Connecting the descendants of Captain John McCollough (1770-1847) and Elizabeth Spangler (1779-1858), pioneers of Butler County, Pennsylvania, and exchanging information about Spangler and Fiscus family history.
We’ve been isolated for far too long. With the promise of new vaccines, we long for a cure from the Covid 19 pandemic that has swept the world in the last year. Spring is a time for renewal as it was for our McCollough ancestors. In western Pennsylvania, fields were plowed on the McCollough farms as soon as they dried from the melting snow. Likewise, our McCulloch ancestors gathered in early May at Kirkmaiden-in-Fernis in Wigtownshire and on Kirkmaiden’s Cave located north of the Mull of Galloway on the Rhinns Peninsula. These two ancient religious sites are associated with Scotland’s St. Medan. Both churches are located near the old McCulloch lands in the Machars and Rhinns regions of Scotland.
Both sites named Kirkmaiden are important to McCulloch lore and legends. They are central to the story of Lady Medan, an Irish princess of great beauty and wealth who lived in the 7th-century. She resolved herself to the service of God and became a nun. Sought for marriage by many, she rejected all her suitors who gave up in despair except for one, named Miles Nobilis, a noble knight who would not accept her denial. He pursued her relentlessly begging her to marry him. In an attempt to escape her persistent suitor, Medan and her two handmaidens took a small boat from Ireland to the Rhinns Peninsula in Scotland where they lived in a small cave and spent their days in charity and service to the poor. Miles learned of her location and pursued her across the Irish Sea, still wishing to become her lover. Medan’s suitor eventually found her. The alarmed princess and her handmaidens fled as far as they could into Luce Bay and climbed onto a large, flat stone. She prayed to the saints to carry her from her pursuer. The rock mysteriously floated Medan and her handmaidens 30 miles across the Luce Bay to a desolate location beneath the Cliffs of Fernis on the south shore of the Machars Peninsula. Not discouraged, her suitor pursued Medan and caught up with her at her refuge under the cliffs. Exasperated, the princess fled and climbed a nearby hawthorn tree. She pled, “What is it in me that so provokes you to pursue me?” “Because of your face and eyes,” he replied. Thereupon, the princess plucked out her eyes and threw them down at his feet! Her suitor was so filled with grief and penitence that he fled in horror. On the spot where her eyes fell a spring of water gushed forth. The horribly wounded princess Medan washed her face and eye sockets in the small spring. Miraculously, her eyes and sight were restored. She was considered a saint and traveled all over Scotland bringing the Christian message and founding many churches. Today, the flat rock that bore Medan across Luce Bay still lies at the foot of the bluffs below Kirkmaiden church.
The first Sunday in May was known as Co’ Sunday in the Galloway region of Scotland. Co’ was short for cove or cave. It was customary for the McCullochs, Maxwells, and nearly the entire population in the region to gather at Medan’s holy wells and chapel at Kirkmaiden-in-Fernis and her cave and chapel on the Mull of Galloway. So many attended the gatherings that services in nearby towns were cancelled. Both Kirkmaiden locations were the destination for religious pilgimages throughout the year. The Scots King Robert the Bruce was said to visit Kirkmaiden on the Rhinns.
– St. Medan’s rock and holy wells below the cliffs at Kirkmaiden-at-Fernis (left). St. Medan’s Cave or Co’ near the Mull of Galloway (right). Hundreds of years ago, a chapel was built around this cleft in the rocks on the shorelines. Holy wells were located in eroded holes in the bedrock along shoreline at both sites.
These pools gathered in natural rock cauldrons at these sites. Like hundreds of other holy wells in Scotland and Ireland, the pools were believed to have healing powers. These were unusual holy wells where salt water took the place of freshwater. To bathe in the pools as the sun rose on Co’ Sunday was considered an infallible cure for almost any disease. Dr. Robert Trotter, who examined the chapel near the Mull of Galloway in 1870, and wrote, These wells, three natural cavities in a porphyritic trap, are within the tide mark, and are filled by the sea at high water of ordinary tides. The largest is circular, five feet in diameter at the top, and four feet at one side, shelving down to five feet at the other, and is wider inside than at the top, something like a kailpot in fact, and it is so close to the edge of the rock that at one place its side is not two inches thick. The other wells almost touch it, and are about one foot six inches wide and deep respectively. Sickly children were brought to be bathed, the time selected being just before sunrise. Dr. Trotter mentions that children are still brought occasionally, sometimes from long distances. The ceremony described to him by an eyewitness was as follows: The child was stripped naked, and taken by the spaul, that is, by one of the legs, and plunged headforemost into the big well till completely submerged; it was then pulled out, and the part held on by was dipped in the middle well, and then the whole body was finished by washing the eyes in the smallest one, altogether very like the Achilles and Styx business, only much more thorough. An offering was then left in the old chapel, on a projecting stone inside the cave behind the west door, and the cure was complete. The wells, caves and geologic formations at both Kirkmaiden sites were likely ancient places of worship. People probably gathered at these unusual geologic sites for millennia before St. Medan arrived. Like so many places in Scotland, a church or chapel was a later addition and Christianity supplanted the druids and the old religion. Many McCullochs are buried in the churchyards of both churches.
Last night, a new McCollough (our first grandchild) was born. With tightly closed eyes, Theodore McCollough entered a new world much brighter than he has been used to. He brings a new light to our family as we emerge from winter, see the end of a long pandemic, and hope for brighter days to come. We welcome this wee lad and wish him a long and happy life.
Being born on April Fool’s Day will be special. No doubt little Theodore will receive interesting birthday presents and greetings and will have to endure a wild goose chase or two. If he is anything like his father, Theodore will be the one to deliver mischief on this day of foolishness.
This day of merriment and joviality dates back thousands of years. Many cultures had a day of foolishness built into their annual calendars often occurring about the spring equinox. The Scots are known to have a great sense of humor. Since the 1700s, this vernal day of mischief has been known as “Hunting the Gowk.” In Gaelic the translation was La na Gocaireachd that means “gowking day”’ or La Ruith na Cuthaige that means “the day of running the cuckoo.” Do what? A gowk is another name for the cuckoo bird, a relatively common species lurking in the hedgerows of Great Britain.
To hunt the gowk in Scotland on April 1 meant to send someone on a fruitless errand. They might be asked to fetch some impossible item like pigeon’s milk, striped paint, elbow grease, hen’s teeth, or succotash seeds. In Boy Scots, we used to send new recruits to look for a “left handed smoke shifter.” More frequently, an April cuckoo was selected for an important fool’s errand. On April 1 he or she was sent with a sealed message to deliver to a person on the other side of the village. In turn, the recipient asked the messenger to take the important message to another person in town. Finally, the exasperated messenger would be asked to open and read the message:
Dinna laugh an’ dinna smile Hunt the gowk another mile
The origins of April Fool’s Day are obscured in the mists of time. It may have started in the 1500s with the confusion caused by the change of the Christian calendar. The New Year used to be celebrated on March 25 followed by a week of festivities that ended April 1st. That was until the French King Charles IX issued a decree stating that the year would begin on 1 January rather than 1 April. To protest this most unpopular change, people sent each other worthless presents as New Year’s gifts on April 1st. In France, it was traditional to send a raw fish. Nowadays, it is traditional to eat chocolate, marzipan or sugar fish. In Alsace, cakes are molded into the shape of fish. Sometimes practitioners will sneak up behind another and pin a fish-shaped cloth to the back of their jacket.
