Shipped Away

The little-known fate of hundreds of Roswell women and children charged with treason, deported north, and abandoned
Illustration by Shout
Illustration by Shout

On any given workday, the stretch of Georgia 9 that cuts north-south through Roswell is a four-lane wall of cars. Almost as old as the city itself, the thoroughfare was once little more than a dirt wagon path called the Atlanta Road, connecting this mill town to the burgeoning railroad hub some twenty miles south.

The road also serves as a dividing line. To its west sits the tree-canopied town square, its centerpiece an obelisk water fountain bearing the names of Roswell’s founding families. Repeated on nearby street signs—Bulloch, Pratt, King—these are the surnames of wealthy planters and industrialists who, in the 1830s, moved inland to escape Georgia’s muggy, mosquito-infested coast. At the southern end of the square, a squat stone monument commemorates their leader, Roswell King, a banker, politician, surveyor, and plantation manager, “a man of great energy, industry, and perseverance: of rigid integrity, truth, and justice.” And on the hilltop beyond looms Barrington Hall, a columned, whitewashed mansion built for Barrington King, Roswell King’s eldest heir. The antebellum manor, like Bulloch Hall due west, has been restored as a museum, a memorial to the romantic affluence that for some is synonymous with the Old South.

On the east side of Georgia 9, as the hill drops toward the creek bottom, the architecture changes. The structures are smaller and more tightly packed together. One storefront with broad single-pane windows is dated 1854; it provided goods for employees of the Roswell Manufacturing Company, the King family’s cotton mills that once drew power from Vickery Creek and the labor of hundreds of women, children, and men to make cloth and thread and candlewicks. Farther downhill, you will find a cluster of brick row homes that housed the millworkers. These buildings line places with no-nonsense names like Factory Hill and Mill Street, but they once were home to the Woods, Sumners, Kendleys—and countless other families whose names have since been lost to history.

For decades, the two halves of Roswell coexisted in relative harmony. Then, in the summer of 1864, war came, exposing a divide almost as deep as any clash between North and South and setting the families of Roswell on divergent paths.

The Kendley family story starts with a bit of luck.

In 1832 John Wesley Kendley won a forty-acre lot in the hills just north of the Chattahoochee River in the Gold Lottery, the government’s distribution of seized Cherokee territory. By 1850 John Wesley was farming his homestead outside of Roswell with his wife and eight of their nine children. But during the 1850s, the Kendleys’ luck seemed to turn. John Wesley, his wife, and their eldest son, William, disappeared from the records. Their descendants have no idea what became of William, but suspect that the parents died and were buried beneath some unmarked patch of Georgia clay. Within a decade, the Kendleys seem to have abandoned the homestead. John Robert, the second-oldest son, left home to start a family of his own. His younger siblings went to work in the Roswell mills.

Roswell King, left, and his son Barrington King.
Photographs courtesy of the Roswell Historical Society

The mills were Roswell King’s effort to create his own luck in the unindustrialized South, which shipped most of its cotton north to be manufactured. King bought up lots from the 1832 lottery, and he and Barrington moved their families and a combined sixty-seven slaves 300 miles from Darien, Georgia. These slaves built a four-story, 16,800-square-foot cotton mill—the largest in the South—and a thirty-foot dam. King’s sons helped build the family business. By 1854 King’s Roswell Manufacturing Company included a second cotton mill, run by a sixteen-foot overshot iron wheel. A few years later, King’s grandsons funded construction of the Ivy Woolen Mill downstream. Slave labor also built Barrington Hall and the stately homes of other Roswell aristocrats.

The Kendleys, like almost all of the 300 to 400 millhands, would have lived in company-owned housing—either the single-story wood cottages along Mill Street or the brick apartments farther up Factory Hill. Before sunup, they would have answered the bell rung by the mill overseer, and walked down the brick-lined path to report for their shifts. Elizabeth, thirty-two; Matilda, twenty-nine; Catherine, twenty-seven; Sara Jane, twenty- five; and Mary, seventeen, would have tended the large mechanized carders, spindles, and looms. Young Thomas, fourteen, and George, eleven, would have cleaned or carried cotton or used their small hands to clear obstructions from iron machinery. All seven siblings would have toiled as long as sunlight came through the glazed windows, which were always shut to block the wind. The trapped air was hot and heavy with the smell of machinery oil and thick with so much lint that managers dared not risk the open flame of a lamp to help workers see. Respiratory disease was an occupational hazard—some millhands tucked tobacco in their lips in hopes that it would filter the air. A six-day workweek brought about $1.50, paid in scrip redeemable only at the company store, which also sold supplies on credit. It was easy for a patron’s debt to quickly exceed her wages, essentially making her and her family indentured servants to the mill. Villagers also had to adhere to company rules of behavior and temperance.

