He was only 28 years old and in love. What deep pain led him to this dire and grievous decision, we can only ponder. A choice of product available and an unbearable pain lie before him and on a summer night in June of 1915, Harvey Layfatte Lemmons took his own life.
Harvey Layfette Lemmonds or Lemmons was born on August 6, 1886 in Cabarrus County, North Carolina to Robert Lemmons, known as Bob and Margaret Olivia Starnes Lemmons known as Leavy. The Lemmons name was spelled multiple ways and in previous generations contained a 'd' at the end, but as it evolved into 'Lemmons', that is how I will record Harvey's name.
Harvey was one of my Great-grandfathers. My grandmother never knew him and this is the sad tale of why she did not.
He was born to a farming family, as most were in those days. Judging from his father's estate papers, the family raised cotton and hogs, for the most part, near the Rocky River area of Cabarrus County. Harvey was their very middle child. He had an older brother and an older sister, a younger brother and a younger sister, Maude, Fred, Sam and Minnie. His middle name was likely supposed to have been Lafayette, but it was spelled incorrectly in documents. His mother had a brother, Frederick Layfette Starnes, known as Layfette or "Fate" so Harvey was likely his namesake.
Bob Starnes died in 1898 of a lingering illness, judging from a statement by his father-in-law Frederick Fincher Starnes, when Harvey was but 11 years old. Bob owed a substantial sum of money to a merchant named Mr. Oglesby, and Finch Starnes, who was a man of wealth and property, came to the rescue and negotiated with Mr. Oglesby to keep his daughter and her 5 children on their property. Eventually, Finch Starnes and his second wife Abbie, would move from Rocky River to the growing metropolis of Charlotte, where Finch owned 3 or four homes in the Elizabeth and Piedmont Park area. Several of his children would follow, including Frederick Layfette and Leavy Lemmons. Leavy and her children lived in a less glamorous neighborhood in Charlotte called Phifer Hill. It was a village of cottages set up on the former farm of a Mr. William Phifer where most residents were employed by the Louise Cotton Mill.
Harvey went to work there at 12 and his education ceased at that point. He did attempt some self education and was an avid reader and joined the local YMCA.
Finch Starnes died in 1913, and soon after that, Leavy relocated her family back to Cabarrus County, but to the city of Concord, where Cannon Mills ruled and textile plants abounded. The family lived off of the Old Charlotte Road. Many young widows, even with a bevy of children, remarried in those days, but not Leavy. She had been gored by an angry cow sometime after her marriage, and the horn had hooked her mouth and she had been left with an angry scar, as her mouth ripped and tore across her cheek. The once attractive lady had became reclusive and clung to her family. She remained, for the most part, with her oldest daughter, Maude, after the younger children were grown.
After the move to Concord, sometime around 1904 to 1905, Harvy fell in love with a beautiful girl named Lottie. They may have known each other previously as children, as Lottie's father ran a grist mill near the Rocky River, very near the one Harvey's grandfather had ran on Caldwell Creek. As it is impossible to determine the exact location at this time, it may have been the very same one. Mathew Hill may have purchased the Mill from the estate of F. F. Starnes. The 1890 Tax List had all of them listed in Township 1 of Cabarrus County, near Harrisburg and on Caldwell Creek, near the Rocky River. F.F Starnes also was taxed for some machinery he owned in Township 10, which included the present Midland area. This may have been machinery at the Mill he had owned and operated.
Lottie Hill's life gives the impression that she was what we might call in these days a party girl. She liked going out, and her second marriage was to a much married and divorced man, whose other wives listed in divorce papers his weakness for drink, women, song and disappearance. Duncan Burris had no problem in finding wives and girlfriends, so he must have been a bit of a charmer.
But back to 1910, the last census that Harvey Layfette or Lafayette Lemmons would be counted in, he was in Charlotte with his young family, working in textiles, after his father raised cotton. His grandfather was enjoying the fruit of his labors in an exclusive neighborhood in Charlotte, with business giants as neighbors, and his widowed mother having moved from Charlotte back to Cabarrus County, living in the Poplar Tent section of the county, Southwest of Concord, likely working at the Gibson Mill in that area, and with her youngest daughter Minnie, her youngest son Sam and his bride May in her household and very near her married older daughter Maude Lemmons Davis.
On a lovely day in May, the 12th in 1906, two 19 year olds, Harvey Layfette Lemmonds and Lottie Hill were married at the home of her parents in Cabarrus County. Fifteen months later, on August 6, 1907, they would welcome their first child, a daughter named Lula. She may have been named for her cousin Lula Mae Davis, as Harvey's sister Maude Lemmonds Davis, had given birth to Lula Mae in 1903. It would be another 5 years before the second child would come along.
From all indications, it was not a happy marriage. Lottie liked being in town, after having been a farm girl all of her life, and was not easily kept. She liked the nightlife and did not want to be tied down too much with children. Nature would take its course, however and on November 15, 1912, Elder Edgar Lemmonds was born. There are no hints of where that name came from. It has Irish origins that mean "Older". The choice was an unusual one. Lula was 5 and a half when her brother came along, a modern spacing, but rare for the era.
