Widowed Mothers and Bereaved Sisters

mcfadden drowning
New York Herald Friday, Mar 22, 1878 New York, NY Vol: XLIII Issue: 81 Page: 7

Missed the beginning of this series on the McFaddens?

Read Tragedy Strikes the McFadden Family.

Allen McFadden, James McFadden, James Woody, John Dawson and George Roberts drowned in the James River on the evening of March 18, 1878, Newspaper accounts describe a scene of despair. Family members at the scene included a “widowed mother”, a “widowed wife and two sisters of the young men”. Unnamed and known to the public only by their shared loss, who were the survivors of the dead?

The “widowed wife” was Martha Bryant McFadden. She was born in Buckingham County about 1815, making her 63 when her husband, Allen McFadden, died. (1) Allen and Martha married about 1839 and were the parents of eight known children, including James McFadden, who drowned with his father and nephew.  James, born about 1853, was 25 at the time of his death. (2) Martha lost her husband of 39 years, son and grandson in the James River that dreadful evening in March.

Mahala Dawson married John Edward McFadden on 15 January 1867 in Buckingham County. (3) John was the oldest son of Allen and Martha McFadden. Her younger brother, John B. Dawson, died in the James River with the McFaddens. Mahala’s older brother, William (age 14), died in 1866 of dropsy. (4) Standing on the banks of the James River in 1878, Mahala had lost her only surviving brother, and three in-laws.

The “widowed mother” (and sister) was Elizabeth “Lizzie” McFadden, oldest daughter of Allen McFadden. (5) Lizzie was born in Buckingham County about 1840 and probably died there after 1900. She married John W. Woody on 5 December 1861 in Buckingham County. (6) Lizzie’s husband died in 1866, leaving Lizzie a widow with two young children, James and Cary Ann “Kate” Woody. (7)  James, “little Jimmy”, was born about 1862 and was sixteen years old when he drowned. Jimmy couldn’t read or write, and at sixteen, was already a laborer bringing in cash to support his widowed mother and younger sister. Cary Ann “Kate” Woody, fourteen years old, was probably with her mother at the scene of the drowning. (8) She married Joel F. Wilkerson about 1880 and made her home in Buckingham County until her death 15 August 1930. Kate and Joel had thirteen children and, along with many of their thirteen children, are buried at Woodland Methodist Church in Buckingham County.

Rebecca Ruler Roberts was pregnant with their eighth child when her husband, George Roberts, drowned in the James River. He was “a faithful colored man….good and well disposed.” (9) Rebecca, age 33, was probably born into slavery. She married George about 1865 after the war and emancipation, and quickly started a family: Clayton Thomas Roberts (1865-1943); Mary Agnes Roberts (1866-1947); William H Roberts (1867-1943); Willie A. Roberts (1869-1938); George Roberts (1872); Sister Roberts (1873); Martha A. “Maddie” Roberts (1874-1964); and Bell Roberts (1878). (10)

Rebecca supported her family as a washer woman, doing the laundry of neighbors. She remained a widow and lived a long life in Howardsville, dying there 23 February 1930. She was 84 years old. (11)


Footnotes

(1) 1850 U.S. census, Buckingham Co., VA, Roll: M432_937; Page: 394A; Image: 445, Ancestry.com
(2) James was age 7 in the 1860 census and 17 in the 1870 census. He appears in the household of Allen McFadden in both enumerations. 1860; District 1, Buckingham, Virginia; Roll: M653_1337; Page: 856; Image: 399. 1870; Slate River, Buckingham, Virginia; Roll: M593_1637; Page: 377B; census records viewed on Ancestry
(3) Kidd, James Randolph., and Jeanne Stinson. Lost Marriages of Buckingham County, Virginia: Drawn from a Newly-Recovered Marriage Register, 1854-1868 & from Federal Manuscript, Newspaper & Printed Sources. Iberian Pub., 1992, p. 60.
(4) Kidd, James Randolph., and Jeanne Stinson. Lost Marriages of Buckingham County, Virginia: Drawn from a Newly-Recovered Marriage Register, 1854-1868 & from Federal Manuscript, Newspaper & Printed Sources. Iberian Pub., 1992. p. 129.
(5) Elizabeth is age ten in the household of Allen McFadden. 1850 U.S. census, Buckingham Co., VA, Roll: M432_937; Page: 394A; Image: 445, Ancestry.com
(6) Kidd, James Randolph., and Jeanne Stinson. Lost Marriages of Buckingham County, Virginia, p. 152.
(7) Albemarle Co., Virginia Death Register 1853 -1887, Reel 1, Library of Virginia ILL Film.
(8) 1870 U.S. Census; Slate River, Buckingham, Virginia; Roll: M593_1637; Page: 377B
(9) Alexandria Gazette (Alexandria, Alexandria, Virginia, United States of America) · 22 Mar 1878, Fri · Page 2, Newspapers.com
(9) 1870 U.S. Census; James River, Buckingham, Virginia; Roll: M593_1637; Page: 285B
(10) Ancestry.com. Virginia, Death Records, 1912-2014 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA.

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