by Robert G. Rodden

The Murder of Talbot . . . .

Delegates to the second Grand Lodge Convention in Louisville re-elected Talbot as Grand Master Machinist unanimously and without opposition. Just a few months later, however, he suddenly resigned for what he termed "matters of a personal nature."
. . . .in March 1892, he was shot to death in a street scuffle with two brothers named Will and Charles Barrenger over an incident involving the good name of his daughter. He was just forty-three years old. The youngest seven surviving children was one-and-a-half years old.
In accounts of the slaying, newspapers described both Talbot and the Barrengers as prominent citizens. Though the story was widely reported throughout the state, versions of the killing differ. A front page story in the Charleston News and Courier on March 8, 1892 said, "The good name of a modest and beautiful girl . . . had been profaned and the irate father held Charles Barrenger responsible."
Talbot had cowhided Charles the previous Saturday evening in full view of "a large number of citizens." A few days later Talbot and a friend were on their way to the freight depot when Charles and his brother William came after them. Both Talbot and the Barrengers were armed.
It is at this point that various accounts become somewhat confused and contradictory. After some argument, described by one newspaper as "high words", William Barrenger struck Talbot in the face. Charles, who was standing nearby, and Talbot both drew their pistols. Some witnesses claim Talbot shot first. Others said they both shot simultaneously. In any event Will was hit. he staggered but did not fall. Talbot apparently tried to disengage by going into a nearby store. Will pursued him and several more shots were fired. Neither the witnesses not the coroner's jury were able to definitely determine the sequence of shots that left Talbot with a punctured left lung. He died while his friends were trying to carry him home. According to one newspaper, business was almost suspended in Florence that day and "Machinists at the railroad shop struck work in respect to their dead comrade." It was also reported that feelings ran so high the Florence Rifles were called out to guard the jail in which the Barrenger brothers were lodged.
After two lengthy trials both Charles and Will were acquitted. They were undoubtedly well connected, being identified in the press as the sons of a wealthy South Carolina family. However, the jury was probably persuaded by the testimony of a witness who swore that Talbot fired first and whose statement was verified by "the character of the wound and the position of the parties at the time of the first fire."
Talbot was laid to rest in a fraternal cemetery in Florence. Newspaper accounts clearly identified him as the "Father of the International Order of Machinists and at one time the National President." But as Pete Conlon noted, in a resolution submitted to the 1897 Grand Lodge Convention in Kansas City, Talbot's grave originally lay "unmarked and unknown to strangers.". . . . In 1928 the Grand Lodge arranged to move Talbot's remains. . . .to another cemetery in Florence, New Mount Hope.*

* On May 5, 1948, the IAM celebrated the 60th Anniversary of its founding by dedicating a memorial to Talbot which stands in Grant Park in Atlanta. The inscription reads: Erected by the membership of the International Association of Machinists, May 5, 1948 to the memory of its founder Thomas Wilson Talbot 1849-1892. Through whose efforts came light out of darkness and hope out of despair and the generations to come might exhort his greatness, this monument is dedicated to free men everywhere who solemnly toil for a livelihood.

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