A year or so ago, over on another blog, i published a series of articles derived from my exploration of my mother's family, the Scotch-Irish McCaskeys. A few cousins have asked for the information, and other readers, curious about the characters that appear in "A Scratch with the Rebels," have also sought access to the material. Now that i'm about to publish a new novel, based loosely on my mother's family, it seems a good time to replay these articles.
Records of the early McCaskey family are sketchy at best. They seem to have emigrated from Northern Ireland, which had been colonized by Scottish and English Protestants, setting Ulster somewhat apart from the rest of Ireland, which was predominantly Catholic. They were not really escaping religious persecution, however, and they moved out long before the potato famine. The problems seems to have centered on falling flax prices. Whatever the reason, John and Nancy Little McCaskey packed up their children -- Jane, Joseph, Andrew, Nancy, William, John, James, and little Sarah -- and claimed steerage passage to America at the end of the 18th century. There are no passenger records in steerage, so we can't be sure when they arrived.
They soon joined other Scotch Irish immigrants in western Pennsylvania, where land was still easily available for the clearing. Records show that John, William, and Andrew signed on with local militias as soon as they were old enough to do so. John, Andrew, and William made formal petition to become American citizens by renouncing all allegiance to the King of Great Britain in 1824 and 1825. By some odd quirk of historical preservation, I have those papers.
It did not take the McCaskey sons long to scatter. A letter dated 9 Nov, 1826, came from Smithfield Township in Jefferson County, Ohio. William McCaskey informed his mother, Jane McCaskey, that he was working on the turnpike in Ohio and suggested that his brothers John and Joseph could make a lot of money if they wanted to join him the following spring. Now that weather had halted roadwork for the winter, he was working as a stonecutter. He reported that brother James has been visiting since October and had been ill, although he was getting better after taking medicine from an Indian doctor. James was apparently a traveling salesmen, purchasing goods in Pittsburgh and then selling then in the countryside.
Two of the daughters also traveled on to Ohio with their American husbands. A May 30, 1833 letter arrived from Conneaut, Ohio. Allen Law wrote to his brother-in-law John McCaskey to tell him that he and his wife Nancy McCaskey were in tolerably good health but would like to return to Pennsylvania. He wanted the senior McCaskeys to be on the lookout for a piece of land in their area. He was willing to pay $600 down, followed by $200 in April, and then $100 a year for the next three or four years. I have no further evidence about that family, except for a strange 1838 local newspaper with the name Allen Law written at the bottom. Some of it is illegible, but I have found no mention of him in the paper itself.
On Aug. 25, 1835, John Dullaghan, Jr. sent worse news from Wooster, Ohio. He reports that his father had died on Aug. 3 of consumption. Junior himself has had fever that settled in his knees, and his mother, Jane McCaskey, had been unable to use her arms for two months. Nevertheless, they planned to pay a visit to the Pennsylvania family in the next month or two if they could get their old wagon repaired. I've had a bit of correspondence from a possible cousin showing that the family name of John Dullaghan continued to be passed down from generation to generation, but there are unexplained gaps in our joint genealogical data.
The only other one of the McCaskey children I can trace further is John Jr., who is my great-grandfather. Still, I know little about him, and even his very grave has disappeared (which is another story!).