The James River flows gently along the northwest border of Buckingham County. The calm waters are popular with fishermen, kayakers and tubers. The width isn’t more than three hundred feet and the James River is easily crossed by four bridges in Buckingham County. It’s hard to gaze on the river today and imagine the tragedy that befell the McFadden family on the 16thof March, 1878.
The winter of 1878 brought a lot of snow to the western Virginia mountains. On January 8, the Staunton Spectator noted a foot of snow on the ground, adding “it was colder here than it has been for many years.” It was 12 degrees below zero!  A report from Buckingham County said, “The deep snow which fell last week is still on the ground “waiting for more” as the weather prophets say…”  On February 5 another dispatch read, “…deep snow has covered the ground and intense cold has been experienced in all the country north of the James River…” 
The cold spell in the mountains continued until early March when the Richmond Dispatch wrote, “The late very mild spell of weather has brought the apricot and many of the peach trees out into full bloom …”  Mild weather also melted the mountain snows, filled the creeks and swelled the James River.
On Saturday night, March 16, 1878, Allen McFadden (third great-grandfather of my husband, Jesse Crews) heard calls from the other side of the James River. His son, James McFadden, wanted a ride across the river. The ferry had washed out a couple of days earlier and after working across the river, James wanted to go home. Allen’s sixteen-year-old grandson, James Woody, was with James, along with John Dawson, only brother of Mahala McFadden, Allen’s daughter-in-law. A neighbor, George Roberts, was there, too.
Allen McFadden was an imposing man. He stood over six feet tall and at age 65 still did some farming and milling. He had survived Gettysburg and certainly didn’t expect to die crossing the James River. Allen probably didn’t hesitate to take the canoe and paddle across the James to fetch his family home.
Their tragic deaths were reported in newspapers around the US. This story from the Alexandria Gazette provides the best report. 140 years later, the story is a sad reminder of the grief and sorrow felt by the remaining McFaddens and the Roberts family.
Read the Next McFadden story: Widowed Mothers and Bereaved Sisters
Staunton Spectator (Staunton, Virginia), 08 Jan 1878, Tue, Page 3, Newspapers.com.
 Richmond Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia), 16 Jan 1878, Wed, Page 3, Newspapers.com.
 Richmond Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia)), 05 Feb 1878, Tue. Page 3, Newspapers.com.
(4) Richmond Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia), 15 Mar 1878, Fri, Page 1, Newspapers.com.
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