Still, unlike mining or farming, millwork was stable and more easily undertaken by women and children. The Kendleys weren’t the only family whose men died, fell ill, or moved on, leaving a household struggling to maintain a farm. When war broke out in 1861, men and boys enlisted or were conscripted—and even more women and girls went to the mills.

The War Between the States provided big business for the Kings and their stockholders. Within months of the South’s secession, the Roswell Manufacturing Company was contracted to make goods—everything from rope to tent cloth to candlewicks—for the Confederate Army. As a result, men deemed vital to production were excluded from conscription. In 1862 the woolen mill also won a CSA commission and produced special lightweight fabric for Confederate uniforms. In 1863, the third year of the war, shareholders reaped dividends of 20 percent while millhands like the Kendleys produced the 15,000 yards of “Roswell Gray” shipped each month to soldiers fighting a war that still seemed far away.

Only a few of the structures of the Roswell
company still stand, including the machine shop and the remains of the dam created
to power the machinery.

Photograph by John E. McDonald

But by the spring of 1864, the war had entered Georgia. General William Tecumseh Sherman began his Atlanta Campaign, moving in to cut off the Confederate transportation and supply center. After a tactical defeat at Kennesaw Mountain, the Union Army headed east to flank the retreating Confederates. The covered bridge at Roswell Road, right beside the woolen mill, was one of only two routes across the Chattahoochee toward Atlanta, and Sherman wanted the bridge taken.

Most of Roswell’s wealthy families had already fled. Although Barrington King had once crowed that he’d have to be burned out of Barrington Hall, the sixty-six-year-old reconsidered as Union troops drew closer. King bolted for Savannah, along with his wife and the financial records of the Roswell Manufacturing Company. Before he left, King stashed 1,400 bales of cotton and 1,000 yards of fabric in Augusta, Macon, Newnan, and Griffin to ensure against stockholder losses; issued two months of supplies to millhands; and ordered the workers to keep production going as long as possible.

Downstream at the woolen mill, Barrington’s son, James King, had also instructed employees to run the looms until driven out by soldiers. He took an additional precaution and sold a 50 percent interest in the company to Theophile Roche, a French national who would stay behind and run the factory under the flag of France, claiming neutrality as protection against Yankee interference.

On July 5, James King lit out, but unlike his father, he headed for battle instead of refuge. James King commanded the Roswell Battalion, a ragtag militia mostly of male millworkers and local farmers—among them John Robert Kendley, who had already fought at First Manassas (or as Northerners know it, Bull Run). The Roswell Battalion withdrew south across the Chattahoochee, burning the bridge behind them and slowing the Union troops’ approach to Atlanta.

On July 6, General Kenner Garrard and the Third Ohio Cavalry arrived in Roswell. Garrard inspected the Ivy Woolen Mill, where the tricolor banner of France waved. Roche insisted that he was a neutral manufacturer, but upon inspection every bolt of woolen fabric was stamped “CSA.” Garrard ordered the flag taken down, the machinery halted, and the workers evacuated. Roche refused, threatening French retaliation, a warning that Garrard ignored. Soldiers cleared the factory and, after commandeering some cloth and thread for Union field hospitals, set fire to the building and its remaining contents. Later that day, the mills upstream were likewise evacuated, cotton bales doused with oil and ignited as the millhands looked on. Some of the women wept as the buildings were consumed. Others reportedly laughed with joy.

Sherman was delighted. He wrote to Garrard that the destruction of the mills met his “entire approval.” Regarding Roche, Sherman advised, “Should you, under the impulse of anger . . . hang the wretch, I approve the act beforehand.” Garrard did not kill the Frenchman, but he did carry out Sherman’s next command.

On July 7, Sherman issued a directive that would change the lives of the Kendleys and hundreds of North Georgia families. He ordered: “You will arrest the owners and employees and send them, under guard, charged with treason, to Marietta . . . whence I will send them by [railroad] cars to the North . . . The poor women will make a howl. Let them take along their children and clothing, provided they have the means of hauling or you can spare them. We will retain them until they can reach a country where they can live in peace and security.”

