Tragedy and Sorrow

I became intrigued by the life of William (March 1875 – 1 Oct 1911) and Carrie McCune, Granddaddy Bill’s parents, when I found out that our great-grandfather, Will, was murdered in Griffin, GA, in October 1911. You may have first heard of this shocking, sad event at our family reunion in Thomaston several years ago; and I’ll share many more details with you soon in a future post. Yes, it’s a sensitive subject for any family to discuss, but the elephant  in the room can safely be acknowledged.

For now, the basic story, according to several regional newspapers, is that Will was out with three other men late on a Saturday night. There was a fight, and Will was stabbed, beaten and left for dead. By the time he was found, it was too late to save him. After learning this sad story, I began to wonder what had happened to Carrie, who was left alone with three children, including two teenage boys, Frank, 15; Willie H. (Granddaddy Bill), 13; and little Rossie, 6. What I found was a story that all of her descendants should know.

In the early 20th century, women had limited legal rights. These were also the days before Social Security and federal welfare. Most people in the South made their living by farming or manufacturing, particularly in the new textile industry. Carrie’s parents and family moved from Upson County to the city of Columbus sometime between 1880 and 1894 probably to leave farming in search of a more secure source of income.  William and Carrie married in 1895.

The 1900 U. S. Federal census shows Carrie and her two sons, Frank and Willie, living with her mother, Rebecca Tillman, two younger brothers and a sister on 6th Ave. in Columbus . [1]  William is shown as a boarder in two different households, that of his sister Mattie Moss in Columbus and later in his brother John’s home in Troup County. He’s employed as a mill worker in both censuses .[2] Why were they living apart? Was this due to marital problems or economic necessity?

The next Columbus city directory in 1906 lists William McCune once again in the household of his brother John and sister-in-law Effie McCune. [3] He’s working at Muscogee Mills, but there’s no mention in the directory anywhere of Carrie and her children. She’s possibly living in the home of relatives in Columbus, but could be in another county. Her mother had died in 1904 so her home was no longer available. Where were they?

Sometime between 1906 and 1910, William, Carrie and children moved from Columbus, GA, to Griffin, probably following mill work. The 1910 U. S. Federal census [4] shows Carrie, 37, living with her husband, William, 36, and three children, Frankie, 14, Willie, 12 and Rossie, 5, on Cherry St. in a rental house. William is working in the cotton mill along with his son Frank, a doffer. These were pre-child labor law days, too. During the early 1900s, children might attend a mill school until age 12, when they began working full-time in the mill. Some children started working long hours for low wages as young as age eight.[5] (See the image to the right).

Lewis Hines, "Doffers in Aragon Mills. Rock Hill, S.C.," 13 May 1912; online image, Wikimedia Commons ( accessed 7 Feb 2016), citing NARA, Department of Commerce and Labor, Children's Bureau, #523539.
Lewis Hines, “Doffers in Aragon Mills. Rock Hill, S.C.,” 13 May 1912; online image, Wikimedia Commons (, 102-LH-2961: accessed 7 Feb 2016), citing U.S. National Archives, Department of Commerce and Labor, Children’s Bureau, #523539.

Carrie is unemployed but working as a housewife and mother. In this census, Carrie states that she had borne four children, with three living. So sometime between 1900 and 1910, she had a stillbirth or an infant who died. I haven’t located birth or death records for this child, since Georgia didn’t require these records until 1919. Sadly, I found an obituary notice in the Columbus Daily Enquirer dated 22 May 1902 stating that the eight-month-old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. W. M. McCune had died from “cholera infantum” after an illness of three days.[6]  The date would be about right, but I haven’t confirmed that this is the deceased child of William and Carrie.

It’s now 1911, William is dead, and Carrie has no means of financial support, except for her 15-year-old son, Frank. If he’s still a doffer, he would be earning about $2.40 a week.[7] It usually took several family members working in the mill to make ends meet. How will Carrie provide for her children? Will she have enough money for their basic necessities – food, shelter, and clothing? Her parents are both deceased, but can she turn to other relatives for help? How did her friends and family react to the terrible news of her husband’s murder?

  1. 1900 U.S. census, Muscogee County, Georgia, population schedule, Ward 1, sheet 9A, dwelling 135, family 194, Rebecca A. Tillman; image, ( accessed 2015); citing NARA T623, roll 214.
  2. 1900 U.S. census, Muscogee County, Georgia, population schedule; Ward 4, ED 90, sheet 1A, dwelling 5, family 7, Robert E. Moss; image, ( accessed 2015); citing NARA T623, roll 214  and 1900 U.S. census, Troup County, Georgia, population schedule, LaGrange Citty, ED 61, sheet 9B, dwelling 170, family 182, John McCune; image, ( accessed 2015); citing NARA T623, roll 225.
  3. Polk, R.L., compiler, Columbus, Georgia, City Directory, 1906; database image, U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995, ( accessed 2015), 323.
  4. 1910 U.S. census, Spalding County, Georgia, population schedule, Griffin City, p. 21B, ED 117, dwelling 367, family 411, William M. McCune; image, ( accessed 2015); citing NARA T624, roll 209.
  5. Hall, Jacquelyn Dowd, et al. Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1987), 56.
  6. Columbus Daily Enquirer, 22 May 1902, p. 8, image copy, ( accessed 14 Oct 2015).
  7. Hall, Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World,  79-80.

Coming next – Carrie does what any woman might do in her circumstances.

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