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Rufus Ward: The Mystery of 'Maw'


Oil painting titled “Bride of Heaven” signed F. A. Luckett, Columbus, Mississippi. It was a prized possession of “Maw.”

Oil painting titled “Bride of Heaven” signed F. A. Luckett, Columbus, Mississippi. It was a prized possession of “Maw.”
Photo by: Provided



Rufus Ward



The 1890s Friendship Cemetery square of Thomas Carleton Billups II often draws attention because of its large statue of an angel. It is an angel that faces west rather than the traditional east. What few people notice is a small Celtic Cross head stone that reads "Maw" in large letters and in badly weathered small unreadable letters there is what appears to have been a name. 


In 1889 Carleton Billups and his wife, Ida Sykes, built a large three-story Eastlake-style home at 905 Main St. in Columbus. The enjoyment of their new home was short lived as three years later Ida Sykes Billups became ill and died. Carleton was left to raise two teenage daughters and two young sons. 


Knowing he needed help, he hired a governess to help raise the children. Here the mystery begins. Carleton hired a lady known as Maw to be the governess. No one in the family knew who she was or where she came from. All that was known was that her name was Margaret Godson and she was a very devout Catholic. The Billups were active members of First Methodist Church. 


Maw became more than just a governess. She became a member of the family. She was loved by the children, but her background was never told to them. She was simply called Maw. Though the Billups had many photographs taken in the 1890s and early 1900s, there is only one that shows Maw. It is a circa-1900 very faded photo that shows a little old lady in a very plain dress standing in the backyard of the Billups home. 


In 1898 Carleton died and Maw with the help of the older daughters continued to raise the young boys. 


Still no one seemed to know who she was or where she came from. She had become such a part of the family that her mysterious past was just accepted without question by the children. 


Maw died in 1903 and was buried on the Billups square in Friendship Cemetery. She left her few possessions to the Billups children. One of her prized possessions was an oil painting of a nun titled, "Bride of Heaven." It was signed "F. A. Luckett, Columbus, Mississippi." She left the painting to T. C. Billups III, the youngest child. 


Billups family tradition still maintains that nothing was ever known about who Maw was or where she came from. The stories only mention the loving care she gave the children and her being considered a member of the family whose past was never mentioned.   


When told of the story, Bob Raymond decided to do some digging. What he found was that Margaret Godson was born in Ireland in 1830 and immigrated to the United States in 1852. However her life''s story from 1830 to 1892 remains a mystery. But then, the Billups children did only want her to be remembered as Maw.


Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at [email protected]


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