The Scots enjoy the foolishness so much that April 2nd is known as Tailie Day. Instead of a fish, the Scot’s secretly pin a tail on an unsuspecting victim. Of course, one cannot be foolish all day, so the Scots insist that all practical jokes end at noon on April 1 and 2. Our Scots-Irish McCollough ancestors brought this Tom foolery along with them to western Pennsylvania. A prank or two was pulled in the McCollough households!
So, we look forward to many happy April 1 festivities with our grandson. Maybe we will serve spaghetti freshly plucked from our spaghetti tree, bake a porcupine cake, or serve asparagus ice cream. However, as Theodore gets older we’re sure the gentle-hearted tricks will be on us!
It is encouraging to receive questions from our extended McCollough family. Some are easily answered and others require some study. For many years I have corresponded with Susan McClain, a descendant of Captain John McCollough and superb genealogist. We have collaborated to solve the mysteries of our McCollough, Spangler, and Fiscus roots using our DNA results and traditional paper genealogy records. Recently Susan posed the question, “How do you think the early settlers came up from Greensburg to the Chicora area, i.e., what route did they take? Would they have followed the Forbes Road to the Allegheny River or was there a more direct route overland to the Freeport area (like today’s Route 356)? Would they have followed Buffalo Creek from Freeport up to Chicora? I know you mention Indian paths in the book.”
Captain John McCollough and his Spangler and Fiscus relatives were no strangers to the western Pennsylvania wilderness. Many of the early settlers of Westmoreland County, like Captain John and his uncle Abraham Fiscus, served as “woods rangers” on scouting missions into this territory during the Indian Wars in the 1790s. No one settled in the “Indian Country” north and west of the Allegheny River. Land surveyors ventured into the area at their own peril, but it was not until Pennsylvania purchased northwestern Pennsylvania from the Indians in 1795 that settlement could take place. For years, the western side of the of the Allegheny River was known as the “Indian side.”
By 1795, there were woods roads or wagon trails connecting the settled areas around Greensburg and Hannastown where John McCollough and Elizabeth Spangler grew up. Outpost forts marked the western perimeter of the settled area. Captain John Craig established Reed’s Station on the Allegheny River and a blockhouse on Buffalo Creek at present day Freeport. Two other forts, Nicholson’s and Green’s, were along the Allegheny between Freeport and Kittanning. Kittanning was the site of a large Indian village and strategic crossing location on the Allegheny River. Fort Armstrong was built there in the French and Indian War, but it was long-been abandoned by the 1790s.
The danger of Indian attacks abated after the Treaty of Greenville in 1795 that resulted in the purchase of lands northwest of the Allegheny River from the Indians. After the Revolutionary War, Pennsylvania designated some of these lands in the Buffalo Creek watershed as “Depreciation Lands”, to be made available to veterans in payment for their military service in the Revolution. Other lands in the “Struck District” were opened for general settlement.
In 1795, Adam and John Hemphill, Jacob Barnhart, Sr., and Jacob Barnhart, Jr. made the first settlement on the headwaters of Buffalo Creek near Millerstown (Barnhart’s Mills, Chicora). A man named Spangler was already living in this area. This was most likely our ancestor John Spangler, John McCollough’s new father-in-law who started to make improvements on the McCollough farm in about 1795-96. In 1796, John McCollough and his Spangler relatives warranted land a few miles away on the headwaters of Sugar Creek. John McCollough and Elizabeth Spangler were married in 1797. The McCollough Monument on Oak Road in Chicora indicates they established their homestead the same year. How did the Westmoreland settlers get themselves, their livestock, food stores, and belongings to this remote wilderness on the headwaters of Buffalo and Sugar Creeks?
Indian paths crisscrossed the region, generally following the hilltops and avoiding the rugged bluffs and deep stream valleys. These paths were travelled for millennia, and evolved into the most logical and efficient way to navigate through the rugged hills of western Pennsylvania. Hundreds of years later they became the roads, highways, and turnpikes that we travel on today. One well-worn path can still be seen today on the west side of Captain John McCollough’s original farm. John McCollough knew these paths from his years scouting the frontier during the Indian Wars, but they were hardly large enough to pass wagons.
It is about 58 miles between the Fort Allen, Hempfield Township near Greensburg, PA to the McCollough farm near Kepples Corners, Chicora, PA. The McColloughs, Spangers, Barnharts, and Hemphills likely traveled one of two routes – northwest to Freeport and Butler and then northeast to Chicora or north to Kittanning and northwest to Chicora. The earliest maps of western Pennsylvania hold clues to the most likely routes taken by our McCollough and Spangler ancestors.
The Freeport travel route is unlikely for several reasons. By 1796, there was an early woods or wagon road from Greensburg to Freeport that followed an Indian trail that paralleled the Kiskiminetas River (now Routes 356 and 66). Settlers crossed the Allegheny River by ferry to Freeport, which quickly grew to a village and hub for developing the new territory. Many Westmorelanders settled southern Butler County via Freeport, including Sarver’s Mill (where I grew up!).
Traveling up Buffalo Creek from Freeport to its headwaters would seem a logical route for the McColloughs and Spanglers, but the Buffalo Creek watershed between Freeport and Chicora is rough country. Even today, there are no direct roads connecting these towns. This is why the Indians chose to travel north along the hills above the east side of the Allegheny River.
Nor was it likely that our McCollough and Spangler ancestors traveled to Chicora by way of Butler in 1795-97. The first settler in Butler was in 1803. The following year, the new Butler County Commissioners contracted to have two roads “viewed” (surveyed) from Butler to Freeport and from Butler to the mouth of Bear Creek (Lawrenceburg, Parker, PA, the location of an important salt works). The Butler-Freeport Post Road (now Route 356) and the Butler-Parker roads (now Routes 68 and 268) were not roughed out until about 1806-07, too late for our ancestors to use in 1795-97. The 1883 History of Butler County said that until about 1807, there was no road from Butler to the Sugar Creek Catholic Church in Armstrong County near the McCollough farm. “There was a mere path through the woods and over the hills that could only be traversed by packhorses.” A wagon road would not be developed for a few years. Thus, it is unlikely that our McCollough and Spangler ancestors traveled the Freeport-Butler route. The 1895 Butler County History indicated, “those who traversed the county as late as 1821 say that most of the roads then afforded very poor facilities for travel.”
