Alabama Ink: How the McCarron Family Changed the Perception of Tattoos in the Heart of Dixie

USA TODAY Sports

Manziel and McCarron. The two are adversaries and close friends. At first glance they seem similar and yet divergent at the same time. And as we learned recently from Deadspin, there is a narrative behind the Manziel family as colorful as his play on the gridiron. That made us wonder: what sort of narrative might the McCarrons have? This is their made-up story.

Though the family can no doubt claim some Celtic heritage (a culture deeply immersed in the ritual of tattooing), the first notable recorded modern McCarron to sport arm art was Fergus MacCarron in 1795. Fergus was a respected sailing master in the Royal Navy and retired early on half pay to the Aberdeen area after a brush with a Spanish privateer left him hobbled in his left leg. He shocked his young middle-class wife and her family when he revealed that he had not one, but two tattoos, the mark of a common sailor; one on each arm. On his left was a decent depiction of his ship, the H.M.S. Rammer1, and on the right was a detailed sketch of a boatload of Turks being eaten by a giant seahorse, the result of another stormy encounter in the Mediterranean. Scandalized by the judgment of their Calvinist neighbors, the MacCarrons soon emigrated to the Carolinas to seek their fortune in the New World.

***

Fergus toiled as a surveyor near Charleston2 and served with valor in the War of 1812 against the English, as most Scotsmen did. He finally had sons in his old age. One became a trapper and a rake, eventually losing himself in the Blue Ridge wilderness, never to be heard from again. The other, Jacob, was a pious boy and grew up to become a respected Episcopalian minister. His beliefs were so fervent that he himself commissioned a Bible verse to be tattooed across his back. The engraving was performed in secret by a wandering Cherokee trader who may or may not have understood the nuances of the King James Version's English3 and when finished read:

"And yea, thou shalt cease speaking and attend thine ears to the crashing of the waves. --1st Paawwwl, 29:24."

Once word of this abomination spread throughout the community, Jacob and his young bride, like his father before him, were forced to hurry west.

***

Jacob and wife ended up in Columbus, Georgia, on the Alabama border in the 1830s. He found work again as a minister, as this was far enough west to escape word of his tattoo, and he and his wife soon had a houseful of children. The oldest, RMFT McCarron, was believed to have been the first McCarron to go by his initials (Rowan Murdock Fergus Tye)4, as well as the first to appear without the superfluously Scottish "a" in his surname's prefix. RMFT showed acumen in military tactics, and when the Civil War rolled around was commissioned an officer in the Georgia militia and was soon leading an entire regiment in the Confederate Army. Unfortunately, he was taken prisoner and spent a couple of years in a Union POW camp in Illinois. He is widely believed to be the first McCarron to display facial tattoos, as he returned from the North during Reconstruction with three crudely-etched teardrops cascading down each cheek5. RMFT was a no-nonsense character, and with nothing left for him in Columbus, he felt the ancestral pull of his grandfather's days at sea and made his way to the wild port of Mobile.

***

Fortunes were there for the plucking in one of the South's largest seaports, even during Reconstruction. RMFT went to work as a stevedore and within two years owned the company. The wharves were his empire. Wealthy merchants and shrewd sea captains alike were eager to overlook the inky tears running down his face to obtain his quality services. Thus began a century and a half of notable McCarrons adding their particular dash of spice to the tapestry of Mobile, each displaying their tattoos more proudly than the last:

  • Harven "Up" Dykes McCarron, 1890s: Mobile's first elevator contractor, oak tree sleeve tats6
  • Prudence Ann McCarron-Bryant, 1900s: Victorian circus tattooed lady
  • Stanford Parr Cess McCarron, 1920s: Merchant Marine Boatswain, complete nautical chart of Gulf of Mexico on back
  • Paul McCarron, 1940s: Mayor, elaborate Grimm's fairy-tale bridge troll tattooed on outer right thigh
  • Burger "Musk" McCarron, 1960s: drive-thru restaurant guru, gambler, and early TV personality, had "FINE LADY" tattooed across knuckles

You may think AJ is a rebel uncomfortable with his sparkling image; that he is slowly covering his body with marks in an attempt to keep his hidden frustrations at bay. But this is not so. He is a McCarron, and he is carrying with him generations of tradition that he proudly displays on his torso for all Spring Breakers to see. It's his personal freedom and his connection to the past. He's just another young man in a new century bravely trying to cement his greatness and leave his stamp upon the world. He's the All-American QB kid. But beneath that clean-cut smile and #10 jersey lie ink patterns as intricate as the ancestral tree that inspired them.

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Footnotes

1 Made this up.

2 Complete bullshit.

3 Entirely fabricated.

4 Probably bullshit.

5 Not even remotely true.

6Alabama Football Media Guide, 2011a

a(Not really)

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