The Saga of James H. Ruffin of Rocky Mount Mills
The Saga of James H. Ruffin of Rocky Mount Mills

The Saga of James H. Ruffin of Rocky Mount Mills

On February 9, 1899, James H. Ruffin, former manager of Rocky Mount Mills, attempted to end his life on his way to New Orleans via train to attend a carnival. People found him in the restroom nearly dead from loss of blood after slashing his wrists. He had $21,450[1] in cash and checks on his person. He expressed that he was tired of living and had no immediate family.[2][3] He had resigned as manager of the mill in 1898 citing ill health. The summer of that year, Ruffin had an “attack of nervous prostration” due to overwork.[4] He took two trips to improve his health but his ill health continued, forcing him to resign. Thomas H. Battle replaced him at Rocky Mount Mills. Ruffin’s official diagnosis was “melancholia superinduced by nervous prostration.”[5]

Ruffin was named treasurer and superintendent of mill operations in 1886 during a period of administrative reorganization. In this period in the 1880s, the Battle Family relinquished financial control of the company but retained management control. [6] He had gained textile mill experience in Lowell, Massachusetts where he worked at Lowell Machine Works and other cotton mills.[7]  At Rocky Mount Mills, he was in full charge of operations while Thomas H.

Sign hanging inside the Battle House, Rocky Mount Mills

Battle was in charge of the finances. Ruffin played in instrumental role in the mill’s expansion in the late-19th century. However, it was this very expansion that The Commonwealth (Scotland Neck, NC) suggests led to his melancholia as the mill was a much smaller operation in the 1880s.

Ruffin survived his suicide attempt. According to the 1910 census,[8] he was living in Swift Creek, NC with his much younger wife, Minnie (nee Edmondson),[9] and six children on a farm from his previous marriage to Joanna Braswell who died in 1904. He and Minnie married in 1907. Ruffin died in 1915 at 65 and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Tarboro. Minnie died 15 years later in 1930 at the age of 50.[10]

Another fact about James H. Ruffin: He had once been engaged to a Miss Lillie McIntyre, who was mistakenly reported to have been engaged to Robert Wilkerson Hester. Hester had been murdered and his murderers, Robert Fortune and John Taylor, on March 15, 1899 were the last in Nash County to be publicly hanged.[11] Ruffin and McIntyre’s relationship had suffered and ended because of Ruffin’s ill health.

It is unclear if Ruffin received formal treatment for his condition or if rest was merely the prescription.


[1] This number differs in various publications.

[2] “North Carolina News – Clippings from Exchanges.” The Daily Free Press (Kinston, NC). Vol. I, No. 268. February 10, 1899. pg. 1.

[3] Though he had a brother who immediately went to New Orleans to visit him.

[4] “Mr. Ruffin Attempts Suicide.” The Commonwealth (Scotland Neck, NC), Vol. XV, No. 7. February 16, 1899. Pg. 2.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Rocky Mount Mills. Rocky Mount Mills: A Case History of Industrial Development, 1818-1943. Rocky Mount: Rocky Mount Mills. 1943.

[7] Ibid.

[8] 1910 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2006. (Accessed May 31, 2018).

[9] He was 27 years older than her. Minnie was only five years older than his eldest child, Ida.

[10] (Accessed May 31, 2018).

[11] “The Day Nash County had its Last Public Hanging.” Rocky Mount Telegram (Rocky Mount, NC). No. 10. October 22, 1967. Pg. 11


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