The route north from Greensburg to Kittanning to Millerstown/Chicora was the most likely path used by our McCollough and Spangler ancestors and the other early settlers of northern Butler County. The first leg of their journey was on the road to Freeport to Salem Crossroads (now Delmont, PA). From there a heavily traveled path traveled northward. It would eventually become the Greensburg-Kittanning Pike (now Route 66) that was built around 1800. This route quickly widened to become a wagon path to carry the stream of Westmoreland settlers into the new lands available in northeastern Butler County. It required fords across the Kiskeminetas River and Crooked Creek until it came out of the virgin forest at the small settlement at Kittanning on the east side of the Allegheny River.
The final leg of the journey was to cross by ford or ferry across the Allegheny River at Kittanning to access the Kittanning-Brady’s Bend Road. This woods road led northwest to the headwaters of Buffalo and Sugar Creeks. Eventually, this heavily-travelled path became a road that ran past John and Elizabeth McCollough’s farm. Today it is known as the “Kittanning Road” (now Routes 68 and 268). The McCollough farm was strategically located at the intersection of the Butler-Parker Road constructed by Butler County and the Kittanning-Brady’s Bend Road built by Armstrong County. The two roads meet at Kepples Corners, the northeast corner of Captain John McCollough’s farm. Perhaps John was instrumental in influencing the road commissioners of both counties to establish these roads bordering the north and east sides of his farm. These roads were strategic for selling and transporting goods from his farm and pottery to Butler (14 miles southwest) and Kittanning (17 miles southeast).
Today you can retrace the steps of our ancestors on Google Maps or by car. Start at the Fort Allen memorial east of Greensburg and see John Spangler’s name on the monument of early settlers near the Harrold Zion Lutheran Church. Historic Hanna’s Town and the Westmoreland Historical Society are nearby. Follow Route 66 north to Kittanning. Bushy Run Battlefield and museum are fascinating detour along the way. In Kittanning, turn west and cross the river on Route 268. Before you do, you may want to visit the McCain House and the Armstrong County Historical Museum. Continue to follow Route 268 into Butler County and conclude your journey at Kepple’s Corners. You can buy an ice cream cone and walk out back to visit the McCollough (Hillview) Cemetery. Here you can find Captain John McCollough’s large obelisk tombstone (and the graves of many of our early ancestors). You are now standing in the northeast corner of Captain John McCollough’s homestead farm. The McCollough Monument is on nearby Oak Road.
Western Pennsylvania is currently in the grips of an “old fashioned” winter. Arctic cold has slid off the top of the planet like a Scots Tam O’Shanter. While mercury shivers in the bottom of the thermometer, cold fronts rake moisture from brooding Lake Erie and pummel the Pennsylvania hills with waves of snow. Similar harsh winter conditions prevailed in the winter of 1813-14 when Captain John McCollough led the Butler County militia to defend Erie in the War of 1812.
Why Erie of all places and why was there a military campaign in the middle of winter? The United States was in the depths of a second war with Great Britain, and tensions were high that winter on the America-Canada border. In early December 1813, General George McLure led American troops to burn the British-Canadian town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario forcing 400 residents to flee into deep snow. British troops retaliated by attacking the American Fort Niagara and the surrounding villages on December 10. Both the Americans and the British used burnings as a tactic to draw out and attack the enemy and terrorize civilian population. The Americans anticipated the British would attack Buffalo or Batavia next. The Americans moved their main force to defend Batavia, New York. This left the Lake Erie shoreline unguarded, and the British had other intentions – the strategic villages of Black Rock and Buffalo.
General Amos Hall rallied the New York militia to defend Buffalo, but it was too late. By the night of December 29, 1813, a force of about 1500 British, including 400 Royal Scots, and Indian allies descended on Black Rock and Buffalo. Through the night, the American volunteers under General Hall skirmished with the British, but by dawn they had infiltrated Buffalo by foot and boats and took the village. Within a day, Buffalo was completely burned. Forty residents were killed and scalped. The destitute survivors fled in confusion through the deep snow to the protection of the military guarding Batavia. Residents of the surrounding countryside fled their home in terror leaving their livestock to perish in the deep winter snow.
Rumors quickly spread that the British were amassing troops and sleds at Buffalo and would proceed across the ice to destroy Erie, Pennsylvania. Erie was a strategic prize. The previous summer, a fleet of ships were built in the harbor at Presque Isle. Sailing from the new naval station and commanded by Oliver Hazard Perry, they would best the British Great Lakes fleet at the Battle of Erie in August 1813. The British wanted revenge. Four of the American schooners were burned in Black Rock and Buffalo. In the winter of 1813-14, the remaining American fighting ships the Niagara, the Lady Prevost, the Lawrence, and the Caledonia were frozen fast and helpless in Little Bay in the protection of Presque Isle Peninsula at Erie. British prisoners were held in the brig. The History of Erie County, Pennsylvania recounts, The most terrifying rumors were put into circulation and the excitement ran so high that many citizens removed their families and effects to the interior.
On January 15, 1814, The Mercury, a Pittsburgh newspaper, reported the alarming news of an impending British attack on Erie. A number of patriotic young men of Pittsburgh having volunteered their services, and troops of Fort Fayette, will march this day for Erie. On January 23, 1814, the Pittsburgh Gazette reported that American General Amos Hall sent a dispatch requesting assistance from Major General David Mead, the leader of the western Pennsylvania militia. Hall reported that the British at Buffalo were reinforced with 1500 fresh troops from Kingston, Ontario and that a force of 3,000 British and Indians were assembling sleds to drag cannons across the frozen lake. Military defenses at Erie were unprepared with just 150 regular soldiers, 600 militia, and 150 to 200 sailors. Major General David Mead raised a call to arms to the citizens of western Pennsylvania to rally in defense of Erie. He mustered his First Brigade to duty. This included the militia in northern Butler County under the command of Captain John McCollough. The Pittsburgh Gazette reported that Mead’s brigade was to hold themselves in readiness to march at a moment’s warning.
John McCollough continued active service with the militia in Butler County after his service in the Indian Wars in the 1790s. The militia was under the command of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and would be somewhat like our National Guard today. Sometime before the War of 1812, John rose through the ranks from lieutenant to captain and lead a group of riflemen from Donegal and Buffalo Townships in Butler County. He reported to Major Andrew Jenkins, a farmer and grist-mill operator from Lawrence County, Pennsylvania. John’s duties were to muster and train the local militia twice a year, maintain their equipment, and manage the payrolls. We found Captain John McCollough’s records from 1816 in a book of military records at the Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh. Thus, John continued his involvement with the military to at least the age of 46.
