raise a trust fund for the care and up-keep of the cemetery if the cemetery would be accepted by the town under no other condition.

Three members of the committee went before the township board meet[ing] of Southfield and presented the matter of having the cemetery taken over by the town. The clerk of the board stated the following [_______] and requirements;

  1. The ground itself should be put into good shape, leveled, seeded, all down or loose markers reset, etc.
  2. A good fence should be put around the entire cemetery, thus separating it from the church site adjoining.
  3. A trust fund should be turned over to the town for the care of the Covenanter cemetery only, the interest on the sum being the money used.

A few families worked faithfully last fall to grade the ground, drawing in much dirt to fill in the ugly ditch that has yawned for years between the cemetery and the church. The markers have nearly all been reset an[d] all the old tough, sour, weedy sod, with all its roots and sprouts, have been removed. In the spring a little working up of the soil and seeding have to be done. The level landscape effect will allow of lawn mowing, and artistic shrubs will be set. Then a good fence will be put up so that the town will be at no expense for many years to come.

The last requirement is the one that the committee is working on now. At a committee meeting recently it was decided to raise the fund by subscription, each member being assigned certain lots upon which they wish to raise as much as possible, the whole lump sum going for the care of the entire cemetery which consists of one-half acre. If a sufficient sum can be raised we have a right to expect as good care of the lots as would be taken in the other township cemeteries, providing an extra fee were given each year and as good as would be given in any corporation cemetery. A township owned, endowed cemetery seems to me to embody all the safety of a town and the care of a corporation cemetery. Some lots have no one to provide for them. Our fathers and mothers and others did their very best to us and for the township and state. Will we do less for them? When our loved ones are gone we can do no more for them except care for their resting places. Perhaps the angels in heaven and the spirits of the dead know when we smooth the mother earth over the graves or perchance drop a tear or flower in remembrance and are rejoiced. At least the fact remains that such acts influence the living and make the presence of those gone before seem nearer. Someone has said that a stranger can judge the moral standards of a community by looking at the cemeteries.

If anyone is interested in or has been interested in the Covenanter church or cemetery and wishes to contribute, the members of this committee will be only too glad to accept what you have left after paying your taxes and feeding the Belgians; in fact will give you some little time in which to accumulate more. The trust fund will be left so that later bequests may be added thereto. The interest only will be used. The rate will be four per cent most likely. It takes $1.00 to care for a lot alone. Besides a fence is needed.

The ground has been platted and each lot will have numbered corner posts of cement sunk to grass level. This plat will be kept in the office of the township clerk together with the names of the lot holders. If anyone wishes to secure a lot or put up a memorial for a Covenanter father or mother in what is to be the finest little cemetery in the town, kindly make your wishes known to some member of the committee.

The following is the Michigan law providing for the care of the trust fund; PUBLIC ACT OF MICHIGAN – SESSION OF 1909 (No. 95). Approved May 18, 1909. Did not copy.

STEWART, DAVID, died February 24, 1852, age 84, Ann, wife of David Stewart , died November 24, 1865 aged 106 years, 4 months. John Porter, son of David Stewart, died December 19, 1880, aged 82 years. Mary B., daughter of David Stewart, died June 11, 1887, aged 90 years. Mary, daughter of Andrew and Betsy Taylor and grand-daughter of David Stewart, died September 28, 1853, aged 20 years. Margaret, daughter of Andrew and Betsy Taylor and granddaughter of David Stewart, died October 5, 1863 aged 17.

HEMPHILL, THOMAS. Nancy, daughter of Thomas and Mary Hemphill, born November 18, 1845, died March 23, 1854. Aged 13 years.

McCURDY, ANDREW. Mary Elizabeth, daughter of Andrew and Elizabeth McCurdy, died May 12, 1859, aged 13 years.

GREER, SAMUEL, Agnes J., wife of Samuel Greer, died August 13, 1860, aged 20 years, 5 months, 5 days.

GREER, Wm. J. Elizabeth, wife of Wm. J. Greer, died July 12, 1873, aged 50 years.

MARSHALL, ALEXANDER, died October 8, 1860, aged 45 years. Mrs. Alexander Marshall, buried just north of husband.

CAMERON, SAMUEL, Agnes, wife of Samuel Cameron, died March 20 1861, aged 43 years.

BELL, SAM’L, Born November 13, 1819, died February 24, 1904. Mary, wife of Samuel Bell and daughter of Wm. And Isabella Marshall, died September 7, 1861, aged 25 years.

