The Tragedy of the Edwards Children

Since I was ten years old I’ve been fascinated by genealogy (the study of family history). The early days of the Internet coincided with my adolescence and I spent many long nights riding the wave of dial-up and beginning to get an idea of the tangled webs of my family’s story.

I’ve continued that research to this day. With the help of many, many people (grandparents, cousins, parents, newly discovered fourth cousins living in other states, great aunts and uncles, etc.), digitized archives, and good old-fashioned bushwhacking in the great outdoors, I’ve accomplished a great deal.

Now, what the hell do I do with it?

I’ve decided that this year, whenever the heck I have the time, I’m going to post interesting or odd snippets of my family’s history. Of course, anyone is welcome to read this but I especially hope that my own family will do so: trust me, someday you guys will need my wealth of knowledge…maybe.

So, without further ado, I open the series with the incredibly sad story of the descendants of William Milus Edwards and Millicent Catherine James.

Notice: I’m only providing first and middle initials in this story because many of these people lived during the 20th century and because of the nature of the events.


Millie Catherine James (1852-1931) was my 4th great aunt – meaning that her brother was my great x3 grandfather (more on his story later).

Millie was born, like many ancestors on my father’s side, in Stokes County, North Carolina. In December 1869, at the age of 17, Millie married her first cousin William Milus Edwards.

Edwards, William Milas
William and Millie, obviously at an advanced age

Between January 1871 (at age 18) and January 1895 (age 42), Millie gave birth to eleven children. Unlike most women of her era, Millie could boast that all of her children survived into adulthood. Some of them remained near Stokes County while others moved a bit farther afield. The names of her children will appear in red, to help the reader keep track. Names of her grandchildren will appear in blue. The account will proceed in chronological order of events.

  • 1923: Millie Catherine’s daughter, S.C. Edwards, gave birth to nine children between 1891 and 1909. She died in 1923 in Rural Hall, Forsyth County, North Carolina of pneumonia at the age of 52.
  • 1931: Millie Catherine died in 1931 at the age of 78 of influenza, which might have been a blessing given the events that followed soon after.
  • 1934: H.N. Edwards lived with his parents as of the 1930 census at age 46. That same census lists that he could read and write though he never attended school and that he had, up to that point, never been married. His death certificate lists the cause of death as “pistol wound in right temple.” Suicide at his home in Cheek Township, Orange County, North Carolina. He was 49 years old.
  • 1936: M.A. Tuttle, daughter of S.C., had been living in Winston-Salem and doing office work for RJ Reynolds Tobacco. According to her death certificate, she died of “Bichloride poisoning – suicidal.” She was 21 years old.
  • 1936: H.C. Edwards, grandson of Millie Catherine, killed himself by gunshot on 27 December 1936, 20 days after his 22nd birthday.
  • 1937: W.V. Edwards, son of Millie Catherine, died of suicide by gunshot on 21 November 1937. He was 42 and unmarried and had been living on his father’s farm.
  • 1941: A.M. Tuttle, brother of M.A. Tuttle, was living in Rural Hall, North Carolina and working as an Atlantic Greyhound bus driver when he killed himself at his home, by gunshot, on 2 March 1941. He was married and 50 years old. His death certificate lists his death as being due to “mental conditions.”
  • 1955: M.F. Edwards, son of Millie Catherine, was living in Rural Hall . According to the newspaper report, he “killed himself with a stick of dynamite in back of his home…Stokes County Sheriff Harvey Johnson said Edwards apparently parked his pickup in a shed, climbed into the bed of the truck and lit a stick of dynamite near his head…Edward’s son…said his father had made several threats on his own life in the past.” He was 73 and married.
  • 1958: R.F. Edwards, son of Millie Catherine, died at the state mental hospital in Butner, North Carolina, on 30 October. He was never married and was 79 years old.
  • 1963: J.L. Edwards, son of Millie Catherine, was a divorced tobacco farmer living in High Point, North Carolina, when he shot himself in the left temple with a pistol on 17 August.
  • 1981: S.C. Edwards‘ son, J.T. Tuttle, was living in Rural Hall, North Carolina, when on 23 October he killed himself and his wife. He was 75.

In all, four of Millie Catherine’s children committed suicide from 1934 to 1963.

One of her children died in a mental hospital.

Four of her grandchildren committed suicide from 1936 to 1981.

I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It’s incredibly, incredibly sad and alarming.

I’m not a direct descendant of Millie. My line of descent is through her brother, Joseph Harden James, who has his own bizarre story (war, whiskey, and murder) that will be explored at a later date.

*thanks to P. Freeman, my third cousin two times removed, for her help over the years.

9 Comments

  1. It goes even further. So far, we have accounted for more tan 20 violent deaths b suicide, murder, and accident in that line of the Edwards Clan. Did you know about Frank Keith ,Hartgrove, MF Edwards’ grandson? Tat was the last tragedy at the Edwards Farm before it burned down.
    On Jun;e 2, 1988,Keith accidentally shot ad killed his girlfriend, Rhonda Jean Hooker in the old Edwards House. He shot and killed himself on March 30th the following year, near the house…
    The Edwards tragedies form the basis for all the “Payne” Rod ghost stories. There was no Edward Payne…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The ones I mentioned were the only ones I knew. Since it’s not a direct ancestral line I didn’t go too far with it. It sounds like a terrible history of mental illness. I know that my ancestors did a lot of business with William Milus as far as land divisions. Are you related?

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    1. Many mental illnesses are genetic so it certainly makes me wonder. It’s a terrible legacy either way.

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      1. I guess it leaves a lot of room for growth though lol I just think it’s wierd most of them lived so long for it to end that way especially after you’ve seen your siblings do it and knowing how it would effect your loved ones left behind from being in that position but mental illness takes no prisoners

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I do think it’s wierd J.L. shot himself lefty cuz I shoot lefty and I’m right handed wonder if he was the same

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