Captain John McCollough knew General David Mead and was no stranger to the Erie country. He may have been one of the first to claim land near Erie in 1792, although he never settled there. He and his uncle, Abraham Fiscus, were granted land in 1796 near David Mead’s settlement, and John probably did service to guard the wilderness outpost of Meadville during the Indian Wars. In 1805, Captain John’s uncle, John Fiscus, moved from Westmoreland to Crawford County to farm and live his remaining days near Meadville.
By all accounts, the winter of 1813-1814 was harsh. A letter from January 14, 1814 indicates that Pittsburgh was very cold. Another letter from the same date from one of the volunteer militia companies at Erie said that the lake was frozen out as far as can be seen. John had little time to notify his 90 militia men and assemble military supplies, food, and rations. He was 44 at the time, not a young man by any means. He also had to prepare to leave his farm to the care of his wife Elizabeth and children. William, the oldest son, was just 15 years of age. Sons John and James were likely too young to care for livestock, but could probably help with farm chores. The other farmer-militiamen prepared quickly as well. They had no idea if they would return in time to plant their fields in the spring.
The call to arms from General Mead came in mid-January. The ice remained on Lake Erie only until mid-April. It was now or never for the British invasion. Major Andrew Jenkins issued orders that Captain John and his men were to be at Erie by February 1, 1814. From pay receipts in the Pennsylvania Archives, we know that eight days were allowed for travel. The day of muster was set for about January 20th. We do not know where the militia met to start their journey, possibly at a central gathering point in the city of Butler. It was not far down the road to Prospect where they would enjoin the old Venango Trail. Captain John had traveled this old Indian path to Erie many times, now a dirt and corduroy wagon path called the “LeBoeuf Road” or “Franklin Road” through the forest to Fort Venango (now Franklin, Pennsylvania) on the Allegheny River and onward to the old French Fort LeBoeuf.
A roster of Captain John McCollough’s troops is full of familiar names of the families that live in Fairview and Donegal Townships today. There were also men from the old Buffalo Township that encompassed much of eastern Butler County. Names like Hemphill, Hillard, Christy, Storey, Barnhart, Thompson, Campbell, Young, Reep, Gibson, Miller, McLaughlin, Smith, Elliott, Duffy, Moore, McCurdy, Craig, O’Donnell, Cooper, Jack, Step, Martin, Fleming and Slator have remained in Butler County for the last 200 years. A complete list of the riflemen can be found in the Pennsylvania Archives.
Memories of the march to Erie during extreme winter conditions were recounted by these Butler County households for many years. In the 1895 History of Butler County Pennsylvania by R.C. Brown is a sketch about Captain John McCollough, probably told by his grandson Peter McCollough. The account talks about his experiences in the War of 1812; As an illustration of the hardships endured by these brave defenders of the nation, he often related how, upon one occasion, the soldiers of his company, worn out by forced marches, stretched themselves upon the damp ground to sleep and in the morning found their clothing and hair frozen fast to the ground. The expedition certainly left an indelible impression, especially to the farmers who had never ventured that far from home. The story has been an important part of our McCollough family history. Records indicate that Captain John was compensated for ferry crossings, hay and forage for their horses, meals and even for whiskey for the daily ration allowed each soldier. Perhaps this was Captain John’s own whiskey that he distilled on the McCollough farm. Some of the riflemen marched to Erie without rifles or muskets. They were promised firearms by the State before they left home but never received them. This caused much concern, and pressure was applied to Pittsburgh and Harrisburg to get the arms to Erie as soon as possible. We assume Captain John and his 90 riflemen arrived at Erie on or before February 1.
The acrid smell of woodsmoke on the air was the first indication to the Butler County riflemen that they finally approached Erie. After a trek of 150 miles, they arrived with great expectations of a warm meal and sleeping in a warm house sheltered from the elements. Instead, they found the conditions were appalling. The weary troops were shown to dark, smoky, log barracks where men shared a louse-infested wool blanket on a buckboard bed. The histories of Erie recount the winter of 1813-14 as extremely frigid and wet. It was said that some days that winter, rain, sleet, and snow could all take place in a single day. Commodore Perry had long left Erie. His sailors remained behind aboard the ships or in makeshift shelters or tents on the shore. The garrisoned sailors were sick with “lake fever” for most of the winter and many died. Their bodies were sunk in nearby Graveyard Pond where they still lie. Fortunately, the disease, now believed to be typhus, never spread to the regular troops. Typhus was spread from sewage tossed overboard just a few feet from where the sailors drew buckets of drinking and wash water. Because of the disease, Little Bay was renamed “Misery Bay” after the winter of 1813-14.
At that time, two blockhouses were all that defended the harbor of Erie. The village of Erie was a small hamlet of 400-500 people and about 47 clapboard houses. When Captain John McCollough and his company arrived, Erie was a settlement for only 17 years and had a grinding and saw mill, a blacksmith shop, and a tannery. Settlers were farmers, merchants, sailors, and waggoners for the lucrative salt trade. Large oak trees and forests grew to the water’s edge, and Presque Isle Peninsula completely enclosed a large bay where the ships creaked in the shifting ice for the winter.
The British invasion never occurred. On February 22, 1814, the Pittsburgh Gazette reported that nothing of importance has occurred. The military are busily engaged in making preparations to repel any attack which the British may make on this place. It will be impossible for the enemy to cross in boats from Long Point, before the middle of April. About which time Lake is generally cleared of ice. The weather is at present intensely cold.
Little information has come down through the generations concerning the actual service of Captain John McCollough and his men at Erie. Pension records of some of Captain John’s recruits and their widows provide insight into their service. For example, William Christy enlisted January 20, 1814 and was discharged on March 22. Most of the men were compensated for service from February 19 through March 22. Some volunteered and others were drafted for service. Brothers Caleb and Aquilla Matthews later deposed that there was no significant engagement and that the company was mostly involved with garrison duty. We surmise that Captain John McCollough and his men spent the cold, dreary weeks at Erie practicing military drills, cutting firewood, and trying to stay warm and fed.
The History of Erie County documents, Happily, the alarm proved to be false and but one delusive report after another came so fast that a considerable body of troops was kept at Erie during most of the winter. Many of these men were substitutes and all were poorly furnished with arms and equipments. The principal camp was north of the First Presbyterian Church, where the ground was covered with low log barracks, most of which burned down soon after they were abandoned. Today, the area where Captain John and his men stayed is near the Erie Community Correction Center. In all, about 2000 militia assembled in the winter of 1813-14 at Erie, including 1,000 from Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. The History of Venango County indicated that the men returned with nothing more than experiencing anything more serious than the pomp and pageantry of war and the discomforts of a brief campaign in the middle of winter.