TORRENS, JOSEPH, died February 20, 1864, aged 36 years. Elizabeth, wife of Joseph Torrens, died June 6, 1878, aged 36 years. Annie, daughter of James McKinney, died May 6, 1869, aged 16 years.

EDGAR, JOSEPH. Joseph, son of Joseph and Agnes Edgar, died September 20, 1865, aged 6 years.

McDONALD, Wm. William Wallace, son of Wm. McDonald, born March 26, 1854, died March 23, 1866.

MORROW, JAMES. Jr. Achibald, son of James Morrow, was born December 12, 1867, died March 11, 1868. On the same lot are buried Robert John, son of Robert, son of Robert Douglas, born January 31, 1875, died March 15, 1879; Another son, Samuel, A. was born March 16, 1880, died July 27, 1880.

NEIL, ALEXANDER. Young child.

YOUNG, HUGH. “Our Willie.” No date now.

McLAUGHLIN, ROBERT. Born July 10, 1801, died February 28, 1881. Ruth, wife of Robert McLaughlin, born June 20, 1809, died July 2, 1885. James McLaughlin, son of Robert McLaughlin, died July 18, 1869, aged 41 years. Jane, wife of James McLaughlin, died November 16, 1866, aged 41 years. James Jr., son of James McLaughlin, died Sept. 18, 1872, aged 18 years.

STEWART, JOHN LUTHER, son of John Stewart, born February 22, 1848, and died September 30, 1868. Ella, born Aug. 6, 1857, died Aug. 20, 1884. Lot east of the McCurdy’s.

MARSHALL, Wm. died in Southfield January 17 1872, aged 70 years. Isabella, wife of Wm. Marshall, born 1802, died about 1881. Buried to north of her husband.

HANNA, DAVID. Agnes M., daughter, died February 22, 1881, aged 1 year. James A. died August 17, 1872, aged 5 months. Also infant sister. Robbie and Freddie, twins, died March 14, 1882, aged 3 months, December 14, 1881, aged 15 days.

CONNERY, WILLIAM. Margaret, wife of Wm. Connery, died March 6, 1872.

DERMOND, GEO. C. born in Vermont, June 27, 1810, died June 29, 1873.

McKINNEY, JAS., born August 1, 1806, died April 13, 1891. Martha, wife of Jas. McKinney, born May 18, 1808, died February 4, 1879.

HENNING, Wm., born January 24, 1828, died February 24, 1904. Eliza, wife of Wm. Henning, born August 16, 1817, died August 2, 1883. Anna M. wife of John Wallace and daughter of Wm. and Eliza Henning, born August 11, 1851, died August 1, 1882.

THOMPSON, Wm. JAMES, born April 24, 1823, died February 24, 1886. Margaret Ann, wife of Wm. James Thompson and daughter of John and Margaret Parks, born, July 4, 1828, died March 13, 1914.

McCOY, FRED, born July 22, 1889, died October 30, 1889.

YOUNG, Wm. S., was born April 14, 1837, died September 1898. Ann J., wife of Wm. J. Young and daughter of Dr. Jas. Rodgers, born April 26, 1840, died April 4, 1891.

McDONALD, CLARENCE, Day old son.

McKINNEY, JAS. A., born May 17 1837, died April 20, 1893. James Roy, eldest child of S. Edward McKinney, born April 24, 1901, died June 18, 1902.

CANNON, A.M. Alexander Woodburn Cannon, son of A.M. Cannon, born July 24, 1874, died June 23, 1895.

GROW, Mary Ellen, born May 1, 1866, died August 3, 1899.


The following is a chronological record of the lots and a complete list of interments, including a few sketches of the early pioneers.

STEWART, DAVID. Born at Ballylane, Ireland, 1768; died at Southfield, Mich. February 24, 1852. aged 84. In Ireland he married Ann, daughter of John and Margaret Porter. He came to White Lake, Orange County, N. Y. in 1800, settling near the farm of John Porter, who had come to America some years before. For 31 years David Stewart tilled the somewhat barren, stony soil of Orange county and raised his family of seven children, Mary B., John Porter, Margaret (Mrs. John Parks), David, Jr., Betsy (Mrs. Andrew Taylor) and Ruth (Mrs. A. Bell).

In the fall of 1831, when the tide of immigration was moving toward the Michigan territory, David Stewart resolved to go to the new country. His friends said, “You are too old a man.” Despite his almost sixty-five years, he came and picked out a farm for himself, now opposite Caleb Jackson’s in Southfield, together with other holdings. He also chose a farm for his son-in-law, John Parks, farther south. In the spring, Mr. and Mrs. John Parks, their almost four year old daughter Margaret Ann, Mrs. David Stewart, and Miss Mary Robb (Mrs. Cornelius Brooks), niece of David Stewart, came from New York City and Orange County.