Three years later, 8 year old Lula and 3 year old Elder would experience something horrific in their lives. It is not known where the children were staying that night, perhaps with neighbors or relatives, but the story that was passed down to my father by my grandmother and her siblings was this. Lottie had gone out dancing. It was the era of WWI. Maybe Harvey was afraid of being drafted, or perhaps he already had been. Lottie apparently was not one to let bad news, a war, two young children or being 6 months pregnant with her third child, my grandmother, stop her from hitting the honky-tonks.
Whether Lottie had been taken by the shy red-head, or just simply wanted out of the large family of mostly girls, in which she was also an 'invisible' middle child, is unknown. Harvey's grandfather, Finch, was living in Charlotte, Ward 6, at this time, in the Piedmont Park section, across the street from Independence Park, named as such for the Mecklenburg County Declaration of Independence, a document in which 3 ancestors of Harvey had signed, John Query, Hezekiah Alexander and John Foard. His great, great grandfather William Marr Lemmond had been a surgeon during the Revolutionary War and William Marr Lemmonds son, John, one less great preceding the 'grandfather', had signed up as an ensign and later been promoted to Lieutenant. What a grand heritage had preceded young Harvey Lafayette Lemmons, patriots and his Grandfathers business men farmers and a farming lawyer whose words had spurred North Carolina to succeed from the Union.
Harvey Layfette Lemmonds worked in the Cotton Mills. At age 28, he had been working there for 16 years. A young man worn weary of tedious work, long hours and a lovely bride who could not be kept at home. He may have wondered if the child she carried was even his. He would never know that she was. DNA tests have linked me, his great-grandchild, to cousins linked to me only by his family tree, Starnes and Lemmonds, Walkers, Whites, Query's and Means and Alexanders.
Carbolic Acid is a sweet-smelling clear liquid that is added to many different products. It is used in the production of textiles in many different forms. Harvey's death certificate states that he was a cotton mill 'hand', as employees were referred to as, and that he 'ran speeders' as a living, a job records indicate paid $4.50 a week at that time.
It also said that he lived in Township 11, which is the southern part of the City of Concord, probably along or just off of the Charlotte Road, which led to the Rocky River and Cabarrus communities in which his family had lived.
On the evening of June 12, 1915, Lottie Hill Lemmonds had gone out dancing and partying. She was to give birth to her third child in September. Her husband was at work in the cotton mills of Concord, NC, employed there as a laborer who ran spinners. He was jealous and he was depressed. He could take no more. This was not the life the young 28 year old man had imagined for himself. He died of 'Acute Carbolic Acid Poisoning' and his death was ruled a suicide. He was found and his death reported by his younger brother, Samuel Grier Lemmonds of 2nd Buffalo Street in Concord, North Carolina. It is noted that he was Male, White and Married. His birthdate was given as August 6, 1886. His father Robert Lemmons, born in Union County, North Carolina and his mother, Margaret Leavy Starnes born in South Carolina. He was 28 years, 10 months and 6 days old. He attended Common School and was born in Cabarrus County, North Carolina. J E Buchanon was the Coroner and signed the certificate on June 13, 1915 in Concord, NC.
The body was given to undertakers Bell and Harris and he was buried at Rocky Ridge Cemetery on the 13th of June, the day after he died.
Rocky Ridge Presbyterian Church is were the family of Lottie Hill is buried. She had her husband interred, not with his own family, but with her parents, William Mathew Hill and Sarah Jane Hooks, her sisters who died young and other members of the Hooks and Hill families. The Church stands next to Stonewall Jackson Training School, a formidable place with huge brick buildings in disrepair and covered in Ivy. The Juvenile Prison, as it was opened in 1907 and would have been in operation when the church bells chimed and Harvey L. Lemmonds body was laid to its final rest.
When did Lottie discover her husbands end? Did she see the damage that drinking the acid caused his body? What did she feel concerning the pain her wayward ways had caused him? Was he unreasonably jealous or had she given him good reason to be beyond her party girl ways?
What is definitively known is that on September 8, 1915, Bertha Virginia Lemmons would be born, my grandmother, and she would never know her father. Lottie would quickly remarry Duncan Burris, who lived in Cabarrus, but had Stanly County origins and they would move their family back to Stanly County and their first child, Dorothy, would be born the very next year. Lottie's story is another blog, but she and Duncan would have a slew of children, many who died as infants, in rapid succession. Dunk, was a recorded alchoholic, abuser of women and children, disapearing spouse and womanizer. A lout, a scoundrel and a good-looking charmer all rolled into one. Lottie's penchant for fun and attraction to bad boys had caused her red-haired husband unbearable grief and a horrific death, but she did not stop in her tracks. Music and dance, wine and song would continue in her life. Poor Harvey had borne a heavy and arduous burden and died a horrific death.
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