The small hamlet of Erie had never experienced so many people, especially thousands of idle men. The sailors were well compensated for their victory in the Battle of Erie the summer previous. Much of their prize was lost at the single drinking establishment in town. Perhaps Captain John McCollough found a ready outlet for selling the last of his whiskey! The History of Erie County recounts, The main topic of discussion, when matters were sufficiently quiet to allow of controversy, related to the respective merits of Perry and Elliott, many freely charging the latter with poltroonery during the battle of September 10, while others, and especially the officers and crew of the Niagara, defended him as a brave man who had been the victim of adverse circumstances (Commander Elliott lagged behind the other ships in the Niagara and never engaged the British ships at the Battle of Erie). The arguments grew so vociferous, that a duel took place between Navy officers from two of the American schooners. The commander of the schooner Porcupine was killed.
Perhaps Captain John McCollough and his men returned with many such stories from Erie. If so, they are lost to time. The trip home in March was arduous as the snow melted and the Franklin Road turned to greasy mud. The Butler County farmers were glad to be home in time to order their grain seed and plan for spring planting.
Historians say that Perry’s 1813 victory was the turning point in the War of 1812. It was the first victory that mobilized the nation, and other victories followed. The small American Navy at Erie never rendered any service of consequence afterward. The War of 1812 came to an end on December 12, 1814, with the Treaty of Ghent. In 1815, the remaining ships that so gallantly fought under Commodore Perry’s flag “Don’t Give Up the Ship” were scuttled in Misery Bay. Others were converted to merchant vessels. One was dismantled and set adrift to go over Niagara Falls as a spectacle, an inglorious end to such a dignified schooner.
Robert Burns (1759-1796) is the poet laureate of Scotland. In a hazy, double-malted stupor, some careen through the words to one of his most famous poems Auld Lang Syne on New Year’s Eve (or Hogmanay in Scotland). In 1788 Robert Burns submitted the poem ‘Auld Lang Syne’ to the Scots Musical Museum, indicating that it was an ancient song but that he’d been the first to record it on paper. It was not published until 1796 shortly after Burns’ death.
The lyrics are in the Scots language. Roughly translated from old Scots, auld lang syne means “a long time ago” or “for old time’s sake.” The beloved song asks the rhetorical question, “Is it right that old times and friends not be forgotten?” and reminds us of the value of old friendships and family.
Burns collected and wrote hundreds of poems and songs. He was born two miles south of the town of Ayr along the Irish Sea north of the Rhinns of Galloway. After a life as a rambling poet, he eventually settled in Dumphries about 30 miles northeast of the McCulloch lands at the Gatehouse of Fleet. When living in Edinburgh, Burns made a lasting impression on the young author Walter Scott. Scott went on to become one of Scotland’s greatest writers, author of Ivanhoe and Rob Roy and many other novels. He, like Burns, collected the old stories of the Dumfries and Galloway region of southwestern Scotland.
David McCulloch (1740-1794) of Ardwall was friendly with Robert Burns and even submitted some of his poems to the bard. But it was his son, David (1769-1825) who became a close friend of Burns. David met Robert Burns in 1794 when he was admitted as a member of St. Andrew’s Masonic Lodge in Dumfries. McCulloch and Burns became friends immediately brought together by a great love for Scottish songs. McCulloch had a fine tenor voice and assisted Burns in singing his new lyrics. It was said that Robert Burns did not venture to publish a new song unless he heard it sung by McCulloch. The bard more than once said that he never fully knew the beauty of his songs until he heard them sung by David McCulloch.
McCulloch was raised at Ardwall estate in the shadows of the Cardoness Castle. He asked Burns to visit him if he were ever in the area. Burns promised that he would get in touch, and he did. This letter is in the British Museum: To David McCulloch Esqr., Ardwell, Gatehouse, My dear Sir, My long projected journey through your country is at last fixed; and on Wednesday next, if you have nothing of more importance than take a saunter down to Gatehouse about two or three o’clock, I shall be happy to take a draught of McKune’s best with you… Burns went on to invite young David to accompany him on a trip throughout Galloway to help support him when he approached “our Honourables and Right Honourables.” Burns gradually realized that on any social occasion he was in need of “minders” or friends that might stand by him. Also around this time Burns entered a period of depression. Burns was fond of drink and women and perhaps needed a McCulloch to keep him in line!
Sir Walter Scott’s brother married David McCulloch’s sister, Elizabeth. Scott also became acquainted with David who became a favorite at his home at Abbotsford. Scott considered him “the finest warbler he had ever heard.” A confirmed bachelor, David McCulloch never married. After Burns’ death he went to India to become a merchant.
We’ve been through a lot in 2020, and many of us have lost loved ones to the Covid-19 pandemic. Perhaps you will want to bring in 2021 with all of the verses of Auld Lang Syne:
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And auld lang syne?
(Chorus) For auld lang syne, my jo, For auld lang syne, We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet, For auld lang syne.
And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp! And surely I’ll be mine! And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet, For auld lang syne.
We twa hae run about the braes, And pu’d the gowans fine; But we’ve wander’d mony a weary foot, Sin auld lang syne.
We twa hae paidl’d i’ the burn, Frae mornin’ sun till dine; But seas between us braid hae roar’d, Sin auld lang syne.
And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere! And gie’s a hand o’ thine! And we’ll tak a right guid willy waught, For auld lang syne.
It’s the Holiday season. The frigid nights are the longest of the year, and it seems that you can touch the stars in the crystalline sky. The crops were harvested on the McCollough farms, and long rows of Captain John’s ceramic crocks (or later Atlas canning jars) weighed down the rough-sawn oak shelves in the root cellar. Smoked hams hanged in the rafters of the cool basement. Heaping stacks of dry oak, rock maple, and chestnut were piled in the dooryard, and the cabins and farmhouses were banked with rough hay against the cold December wind. Christmas was a time when our McCollough ancestors could take a break from farm chores and make time for winter fun. Calm, bright winter nights were perfect for a sleigh ride.
With great excitement and anticipation, the McCollough boys were sent to retrieve the “one horse open sleigh” from under a pile of feed sacks in the back of the shed. While the sleigh was dusted and cleaned, the girls were sent to the attic where the buffalo blanket was stored. “Kit” or “Dandy” were fed a Christmas carrot and led from their stall, harness and tack snugged tight, and hitched to the sleigh.
The most important tack was the long strings of brass bells. For months they hung silently in the barn on a long pipe where the platform scales were located. The McCollough bells dated back to the mid-1800s and were of many sizes and shapes, each with their own tone. Small acorn-shaped neck bells were strapped around the horse’s neck or collar. Big Swedish hip bells with their clanging brass voices buckled to the back strap of the harness and bounced on the horse’s rump. Belly bells were mounted on a long leather strap and were buckled over the traces of the harness around the horse’s belly. These cast brass “petal bells” were numbered in different sizes from largest on the belly to the smallest on the horse’s back. These were the “jingle bells” that chimed in rhythm with the horse’s gait. Shaft chimes were mounted in groups of four on a steel bar that was strapped to the bottom of the sleigh. Each family’s sleigh could be recognized at a distance from their unique sound. On Christmas Eve, grandpa would strap on all of the bells. ‘Sleigh bells ring, are you listening, in the lane the snow is glistening.’
