by Rick Gwynallen

Captain James William Davidson Murdoch
1861 – 1921
Relationship to Fawn: 1st cousin 5x removed


I am grateful to Jonathan Medford for the post I found on his genealogical website, Them Medfords & Other Mountain Folk.  Most of the material in this essay comes from his post.  The above photo is thought to be James William Davidson Murdoch, the clothing he is wearing a railroad uniform, and the photo taken in the 1880s.

James William Davidson Murdoch was born 21 September 1861 in Troutman, Iredell County, North Carolina. Mr.Medford informs me that most records he has seen refer to James as James William Murdoch.  However, the index at St. Michael’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Iredell County, North Carolina shows he was christened James William Davidson Murdoch.

Just four months prior to our cousin coming into this world, North Carolina had seceded from the union and fighting had started on the North Carolina coast.  Though one so young might have remained blissfuly unaware, the first four years of his life unfolded in the context of the Civil War, and certainly would have been a dominant concern affecting the family life that swirled around him.  He was the son of John A. Murdoch and Eliza Avalin Hartline.  By the time he was 6 he was orphaned.  However, all was not completely bad news in his young life.  That same year, his older sister, Margaret Theresa Elizabeth, married Daniel Perry on 7 March.


Daniel Alexander Perry and Margaret Theresa Elizabeth Murdock in their later years

James started work for the Southern Railway in 1877 as a section laborer. A section laborer keeps the track and trackbed in good shape.  This would checking for broken rails, defective switches, deteriorating trackbed, track obstructions, and weather-related problems.  A section laborer would remove and replace ties, pull and drive spikes, and shovel rock ballast.

Ultimately, he would become Captain with the Southern Railway and the line supervisor between Winston-Salem and Charlotte.

James married Eudora M. Peeples about 1881, and had five children: Alma Louise, Carrie Mazillah, Homer Odell, John Cress, and Walter Edward. The family moved from Statesville, North Carolina to Mooresville, North Carolina, about 18 miles to the south, in 1902 or 1903. After Eudora’s death in 1906, James married Mary Elizabeth Raymer, and they had two children: Nellie May and James Forrest.

James became a rail line supervisor for Southern Railways.  His son, John Cress, followed in his father’s footsteps and became a machinist for Southern Railways at the Spencer Shops in Spencer, North Carolina.  The obituary for James dated 16 December 1921 records his last position, his length of service, and how he began his life as a railman: . . . a year ago gave up his work as track supervisor of the Winston-Salem division of the Southern Railway, in who’s service he had spent 34 years, beginning as a section laborer in 1877.

Jonathan Medford wrote:

“The Spencer Shops were built in 1896 after Samuel Spencer of The Southern Railway recognized a need for a third major “back shop” service facility on the eastern main line between Washington D.C. and Atlanta. Land was purchased at the halfway point at what is now Spencer, NC.  James was one of the first local employees hired and was likely already working as a rail man at the time.”

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One can still visit the Spencer Shops where the Murdochs worked.  The Spencer Shops is now the North Carolina Transportation Museum.


The Back Shop, the Master Mechanic’s Office, the Flue Shop and the 37-stall Bob Julian Roundhouse are original buildings of the Spencer Shops.  It is one of the few remaining intact 20th-century railroad locomotive facilities in the United States.

For more information on the historic shop: Southern Railway Spencer Shops

The Statesville Landmark newspaper is among those newspapers that have been digitized, and Jonathan Medford reprinted a range of items from the newspaper that reference James.  Local papers can offer glimpses into the lives of families.  The items below show different positions James held with Southern Railway as well as family matters.  The examples from Them Medfords & Other Mountain Folk are reprinted below.

Freight Train Wrecked Near Mocksville
28 Dec 1900
Winston-Salem Special, 24th, to Charlotte Observer

The freight train which left Winston last night for Charlotte was wrecked on the Cornatzer hill, four miles this side of Mocksville.  Seventeen cars were piled in a heap, many of them being loaded with coal.  The track was torn up for some distance.  The accident was caused by the rails spreading.  On account of the wreck the passenger train from Mooreseville to Winston was cancelled for today.  It is thought the track will be cleared so trains can pass tomorrow.  All of the trainmen escaped injury last night.