David Stewart, always a devoted Covenanter and a man of clear insight and business tact, gathered the early settlers together in religious meetings held in log barns and houses. In 1834 the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Southfield was organized with David Stewart as one of the elders. (In the churchyard lies buried five of the persons who were present: David and Ann Stewart, Mary B. Stewart, Mrs. William Connery and Margaret Ann Parks Thompson.) After some hard struggles a small church was erected on the acre of land donated by John Parks. It contained no seats for some length of time. David Stewart, an old man over seventy, had to walk from home to home in the woods with a subscription begging for money to seat the church. In a recent conversation with Mrs. Rachel McClelland, she told the writer what David Stewart said to the head of the family in her hearing when the opportunity to help was not eagerly seized upon. The tall spare man with snow white hair meaningfully and regretfully waved his hand toward the walls of the room in which he was seated and said; “People who live in their fine, comfortable ceiled houses will let the house of the Lord go without seats.” Has the species died out? Indifference to public good must have pained the heart of the old man many times. He contributed often beyond his means and endured endless personal sacrifices.

It is said that his Irish homespun wedding coat of 1795, with its brass buttons, long swallow tails and high Revolutionary style of collar, was worn for over fifty years as a “church coat” in order that he might provide for others and the public good. His sacrifices were not in vain, for he lived to see the church grow and flourish. He was not only interested in religion, but education as well, and donated a site for a schoolhouse on the southeast corner of his farm. Here stood the low plank schoolhouse for many years. If anyone said a disparaging word concerning Michigan in those early days, David Stewart’s reply always was, “Give it time.”

February 24, 1852, David Stewart fell asleep to dream of his beautiful Michigan to be, and to realize his highest ideals in the heavenly country beyond. Beside the church amidst the stumps and trees they buried him, the first grave there. At his head a big broad slab they set, around his body a heavy iron fence was placed. On the slab deeply chiseled are these significant quotations:

“Mark thou the perfect and behold the man of righteousness: Because that surely of this man the later end is peace.” Psalm 37:37.”Watch and pray.” Mark 14:38.”To the law and to the testimony.” Isaiah 8:20

Sixty years have flown. The Michigan wilderness has blossomed into a beautiful country – the prophesy of David Stewart come true. Sleep on, oh grand old man of invincible courage, of high ideals, of fertile mind, of kindly heart and gentle! Well have you taught your lesson to the earth children plodding below.

Ann, daughter of John and Margaret Porter, was born in 1758 at Ballylane, Ireland, and died November 24, 1865, aged 106 years, 4 months. Her parents died in Orange County, N.Y., John Porter, November 1826, and Margaret Porter, December, 1829. After their deaths she came to Michigan with the family of John Parks in 1832 to join her husband, David Stewart. To Ann Stewart, David Stewart owed much of his success in life. She not only brought up her own large family of seven, but raised her husband’s niece and a granddaughter as well. Many a logging frock she supplied to the visiting ministers, stopping over from one week to another, when they could not be restrained from helping to log. After a very long life she died and is buried just south of David Stewart.

John Porter Stewart, son of David and Ann Stewart, was born at Ballylane, Ireland, 1799, and came to Orange County, New York, with his parents in 1800. He did not come to Southfield, Mich. from New York City until some years after his father. He was a bachelor and from the time of his arrival always lived at home and worked his father’s farm, buying one of his own immediately west on the northeast corner of the Twelve Mile and Evergreen Road. After his father’s death in 1852, he worked hard to keep up a home for his aged mother. From her death in 1865 until his death December 10, 1880, with the exception of a few weeks, he lived alone in the old home and endured many privations, being an old man of eighty-two at the time of his death.

John P. Stewart, or “Uncle John as he was known by all, was a man of quiet, intellectual tastes and a natural born collector of books. Some of his books, as well as those of his father’s and mother’s, go back before the time of the American Revolution. The Stewart Collection, together with the early Baptist library, kept at the home of the late George Jackson just over the way, was a reading center for the town in early days.


Mary B. Stewart, eldest daughter of David and Ann Stewart, died June 11, 1887, aged 90 years. She was born in Ballylane, Ireland, 1796, and came to America in 1800. She grew up to be her father’s right hand man and remained with her parents until the end. In 1833, she came to Southfield, a year later than the rest of the family as she wished to remain to settle up her business as a weaver. During all her long life in Michigan she wove cloth, blankets, carpets, etc. and a master weaver she was. John Bodine, late tailor of Birmingham, said that he never put scissors in finer cloth than what she wove and her niece, Margaret Ann Parks-Thompson spun. “Aunt Mary” as everyone called her, could chop down a tree as well as any man of those times; in fact, could plow and help her father in every way.

