Monday, February 11, 2013
Born October 24, 1887, Great Grandpa’s full name was William Franklin Russ, but everyone knew him as Willie. And like many residents of Bladen County, North Carolina, his was a family of farmers.
It would be nice to say that Willie’s childhood was uneventful – and for the most part, it was. Like most rural farming families, Willie and his siblings attended school, doing homework between their chores in the house and their responsibilities on the farm. But in 1904 there was a tragedy in this family – one that would be considered epic in the small community of Bladen County, North Carolina.
Summer was ending, and harvest time had not yet begun. It was Saturday, so Willie had a day off from school, and had spent the morning with his older sister, Blanche, while her husband was working at the lumber mill. Around 9 that morning, 15 year old Willie went off to nearby Clarkton for potatoes, leaving his sister in her kitchen as she began preparations for the noontime meal.
Sometime before 11 am, he returned to find his sister’s kitchen in a shambles. He searched for her, finding her battered body some 200 yards from the back door.
It’s hard to imagine how this must have affected such a young man. Like many men of this time, and his age, he likely felt some measure of responsibility for his sister’s safety. He likely felt he was the “man of the house” when his brother-in-law was away. And not four years later, he did become the man of the house after his father passed away in February of 1908.
By 1910 the family farm had been sold, and 22 year old Willie still lived at home with his mother and two younger sisters – Addie, 16, and Bessie, 13. All three children worked at a local cotton mill, Will as a comber and the girls as spinners.
Around this time a 15 year old Miss Mary Isabell Kinlaw was also working at a cotton mill. It’s possible that this is where the couple met.
Isabell was born September 23, 1894, not surprisingly the daughter of a farmer. Her family was about the same size as Willie’s, and she and her siblings went to school between chores and farm work. By 1910 her father had stopped working and sold the family farm. All but two of their six children at home worked at the cotton mill, spinning and winding cotton.
Willie and Isabell married on June 25, 1911, settling down as a tenant farmer, growing tobacco. The couple eventually had 13 children.
Some of Isabell’s granddaughters recall spending hours just sitting brushing her hair. Granddaughter Linda recalls spending the night with her, even on school nights.
Willie Russ died August 21, 1959. His beloved wife, Isabell, died November 29, 1972.
William Franklin Russ b: 24 Oct 1887 d: 21 Aug 1959
m: 25 Jun 1911
Mary Isabell Kinlaw b: 23 Sep 1894 d: 29 Nov 1972
1. Minnie Mae b: 17 Mar 1913 d: 28 Jun 2001
2. Beulah b: 26 Apr 1915 d: 16 Jan 1974
3. Esther b: 29 Aug 1917 d: 21 Dec 1997
4. William b: 15 Apr 1919 d: 26 Dec 2007
5. Lillian b: 27 Jul 1920 d: 16 Apr 1996
6. Ruth b: 20 Nov 1921 d: 1 Jul 2007
7. Robert b: 11 Sep 1923 d: 13 Feb 1994
8. Isabell b: 14 Mar 1925 d: 14 Mar 1925
9. James b: 29 Dec 1926 d: 2 Oct 1964
11. Ernest b: 28 May 1930 d: 1 Feb 1973