Christmas eve was filled with the sound of whinnying horses, jingling bells, giggling children, and Christmas carols that echoed between the western Pennsylvania hills. Families in sleighs met under the starlight on the lanes and woods roads and exchanged Christmas greetings. Curtis McCollough wrote this recollection of a sleigh ride on the McCollough farm in 1937 when he was 6 years old.
There were two sleighs in the car garage on the Curtis Foy Emrick McCollough farm. One was a cutter, a one-horse open sleigh with long shafts for a single horse. The other sleigh was a two-seated sedan sleigh, mounted on two rocking sleds. This large sleigh was a two-horse sleigh Curtis used to take his family to church and to visit friends and relatives. Hanging in the barn were strings of sleigh bells of various tones. They were great fun to shake when were kids. The two sleighs and the surrey were burned when we tore down William Wallace McCollough’s log house in 1937. The steel hubs and wheel rims were gathered from the ashes, along with the sleigh runners, and thrown on the scrap iron pile. The sleigh bells, bridles, and saddles burned with the barn in the spring of 1948. Today these items would be priceless, but in 1937 they were obsolete and taking up valuable space for automobiles and farm machinery. Both sleighs were in excellent condition when we burned them. Antique farm implements today are popular items at rural auctions. One winter Sunday, early in 1937, Curtis hitched up the two-horse sedan sleigh, got out the sleigh bells, and gave Don, Edith, Sheila, and I a sleigh ride. He heated up bricks and wrapped them in burlap to keep our feet warm. We went up the old dirt road and over the railroad bridge to the Keith McCollough farm. Of course, us kids sang many verses of Jingle Bells and any other winter song we could think of. It must have brought back memories for Curtis, as he enjoyed it. It was the only time we ever used either of the sleighs.
Ed Kepple of Chicora provided this sleigh story told by his grandmother, Mary Esther McCollough, that took place about 1915.
Mary, several of her sisters, Theodore, and Byron McCollough (Mary’s brothers) were on their way to church one Sunday. The road coming into Chicora, where Parker’s Appliance Store is today, was just a dirt path through the woods. It snowed a lot the night before and they hit a large snow drift and flipped the sleigh over. The McCollough family were thrown out of the sleigh. It was amazing that no one was hurt. Mary said the girls huddled in the blankets while the boys tried to right the sleigh. She said it was impossible, so the boys walked into town to the Lutheran church and the men from the village came and righted the sleigh. They all piled back on the sleigh and went to church. Mary said she could not recall whether they were late for the service or if they held up church until everyone arrived.
Oh, what fun it is to ride (or maybe not!) in a one horse open sleigh…
Snow blankets our yard this morning revealing last night’s deer tracks like exclamation points in pen and ink on a sheet of white paper. Autumn has passed, and the deer paw the snow under each of our apple trees eating the last of Black Oxfords, Golden Delicious, Haralson, and Orange Pippin apples that have fallen from now-bare branches.
Years ago, Dad gave us the broken remains of a cider press from the McCollough farm. Actually, it was only half a cider press. The apple chipper with its large flywheel and crank was missing. But the cast iron cross arm and greasy acme screw were intact as were the cast iron tub and collecting tray. The American chestnut frame was weakened by dry rot and worm holes. Our kids were members of a 4-H club and our young apple trees were bearing bushels of juicy fruit, so we resurrected the old McCollough cider press. The wooden frame was replaced with rock maple cut from a nearby woodlot and we purchased a new apple grinder and flywheel.
Pressing apples became an autumn 4-H tradition for nearly two decades, just like Dad said it was on the McCollough farm. Making cider is hard work, and keeps a passel of energetic children busy. As our kids got older, they brought college friends home to experience the tradition. Now they are grown and living in southern Maine and Denmark. We will resume the tradition with our grandchildren.
Pressing cider alone this fall was not nearly as fun as it was in the past, but the sounds and smells brought back memories of the cider pressing parties. Cadmium red maple leaves sailed against a cerulean sky. Great V’s of geese winged south cackled among themselves as they argued about where to rest for the evening. The last of the year’s yellow jackets vied to get drunk on the sweet, sticky nectar pouring from the press. Acorns rolled like marbles underfoot.
The 4-H cider parties were lots of fun. The boys competed with each other to see if they could grind enough apples to fill the galvanized tub and pressing bag without stopping. The rock-hard Chestnut apples were a challenge! Girls and boys chased each other around the yard and took turns tightened the acme screw until hands could turn it no further. A birch log was used like a lever to tighten the screw even tighter. These were interesting lessons in physics, and there was always conjecture on how the job could be made easier. The final ounces of concentrated cider were always the best. Kids rushed in with glasses to get the first cascade of the caramel-colored nectar flowing from the cider press. In a good apple year, we pressed dozens of bushels of apples, and the 4-H families went home with gallons of homemade cider.
I found the vendue list for settling Captain John McCollough’s estate in the probate records at the Butler County courthouse (chapter 18 in the book). Captain John died in 1847 with many debts and without a will. The McCollough family had to settle his debts or they risked losing the farm. They made a painful decision to sell most of the contents of the McCollough homestead. Among the list of items, was a “the one half of an apple mill” that was purchased by David McCollough, Captain John and Elizabeth’s youngest son. Could this be the same cider mill that is in use today?
Both sweet and hard cider were important commodities in the early 1800s. In his will in 1797, Gerhardt Fiscus (Captain John’s grandfather) specified that his orchard and cider would be used to support his wife Magdalena. The Fiscus family still tells the story of Gerhardt bringing apple trees from Germany when he immigrated in 1744 (page 133 in the book). Gerhardt must have passed his love of apples and cider to Captain John who also maintained an orchard on this farm in Chicora.
Cider making in 1825 was not much different than today. Geese flew overhead. Blue jays gathered acorns. Yellow jackets got drunk on fermented apples. Barrels of apple pomace were fed to the sheep and pigs. The McCollough, Wick, Deets, and Kreidler boys and girls chased each other and competed to be the first to fill their mug with golden cider pouring from the press.
As children, when we asked where our McCollough family came from, my grandfather Theodore “Doc” McCollough proudly claimed, “You are Scotch-Irish!” The spelling of our surname “McCollough” is common in Ireland and suggests that our immigrant ancestors were from the Emerald Isle. Given the history of our McCollough family in early Pennsylvania, the odds may be greater that our immigrant ancestors came from Ulster in northern Ireland than directly from Scotland. Where did this mystical hybrid of nationalities, the name “Scotch-Irish,” come from?
Today, Scotch is an adjective meaning “of or from Scotland.” Many Scots dislike the term Scotch, and some consider it offensive. The modern usage in Scotland is Scottish or Scots, and the word Scotch is now reserved to name food or drink, such as Scotch whisky, Scotch pie, or Scotch broth.