On long winter evenings she loved to go “paring bees” or visit the homes of her relatives. With her pipe in her mouth she would sit by the firelight’s glow and fashion, with the chips from the morning firewood, a little basket for her niece or whittle out from a stick a quaint little flour scoop, perhaps. How the children liked her and watched for her coming.

Thirty years ago the writer, when nearing the Covenanter Church on Sabbath morn, always looked for the “skeleton” and old white horse at the end of the shed. It was always there and the owner, Aunt Mary, was ever in her place at the eastern window in the end of the front amen seat next to the pulpit. As a little child I thought she constituted as permanent a part of the church as the pulpit itself. There she sat during all the scripture measure service – a morning sermon, lunch time, Sabbath School, afternoon sermon, 11:00 AM to 2:30 or 3:00 PM – in her dress of black, shawl and hood of same, fine boots and heavy cane, over each eye a little ball of hair, and a face with ninety years of care. But one day the old white horse didn’t come through the flats and up over the brow of the hill, turn into the churchyard and stop at the post at the end of the shed. No Aunt Mary looked out of the eastern window through the old iron fence at the resting places of her father, mother, and brother. She had joined them and taken her heavenly seat at the eastern window of heaven where she joyously welcomes her nieces and nephews today.

Aunt Mary was nature’s noblewoman and belonged to the royal house of Stewart (David). She was one of the bravest, cleverest, best big-hearted woman that ever lived. She gave away more than enough to care for a half dozen little cemeteries. Perhaps some despicable small souls took advantage of her trustfulness and generosity at times, but Aunt Mary will be remembered long after such specimens of mankind and their memories have faded from the earth. The average age of the four Stewarts was ninety years, six months. They all worked hard; were temperate in all things, read by candle light (only two wore glasses), and never went South.

Did not copy poem “Old Aunt Mary” by James Whitcomb Riley. (M.E.T.) [Added by James Faris, 2009]


Wasn’t it pleasant, O brother mine,
In those old days of the lost sunshine
Of youth–when the Saturday’s chores were through,
And the “Sunday’s wood” in the kitchen, too,
And we went visiting, “me and you,”
Out to Old Aunt Mary’s?

It all comes back so clear to-day!
Though I am as bald as you are gray–
Out by the barn-lot, and down the lane,
We patter along in the dust again,
As light as the tips of the drops of the rain,
Out to Old Aunt Mary’s!

We cross the pasture, and through the wood
Where the old gray snag of the poplar stood,
Where the hammering “red-heads” hopped awry,
And the buzzard “raised” in the “clearing” sky
And lolled and circled, as we went by
Out to Old Aunt Mary’s.

And then in the dust of the road again;
And the teams we met, and the countrymen;
And the long highway, with sunshine spread
As thick as butter on country bread,
Our cares behind, and our hearts ahead
Out to Old Aunt Mary’s.

Why, I see her now in the open door,
Where the little gourds grew up the sides and o’er
The clapboard roof!–And her face–ah, me!
Wasn’t it good for a boy to see–
And wasn’t it good for a boy to be
Out to Old Aunt Mary’s?

And O my brother, so far away,
This is to tell you she waits to-day
To welcome us:–Aunt Mary fell
Asleep this morning, whispering, “Tell
The boys to come!” And all is well
Out to Old Aunt Mary’s.

On the south end of the David Stewart lot are buried his two fine young granddaughters, daughters of Andrew and Betsy Taylor. Mary Taylor died September 28, 1863, aged 20 years. Margaret died October 5, 1863, aged 17.

HEMPHILL, THOMAS. Nancy, daughter of Thomas and Mary Hemphill, was born November 18, 1845, and died March 23, 1854. A brother John still survives. This little girl’s grave was the second in the cemetery.

McCURDY, ANDREW. Mary Elizabeth, daughter of Andrew and Elizabeth McCurdy, died May 12, 1859, aged 13 years. As far as is known this is the third interment. Her fond parents planted many flowers upon this grave of their daughter, flowers from about their home in Southfieldburg where they kept their store. Some time later Mr. McCurdy sold out his business and both returned to their old home in Ireland. Each season since these guardian flowers have grown and blossomed and shed their perfume on the summer breeze, reminding the passerby of immortality and finer things.

