Abigail Carden

Name: Abigail (Williams) Carden
Occupation before the war: Farmer's wife; nurse

Hometown: Charles City, Virginia
Birth: September 30, 1823
Death: January 5, 1893
Spouse: Jeff Carden

Date of Picture: 1862

Bio: Abigail Williams and her brother Thomas were born in the county seat of Charles City County, Virginia, which was also home to earlier residents First Lady Martha Washington and President John Tyler. Despite the famous former natives, Charles City was still then a small, rural town that grew up around a crossroads south of Richmond that was traveled most often by those visiting or coming from the larger plantations along the James River.

Abigail married her husband Jeff, a man twenty years older, and helped him run his tobacco farm outside of town. Jeff was wounded in the Mexican-American War and relied on a small number of enslaved Americans and—later—his two sons to handle much of the hard labor required of farming. Abigail contributed where she could, making sure everyone was well fed and clothed, often making clothing for her children herself.

Abigail and her family referred to the enslaved Americans on the farm as their “extended family,” and the boys and the younger daughter, Susannah, were all cared for by some of the women on the farm. In addition to tobacco, the family maintained a large kitchen garden and provided a separate garden plot for the resident slaves.

Although she was deeply saddened by their decision, Abigail understood why her sons John and Maxwell decided to enlist in the 1st Virginia Volunteer Infantry Regiment. During the war, Abigail and her husband struggled to maintain the farm, but Jeff’s death in 1864 made that impossible.

Abigail moved to the city of Richmond with her daughter, bringing along “Aunt Annie,” one of the enslaved Americans from her farm. Anne’s father and the remaining slaves stayed at the farm in the hopes that all might be reunited some day. It was not long after moving to the city that Abigail received the fateful news that her oldest son, Maxwell, had been dispatched to Chimborazo Hospital nearby. Abigail sought out and tended her son until his death. Because she witnessed the difficulties of maintaining such a large hospital first hand—a sizeable, sprawling encampment of tents and temporary shelters that served more than 70,000 soldiers—she stayed as a volunteer nurse until her son John returned in 1865.

The homecoming was bittersweet, as the loss of John’s foot prevented him from many of the duties of re-establishing the now disbanded farm. All of the enslaved Americans had left. Reaching out to family in New England, Abigail, John, and Susannah moved to Rhode Island where she once again found work as a nurse although she was unable to prevent her son’s early death due to complications from his injury.

Confederate soldier

Farmer's Wife
Volunteer Nurse, Chimborazo Hospital

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Please note: This material is part of a performance task developed with input from teachers Kelli Wilson and Makesha Yellock from Martinsville Middle School, instructional coaches, and other dedicated educators in the Martinsville City Public Schools. You are free to use this task, but do please give credit to John Ross and Martinsville City Public Schools if you do use it.