Folk Figure. A farmer and saloon keeper, Mills Darden was reported to be seven and a half feet tall and weighed 1,020 pounds. He was the heaviest man from the state of North Carolina and one of the heaviest men ever. The town of Darden, TN was named after him.∼A Giant of a Man
An article, written by Henderson Co., TN native, Rev. John Brooks, appeared in the Tarboro Southerner, Aug. 22, 1857:
The Great America—The Giant of the World—Miles Darden
"Mr. [Mills] Darden was born in North Carolina, in the year 1798, and departed this life at his residence in Henderson County, Tennessee, on the 23d day of January, 1857, in the 59th year of his age.
"He joined the Baptist Church in early life, and shortly after emigrated to Tennessee, where he connected himself with what is called the Christian Church, but had not been a member of any church for years past, but was moral and fond of conversing on religious subjects. He was a kind and obliging neighbor, and fond of company. — About fifteen years ago, he joined the Order of Masons. He was twice married. His children are very large, but probably none of them will ever be more than half the weight of their father. He was quite active and lively, and labored until about four years ago, when he became so fleshy that he was compelled to stay at home, or to be hauled about in a two horse wagon.
"In 1849, he made a contract with a tailor to furnish him a suit of clothes for $50 — the cloth was to cost five dollars per yard. Upon measurement, it took twelve yards of cloth. So the tailor lost ten dollars and the making. The tailor states that three men, each weighing over 200 pounds, put the coat on, buttoned it around them, and walked across the square at Lexington [TN]. In 1850, it took 13½ yards of flax cloth, a yard wide, to make him a coat. It took sixteen yards of cambrick for his shroud; 1½ yards of black velvet to cover the sides and lid of his coffin; 125 feet of plank to make his coffin.
"His coffin was eight feet long.
Across the breast, 32 inches.
Across the head, 18 "
Across the foot, 14"
Its depth, 35"
He weighed in 1845, 871 pounds.
His height was 7 feet, 6 inches.
His weight, when he died, as nearly as could be ascertained, was a fraction over 1,000 pounds."
Mills Darden, one of the largest men who ever lived, was born in Northampton Co., NC, near Rich Square, on 7 Oct. 1799. He was the son of John and Mary Darden. Mills and Mary Jenkins were married in 1820 and had 7 children: Louisa M. m Clement Strickland; Martha J. m William H. Parrott; Easter Elizabeth m James W. H. Knowles; George W., killed in battle near Atlanta, GA in 1864; Francis Marion m Lucinda Carver; and Adoniram Judson m1 Mary Ann Webb, m2 Nancy Cox.
Mills moved his family to Tennessee around 1830, where he is listed on the 1830 census in Madison Co. By 1840, the family had settled in Henderson Co. His first wife, Mary, died and by 1840 Mills had married Termisha Cooper. They had 4 children: Virginia m Louis H. Norfleet; Mary m Henry Anderson Wadley; Mills Newsom; and Tennessee V.
Mills Darden died in Henderson Co., TN and is buried on Mills Darden Cemetery Road a few miles from Lexington, TN.
Darden was a farmer, and it was said that it took 3 men to bind grain as he cut it. It was also said that "he could single handedly pull a loaded wagon from a mud hole." When he became too large to farm, he moved into Lexington where he operated a profitable tavern and inn on the court house square.
Many stories were told about Mills Darden. He was too heavy for a church pew, and so he brought a blanket and spread it before the pulpit where he would lie down to hear the sermon. He refused to be weighed but his weight was secretly calculated by measuring the height of his wagon seat when he sat on it, and later weighting it down to the same height with 100 pound sacks of sugar or flour. His pants were 72" in the waist and his hat was size 8½. A typical breakfast was said to be 12 eggs, 30 biscuits, 10 slabs of bacon, and ½ gallon of coffee. When he went visiting he had to sleep on the floor was normal beds would not support him. When he died, it took 17 men to lift him into his coffin, and a section of wall had to be knocked out to remove the coffin from the house.
In an article written in 1949, Tom Lawler reported that his uncle had seen Mills Darden holding Tom Thumb on his knee. What a sight that must have been!
Mills Darden is listed in the 1998 Guinness Book of World Records as follows: "GREATEST WEIGHT DIFFERENTIAL" The greatest recorded for a married couple is 922 lb in the case of Mills Darden (1020 lb) of North Carolina and his wife Mary (98 lb)" As James Ewing says in It Happened in Tennessee, "Darden wasn't the world's largest man and he wasn't the world's tallest man, but he appears to have been tallest large man and largest tall man on record." His weight and height were recorded in the 1886 Guinness Book of World Records.
Louisa Darden Strickland
Martha Jane Darden Parrott
Ester Elizabeth Darden Knowles
George W Darden
Francis Marion Darden
Adoniram Judson Darden
Virginia C Darden Norfleet
1841 – unknown
Mary F. Darden Wadley
Mills Newsome Darden
1849 – unknown
Tennessee V. Darden