GREER, SAMUEL, Agnes J., wife of Samuel Greer, died August 13, 1860, aged 20 years, 5 months and 5 days. Agnes J. was a daughter of George and Mary Slater of Bloomfield township. She was married in 1857 and left behind one child, the late Mrs. Jennie Williams. Mrs. Greer was a sister of Thomas Slater, a former Southfield Covenanter now residing in Ludington, Michigan.

GREER, Wm. J., Elizabeth, second wife of Wm. J. Greer, was born in West Morland County, Penn., in 1823. She was the daughter of James and Mary Johnson, sister of the late John Johnson, of Birmingham, and the late J. M. Johnson, a former Covenanter minister. Mrs. Greer was married January 1861, and died July 12, 1873, aged 50 years. She was a woman of many fine traits and character, a faithful Covenanter and a careful, loving mother to the little step-daughter, now Mrs. Mary J. Shanklin, entrusted to her care. She loved her Bible and her church and expressed a wish that she might lie in death where she loved to go in life.

MARSHALL, ALEXANDER, a brother of Wm. Marshall, was born in Scotland about 1826. He traveled much and while in Australia married a French woman. When he came to Southfield and to his brother’s in 1859 with his wife he had only one little boy, Robert, who still survives. Within a year Mr. Marshall took sick and died October 8, 1860. After her husband’s death, Mrs. Alexander Marshall lived at Royal Oak with her son. Some years after her son’s marriage to Mary Ann McKinney, daughter of Alexander McKinney, Mrs. Marshall died and lies buried beside her husband, to the north.

CAMERON, SAMUEL, Agnes, wife of Samuel Cameron, died March 20 1861 aged 43 years, 7 months. Mrs. Cameron was a sister of Robert James, William, Alexander, Mary and Margaret McKinney. She was born in Ireland. Her husband and herself were members of the Covenanter church in Philadelphia and after his death she came to Michigan with her three children, Mary, John, and Agnes (now deceased).

BELL, SAMUEL, Born in Newry, County Down, Ireland, November 13, 1819. Came to America with his sister and her husband, Wm. Henning, in 1849. Until 1852, Mr. Bell and Mr. Henning worked together as weavers in the carpet mills of Philadelphia. Coming to Michigan he married Mary only child of Wm. And Isabella Marshall. His wife’s early death left one infant son, William. In 1870, Mr. Bell married Mary Hanna. Mr. Bell’s death occurred February 24, 1904, and he was buried in the shadow of the church he loved so well and served so faithfully. For many years Mr. Bell was elder and Sabbath school superintendent. His pleasant manner and consideration of others won for him admiration and friends.

Mary, wife of Samuel Bell, and only child of Wm. And Isabella Marshall, died September 7, 1861, aged 25. An only son, William still survives. Mary Marshall Bell was a fine young woman and many friend still remember her. She was the pride of her parents.

TORRENS, JOSEPH, son of Francis and Mary Torrens, was born in the township of Rahn, County Donegal, Ireland, April 4, 1828, and died in Southfield, Michigan, February 20, 1864. His parents were life-long members of the Covenanter church of Gortlee, Ireland. He came to America when he was about sixteen years of age with his older brother David and his sister’s family, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Keyes, later of Detroit.

As a young man, Joseph Torrens had strong religious and intellectual tendencies and began to prepare himself in the theological school to be a Covenanter minister. Some time later he realized that his health would not allow him to follow an indoor life, consequently, he gave up studying. Next, he served seven years as an apprentice, learning carpentering and contracting in Detroit. He often attended church in Southfield and there met his future wife, Miss Elizabeth McKinney, daughter of Jas. McKinney, in 1861.

When the bids for the building of the second Covenanter church building were received in 1861, Joseph Torrens was found to be the lowest. So low that he himself said: “I know that I will not make anything, but I want to leave something for people to look at and think of me sometimes when I am gone.” No tithing here, but all. No hope of great reward kept Joseph Torrens at his work, yet how carefully he planned and put together each part as eternity drew near. The heavy work and anxiety hastened his disease. At last it was finished and he rested in his little cabin in the church yard. Soon his health gave way and he was unable to even sit up. James McKinney came, loaded the cabin, and with Mrs. Torrens walking behind driving the cow, Joseph Torrens took his last look at his great gift to his fellows and to his God. For a hero, one need look no farther. When you see the church, think of the builder buried beside it.

Elizabeth, wife of Joseph Torrens, and daughter of James and Martha McKinney, died June 6, 1878, aged 36 years, one month, twelve days. She lived twelve years after the death of her husband, at her father’s home, and visited his friends in New York City. Her life was beautiful indeed.