This sort of mass arrest and deportation of civilians was unprecedented. Some Northern papers even decried the act: “It is hardly conceivable that an officer wearing the United States commission of Major General should so far have forgotten the commonest dictates of decency and humanity,” railed the Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Patriot and Union. “Think of it! Four hundred weeping and terrified Ellens, Susans, and Maggies transported in the springless and seatless Army wagons, away from their lovers and brothers of the sunny South,” wrote the New York Tribune. Sherman did not explain his motive, nor would he ever mention the incident in his memoirs. With the factories destroyed, the mill workforce seemed to pose no real threat, and from a military standpoint, wouldn’t it have been better to release them south to burden the retreating Confederate lines than to create more strain on the Union supply routes? Future president Andrew Johnson, then military governor of Tennessee, argued that very point in correspondence with Union general George Thomas, based in Marietta: “Instead of being sent this way, [the millworkers] should be pressed back with the Rebel army. Let them hear the cries and suffering, and supply their stomachs and backs with food and raiment . . . They would rather go anywhere else than south, and it would create more terror than sending them north.”

The Kendleys, along with all the other women and children, were given a brief time to retrieve what they could carry from their homes and report to the Roswell square. They lived in tents until wagons arrived to start them on their journey north.

There was trouble before the workers left Roswell. Several diaries of Union soldiers mention the novel sight of so many women. An Indiana soldier described them as “really good looking,” while an Ohio captain saw figures “more like the walking corpses or painted cedar-posts, than the flowers of the South we were wont to read of.” One night Garrard issued a celebratory whiskey ration to his men, who were bivouacked alongside the workers in the square, and according to the Indiana soldier, things got out of hand: “Delirium took the form of making love to the women.” The next day, the troops were moved north of town.

More than fifty supply wagons arrived over the next four or five days to carry the workers—officially numbering between 400 and 500—to Marietta, the nearest stop on the northbound railroad. There the Roswell captives were folded in with displaced workers from the New Manchester cotton mill that had also been burned along Sweet Water Creek, twenty miles west of Atlanta. The women and children were confined under guard in empty classrooms at the abandoned Georgia Military Institute. During their weeks-long stay, the workers were approached by Northern profiteers looking to trade greenbacks for Confederate currency at a severe discount. One Yankee woman paid $40 for a worker’s threadbare homespun dress as a souvenir. A Union officer took pity, ordering a surgeon to help as many women as possible to find work nursing, laundering, or cleaning in the nearby field hospitals.

In Marietta the millworkers became the responsibility of General George Thomas, who, unlike Garrard, seemed to be uneasy with the plan. Thomas wrote to Sherman: “Most of them are women. I can only order them transportation to Nashville where it seems hard to turn them adrift. What had best be done with them?”

Sherman’s reply: “I have ordered General Webster at Nashville to dispose of them. They will be sent to Indiana.”

Over the next two weeks, most of the workers were given nine days’ rations and herded onto boxcars. Some older women fell ill and died en route. Others may have been let off in Chattanooga or Nashville. The rest evidently made it to Louisville, Kentucky, the northern terminus of the L&N Railroad, and separated by the Ohio River from Indiana. On July 21, the Louisville Democrat announced the arrival of 249 women and children “mostly in a destitute condition” and with “no means to provide for themselves.” More followed. Louisville was besieged by refugees from the crumbling Confederacy.

Some millworkers were placed in a newly erected hospital that had no water or gas. The smell was awful. As prisoners, the women were not allowed to breach the fence that enclosed the grounds. Some accounts say the women had hospital beds, while others describe the deportees sleeping on bare floors, starving and diseased, many stricken with typhoid, the “living death.” “There are children of every age, some so attenuated as to be living skeletons,” said the Louisville Daily Journal. If adults took oaths of allegiance to the Union, they were sometimes permitted to seek employment. A notice in the Daily Journal advised, “Families . . . wishing seamstresses or servants can be suited by applying at the refugee quarters.”

Sherman’s order mandating that the millworkers be “dropped in Indiana” was taken literally. Reference to the Roswell workers in military correspondence collected in The Official Records of the War of the Rebellion ends in Nashville. There was no roster of those arrested, and the government did not keep records of refugees. Many of the millhands were illiterate and unable to keep diaries or write letters to family in Georgia, and even if they could have, where in the war-torn country would they have sent them?