[Mr. Jas. W. Murdock, section master of Statesville, was called to the scene of the wreck Sunday night with his force.  The track was cleared Monday evening and Mr. Murdock got home Monday night. The Landmark]

Jas W. Murdoch of Statesville Promoted

20 Aug 1901
Mr. Jas. W. Murdoch of Stateville, who has had charge of a work train on the Asheville division of the Southern Railway, has been appointed supervisor of the line between Taylorsville and Charlotte and Mooresville and Winston, succeeding W.F. Wilson, transferred.  Mr. Murdoch was formerly a section master.  He is a good citizen and a capable railroad man and The Landmark is gratified to learn of his promotion.

Misses Alma Murdoch to Attend School
17 Sep 1901
Misses Alma Murdoch and Minnie Meacham left Wednesday for Asheville, where they will attend school at the Normal and Collegiate Institute.

Statesville Visit
12 May 1903
Mr. and Mrs. J.W. Murdoch and children of Mooresville visited friends here yesterday.

Miss Carrie Mazillah Murdoch to Marry

28 Nov 1905
Miss Carrie Mazillah Murdoch, daughter of Capt. and Mrs. Jas. W Murdoch, formerly of Stateville, now of Mooresville, and Mr. Chas. A. Troutman will be married at the home of the bride’s parents in Mooresville December 27th.

Death of Mrs. Jas W. Murdoch at Statesville
11 May 1906
Mrs. Murdoch, wife of Jas W. Murdoch, supervisor of the North Carolina Midland and Charlotte and Taylorsville railroad lines, died Tuesday night at 10 o’clock at her home in Mooresville, aged about 40 years.  The remains were brought here yesterday morning and interred in Oakwood cemetery.  Four children survive.

Mr. and Mrs. Murdoch lived in Statesville for several years, moving from here to Mooresville.  The family has many friends here and all who know them sympathize with Mr. Murdoch and his children in the great loss they have suffered.

Sad News
14 May 1906
The deaths of Rev R.T.N. Stephenson and Mrs. Murdoch which were announced in your paper of Friday, was sad news to our people.
Mrs. Murdock is well remembered here, having lived here some time in Capt. Murdock was section master on the railroad here.  She was an estimable lady.
Stony Point, NC

Card of Thanks
15 May 1906
Please allow us space in your valuable paper to express our sincere thanks to the good people of Mooresville for the kindness shown us during the illness and death of our dear wife and mother.
May God’s richest blessings rest upon each of you, is our prayer.
J.W. Murdoch and Children

Miss Murdoch and Mr. Brown Married Last August
Mooresville Dispatch, Feb 25, 1907
The first news of the morning was the announcement of the marriage of the eldest daughter of Mr. J.W. Murdoch, Miss Alma, to Mr. Marvin Brown, mail carrier on Mooresville R.F.D. No. 3.  There is a bit of romance attached to this marriage that might be spoken of.  Last summer these two people, on their way from prayer meeting, decided they would be married secretly, so after ‘Squire C.V. Voils had declared his good name to keep this secret he performed the ceremony, giving them a certificate of marriage.  This certificate was produced Sunday morning.  The two have been living at their respective homes since the marriage and have conducted themselves in such a nice way that neither their intimate friends nor homefolks have guessed the truth.
[The bride is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Jas. W. Murdoch, who formerly lived in Stateville.]

Mrs. Marvin Brown Died
31 May 1907
Mrs. Marvin Brown died Wendesday morning at her home at Mooresville. Mrs. Brown was Miss Alma Murdock, a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Jas. W. Murdock, formerly of Statesville, and has many friends here who will regret to learn of her death.  She was married to Mr. Brown last year.

Memorial Services
On Sunday afternoon, June 2nd. Memorial services were held by the Methodist Dunsay school in memory of one of its faithful attendants and pupils – Mrs. Alma Murdoch Brown. The services were conducted by Supt. M.W. White and short talks were made by Rev. S. T. Barber and Mr. Pegram. A committe from the Sunday school was appointed to prepare a memorial, which was read by Miss Viola Johnston. After the services the school marched to the cemetery, where flowers were strewn on the grave of their departed member.