Annie McKinney, daughter of James and Martha McKinney, died May 6, 1860, aged 16 years, two months. She is buried in the Joseph Torrens lot next to her mother beyond.

EDGAR, Joseph. Joseph, son of Joseph and Agnes, died September 20, 1865, aged 6 years, 8 months.

McDONALD, Wm. William Wallace McDonald was born March 26, 1854, and died March 23, 1866. He was the son of Wm. McDonald, a former elder of the Southfield Reformed Presbyterian Church.

MORROW, JAS. Jr. Achibald, son of Jas. Morrow, Sr. was born Dec. 12, 1867, and died March 11, 1868. On this lot are buried the sons of Robert Douglas, a brother-in-law.

DOUGLAS, ROBERT. Robert John, son of Robert and Elizabeth Douglas, was born January 31, 1875, died March 15, 1879. Another son, Samuel, A. was born March 16, 1880, died July 27, 1880.

NEIL, ALEXANDER. Young child of Alexander Neil, one of the early interments. The father was the brother of the first Reformed Presbyterian minister of Southfield.

YOUNG, HUGH. “Our Willie,” son of H. and C.J. Young. This is one of the early graves and the tiny stone with little lamb looking meekly forth now bears no date.

McLAUGHLIN, ROBERT. Born in County Donegal, Ireland, July 10, 1801 died February 25, 1881. Mr. McLaughlin lived sometime in New York before coming to Michigan. He was a brother-in-law of John Parks and purchased the Mason I. James farm just opposite, now owned by W. L. Rundel. Here he lived until he retired to Birmingham some forty year ago. He died February 25, 1881, and lies buried in the little old churchyard within sight of his old time farm.

Ruth, wife of Robert McLaughlin was born in Coleraine, Ireland, June 20, 1803. She came to America with her mother and three brothers, John, Daniel, and Robert Parks. The last years of her life she lived with her daughter, Mrs. John Johnson. She was a Covenanter from away back and brought up her family in the Covenanter church of Southfield. On July 2, 1885, she passed from earth.

James McLaughlin, son of Robert died July 18, 1869, aged 41 years, 10 months, 18 days. He was raised on his father’s farm in Southfield and was a member of the Reformed Presbyterian church. When quite young he married Jane Rogers and to them were born five children, James, Jr. Robert, Joseph, Susan and Elizabeth. Joseph of Seattle, Wash., and Elizabeth of Detroit still survive. Previous to his death, Mr. McLaughlin was one of Birmingham’s leading business men.

Jane, wife of James McLaughlin, died November 16, 1866, aged 41 years, 7 months, 4 days.

James Jr., son of James and Jane McLaughlin, died September 18, 1872, aged 18 years, 7 months, 25 days.

STEWART, JOHN. Luther, son of John Stewart, was born February 22, 1848, and died September 30, 1869.

Ella, daughter of John Stewart, was born August 6, 1857, and died August 20, 1884. The lot is just of the McCurdy one.

GAILEY, ANDREW. Died March 12, 1871, aged 66 years. Mr. Gailey was a Covenanter and owned a farm nearby. His only child, Dr. John Gailey, is a prominent Detroit physician. Mrs. Andrew Gailey was a sister of Mrs. John Stewart.

MARSHALL, Wm. Born in Scotland; died in Southfield January 17 1872, aged 80 years. Mr. Marshall resided in Lapeer, near “The Flint,” when he first came to Michigan from Rochester, N.Y. Later he owned the farm now belonging to the Samuel Bell estate. Wm. Marshall was a rugged man and many a day he “masoned” with Hugh Purdy and Alexander McKinney. Many buildings still rest on their foundations build strong as Gibraltar. He was a fine man.

Mrs. William Marshall lies buried beside her husband, to the north. Isabella Barclay was born in Scotland in 1802 and died about 1881. One of the most vivid pictures of early childhood for the writer is that of Mrs. Marshall sitting in church with little Wylie Bell by her side. Sitting there with her dress of black and cap of the same, her gentle, aged face and quaint, friendly ways quite won the heart of the childish observer. She was a kind, good woman.

HANNA, DAVID. Agnes M. , daughter of David A. Hanna, died February 22, 1881, aged 1 year, 4 months, 11 days. James A., died August 17, 1872, aged 5 months, 22 days. (Also an infant sister) Robbie and Freddie, twins, died March 14, 1882, aged 3 months, 15 days; December 14, 1881, aged 15 days. Overshadowing this lot and protecting it as it were from the north wind’s wintry blasts, are two of the original spruce trees planted many years ago by Robert Hanna, senior of all, and father of David Hanna.

