The life of Theodosia Murphy Nolan spans 96 years from the end of World War I until 2014, an amazing time when the world’s economy and life style changed dramatically. Yet if anyone exemplified adaptation and success in causes close to her family and heart, she is the role model.
The first child of Charles and Bertie Murphy died at birth and the second born was August 25, 1917 and given the name Theodosia which had the meaning “A Gift from God”. Three other siblings were born over the next eleven years – Charles Haywood Murphy, Jr, in March 1920, Caroline Patience Murphy in January 1923 and Bertie Wilson Murphy in 1924.
Theodosia was born in El Dorado, Arkansas where she lived her entire life. Growing up as a child in El Dorado booming from the oil discovery was an exciting time. She met her husband to be William Nolan the summer after high school graduation. She attended Gulf Park College in Gulfport, Mississippi then the University of Texas at Austin. She did not finish college as she decided to marry William Nolan on March 11, 1936.
A little over a year the first child was born, Charles Murphy Nolan. Two and a half years later, William Conlin Nolan, Jr. (Bill) was born. The third son Robert Calvert Nolan, (Bob) was named after her grandfather, Robert Calvert Murphy. The fourth child and only daughter, Theodosia Murphy Nolan (Tia) was born in 1947.
Theodosia’s interest in Cherokee went back to an early age where she traveled to the historic home with her mother to visit family, including her grandfather, Robert Calvert Murphy.
A granddaughter of Robert Calvert Murphy, Marjorie Murphy Bell of Lafayette, LA inherited the property in 1968. Marjorie called Theodosia and asked her interest in purchasing Cherokee. Due to other obligations in her life mainly in arts and preservation activities across the state, Theodosia declined but expressed her interest in someday purchasing the ancestral home.
So, a year later Marjorie contacted Theodosia to tell her a doctor from Pennsylvania wanted to buy Cherokee. At that point Theodosia decided it needed to stay in the family, and she would purchase it.
She had a copy of the land grant, a copy of the deed where her Grandfather had bought it as well as the original handwritten deed and a copy of the 1837 deed when Emile Sompyrac purchased it from his father-in-law. Missing was the land patent when it became part of the United States. Landowners were supposed to apply and get a United States land patent, but many had not bothered to get it issued by the government. Her attorney son Bill Nolan would not let her sign the deed without a land patent.
Bill went to Washington and pursued the issuance of a land patent recognizing the land before it entered the union. With that document in hand, the purchase of Cherokee was completed on January 5, 1972.
Well known for her interest and support of the arts and preservation in Arkansas, Theodosia became a strong supporter of the APHN and historic preservation activities in Natchitoches. In the year after Theodosia purchased Cherokee, the APHN added Cherokee to the Country Tour in 1972. Being a new property on the tour, the house became and still is a major attraction on the Country Tour each October.
Her work and generosity over the years became an important resource to the preservation group and its programming. The most significant was the restoration of the African House Murals painted by Clementine Hunter on the top floor of the historic structure on the Melrose site in 1955.
Theodosia’s great love was hosting guests and sharing the stories of the plantation. Her generosity was well known in the community, she loved hosting events and guests from family and friends to tourists to celebrities, international visitors, dignitaries, and college students.
The many events At Cherokee over the years fulfilled two of Theodosia’s goals in life – entertaining and sharing the beauty and history of her beloved Cherokee.