Chapter XI: The MacMillans
My grandmother, Rosa Wise Elvick, always used
to answer German, English and Scotch, when she was asked what her nationality
was. We knew the Chappells were English, the Bickels were German, and
the Wises were either English or German, and we had accounted for pretty
much everyone except Henry Wise’s
mother, who we figured must be the Scottish connection. So when the MacMillan
name surfaced, there were high fives all around. Here was our Scottish
Coir MhicMhaolain air a Chnap Fhad’s a bhuaileas ton ri crag
which in English means:
MacMillan’s right to Knap shall be As long’s this rock withstands the sea125
The Knapdale region is on the West Coast of Scotland and this is where he built a tower at Castle Sween, which is the oldest stone castle in Scotland. At the town of Kilmory, also in Knapdale, there is a Celtic cross that was erected in his honor, and this Kilmory Cross has become another of the MacMillan Clan symbols. In the early 1500s, the Scottish king changed the lordship of Knapdale to the Campbells and the MacMillans became subservient to the Campbells. Many MacMillans then scattered to other parts of the country, and I believe it was probably then that our ancestors became part of a MacMillan settlement in or near the village of Dunragit in Wigtownshire. Wigtownshire is the extreme southwestern outpost of Scotland and lies just a little over twenty miles from the Ulster coast of Ireland.126
Prior to the onset of civil registration and census taking in the middle of the nineteenth century, the main genealogical sources in Scotland were church records. It was the responsibility of the local clergy to keep these records, and how well this was done varied widely from parish to parish and from region to region. The church records for Wigtownshire appear to be in poor condition. The records are described in one account as such: “For the most part the ministers describe their registers as imperfect, defective, and not voluminous.” So far I haven’t been able to find any information from the church records, so the oldest information about our Scottish ancestors comes from these three sources: 1) A letter written by a James MacMillan descendant, Mary Gaston, in Portland, Oregon in 1899, and which was found at the York County Historical Society in York, Pennsylvania, 2) a pedigree chart found in a Belmont County, Ohio county history, and 3) an account of a MacMillan family reunion reported in a Belmont County, Ohio newspaper in 1922.127
Our MacMillan ancestors came from the village of Dunragit in Wigtownshire in the Galloway region of Scotland. The name of the parish was Glen Luce. Dunragit estate is two miles due west of the village of Glen Luce, which sits at the apex of Luce Bay at the southwestern most extreme point of Scotland. Galloway is a region of Scotland that is out of the mainstream of both north-south and east-west traffic. Like the rest of southern Scotland it was settled by the Romans. Christianity came to the area from Ireland. In about the year 1190 AD Glen Luce Abbey was constructed. By all accounts this was an extensive and impressive monastic community. The lands of Glen Luce Parish were given over to the Abbey for its support and for the next three hundred and fifty years or so, the Abbey flourished.128
With the advent of the Reformation, interest in, and support for, the Abbey declined. This precipitated some maneuvering by local families for control of the Abbey’s land. In 1559, Queen Mary was induced to appoint Thomas Hay as the new Abbot. Thomas Hay was maneuvered by a secular nobleman, the Earl of Cassilis, to transfer the Abbey’s land holdings to him.129 William Bailie, one of the monks who signed the deeds was subsequently granted the Dunragit estate, which had been part of the Abbey’s lands, and from him was passed on to other members of the Bailie family. Several generations later it was inherited by a minor, Thomas Bailie, whose father had accidentally drowned. This occurred during the time mentioned in a previous paragraph that was known as the killing time. It was a difficult time for Scotland and a time when shrewd manipulators could milk the system.130
When Thomas reached his majority, he found that all of his lands somehow belonged to other people. When he tried to regain his estate through an appeal to a court in Edinburgh, he found that four sons of the Viscount Stair (the current owner) were leading lawyers of the day, and that some of them sat on this bench. On a second trip to Edinburgh, he was crossing a river in a boat when it overturned, and he lost all of his papers, and, of course, all of the proof that he needed to prove ownership. The property thus remained in the hands of the Viscount Stair, who most likely allotted the property among his family. His descendant, James Dalrymple is the one in ownership at the time my gggg-grandfather, James MacMillan was born in 1728.131 [see pedigree chart]
In the Gaston letter, alluded to above, she states that James’ parents were Francis and Martha MacMillan. She goes on to say that Francis was sickly and died young, leaving two young sons, James and Robert, who were then raised by two maiden aunts. She also said there was land that was passed onto the boys through these aunts. How this fits into the above story is unclear to me. If this was part of a feudal estate, it’s possible they had a right to the land’s income, but not necessarily a right to sell it. I have found surname lists dating from this time for the entire county of Galloway, and although MacMillan is a common name throughout the county, there were no MacMillans at all listed in Glen Luce parish.132 If the land was inherited through maiden aunts, it may have come from his mother’s side, and we have not discovered what her maiden name was. The Dunragit mansion is still being used today and appears to be in wonderful condition. It was, however, sold by the Dalrymple-Hay family in 1919.
