Article Category: Pillars | Places | SC26

Joseph Gawler’s Sons | Funeral Home of the Presidents

Posted Sunday, Dec 01
Written By Alice Adams
Photography by Bobby Carlsen
Southern Calls, Vol. 26, December 2019

It’s difficult to know what 5-year-old Joseph Gawler was thinking as the ship bringing his family from Bristol, England, steamed into Alexandria, Virginia, that day in 1832. One can only imagine the wonder – and possibly the fear – he felt coming to this new land, a place that would become his home for the rest of his life.

Along with his sister and two brothers, Joseph’s parents also made the voyage. It is possible that his mother died aboard ship because archival materials indicate Joseph and his siblings were settled in Alexandria with their father, an Episcopal priest.

At some point soon after their arrival in Virginia, Rev. Gawler died, leaving his five children in the care of a family in Alexandria, perhaps a member of the same parish in which the Gawler family had settled originally. During this era in America, it was customary for most boys to learn a trade, and this training was provided through an apprenticeship with a tradesman. Typically, the apprenticeship began when the boy was 14 and continued until approximately 21. However, for orphaned boys, as was the case of Joseph Gawler, the adoptive family could enter an orphan into an apprenticeship as early as 9 or 10 years of age.

Ad from Baltimore Sun, 1841
Ad from Baltimore Sun, 1841

This may have been the fate of young Joseph Gawler, for he was apprenticed at some point to a local tailor, and, for whatever reason, at about age 13, he ran away to Baltimore on Aug. 29, 1841. The tradesman for whom he apprenticed, J. S. Emerson of Alexandria, ran several ads, beginning Sept. 11, 1841, in The Baltimore Sun.

There is little to document the teenager’s activities in the ensuing years, but, because he became a skilled cabinetmaker, we may assume he indentured himself to a tradesman who taught him these skills.

At some point during his time away from Alexandria, Gawler met and married Annie Louisa Bekner. In 1850, they moved to Washington and settled in a modest house in the 1700 block of Pennsylvania Avenue, not far from the White House. Twelve children were born, six surviving to adulthood: Joseph Gawler Jr., 1851-1909; Clara Louisa Gawler, 1854-1909; Charles J. Gawler, 1855-1919; Annie E. Gawler Monroe, 1862-1947; Ferdinand Gawler, 1866-1904; and Alfred Benjamin Gawler,1873-1954.

Early one Sunday morning in December 1853, the Gawler family miraculously escaped certain death when a raging storm weakened the walls of a nearby home. Bricks and heavy timbers showered the adjacent frame house where Annie Gawler and her children were asleep on the second floor. Trapped by debris, they eventually had to be extricated by passing strangers who heard their cries. A report of the harrowing experience was carried in The Washington Sentinel’s Dec. 20, 1853, edition. In the article, a word of thanks from the family was offered to two rescuers – Capt. Sanger and Mr. James Kelly.

The remainder of this article is reserved for subscribers only

In addition to receiving all of our quarterly magazines by mail, subscribers to Southern Calls have exclusive access to additional online articles, as well as ability to read all Southern Calls magazine articles as they come available.

Get your One Year or Two Year subscription today, or login here to continue viewing the rest of the article. 

Order this issue

Southern Calls Issue 26

In stock

Articles Relating to Issue 26

Duane Hills | President of Joseph Gawler’s Sons

Duane Hills | President of Joseph Gawler’s Sons

As a student at Williamson Junior and Senior High School in Tioga Junction, Pennsylvania, Duane Hills, now 61, discovered a passion for American history that was nurtured by his grandfather. “He would load my brothers and I into the car, and we would spend weekends…

Tommy Hudson | Steward of the Centennial

Tommy Hudson | Steward of the Centennial

In 1919, the Eiffel Tower was the world’s tallest structure, movies were silent and the income of an average American family was a mere $1,500. One century ago, a signed armistice signaled the end of World War I, the Prohibition era was about to begin and women were…

Other Recent Articles

The Recessional

The Recessional

The Art of Undertaking | From our Limited Series of prints by Southern Calls “Red clay fills the hole left in our hearts. Only flowers remain as guardians of the grave, until they too wither and die. Rows of headstones remind us of a new reality. Homeward bound.” ...

read more
Corpse Lifter

Corpse Lifter

Patented July 27, 1880 by Edward B. Carter of Huntsville, Alabama To all whom it may concern:Be it known that I, EDWARD B. CARTER, of Huntsville, in the county of Madison and State of Alabama, have invented a new and Improved Corpse-Lifter, of which the following is a...

read more
The Complete Embalmer

The Complete Embalmer

And the Story of Thomas Holmes, MD The embalming craze took off when an Army Medical Corps colonel (and close friend of President Lincoln) became the first Union officer to be killed. On May 24, 1861, Colonel Elmer Ellsworth was shot while removing a Confederate flag...

read more

Join Our Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter to periodically receive article updates, industry news, and details about new issues before they are released.

The Magazine