A Mill Family’s Losses in 1918

Boy workers in a N. C. cotton mill. The white specks on their clothing are cotton lint.

I wrote earlier, in “Victim of a Pandemic,” about a World War I soldier who lost his life to the influenza pandemic of 1918. His mother, Margaret McDonald Hicks, had a brother, Neill Archibald McDonald, who lost three children and a daughter-in-law to that pandemic.

Margaret and Neill grew up in the Sandhills region of North Carolina. Their grandfather, Angus McDonald, came from the Western Isles of Scotland to North Carolina near the end of the 1700’s. He came to this country speaking Scots Gaelic, the language his family continued to use at home through his grandchildren’s generation. Neill and his siblings spoke fluent Gaelic, and the language died out with their generation in the first half of the twentieth century.

As a young man, Neill left his home in the Sandhills and traveled to New Orleans, where, in 1897, he met and married Marie Gottschalk, whose family came from the Netherlands. Neill and Marie moved back to his home in Moore County, N. C., and around 1912, they moved on to High Point, N. C., a growing mill town. There, Neill found work at the brand new Highland Cotton Mills and a home in the mill village.

Neill worked at Highland until his retirement in the 1930’s. Marie gave birth to at least thirteen children, one of whom died as an infant. The other twelve children were all Highland Cotton Mill employees, as were their spouses and children.

Early cotton mills are notorious for having employed children, for very low wages. The census of 1920 and 1930 reports children in the family as young as age 15 working in the mill. However, the children probably went to work at much earlier ages.

During the pandemic of 1918, three of Neill and Marie’s children died of influenza. The youngest was Wilbert, age 9, described on his death certificate as a mill worker, as were his brothers John, age 16, and Frederick, 18. Annie McDonald, the 20-year-old wife of their oldest brother, Ughie, was taken by the virus as well. She, too, was a HIghland Cotton Mill employee.

Those four family members, as well as several others, were buried at the Springfield Friends Meeting, near the village. No stones marked their graves, but the Friends kept careful records of the burials in their cemetery.

Copyright 2020 by Glenda Alexander.  All Rights Reserved.

Sources:

U. S. Federal Census reports for 1910, 1920, 1930, and 1940, including Supplemental Questions, 1940.

Miller, Ernest H., High Point, N.C. City Directory, 1923-1924,  (Piedmont Directory Co., 1923.)  accessed online at https://lib.digitalnc.org/record/25291?ln=en, Wilson Special Collections Library, UNC-Chapel Hill; p. 236.

Hills High Point City Directory, 1938, 1939, 1949 (Richmond, Va.: Hill Publishing Co.) accessed online at Ancestry.com.

Louisiana Marriages, 1718-1925, database on-line at Ancestry.com.  Original marriage records from the Clerk of the Court, St. Tammany Parrish, La.

North Carolina Death Certificates, database online at Ancestry.com, original records from North Carolina State Archives; Raleigh, N. C.

Brenda G. Haworth, Ed., Springfield Friends Cemetery:  1780-2017, Guilford County, High Point, N. C., (2017:  Springfield Memorial Association, High Point, N. C.) p. 141.

Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World, (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1987)

Lewis Wickes Hine, photograph of boy workers in a cotton mill, 1908, digital image, Library of Congress.

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