CONNERY, WILLIAM. Margaret, wife of Wm. Connery, died March 6, 1872, aged 82 years, 4 months, 17 days. Mrs. Connery came to Michigan with her husband and family about 1830, being engaged by John Beattie, a resident of Orange County, New York, to clear up his government land – later the Neil eighties. She must have attended the first meetings of the Covenanters in the summer of 1832, held in the barn of Mason I. James. Mrs. Connery was one of the original members of the Southfield Covenanter church and was with it in its time of need. She was a hard worker, as were all the women of those days. A large family of children were to care for and support. Many a time her children and herself walked behind an ox team load of cranberries, picked in the Royal Oak marsh, clear to Detroit over the old Pontiac trail. This was the only outing and many were the purchases made. After her death the family moved west.

DERMOND, GEORGE C. Mr. Dermond was born in Vermont, June 27, 1810. He came eastward to Allegheny and there became acquainted with his future wife, Jane Johnson, sister of the late John Johnson, of Birmingham. On December 2, 1851, she died and was buried in Pennsylvania. She left three children, Maggie, who later died in Pennsylvania, the late Samuel of Detroit and the late James of Southfield. Mr. Dermond was a Covenanter and died at the home of his son, Samuel, in Detroit, June 29, 1873.

McKINNEY, JAMES. Born in Coleraine, Ireland, August 1, 1806, died April 13, 1891. Mr. McKinney came to Michigan while it was still a territory and took up a farm in “the openings” in Southfield. He was one of the very early time Covenanters, attended the barn meetings and saw the first minister installed. Many a Sabbath morning was his ox team seen coming from the south with himself trudging along at the side. Mr. McKinney, was a man of sterling worth and filled well his place in life.

Martha, wife of James McKinney, born in Coleraine, Ireland, May 18, 1808, and died in Southfield February 4, 1879. She came to Michigan with her husband and little boy Robert. She was the mother of six children: Robert, Elizabeth (Mrs. Joseph Torrens), Sarah (Mrs. Alexander Purdy), Anna, Lucy (Mrs. John Greer), and Alexander.

HENNING, WILLIAM. Born in Newry, County Down, Ireland, January 24, 1828. He came to the United States with his wife and brother-in-law, Samuel Bell, in 1849 and worked in the Philadelphia carpet mills until he moved to Michigan in 1852. Mr. Henning was for many years a deacon, and during the erection of the present building, aided largely in the hauling of the material from Detroit. He was a man of distinctive individuality and of sterling worth. On who eagerly watched the welfare of the church and the little cemetery as well, where later he was buried. His death took place February 24, 1904.

Eliza, wife of Wm. Henning and daughter of John and Ann Bell, was born in Newry, County Down, Ireland, August 16, 1817. She came to America with her husband in 1849 and to Michigan in 1852. Her family consisted of a daughter Anna and son Milligan. On August 2, 1888, her spirit passed into the great beyond. Mrs. Henning was one of those gentle-spirited, sweet faced women whose personality makes the world a better place in which to live.

Anna M. daughter of Wm. and Eliza Henning, was born in Philadelphia, August 11, 1851. She married John Wallace July 1879, and died August 1, 1882, leaving an infant daughter Mary (now Mrs. Malcolm McDonald) to the care of her mother and brother.

THOMPSON, WILLIAM JAMES. Born April 24, 1823, at Lisnalea, County Armagh, Ireland. When a young man he came to America with an older sister. Some years later they both visited their former home in Ireland. On New Year morning, 1861, in the little old church, by Rev. J.S.T. Milligan, he was united in marriage to Margaret Ann, eldest daughter of Mrs. Margaret Parks. A reception at the home of the bride’s mother, across the road, followed. This wedding is still remembered as quite an event for those days. In 1885 he again visited his old home in Ireland, and died suddenly of apoplexy February 24, 1886, shortly after his return. James Thomson was of Covenanter origin and a member of the Southfield church. When a young man he wrote, in a moment of reflection, on the fly leaf of his copy of Robert Burns: “Wm. Jas. Thompson is a decent man.” Such a judgment with all that it implies is the highest tribute one can pay to himself or another.

