Sunday, June 26, 2011

Black Sheep Sunday: Does this look like a nice man?

Fresno Morning Republican
Tuesday, January 13, 1925
Page two

I don't think so.  But he's my 2nd great grandfather, William Warren McAboy.  I've had this photo from William's obituary for about a year.  And every time I've looked at it I thought he must have not been a nice man.  Sadly, I think I'm right.

William was born in DeWitt County, Illinois on December 12, 1842 and was the oldest child of James Robert McAboy and Sarah Mann.  The family seemed to move a bit, from DeWitt County to McLean County and back again, before William mustered into army service in Battery F, Second Regiment of Voluntary Light Artillery in 1861.  At some point I believe he also served in Company F, 4th Cavalry Regiment Illinois.  I think I see another pension record in my future.

William was married to Rebecca Moriah Waller on January 10, 1864 in DeWitt County and life seemed good.  Together they had six children, the youngest of which was my great grandmother, Mabel McAboy (1883-1966).  William was a florist and gardener and in 1881 established a business (cost of $3,000) located in block 21, four blocks south of the Clinton public square.  It had three green houses, each 50 feet in length.  Either $5,000 or 5,000 plants were raised annually (conflicting information), and the business employed three people.

In 1883, one of the greenhouses caught fire.  The Clinton Public Newspaper reported on January 5, 1883:

At two o'clock last Saturday morning Mrs. W. W. McABOY was awakened from a sense of suffocation, and she awakened her husband. The bedroom was full of smoke, and when Mr. McABOY opened the door leading to the office of his green-house he was driven back by the smoke and flames. Mr. McAboy got out in the street and gave the alarm of fire, and then went back and tried to quench the flames. It seemed an age to Mr. McAboy before help came to him, but during the interval he did effective work in fighting the fire. After hard work the flames were subdued, but the wreck of flowers and glass in the green-house was great. One of the green-houses was nearly destroyed and the others were badly damaged. Mr. McAboy estimates his loss at between $400 and $500, and on flowers and seeds about $300. A kind friend went among the business men on Saturday and raised about $100 to help Mr. McAboy repair his losses. The fire caught in a barrel of soot that was in the cellar under the office. It is supposed to be a case of spontaneous combustion.

What a sad time that must have been and William was obviously well respected for his friend to raise $100 to help with his losses. 

But things changed and on September 13, 1889, the Clinton Public Newspaper had the following report:

A Brutal Father.
W. W. McABOY, the proprietor of the nursery, made a brutal assault on his son Emery on Tuesday about noon. The boy came uptown in the forenoon and went to see the game of baseball, and on his return home he had a racket with his father. McAboy threw some tomatoes at the boy and then picked up a chair and struck him on the head, cutting a bad gash. Mrs. McABOY was sick in bed and hearing the racket she screamed and fainted. The boy ran to his mother at once and seeing her condition he started out to get a doctor. As the boy was going out of the door, McAboy threw a tumbler at him, which struck him on the arm and cut an artery. The boy went over for Dr. HYDE to go and see his mother, and not finding him at home he came uptown for Dr. WILCOX. By the time he reached the square he was faint from loss of blood, and the consequences might have been dangerous had his wounds not been bound up at once. From his home up to the square he could be tracked by the blood spots on the sidewalk. Marshal MOFFET saw the boy and as soon as he learned the cause of his wounds he went to McAboy’s house and arrested him. McAboy not being ready for trial, his case was postponed till next Tuesday. The boy Emery is very industrious and attentive to his father’s business, working day and night. He is a perfect young gentleman and he has the sympathy of everybody. He is yet nursing his wounds, carrying his arm in a sling and his head is bandaged. For such a brutal assault on his own boy McAboy should be made to suffer the full penalty of the law to teach him a lesson. A fine would be no punishment as he is well able to pay it.

Uh-oh, looks like I was right and William wasn't a nice man after all.  Young Emery was 19 years old and his father assaulted him, over and over again with tomatoes, a chair, and a tumbler.  In the court papers I was able to obtain while in DeWitt County, the records show he was charged with "assault with a deadly weapon" and "the sheriff will hold the defendant to bail in the sum of one hundred dollars".  I cannot determine the outcome of the proceedings but I do see that not only was James "Emery" commanded to appear as a witness, but also his sister, Lilly.  Can you imagine the horror of witnessing your father assault your younger brother?

Things didn't get much better for William and Rebecca.  On January 10, 1890 the Clinton Public Newspaper reported that "W.W. McAboy left for California this week.  He has left his family in almost destitute circumstances.  Mrs. McAboy has been confined to her bed for several months, which is almost unendurable for her to bear.  The family has the sympathy of the community".  And then on March 7, 1890 "W.B. McAboy has returned from California.  He does not think that the land of climate is a perfect paradise, though a man might live there if there was not such a State of Illinois".   Now I'm not sure that the W.B. McAboy referenced on March 7 was really W.W. McAboy but I'm going to assume that it was because I know that William and Rebecca did end up in Fresno, California.  I like to think that William arrived in Fresno and realized he couldn't go on without his family and, thus, returned in March for them.  And in my positive world I believe they found a fresh start and lived happily in California.  But then I always like to see the positive in things.

William died in Santa Cruz on January 12, 1925 while living there with Rebecca.  What were they doing in Santa Cruz?  Was his health poor and he was hopeful that the cool ocean breeze would be a better climate than the heat of Fresno?  After his death, his body was brought back to Fresno for burial and, apparently, Rebecca remained there until her death almost 4 years later.  William's memorial. 

So while it seems that my gut was right in thinking William wasn't a nice man, he was still my 2nd great grandfather and another piece to my puzzle.  And we have to take the good with the bad.


  1. We do, unfortunately. But it's not fun to find these (and every one of us finds ones like these, sooner or later).

  2. Domestic Violence is hard to deal with especially when we find that it has happened amongst our own. Thank you for sharing.

  3. What a wild story! I felt so badly for the boy. It is amazing that you have such an account, so fully descriptive of the situation. At the same time, it is troubling to discover such details in our own family tree. I hope to see more of your writing in the days to come! I hope you'll visit:

  4. We don't get to pick our ancestors, and who they were just adds an interesting piece to our family history story. The good news is when cycles of domestic violence are broken. My mother's uncle hated his father because he beat him so mercilessly, young Hans ran away from home at 15. At 80 years old his voice and hands would shake with hatred and fury to even talk about his father. So much for "spare the rod," which was never meant to mean a beating stick anyway --rather a shepherd's crook -- to guide and lead. Thanks for following Lisi's adventures on my blog!

  5. Wow! What a story! and such a detailed account of it! Don't we all have those black sheep in our family history? I have a philandering grandfather and g-grandfather,(different family branches) and figure as I research there's more skeletons to find.
    I enjoy your blog and will be back again. I especially love your Civil War ancestor stuff!