In the book The Scotch Irish. A Social History (1962), author James Leyburn explains that the name “Scotch-Irish” was unknown in Scotland and Northern Ireland where the “Scotch-Irish” originated. By the time of the first migration to America in the early 1700s, most of the people that immigrated from the Scottish Lowlands to Ulster had lived in Ireland for as many as six generations. They were a different people from their Scottish forebears. Some intermarried with the native Irish, and they assumed certain aspects of Irish culture. They retained their Presbyterian religion that was not congenial with the Irish Catholics, a difference that would lead to troubled times in Northern Ireland for centuries.
When they came to America, the immigrants considered and called themselves “Irish.” After all, their families had lived there for generations. Once in America, they named their pioneer settlements after their homes in Ireland (not Scotland). For example, Donegal Township (where Captain John McCollough settled) was named by a group of Catholics and Presbyterians from the banks of Loch Erne in County Donegal, Ireland. Nearby “Argyle” in Fairview Township is named after the county in Northern Ireland. Today, the “Argyle” Masonic Lodge is on Captain John McCollough’s original farm.
The invention of the term Scotch-Irish in America is obscure. It seems to be a derogatory term that infrequently appears in 16th century English documents. Its not again until the 1720s when the term “Scotch-Irish” surfaces again early in Pennsylvania’s history in Episcopalian and Quaker writings. Again, it was used as a derogatory name for the immigrants from Ulster. One Anglican minister wrote, “They call themselves Scotch-Irish and the bitterest railers against the church [of England] that ever trod upon American ground.” James Logan, secretary to the Penn family and a Quaker from Ireland, wrote, “The settlement of five families from Ireland gives me more trouble than fifty of any other people.” The Scotch-Irish had a disposition to settle on any land they found suitable without proper authorization or ownership. In his writings, Logan referred to them as “Irish,” “people from the North of Ireland,” and “Scotch-Irish.” He wrote to Thomas Penn, “they are of the Scotch-Irish (so called here)…” The hyphenated title and uncomplimentary nickname was thus coined and became commonly used in America.
Throughout history, humans have a propensity to denigrate immigrants and others “from away.” Each new wave of immigrants to America, if in numbers great enough to be visible, has had to endure a period injustice by the established, incorporated Americans. Foreigners with different manners, language, clothing, and customs have endured these prejudices and discrimination. Germans, Scandinavians, Poles, Jews, Africans, and Latin Americans all endured this painful treatment. Name-calling and epithets are one way that these injustices are exacted by society and instill prejudices against the newcomers.
Treatment of the 4 to 5 million Irish immigrants that came to America following the potato famines in the 1830s and 1840s was no different. They were mostly Roman Catholics arriving in a predominantly Protestant country. Prejudices and discrimination resulted in violent attacks by mobs, murders, and discrimination that resulted in diminished career opportunities for generations for the oppressed Irish.
James Leyburn writes, “In this atmosphere of prejudice, say the Irish Americans, the Scotch-Irish who up to now had not objected to being known as “Irish,” looked for a way to disassociate themselves from the newcomers, who were call “shanty Irish” or “bog Irish” or worse names. The compound name [Scotch-Irish], already known, thereupon came into general use, first by the descendants of the Ulstermen and then by the public. Its very acceptance contributed to the “myth’” as Irish Americans conceived it, that the Scotch-Irish had never been Irish but wholly Scottish.”
At the same time during the mid-1800s, the Victorian fascination with Scottish culture became popular in England and America. Sir Walter Scott’s novels of Scotland were popular and painted a picture of clans, kilts, bagpipes, and fierce Highlanders. Everything Scottish came to be considered glamorous. By the mid-1800s, the so-called Scotch-Irish were well incorporated into America and proud of their many accomplishments. Many were instrumental in settling the frontier, fought in the American Revolutions, and even served as Presidents (Jackson, Polk, Buchannan), and their virtues were extolled and magnified in the history books. The Ulster Scots in America used the term “Scotch-Irish” to distinguish themselves from the newer, poor, predominantly Catholic immigrants and to affirm their distant Scottish heritage that was now in vogue. Thus, the term Scotch-Irish has an unsavory history reflecting past prejudices.
Despite its contentious origins, the term Scotch-Irish is still widely used today. James Leyburn argues that “Scotch-Irish” is a legitimate term to describe the biological, cultural, historical, and geographical reality of a people who came from the Lowland regions of Scotland, lived for several generations in Ulster Ireland, and eventually came to America. Scholars estimate that over 200,000 Scotch-Irish migrated to the Americas between 1717 and 1775, and many Americans still identify Scotch-Irish as their native origin today. All Americans were once immigrants. I am descended from the McColloughs, Spanglers, and Fiscus families who immigrated from Ireland and Germany in the mid-1700s and John O’Beirne and Rosanna Boyle who immigrated from Ireland in 1830. We are all pilgrims to these verdant shores, and I am grateful that America was here to provide our ancestors refuge and opportunity.
James Leyburn’s book The Scotch-Irish. A Social History (1963) traces the migration of the Scotch-Irish in the 17th and 18th centuries. The earliest spelling of our McCollough surname in the 1770s to 1790s by Captain John McCollough, his father John, and his grandfather Gerhardt Fiscus suggests that our McCulloch ancestors in the Lowlands of Scotland moved to Ireland for several generations before coming to America. We don’t know for certain, but Leyburn’s history traces the likely pattern of movement our McCollough ancestors.
On a clear day, one can see the hills of Ireland from the old McCulloch estates and farms on Mull of Galloway in southwest Scotland. From here, Ireland is only a scant 20 miles across the Irish Sea. Traders travelled back and forth across the narrow straights for thousands of years.
In 1600, conditions for the tenant farmers in the Lowlands of Scotland were hard and plagued by famine, disease, and poverty. At the same time, England was looking for a way to solve the Irish “problem.” Ever since the Norman king of England Henry II invaded Ireland 400 years earlier, the native Irish resisted colonization. Ireland was a steady drain on royal wealth and the military. The peasant farmers suffered in Ireland under English rule as they did throughout much of Scotland.
In the early 1600s, King James I of England (VI of Scotland) launched an ambitious plan to subdue the rebellious Irish in Ulster, the northernmost province of Ireland by taking the land from the native Irish and establishing English “plantations.” Two Ayreshire (Scotland) lairds, Hugh Montgomery and James Hamilton, became large plantation holders in Ulster, but others received lands as well. In 1606, the King established a similar plantation at “James”town in Virginia.
The King and plantation owners needed a source of colonists, and the Lowland Scots were ideal candidates. Many McCullochs and related families, especially the less fortunate, had an opportunity to leave their depauperate condition in Scotland and begin a new life in the Ulster district of Ireland. The plantations replaced the need for an English army in Ireland and lessened poverty in Scotland by draining off some of its surplus population.
