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June 17, 2019 / Joanne Yeck

Buckingham County: Five Men Drown

In 1878, the Alexandria Gazette reported a tragedy in Buckingham County in great detail:

Five Men Drowned.

A correspondent of the Richmond Whig gives the following particulars of the deplorable accident that was mentioned in the telegraphic news in yesterday’s Gazette: — “On Saturday, 16 March, 1868, five good and true men lost their lives by a dreadful accident, the memory of which will never fade from the many hearts, who now, in grief and sorrow, lament their loss. Three men and a boy about sixteen years of age, left their work, as was usual with them, on Saturday evening, to go across the river to the town of Howardsville. They were laborers upon the farm of a gentleman who resided on the Buckingham side of the river. — They returned about 7 p.m., and found no boat upon the Nelson landing, which is situated upon the land of A. J. Bondurant, esq., and upon calling out for someone to come over and ferry them across, they were answered by Allen McFaddin, a miller upon the premises of Capt. C. Patterson. He carried over to them a small, frail canoe, the large boat having (some day or two before) been carried down the river. It seems that all five took passage in this wretched bark. About 8 o’clock, p.m., a small boy, who happened to be near the river, which was quite high, heard great splashing and outcry near the Nelson bank, and distinguished the words, “Hold on to the boat!” “Where is little Jimmy?”

He immediately gave the alarm, and instantly a number of persons rushing with eager haste to the rescue. But alas, it was too late! Not a solitary object could be discerned upon the waters, and their sullen roar seemed to mock at the heart rendering shrieks of the widowed mother of an only son, who stood upon the bank of the angry current and cried aloud, “Where, oh where, is my darling boy?”

By her side stood the widowed wife of another, and two sisters of two others. I shall never forget the awful scene! The moon was partly obscured by clouds, and ever in and anon would cast a glare of light upon the roaring waters, when these unfortunate people would rush to the bank and try to see some sign of their loved ones. Then, after each fresh disappointment, their wails of woe would deepen into shriek after shriek, that would have touched with pity a heart of adamant. —

Nearly all night long the river was searched for miles below for some traces of them, but without success, and two families, containing thirteen helpless women and children, were left without a solitary man to support them. All were lost, and as yet no trace of their bodies, or even the canoe in which they perished, has been found.

Alan McFaddin, the miller, was about 65 years of age, and though poor in worldly goods, was a brave and honest man, and there beat beneath his fustian jacket as warm and tender a heart as ever animated a human bosom. Though beyond the age required for conscription, he served four years in Stuart’s cavalry with credit and distinction. His son James McFadden, a noble youth of about 22 years of age, perished with him, as also did his grandson, James Woodie, a good and upright boy, whom he tenderly loved.

John Dawson, a young man of about 25 of most excellent character, met with the same sad fate, as did also a faithful colored man, named George Roberts, who was about 45 years of age, and the father of seven infant children. He too was a good and well disposed man. The two McFaddins and Dawsons were excellent swimmers, the others could not swim.

Many thanks to Vanessa Crews for sharing this news story.

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