Obituary: William Cotton Downing

Roanoke Beacon
March 14, 1890

In Memoriam
Our community was painfully shocked on Saturday morning last, the 8th inst., by the receipt of a telegram from Turtle Creek, Penn., the adopted home of the deceased, that Wm. Cotton Downing was dead, his death occurring suddenly in Asheville, N.C., on Thursday, the 6th inst.

He had been visiting the mountain section of North Carolina on a business tour with friends from Pittsburg, and a letter received by him who pens this humble tribute to his memory, spoke hopefully of the work he was engaged in and in most cheering terms of himself.  His purpose then, was to make a visit to Eastern Carolina, and this, his old home after completing his work in the West before returning to Pennsylvania.

But alas! For human hope or purpose.  The glad expectancy of meeting our dear and honored friend is turned into tears of disappointment in this sad, sudden notice that he has been called away from earth forever, and for the warm welcome we trusted to give him when he should have returned among us, we come instead with sorrowful heart to lay this memorial tribute upon his bier.

Wm. Cotton Downing was the oldest son of Harry Downing and Mary Elizabeth his wife, of Lee’s Mills, and old and honored family of this county, and was born April 10th 1850.  He spent the days of his boyhood at the old homestead near there, receiving his early educational training which was wisely and efficiently supplemented by the careful instruction of his parents.  Later he became a pupil of the Bingham School in Orange county, an institution no less than its high standard for morals and discipline, and here the young student gave evidence first of the talent which was to distinguish him in after life, by his apt scholarship and literary tastes.

At the close of the war, (in which he did not participate owing to his extreme  youth), he took a course of business studies at Poughkeepsie, N.Y., returned to his home in Washington county and entered upon a farmers life, which pursuit he followed uninterruptedly until his removal from us in 1883.

The pleasures as well as the engagements of this vocation were of such character as to forbid him courting the distractions of public life, although his county tendered him not infrequently positions of honor and confidence whose duties he discharged with intelligence and highest acceptability when prevailed upon to accept the trust.  His excellent services as a member of the educational board for the county and for years as a most useful magistrate fully justify the wisdom of his selection for those important places.

But it was in the field of poetry that Mr. Downing was to win his most enduring reputation, his mental gifts being more pronounced of this order and his nature preeminently fashioned in this mould.  Thoughtful, imaginative, earnest in his sympathies and quick of perception of whatever was beautiful or true in life or nature, his being was well attuned to the expression of poetic thought, and the many tender verses he has left behind will live for years to come as an evidence that his talent was far above mediocrity.  A devoted and loving son of the Southland, his heart sympathizing fully with all her misfortunes and sorrows, his finest efforts, perhaps, are those which portray the story of her sufferings in the civil war, the heroism of her soldiery, the self denial and patriotism of her people in that fateful struggle and glory of her departed leaders.  Here his fancy found tenderest play as the memories of its better days before civil strife began, were contrasted with the gloom and d<…>lation which followed defeat, when sorrow sat by every fireside and all that was left to console us in bereavement was the sad yet tender light which played around the memories of those who had died to make it otherwise.

Other contributions of his to the State press and for journals outside of our borders showed that he was possessed too of great general information on matters pertaining to the material advancement of North Carolina in the changed order of things, presenting with force and truth, fullness her great resources, the need of their development and the opportunity offered to enterprise and capital to invest among us.  In this he did the State good service which should be gratefully remembered.

He was a genial, sincere warm hearted friend, faithful in every emergency, given to hospitality in its purest and most generous s<…> and courageous in every conviction which came to test loyalty.

As husband and father he was gentle, affectionate and kind, and his home made through these gracious qualities a place of liberal, unaffected, wooing welcome to guest and family alike.  There was no place among us where the word “domesticity,” – sacred to the household god – meant more than it did at the quiet home of “Mapeloke.”
Above all he was an earnest and devoted believer in the christian religion and reverenced God and his Savior with unfaltering trust and affection.  Years ago he became a member of the Episcopal church and lived and died in its communion.

Such briefly was the life and character of our departed friend – upon whom, in God’s providence, the eternal peace was given to fail at last, in his native State and in its lovliest and most beautiful portion.  His latest verses – reproduced elsewhere in these columns – was a loving tribute to the fair laud and city where he breathed his last and the motherland which met his last sight of earth.  Pence to his ashes and blessings upon his memory.  – T.S.A.