[Below is the memorial that was read]
In Memoriam
Mrs. Alma Murdoch Brown was born at Troutman September 9th, 1883, and died at Mooresville May 29th, 1907. She was at the time of her death 23 years, 8 months and 18 days old. She was a consistent and faithful member of the Methodist church and Sunday school and was a regular attendant upon its services, she having been organist of the choir for some time. There has not been a death among us for some time that has caused greater genuine sorrow and regret than the death of MRs. Brown.

Taken from us when just in the prime of life and when the future held for her such bright promise, it seemed hard that she should be called upon to give them all up and go the journey from which none ever return. In our finite mind we cannot see why it is so, but God, in His all-wise way, took her for some good purpose, and we humbly submit to Him who doeth all things well, though our hearts bleed that she is with us no more.

Wednesday afternoon, May 29th, at 6 o’clock, the funeral services were conducted by her pastor, Rev. S. T. Barber, assisted by Rev.  J.W. Jones, from the church where in life she had loved and labored, and as the sun sank low in the west and cast slanting shadows athwart the evening sky, her remains were tenderly lowered into the grave by loving hands, to await the resurrection morn.

To the grief-stricken husband who had loved and cherished the idol of his heart, and who had almost completed for her a new house that was to be their home; to the father who had loved and watched over her from childhood days, and to her sister and brothers who have lost their beloved sister, this memoriam is dedicated. May her rest be sweet and may her loved ones meet her in the home of the good.

“Asleep in Jesus, blessed sleep,
From which none ever wakes to weep,
A calm and undisturbed repose,
Unbroken by the last of foes,
“Asleep in Jesus, far from thee,
They kindred and their graves may be,
But thine is still a blessed sleep,
From which none ever wakes to week.”
~ The Committee

Beloved Railroad Man of Mooresville Died Wednesday Afternoon – Funeral

15 Dec 1921, Friday Morning

By J. A. B. Goodman

Mooresville, Dec 16. – Capt. James William Murdock, one of
Mooresville’s best-beloved men, passed away Wednesday afternoon at his
home on north Main street. Capt. Murdock had been in ill health for
several years, and a year ago gave up his work as track supervisor of
the Winston-Salem division of the Southern Railway, in who’s service
he had spent 34 years, beginning as a section laborer in 1877.

Capt. Murdock was sixty one years of age, and was a son of the late
John Murdock, of the Troutman community. He was twice married. His
first wife being a Miss Peoples. A daughter and three sons survived by
this union — Mrs. C.A. Troutman of Mooresville, Homer and Edward
Murdock of Charlotte, and Cress Murdock, of Statesville. In 1908 he
married Mrs. Mary E. Stines, who survives him, together with a son,
Forrest, and a daughter, Nelly. He is also survived by three step
sons, Eddi and Spencer Stines, of Philadelphia, and Hugh Stines, of
this city, who succeeded Capt. Murdock when he resigned his work with
the Southern.

Left an orphan at the age of six years, the deceased was bound out to
a Mr. Vanderburg. Even at this early age his strong prohibition
tendency asserted itself, and he ran away from his employer a few
years later because he operated one of the then numerous distilleries
in Iredell county. He spent several years in Illinois, later returning
to his native state.

During the years he has spent in Mooresville, Capt. Murdock has been
one of the town’s best citizens. He was deeply pious, holding his duty
to the Lord above all other things, and countenanced nothing that
savored of irreverence or immorality. He was a value member, and for
many years a steward of the Methodist church here. He was outspoken in
his convictions, but was unfailing in kindness and sympathy.

For a number of years he was a member of the city graded school board,
and served loyally and efficiently. It was characteristic of him that
at the first meeting of the board after his election he insisted that
the proceedings should be opened with prayer.

In July of last year the Southern News bulletin published an
appreciation of his services in which he was described as “one of the
most loyal men on the Winston-Salem division, who has made an enviable
record for dependable and efficient service.” He was highly esteemed
by all employees and officials of his division.

Funeral services will be conducted from the Central Methodist Church
at 11 o’clock Friday morning, by the Pastor, Rev. L.B. Abernathy.
Interment will be made in Willow Valley cemetery.

– The Statesville Landmark December 15, 1921

J.W. Murdock’s Will
23 Jan 1922
The will of the late J.W. Murdock, of Mooresville has been filed for probate.  The will, which was made on September 25, 1912, names C.V. Voils of Mooresville as executor, and leaves his property to his wife, Mary E. Murdock, to be divided share for share among his bodily heirs upon her death.