Indiana towns just north of the Ohio River—Evansville, Jeffersonville, New Albany—had already suffered from the war (their own mills closed due to Northern cotton shortage) and had been overrun with refugees. There were no jobs. Some women resorted to prostitution. Many families camped in the woods. By the time the harsh Midwestern winter arrived, the unprepared, thinly clad Southerners were vulnerable to further disease. Locals took in children who were orphaned or could no longer be cared for, charity that further tore Southern families asunder. Some who were left to the elements starved; others died from exposure. “Two refugees, a man and his daughter, were found dead . . . in a miserable hovel, near the river,” a local paper reported. “Their names were unknown, and it is supposed they either starved or froze to death.”

But many held on—to their lives and each other. When the war ended that following April, some who had found employment saved their money for the return trip to Georgia. Others, who could not afford or endure the long, costly journey south, built new homes and families, new lives. The 1870 census of Perry County, Indiana, shows more than two dozen people from Roswell found their way about eighty miles down the Ohio River to an Indiana town called Cannelton, home of the largest cotton mill in the region. Among them were Mary, Sara, Thomas, and George Kendley.

A Perry County marriage license shows that in July 1865, twenty-two-year-old Mary Kendley wed Albert May, a Confederate veteran who had just been released from a POW camp in Indianapolis. Sara Jane Kendley married Andrew Jackson Nichols, another Southern expat, in 1870—the same year that the census shows all four Kendleys as employees at the Indiana Cotton Mill, where George and Thomas would work for the next fifty-plus years. George, who was sixteen in 1865, would eventually marry too, and between them, the Indiana Kendleys would bear fifteen children.

There is no trace of Elizabeth and Catherine Kendley, who, like so many of the deportees, were separated from their family somewhere between Roswell and Indiana. Matilda Kendley lived in Cabbagetown sometime after the war, but it’s unclear whether she escaped the forced exodus or was sent north and later found a way to return on her own.

According to family letters, Mary may have returned to Georgia twice to visit her old home. But all four Kendleys are buried in Cannelton, on the northern bank of the Ohio River.

The Kendleys’ brother, John Robert, rose to the rank of third lieutenant in the Roswell Cavalry Battalion, Company A. He survived Sherman’s invasion and after the war returned to northwest Georgia, settling in Smyrna. While he would have heard of the millworkers’ arrest, he would have had no way of knowing for certain whether his siblings were among those deported, and if so, where they had ended up, or if they were even alive. John Robert found work as a machinist, married, and had eight children, who would never know their aunts and uncles. There were no photos, no journals, no letters—only John Robert’s stories, the details of which slowly faded as they were passed from generation to generation.

Barrington King—who lost two sons in the war—also returned to Roswell. He came home in the summer of 1865 to find the factories in ruins and the village ransacked. Strangely, King seemed to blame not Sherman but the millworkers. “We regret much to report the conduct of a few men, in our employment for years with the women and children, from whom we expected protection to our property,” he told stockholders at the first postwar meeting of the Roswell Manufacturing Company. “They plundered and destroyed to a large amount, tearing down the shelves in the store to burn, breaking glasses, and otherwise injuring the houses, hauling off iron and copper to sell.” In her 2008 book The Women Will Howl, amateur historian Deborah Petite writes that letters from Roswell’s aristocrats include no words of concern for the millhands’ plight. Rather, most seem to have shared King’s sentiment that the ungrateful laborers pillaged more than the invading Yankees. Anne Smith, wife of a plantation owner and town cofounder, dismissively wrote, “It is nothing more than I expected of those people when they had things in their power.”

Thanks to the assets hidden before their escape, the Kings were able to rebuild the mills. But they had little intention of rehiring any of the deported workers who returned. “Some of the families that were sent north have returned desirous of coming to Roswell,” Barrington King wrote to his son Ralph. “We are determined to have a new sett [sic], with very few exceptions.” With so many veterans looking for work, King foresaw “no difficulty about laborers.”

Census records indicate that some mill-working families did return and settle in Roswell, while others, like the Kendleys, remained in the North. But the fates of most of the deported men, women, and children are still unknown. While genealogists and historians have started to compile names by looking through census records and family histories, no definitive manifest of deportees exists. Indeed, no one is certain exactly how many workers were arrested; estimates range from as low as 200 to as high as 3,000.

