Monday, January 14, 2008

Wheeler, the confusion, and "Hunting John"

From Reminiscences and Memoirs of North Carolina and Eminent North Carolinians, by John H. Wheeler, Columbus Printing Works, Columbus, Ohio, 1884:

    In my "History of North Carolina," as to this family, it is stated that Charles and Joseph McDowell were brothers, the sons of Joseph, who, with his wife Margaret O'Neal, had emigrated from Ireland, settled in Winchester, Virginia, where Charles and Joseph were born. For authority of these facts, statements were furnished from members of this family and others which were believed. Recent and more thorough examinations make these statements doubtful. A letter from one of the family* to me, states: "It is singular how inaccurate has been any knowledge as to this family. An investigation, instituted some time ago, with a view of establishing a descent which would lead to the securing of a large estate through Margaret O'Neal, developed the fact, beyond all question, that her husband (the father of General Charles McDowell, and General Joseph,) was named John instead of Joseph, that they married in Ireland, and lived at Quaker Meadows, in Burke County."
    Lanman, in his "Biographical Annals of Congress," states: "Joseph McDowell was a Representative in Congress from 1793 to 1795; and again from 1797 to 1799."
    The family tradition and record is, he died in 1795. The first error does not destroy the truth of history that the family were of Irish origin; and the second arises from there being two of the same name of the same family. Every effort and pains have been taken to make the present sketch correct. If any error occurs, the corrections will be gratefully received. In compiling genealogical tables, or pedigrees, great attention is necessary in clearly stating the number of generations, in any given period, as they form a guide to the probability of persons having sprung from any particular ancestor or individual. A generation is the interval between the birth of a father and the birth of son. Thirty-three years have been allowed to a generation, or three generations for every hundred years. The birth and death dates, as well as the location, should be stated, since "chronology and locality are the eyes of history." The repetition of the same names, without dates or place, creates confusion in our American genealogy, as it has caused in this instance.
    John McDowell, called "Hunting John," who resided at Pleasant Gardens, was one of the early pioneers of Western Carolina. He was, it is believed, a native of Ireland. He and a man by the name of Henry Widener, (many of whose descendants now live in Catawba County, known by the name of Whitener,) came to this country when it was an unbroken wilderness, for the purpose of hunting and securing homes for their families. John McDowell built his house on the west side of the Catawba River, on land now called the Hany Field, a part of the fine body of land well known as "The Pleasant Gardens," which for fertility of soil, healthfulness of climate and splendor of scenery, cannot be excelled.
    The date of his birth, or the time of his settling, or the date of his death, from the loss of family records, cannot be given; but from tradition, he lived in this lovely spot with his wife (Mrs. Annie Edmundston) to a good old age.
    He was a famous hunter, and delighted in "trapping," and to a late period of his life, he could be seen on his way to the mountains, with four large bear traps tied behind him on his horse, with his trusty rifle on his shoulder. On these excursions he would go alone, and be absent for a month or more, hunting the deer, turkies, and bears, and in silent communion with nature and with nature's God. He realized the exquisite lines of Byron--
      Crime came not near him; she is not the child
      Of solitude. Health shrank not from him,
      For her home is in the rarely trodden wild; [...]
      Tall and swift of foot were they,
      Beyond the dwarfing city's pale abortion,
      Because their thoughts had never learned to stray
      On care or gain; the green woods were their portion,
      No sinking spirits told them they grew gray,
      No fashion made them apes of her distortion
      Simple and civil; and their rifles
      Tho' very true, were not used for trifles.**

    He left two daughters and one son: Anna, who married William Whitson; Rachel, who married John Carson; and Colonel Joseph McDowell, who was born on 25th February, 1758, at Pleasant Gardens, in Burke County. He was always called "Colonel Joe of the Pleasant Gardens," to distinguish him from "General Joe of Quaker Meadows."

    * Dr. G. W. Michal, of Newton, N. C., to whom I am indebted for much information as to the McDowell family.
    [**These lines from Lord Byron's Canto VIII combine passages from stanzas LXII & LXVI that are very loosely transcribed.]
    Note: A genealogical breakout including brothers Joseph and Charles McDowell, "Hunting John" McDowell, and the cousins Joseph McDowell of Pleasant Gardens and Joseph McDowell of Quaker Meadows is contained in the 12.21.07 blog post Joseph McDowell & Draper's Misstatement.