It was 1870 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
David Lemuel Darden, a physician living and working in his native Tuscaloosa, reported that he was living with his seven children, ranging from age 2 to age 16, and a 69-year-old woman named Agnes. Darden’s wife, Mary Jane Keene, he informed the enumerator, had died the previous October of consumption. Darden was 43 years old.
David L. Darden’s 43 years had been full. He grew up on his father’s plantation west of Tuscaloosa, a farm with over 500 acres that grew wheat, corn, oats and rice. He attended Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, and after graduating in 1849 came home to practice medicine. He married Mary Jane Keene, daughter of another Tuscaloosa planter, in 1851, and they quickly began their family. By 1860 their 5th child, my great-great-grandmother Maggie Tate Darden, was born.
Then death came to Alabama. Less than a year after Maggie was born, Alabama joined other Southern states and seceded from the Union. Over the next 4 years, the Civil War devastated the American South, both her land and her people. David L. Darden joined the Confederate army as a private but was soon given a commission and sent to the Garner House Hospital in Mobile, Alabama, to serve the Confederate wounded.
David returned home to Tuscaloosa after the war and probably resumed his medical practice in town. He and Mary Jane had two more children. Then Mary Jane died.
If anyone was in need of a fresh start, it was David L. Darden.
In the early 1870s, he packed up his 7 children and headed to Texas. Settling in Burleson County, Texas, he put down stakes and began a medical practice near present-day Caldwell, Texas. Peace didn’t last long, however. In 1876, while on a scouting trip looking for ranch land, David died in nearby Lampasas County, leaving all 7 of his children orphaned in a strange land.