On a visit to this area in 2004 I questioned some residents about the MacMillan name. There are apparently two separate MacMillan lines living in southwest Galloway today and there is a marked difference in their social and economic status. One MacMillan family there owns a string of hotels in this area of the country. The other family was described as “travelers,” which is the European term for gypsies. Whether either of these families is related to us in any way is still unknown. However, since the maiden aunts who raised James MacMillan were said to be property owners I think it is quite likely they were sisters of his mother and part of the Dalrymple-Hay family.
James left Scotland for Dublin, Ireland, as a young man. He married Jean Matthews, the daughter of a Dublin merchant. The Matthews family was of Scottish descent. (My grandmother, Rosa Wise Elvick, always vigorously denied that she had any Irish blood.) James and Jean came to America in the early 1760s, and settled first in Cecil County, Maryland. This is in the extreme northeastern corner of Maryland near the Delaware and Pennsylvania borders. They had four children, Sarah, Dorcas, Maria, and George. Since James would have been thirty-three years old in 1760, it is probable that at least some of the children were born in Ireland. One source lists 1760 in America as George’s time and place of birth, but later census records seem to place his birth before 1755. George’s youngest daughter, Darcus, was asked on the 1880 census where her father was born, and she listed the birthplace as Ireland.
Eventually the family moved to York County, Pennsylvania, which was only some 15 to 20 miles away. James may have served in the navy during the Revolutionary War during the time they lived in York County. There was a James McMullan on board the Continental Frigate Confederacy in 1779 when it carried John Jay and Gerard to France and Spain on a diplomatic mission, and he is still on the ship’s payroll in 1780. At least one descendant has had a DAR application approved on the basis of this service. However, when I obtained a copy of this DAR membership and application record, I found that it contained no real proof that this was the same James McMullan as our ancestor.
The application for membership was approved over a hundred years ago, and the standard of proof was much looser then. The DAR informed me that if the application had been received today, it would have been declined. The Confederacy was in service until the spring of 1781 when it was captured by the British and taken to Charleston. There is evidence that James McMullan was in York County for at least part of the time in 1780. This doesn’t disprove service in the Revolutionary Navy, but I think it does make it questionable. The name James McMullan was quite common. There was actually another James McMullan who lived in the same township. Also our James would have been fifty-two years old in 1779, which would have been quite old for a seaman. However, before ruling it out completely I would like to know if there was any other information the person involved in the application had. There may have been family lore about Revolutionary War service. Also York County was playing an important part in the American Revolution at this time. When the MacMillans arrived in York County in the late 1770s, Philadelphia had fallen to the British and the Continental Congress had been moved to York, and York became the new nation’s capital for a period of nine months. Famous revolutionaries like Sam Adams, John Hancock, and Thomas Paine were living here. It’s conceivable that this could have inspired even a fifty-two year old to join up. Pennsylvania actually expected military service from her men up to age fifty-three.
In 1780 James and his son, George, jointly bought some farm property in Hopewell Township, York County. The land sits right on the Mason Dixon line, and was purchased from another MacMillan family. Interestingly it was another James McMullan who had struck a deal for buying this land back in the early 1760s, but he died before it was paid for. His wife, also Jean, shortly thereafter remarried to a William Nelson. William Nelson paid for the land out of moneys from James McMullan’s estate and then signed it over to McMullan’s children, Robert and Mary. A guardian named John McMullan from Virginia was appointed to represent the children’s interest. In 1780 the son, Robert, reached the age of majority and the land was sold to our ancestor James McMullan. It is not known if these families were related. I would suspect that they are. In any case this scenario has caused some confusion in some of the descendants in our MacMillan family. I have seen a descendant tree where the ancestry of the family was apparently mistakenly intertwined with the James and Jean McMullan family that were the first owners of this property. In 1787 James applied for a warrant on another one hundred acres of land about a mile away, but in Fawn Township. Patent was obtained in 1803.
A listing of inhabitants in York County in 1779 was published in 1983 and it shows entries for two James McMullens and one George McMullen in Fawn Township. Over all there are fourteen McMullen entries for the county. MacMillan and McMullen were very common names at this time all over Pennsylvania, and this has been a complicating factor in sorting out who is related and who isn’t. It is interesting that in Scotland the name was usually spelled McMillan or MacMillan, but then after moving to Ireland it became McMullan, but after a few generations in America it often reverted again to the Scottish spelling, but often ending in en. Further complicating matters is the naming patterns of the families themselves. It seems that the names James, John, George and Robert were used by almost everyone and for the women Jane, Jean (which were used interchangeably), Mary, and Sarah were used over and over. However, in this case one of the James McMullens is identified in parentheses with the place name Muddy Run, which is in the northern end of Fawn Township, and our James McMullen lived far south along the Maryland border.