Margaret Ann, eldest daughter of John and Margaret Parks, was born in New York City, July 4, 1828. When almost four years old she came to Michigan in May, 1832, with her parents. When she was a ten, her father’s death brought much sadness and added duties. She was ever solicitous for the comfort and care of others. Many times she would work all day and spin until long after midnight, or sit up with a sick neighbor until morning. She was present at the Covenanter church organization in 1834 and watched its progress for over eighty years. To her the little cemetery was indeed precious, for she was present at every funeral from the beginning to end, her beloved grandfather’s, David Stewart, being the first and her own the last. She lived the last forty years or more next to the church and within sight of her home in 1832. She knew and loved nature in all its various forms and possessed and unusually alert, retentive mind and artistic temperament. On the evening of Friday, March 13, 1914, her beautiful spirit went home.

McCOY, FRED. Born July 22, 1889, died October 30, 1889. This child was a son of a Covenanter family who happened to be in Detroit when death visited their family.

YOUNG, Wm. S., was born April 14, 1837, in Ayrshire, Scotland within two miles of London Castle. He came to this country in 1855 and resided in Southfield, Michigan, most of the time. He was an efficient elder, class leader, and head psalmodist for many years previous to his death on September 10, 1898 (1893).

Ann J. Rodgers was born in Commerce Township, April 26, 1840, and was the eldest daughter of Dr. James Rodgers. She was married to Wm. S. Young in 1862 and passed away from earth April 4, 1891, aged 51 years.

McDONALD, CLARENCE. Day old son of Clarence McDonald, born October 19, 1892. Lot just east of Wm. McDonald’s.

McKINNEY, JAS. A., was born in Philadelphia, May 17 1837. Came to Redford, Michigan, when but a little boy some three years of age. He was a devoted member of the Reformed Presbyterian congregation until his heavenly Father called him home April 20, 1893, being as we would say in the very prime of life, only fifty-six. Mr. McKinney was an able deacon and Sabbath school teacher for many years and was ever in his place.

On the same lot is buried James Roy, eldest child of Mr. and Mrs. S. Edward McKinney and grandson of Jas. A. McKinney. He was born at Dover, Otsego county, Michigan, April 24, 1901. His earthly life was destined to be short. After an illness of only eleven days, he died at Birmingham, Michigan June 18, 1902, aged 13 months, 24 days.

CANNON, A.M. Alexander Woodburn Cannon, son of A.M. and Elizabeth Cannon, was born at Holton, Kansas, July 24, 1874, and died at his parent’s home in Southfield, June 23, 1895. The early close of this exemplary young man’s life brought much sadness to his family and friends.

GROW, Mary Ellen, third daughter of James A. McKinney, was born May 1, 1866. She was married to Mr. Herbert Grow, of Vernon, Michigan, July 1890, and died August 3, 1899, aged 33 years. Three little boys and a husband were left behind to mourn her loss.

Biographical Note of Mary E. Thompson

(Readers of the historical sketch [by John O. Edgar] concerning the church may also be interested in the following information which appeared in issues of The Royal Oak Tribune for October 23, 1967 and August 12, 1971.)

Miss Thompson was born February 6, 1871, and passed away October 21, 1967 at the age of ninety-six. By comparing events and dates, it appears that her family must have moved to the farm on Evergreen Road, a half mile south of the church, in 1874. This was her residence throughout the remainder of her life. She attended Ypsilanti Normal College and graduated from Columbia University. She taught in the Beddow and McKinley Schools in Southfield. The Mary E. Thompson school was named in her honor.

She was a frugal person, who always lived a simple life. After her brother’s death in 1960, she continued to live alone on the ancestral farm. She kept a flock of sheep until the day of her death, and when she was discovered dead, one of the first things to be done was to dispose of the 25-30 sheep which were in the barnyard.

As a teacher she had a steady income and during the depression she used it to purchase additional land. She and her brother owned most of the land between 10 and 11 mile Roads and between Evergreen and Santa Barbara. After World War II some of this land was sold for housing developments. In 1958, 166 acres were sold to the City of Southfield for the sum of $747,000. In her will, she bequeathed to the City $100,000 in cash, also her home with the twenty acres of land surrounding it.

Patrick Flannery, City of Southfield Clerk, and a close friend of Miss Thompson described her as a “well traveled and knowledgeable person to the end of her life.” He also stated that “she was somewhat eccentric. With her wealth, even after selling the property to the City, the only concession she made to modern living was to purchase an electric stove and refrigerator.”

At the time of her death, the following tribute was paid to her by the City of Southfield: “Her agile mind and keen perception might well have earned her accolades in other fields, yet her duty to family and love for the simple life led her inexorably back to the land.”

In Mary Thompson we see something of the character and indomitable spirit of David Stewart, who are at more than 65 years of age came to the Michigan wilderness, that he might stake out land for himself and his descendents, that he might establish a church for the honor and glory of God.

John O. Edgar