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Re: John McCarn (1822-1902)
Posted by: Patrick Huber Date: February 09, 2002 at 14:42:36
In Reply to: Re: John McCarn in N.C. born 1822? by MARTHA MCCARN MOORE of 175

Hi, Martha,

I'm not any kin of the McCarns, but I did quite a bit of genealogical research on the family when I was writing an article on John David McCarn, better known as Dave McCarn, who recorded a dozen country music songs between 1930 and 1931. Below I've presented the information I was able to put together, to the best of my ability.

I did have a couple of questions for you. Do you have any information about your materal great grandfather, King David Cousins? Also, do you know when Homer's mother Sally Cousins McCarn died and the cause of death?

Any information you could share would be great.

Best Wishes,
Patrick Huber


Of Scottish ancestry, the McCarn family had lived in Rowan County at least since 1794, when one Michael McCarn purchased a hundred acres of land from a wealthy planter. McCarn prospered as yeoman farmer, and at the time of his death in 1822 (the year the North Carolina State Legislature carved Davidson County out of eastern Rowan County) he owned some 350 acres of land in Davidson County, which he willed to four of his surviving children. In the 1840s, with the decline in the size of family farm holdings and the emergence of the deep-mining industry in the central Piedmont, several McCarn men began supplementing subsistence farming with wage work in Davidson County’s gold mining and milling operations. According to the 1840 federal census, Michael’s son, Edmond McCarn, who had inherited one hundred acres upon his father’s death, headed a household of seven members and farmed in Davidson County. Two of his teenage sons worked in the local gold mines. Although unnamed in the manuscript census, one of these sons was almost certainly John McCarn, Dave McCarn’s paternal grandfather. See Rowan County, North Carolina, Deed Book, Vol. 13, North Carolina Department of Archives and History, Raleigh; Jo White Linn, comp., Rowan County, North Carolina, Tax Lists, 1757-1800 (Salisbury, NC: privately published, 1995), 343; Jo White Linn, comp., 1815 Rowan County, North Carolina, Tax List (Salisbury, NC: privately published, 1987), 56; Henry Reeves and Mary Jo Davis Shoaf, comps., Davidson County, North Carolina, Will Summaries, Vol. 1: 1823-1846 (Lexington, NC: privately published, 1979), 3; and 1840 Federal Census Population Schedule, Davidson County, North Carolina, 273B (microfilm).

Born on May 13, 1822, in the eastern half of Rowan County (what later that year became Davidson County), John McCarn started working as a common laborer at a local Davidson County gold-mining operation while still in his teens. Over the next two decades he worked at several mines in the central Piedmont counties of Davidson, Rowan, and Stanly, the center of the North Carolina’s gold-mining industry before the Civil War, and, with extensive experience, he eventually became a full-fledged miner, then a highly skilled and well-paid position. By 1860, McCarn and his wife, Fanny (Crayton), and their two daughters were living near China Grove, in Rowan County, and John was working as a gold miner at a nearby operation. At the time, the family owned land valued at $300. See 1860 Federal Census, Population Schedule, Rowan County, North Carolina, 455A (microfilm).

Shortly before the outbreak of the Civil War, McCarn moved his wife and small family to Stanly County, where his wife had been born and raised. There, he continued to work in the gold mines. On February 1, 1862, at the age of thirty-five, he enlisted as a corporal in the Confederate Army. He served first as a prison guard with Company D of Major George C. Gibb’s Prison Guard Battalion, North Carolina Troops, at the Confederate military prison in Salisbury, and then, when the unit was reorganized in April, with Company C, 42nd Regiment of North Carolina State Troops, in southeastern Virginia. McCarn pulled duty on road pickets, scout patrols, and prison-of-war guard details, but it remains unclear whether or not he saw any prolonged fighting. His army service is clouded by conflicting military records. By August 1, 1862, McCarn and several other members of his company were reported as deserters. But, according to official Confederate military records, McCarn was “present and accounted for” until he received a medical discharge for “double inguinal hernia” and/or “nephritis” on December 15, 1862. See “List of Deserters,” Salisbury, North Carolina, Carolina Watchman, August 11, 1862, p. 3; Weymouth T. Jordan, Jr., comp., North Carolina Troops, 1861-1865: A Roster, Vol. X: Infantry (Raleigh: North Carolina Division of Archives and History, 1985), 188, 217, 224.

After his military discharge, McCarn returned to the mines of the Stanly County, where Dave’s father, Levi McCarn, was born in 1865, near the end of the war. As late as 1880, John McCarn, then fifty-eight, was still earning a living as a gold miner in Cabarrus County, North Carolina, in order to support his wife, Fanny, and their ten children. By the mid-1880s, the central Piedmont’s mining industry had declined and McCarn had grown too infirm to perform the rigorous underground work demanded of a miner. Faced with uncertain economic opportunities, he abandoned the mines and sometime before 1893, like hundreds of other rural white Carolinians, he moved his wife and large extended family to McAdenville. There, his children and grandchildren might earn a living as waged workers in the town’s booming cotton mills. See 1880 Federal Census, Cabarrus County, North Carolina, Population Schedule, p. 391C (microfilm).

At the turn of the century, John and Fanny McCarn, both of them by now quite elderly, were living in McAdenville’s mill village and being supported by several of their children and grandchildren who worked at McAden Mills. When McCarn died in 1902 at the age of eighty, the local newspaper editor observed in his obituary, “The children of the deceased have been untiring in their efforts to relieve the suffering of their parents and did all in their power for them. We would, in a special manner, mention one of the sons, Levi, who has been very kind and worked hard to alleviate their sufferings. He sets a noble example for all the young men of the present generation to follow.” Such editorial praise not only suggested something of the public esteem with which middle-class community members regarded Levi McCarn; it also reflected mounting concerns that southern industrialism had begun to disrupt traditional patterns of family support even in small communities like McAdenville. See 1900 Federal Census, Gaston County, North Carolina, Population Schedule, 236B (microfilm); John McCarn obituary, Gastonia Gazette, August 22, 1902, p. 3.


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