Stories will live in cemetery stroll

Published 11:44 am Wednesday, October 26, 2011

One of the founding members of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church will attend this year’s Fall Founders Festival.

Polly Marshall, a former instructor at Hinds Community College in Raymond, will play the role of Matilda Townsend Palmer, a teenager during the Civil War, in the annual Lantern-lit Cemetery Stroll. Palmer’s parents were charter members of St. Alban’s.

“I love doing cemetery strolls, but this is the first time I’ve reenacted this particular role,” said Marshall, who participates in the annual Raymond Pilgrimage. “The research I’ve uncovered on Matilda’s life is absolutely fascinating. In fact, it’s so fascinating that it’s hard to put down – I just want to keep turning the pages of her life. She was definitely what we southerners call a Steel Magnolia.”

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Matilda Townsend Palmer, the child of wealthy Warren County landowners, was born in 1849. She was 14 when the Civil War came to Bovina, leaving her with memories of the Yankees’ invasion — ruining plantations and destroying her church.

A decade after the war, she met and married Isaac Palmer, a wealthy inventor and industrialist from Connecticut. Matilda was 27 years old, and Isaac was 40. The marriage produced two children, a son named Townsend and a daughter named Natalie.

The couple moved from Bovina to Middletown, Ct., where Isaac owned and operated most of his businesses. He suffered from severe depression and, at age 80, hanged himself from the rafters in his mill.

Matilda never lost contact with her beloved church in Bovina and, before her death in 1927, she finalized her will to include St. Alban’s — she gave a large sum of money to erect a new church.

The Gothic style church was built in 1928.

A brass plaque in the foyer says: “This church is erected to the Glory of God in compliance with the wish of Matilda Townsend Palmer…eldest daughter of Samuel Townsend and Caroline Johnson Townsend.”