Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Josephs McDowell & Kin

In 1631 Thomas McDowell, son of Alexander, was born in the village of Glenoe, a settlement on the plain above the larger towns of Larne and Carrickfergus in County Antrim, Ulster, Ireland. Thomas became a blacksmith, and he married Anne Locke around 1668. They named the first of their five sons Joseph. He was the first “Joseph” of this McDowell line. Their other four sons came in succession: John, Alexander, Ephraim, and William. Two daughters, Esther and Sarah, followed.
Joseph would become grandfather and great-grandfather of the two American cousin Josephs McDowell who later became the subjects of much confusion in the aftermath of the Revolutionary War. He married Ann Calhoun of Corkagh, County Donegal, Ulster. (Her father Robert was a Scottish immigrant born in Dunbarton, and maintained for himself the Gaelic surname spelling of “Colquhoun.” Ann’s sister Mary wed Huguenot Andrew Lewis, whose son John was a primary settler in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley and a northstar for his McDowell relatives.) Joseph and Ann had four children together, all sons: Charles, Robert, William, and Joseph J.
Charles, Joseph’s oldest son, was born about 1697. He married Rachel, who gave birth to one son and five daughters. Son John, born about 1717, made the journey from Ireland to America as a teenager. In the American wilderness he earned renown for his skills as a hunter, and would ever after be called “Hunting John” McDowell. Hunting John, like his father, would have but one son, born in 1758: Joseph “of Pleasant Gardens,” one of the McDowell cousins of the Revolution.
Joseph J., the youngest of Joseph and Ann’s sons, was born 27 February 1715, nearly twenty years after his oldest brother Charles. Young Joseph J. was raised to become a weaver in Ireland’s textile industry, but he instead emigrated to America shortly after taking the thoroughly Irish Margaret O’Neill* for his bride. As a grandson of Scottish lowlanders, Joseph J. McDowell had allegedly offended his wife’s Irish relatives by marrying one of their own. Margaret was, after all, a member of Ireland’s revered O’Neill clan, descended from a Gaelic dynasty that ruled much of Ireland in the early Middle Ages, particularly in the north. They were fierce nativists and did not take kindly to clouding their pure Irish gene pool with outsiders. Rather than tempt a tragic fate, Joseph J. McDowell and his bride Margaret fled Ireland for the American colonies, and their eight children would all be born there. The youngest, born in 1756, would be named Joseph, and later in life became known as “Quaker Meadows Joe,” the other McDowell cousin in question. 
The children of the first Joseph McDowell did descend from lowland Scots, the target of native Irish discrimination. But they were also nephews of Ephraim McDowell, who, at age 16, helped defend Londonderry against the approach of Jacobite Alexander MacDonnell at the beginning of the Williamite War in Ireland in December 1688. Ephraim also served in the successful defense of Ireland at the tide-turning Battle of the Boyne two years later against England’s deposed King James II. In 1729, though, Ephraim left with his children  and grandchildren to live the rest of his years in America. He continued a life of service, and was a member of the Virginia militia until age 70, when he was deemed too old to serve. (He nevertheless lived another 30+ years.) He was progenitor of the McDowells in the colony of Virginia, as well as in the territory that became Kentucky, on the far side of the mountains. Indeed, he is also said to have built the first road across the Blue Ridge Mountains. Ephraim McDowell was an exceptional man and set an example for the generations that followed. 

*Margaret O’Neill, daughter of Samuel O’Neill (c. 1680-), was born about 1717 at Shane’s Castle on Lough Neah in County Antrim, Ulster, Ireland. Built in 1345 by a member of the O’Neill dynasty, the castle was originally called Eden-duff-carrick. Shane McBrian O’Neill (c. 1530-1567), known by historians as Shane the Proud, renamed it for himself. Numerous additions were made to the castle complex throughout the centuries. Shane’s Castle has been used extensively as a set location in all seasons of HBO’s award-winning series Game of Thrones.