My mom’s paternal grandfather, Edward Cabell Cannaday, was born in Virginia on March 19, 1881, to Tazwell Howard Cannaday and Julia Ann Foster. Edward was born in rural Floyd County, which sits on a plateau in southwestern Virginia between the Allegheny and Blue Ridge Mountains.
Edward’s interesting middle name likely comes from William H. Cabell (1772-1853), a prominent politician who was Governor of Virginia from 1805 to 1808. After his term as governor, William Cabell served for 39 years on the Virginia Supreme Court. He was apparently a well-liked fellow; a glance through the 1880 U.S. Census reveals more than one hundred men in Virginia had the first or middle name of Cabell!
Edward was the oldest of eight children, four boys and four girls. The two youngest, both girls, were born after Edward left home. Edward’s father was a farmer and his mother tended the children and home. The large Cannaday and Foster families had been in Floyd County for many years by the time Edward was born. In addition to both grandmothers, he grew up around literally dozens of cousins. For a period of time, his maternal grandmother Orpha lived with the family. His sister Annie, age 2, died when Edward was 12 years old. Edward worked on his family’s farm, which produced corn, and possibly tobacco, wheat, oats, buckwheat and livestock. Given Edward’s confident penmanship and writing proclivities, he undoubtedly had some formal schooling; there were a number of public schools, as well as the Jacksonville Academy, in Floyd County. Edward’s parents were members of the first congregation of the Methodist Episcopal Stonewall Church in the mid-1870s, and church attendance was surely an integral part of Edward’s upbringing.
In 1898, when Edward was 17 years old, he left Floyd and headed west to Kansas City, Missouri, where he began working for the Swift Packing Plant. We don’t know the exact circumstances of Edward’s move, but he did have family connections in the vicinity—a few years earlier his Aunt Laura Weaver and Uncle Isaac Cannaday had both settled with their families in Coffey County, Kansas (about 100 miles southwest of Kansas City). The meatpacking industry during the early 1900s was unsanitary, unregulated and incredibly dangerous (conditions that were exposed in Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel, “The Jungle”). Edward worked for Swift until December 1901, when he enlisted in the U.S. Army for a tour of duty to the Philippine Islands, where the Philippine-American War was being fought. Although Edward wrote a rather lighthearted account of his adventures after leaving Floyd, “A Floyd Boy’s Trip Around the World,” he surely witnessed untold horrors during his time at Swift and in the Phillipines.
Edward was discharged from the Army in December 1904 and spent three months in Floyd visiting family and friends. During this time he would have met his sister, Iva, who was born during his absence. In March 1905, Edward re-enlisted and was assigned to the general recruiting office in Springfield, Illinois. He was eventually transferred from Springfield to Peoria, Illinois, where he met his future bride, Martha Maria Tornedde. They married on June 30, 1907. In March 1908, Edward was discharged from the Army and began working for Illinois Traction Company (later known as Illinois Power & Light) as a streetcar conductor. Edward and Martha lived in the house Martha grew up in on 711 Johnson Street in Peoria, at the terminus of the Hurlburt streetcar line. In June, they welcomed their first child, Edward Ernest. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
The next several years were a happy time for Edward. The young Cannaday family stepped out for excursions and evening strolls dressed to the nines, looking carefree and confident. Edward sent sweet picture postcards of his family to his parents and sisters in Floyd, obviously pleased to show them off.
In 1915, Martha gave birth to their second child, Paul Foster Cannaday. Heartbreakingly, Paul died in an accident when he was just 18 months old. His death cast a sad pall on the family and there are few photos in the ensuing years. The loss sent Edward into a tailspin; he numbed his sorrow by drinking, gambling and carousing. In 1917, son Harry Frank was born, followed by Robert Wilson in 1924. Edward continued to work for Illinois Power & Light as a claim adjuster, but in 1928 applied for and received a service-related disability pension from the U.S. Government for unknown reasons. We do know Edward suffered from depression and probably alcohol addiction. Around this same time, the family moved from their home on Johnson Street to 318 California Avenue. Family lore is that Edward lost the family home to a gambling debt. Tragically, Edward committed suicide in 1930 at age 48, leaving behind his widow Martha and sons Edward (21), Frank (12), and Robert (5). He was also survived by his parents and six siblings.
Edward was dapper in his straw boater, cigar in hand, and no doubt quite charming. Despite his shadows, he was a sensitive and creative man. Edward’s life was filled with highs and lows: The freedom of leaving Floyd, the brutal working conditions at Swift; the thrill of joining the Army and traveling around the world, the horror of war; the joy of family, the pain of losing his son, and earlier, his little sister. We can look back now with an objective eye and name traumatic events and circumstances in Edward’s life, but who can know the tipping point for any person? It is very sad to imagine the depths of despair Edward must have felt to take his own life. What I would want Edward to know is that his descendants were impacted by his death in ways both negative and positive. But, with compassion, we remember and honor his life.
Rest in peace, Great-Grandfather Edward.