Stuart Arey is seventy-two, a born-and-raised Minnesotan, and semiretired from Ryder Integrated Logistics. In 1994 the company transferred Arey to its offices in Alpharetta—a coincidence that enabled the hobbyist historian to investigate his genealogy back to his great-great-grandfather, Barrington King.

Barrington King died suddenly in 1866, kicked by his horse. His estate was divided among his surviving seven children and the widows of the two sons killed in battle. The family assets had been greatly diminished by the war, and most of the Kings eventually left Roswell, scattering throughout the country. Son James King, who had invented a machine that could straighten twisted train rails, returned to be superintendent of the rebuilt mills. But his health failed, and by the 1880s, the Kings had lost control over the Roswell Manufacturing Company.

Barrington King’s only surviving daughter, Evelyn, Arey’s great-grandmother, moved with her preacher husband to Virginia; her son, Arey’s grandfather, left for Chicago and then Minneapolis, where he cofounded a coffee importing business and raised his own family. Arey remembers hearing about his grandfather sending money and clothes down to relatives in Georgia in the 1920s and 1930s. So Arey was not surprised when, in the 1990s, he arrived to find Barrington Hall in disrepair, its grounds unkempt. “I thought it was abandoned,” he says. But eventually a subsequent owner invested the money to restore the mansion, and in 2004 the City of Roswell bought the house and opened it as a museum.

Arey sits on the Friends of Barrington Hall board of directors. For more than ten years, he also has volunteered at the Roswell Historical Society’s library and archives. There, he is surrounded by books and bound volumes of transcribed correspondence from generations of wealthy and educated ancestors. He keeps a yellow folder containing more than a hundred pages of intricately documented branches of his family tree, scores of distant uncles and removed cousins tracked carefully through more than a century of official records.

When Arey learned of the millworkers’ predicament, he says he was “fascinated” as an aspiring historian. He could stand on the square and envision the wagons leaving for Marietta, imagine trains billowing smoke en route to Nashville and Louisville. But he’s philosophical about the incident and about his link to this place and that time. He visits Barrington Hall once or twice a month and appreciates the time capsule for its historical value, but he doesn’t feel a connection to the house, the land, or the portrait of its former owner, his forefather. In fact, he and his wife want to eventually move back to Minnesota.

David Floyd, the great-great-grandson of John Robert Kendley, is eighty-four, a born-and-raised Atlantan, a retired construction consultant, and, through his birthright, a member of the Major William E. Simmons Camp 96, Sons of Confederate Veterans. From his pointed white goatee to his slow, crackling drawl, Floyd exudes a passion for his Southern heritage—pride that is coupled with resentment of the war’s outcome that still smolders after 150 years.

For five generations, Floyd’s family passed down stories of the war and its aftermath. But no Kendley in Georgia knew the true extent of the Union’s offense to their family. Floyd first learned of the possible fate of the Kendley millworkers in 1984, when Emory historian Webb Garrison published a short article in the Atlanta Journal. Floyd and his cousin, George H. Kendley, began to search for their missing relatives.

In 2000 the two men were invited, along with a handful of other millworker descendants, to the unveiling of a monument to the deportees. They descended Factory Hill, past the old company store (now the corporate headquarters for J. Christopher’s restaurant chain) and the workers’ apartments (now refurbished as the Bricks luxury condominiums). And on a small patch of earth beside a playground, far from the manicured town square, they helped dedicate the sculpture of a broken Corinthian column bearing the inscription: “honoring the memory of the four hundred women, children, and men millworkers of Roswell.”

George H. Kendley died in 2013, leaving behind decades of research, records, and copied photographs, including one of Mary Kendley, old and gray, sitting with her family in front of their Indiana home.

Floyd is left to continue the search. He works in his home office, three walls of which are fortified with tall shelves packed with books about the military—the majority concerning the Civil War. On the fourth wall, behind Floyd’s desk, hang portraits of Davis, Forrest, Jackson, Stuart, Johnston, and Lee. There is no portrait of John Robert Kendley, nor is his name in any of those military histories.

Floyd has compiled much of the information about his family and typed a document titled “The Fate of the Mill People of Roswell during the War Between the States.” He keeps it all in a white three-ring binder, which he has placed on a prominent shelf in his office, among the dusty, hardcover-bound volumes of official history.

This article originally appeared in our July 2014 issue.