About 250,000 acres in Ireland was parceled out to “undertakers,” the Scots and English gentry who agreed to “plant” their new Irish estates with Protestant farmers. The Lowland Scots became the mainstay of the Plantations. The Lowlanders, including the McCullochs, would have a great advantage, since they “lye so near to that coiste of Ulster” that they could transport across the Irish Sea their “men and bestiall.”
During this time, some of the McCulloch estates failed under mismanagement or misbehavior. But at least one of the McCullochs from Scotland was an “undertaker,” and undoubtedly many more moved to Ireland to lease land on plantations. In 1609, James McCulloch (son of Robert) became a landlord (undertaker) in the plantation of Ulster, taking up 1000 acres. His lands were known as the Manor of Mullaghveagh in County Donegal. Many of the Scottish undertakers did not stay landholders in Ireland for long and sold out. James McCulloch sold his interest in 1612 and returned to the Drummoral estate in southwest Scotland.
Undertakers typically received 2000 acres and agreed to bring 48 able men and their families. Lowland Scots could sign up for a lease for 21 years or life. Of the 6 counties in the Plantation, the Scots settled mostly in Down, Antrim, Donegal and Tyrone. They left their feudal past and formed new neighborhoods, established Presbyterian churches, and farmed the richer soil of the Irish countryside. During this period, the potato was introduced from America by Sir Walter Raleigh and became the mainstay of their diet. They had far more control of their destiny than they did under a feudal system in Scotland.
The Plantations attracted Scots families who had little to lose and wanted to improve their lot in life. By some estimates by 1640 there were over 100,000 Scots living in Ulster. They formed alliances with the displaced native Irish. Many intermarried. The plantationers needed farm labor and hired the Irish as subtenants. The Scots plantationers and native Irish maintained an uneasy alliance for a short period of time before bitterness and resentment resulted in a series of Irish uprisings starting in 1641 that lasted for 11 years. Tens of thousands of the Ulster colonists were killed. Cromwell came from England in 1650 and brutally crushed the native Irish and Scots colonists alike and brought the English Parliament to Ireland. Struggles between the Catholic and Protestant religions continued until King William of Orange defeated the deposed King James on Irish soil at the Battle of the Boyne.
By the late 1600s, the British control of Ulster was complete. Another wave of Lowland Scots came to northern Ireland during “the killing times” when the Covenanters (including many McCullochs) were persecuted in Scotland. English dissenters, including Puritans and Quakers, also fled to the relative peace in Ulster. Ulster became a mingling place for people of different Protestant backgrounds. Many of the English Ulstermen joined their Scots neighbors when the exodus to American began in earnest after 1717.
Most transplanted Scots lived in Ulster for 3, 4, or 5 generations before coming to America in the 1700s. By this time, they considered themselves more Irish than Scots. In the New World they would come to be known as the “Scotch-Irish.”
One of the unexpected pleasures of writing the McCollough family history book is “meeting” other descendants of Captain John and Elizabeth McCollough. Our extended family are scattered far and wide across the United States. Rick and I both worked for the Department of the Interior. Rick worked for the National Park Service and myself for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Rick’s career at the National Park Service took him to Atlanta in 1979. There he worked on projects in Atlanta and the Southeast, particularly in getting Congress to establish new Park Service units, and provide funds for developing visitor facilities for areas associated with African American history themes. This is how Rick met Congressman John Lewis, Coretta Scott King, many of those involved in the Selma-To-Montgomery Voting Rights March, and the Tuskegee Airmen. He also worked with Wally Schirra, one of the original seven Mercury Astronauts on a Man-In-Space Theme Study. The study looked at all of the sites and facilities that played key roles in landing men on the moon in 1969.
Last week at John Lewis’ funeral, President Barack Obama said that Representative John Lewis will become a founding father of a better America. Our McCollough ancestors likely met some of America’s founding fathers. Captain John McCollough’s uncle Adam Weaver spent the winter of 1777-1778 with George Washington at Valley Forge. Captain John’s grandfather, Gerhardt Fiscus, was an indentured servant as a tailor in Philadelphia in the 1740s. The Fiscus family says that he made clothing for Benjamin Franklin and his family.
I hope you are inspired by Rick McCollough’s remembrances of John Lewis written on July 18, 2020.
I did not sleep well last night. That’s because just before we went to bed, we heard that Congressman John Lewis had passed away at the age of 80.
Rising from the son of a sharecropper to become one of our most important civil rights leaders, his work spanned more than 60 years. He was one-of-a-kind, a true American treasure. So humble, so kind, so calm in the face of adversity. He was a positive presence in any situation, full of humility and grace.
I had the pleasure of working with John on several projects late in my career with the National Park Service. These projects included establishing and developing visitor facilities for the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site in John’s home state of Alabama, the Selma-To-Montgomery National Historic Trail, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park in downtown Atlanta.
John was a vibrant supporter of each of these important projects, and without his involvement they very likely would not have reached the level of success that we see today in telling these important stories for the American people.
With the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games rapidly approaching, Atlanta’s efforts to put on its best face for the world included providing facilities commemorating the life and work of one of its most famous sons, and a close associate with Lewis in the movement, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. King was even better known in other countries than in the U.S., and visitors from across the globe would expect to visit his memorial during the games. Congressman Lewis became instrumental in ensuring the necessary funds from Congress for the development of a new visitor center, interpretive exhibits and other facilities at the historical park.
At a critical moment, in the midst of the King family’s efforts to scuttle the project and build their own museum, John Lewis supported the National Park Service and helped save the project. Without his support and direct involvement, the project could not have been completed.
When the new visitor center was completed and John came for a tour, I saw tears in his eyes – happy tears — to see Dr. King’s life and work in the civil rights movement so well explained through exhibits in the new visitor center. It was a true honor for me to work with him, shake his hand, and receive his heartfelt appreciation. The “thank you” letter from John today hangs proudly in our home.
In 2000, at the 35th anniversary remembrance of the Selma-To-Montgomery Voting Rights March, I walked with him and others across the Selma bridge named after the KKK leader, Edmund Pettus. The bridge was the site of the “Bloody Sunday Massacre,” where John Lewis and other peaceful marchers were attacked and beaten by Alabama State Police as they attempted to begin the march to the Alabama state capitol in Montgomery. John always answered brutal violence with courageous hope and nonviolent protest.
John Lewis preached and practiced nonviolence, and was always outspoken in his support of justice. He liked to say “We must keep our eyes on the prize.” The prize of course being the obtainment of equal rights for all Americans regardless of the color of their skin. His life truly represents the triumph of love over hate, and the quest to make our nation more just.
His passing leaves much work still to be done as evidenced by the events of recent weeks. And we will always remember his mantra to go and “make good trouble.”
John, May God Bless you, and may He rest your soul in peace.