A tax census in 1783 shows James McMullen owning 200 acres in Fawn Township worth 107 pounds sterling. There is no separate entry for his son George. The first United States Census in 1790 gives more information. The James McMullen household has one male over age sixteen and a total of two females, age unspecified. It also specifies no males under age 16. George McMullen’s household shows one male over 16, none under 16 and a total of 7 females. This would indicate that George’s 4 sons were the 4 youngest children in the family and hadn’t yet been born, but the 1800 census disagrees with this, and it is likely that the 1790 census erred in assigning gender to some of the children.
In the 1790 census in Cecil County, Maryland, there is an entry for Robert McMullen, Jr. There are three males over sixteen, one under sixteen and a total of two females. It is interesting to speculate upon whether or not this is James’ nephew, whose father would have been Robert McMullen, Sr. It becomes even more intriguing when one finds that this is probably the same Robert McMullan who served in the Revolutionary War from Chester County, Pennsylvania. This Robert McMullan lived for a while in Fawn Township, York County after the war, so it is very likely he is a member of our McMullan family. He later moved to Ohio and later in life there is a Revolutionary War pension file for him. The Nottingham Lots portion of Cecil County, Maryland, straddles the border with Chester County, Pennsylvania, and in fact a part that was originally in Maryland became permanently a part of Pennsylvania when the Mason Dixon Line was drawn. I think it is fair to speculate that this Robert McMullan was the Robert McMullan Jr. reported on the 1790 Cecil County, Maryland census. Whether or not he is a relative or not is speculation. James had a brother named Robert, but other sources indicate that this Robert and his two aunts died in London during a cholera epidemic during a visit there in 1750. The circumstances, though, are highly suggestive that this Robert in Pennsylvania is probably somehow related and may, in fact, be a son of the Robert who died in 1750.
In 1800, James is seventy-three years old. His household has one male over the age forty-five, and one between twenty-six and forty-five. Likewise there is one female over forty-five and one between twenty-six and forty-five. This could indicate hired help living with them, or a daughter and her husband, or possibly even some other relatives. George’s household shows one male and one female over the age of forty-five, which would put his birthdate before 1755 and makes it very likely that he was born in Ireland. The 1790 record shows all of the children born before 1790 as females, while the 1800 record indicates that two of them were males. There is no discrepancy for the total number of children. The rest of the household consists of two males under age ten, one between ten and sixteen, and one between sixteen and twenty-six; two females under age ten, one between ten and sixteen, and two between sixteen and twenty-six.
George married Sarah Jewell probably about 1780. An LDS Ancestral File lists her probable birthplace and date as about 1764 in Fawn Township, York County, Pennsylvania. To date there has been no absolute proof found to back this up. There are no property or probate records for Jewell families in York County. There are three Jewell or Jewel families listed on the 1790 census for Harford County, Maryland. These are headed by William Jewell, George Jewel and Richard Jewel. Harford County is adjacent to York County, Pennsylvania, and the MacMillan land was in York County, right on the Maryland border. These were all families with young children and so would place the head of household in pretty much the same age category as Sarah and so could possibly be her brothers. In addition there is a Cornelius Jewell in Cecil County, Maryland where the MacMillans first settled when coming to America. Whether any of these families are related to Sarah has yet to be proven.
Recently information has surfaced that a Jewel family that was living in Harford County in the 1770's had moved there from Buck's County, Pennsylvania. Buck's County is just north of Philadelphia. It is possible but still unproven that this is the origin of the families living in Harford County at the time of the 1790 census and from which Sarah is also possibly descended.
James MacMillan died in 1818. In his will he named his wife, Jean, as the primary heir, and gave her a right to his money and property in her lifetime, with the residual, at her death, if any, going to his son, George, and a granddaughter, Maria Carter. Maria and George were the only descendants mentioned in the will.133
I have not been able to find any proof of burial for either James or Jean. New Park Presbyterian Church today sits on property that is just between the two parcels of land that James McMullan owned. The church was founded in 1780, but it does not have any records that go back that far. The oldest part of the church cemetery has many fieldstones in its oldest section, and they are all unidentified, and there are no names for them on the cemetery plat map. This is where I believe James and possibly Jean are buried. Another MacMillan descendant though, has stated to me that the family was Anglican and that they are buried in an Anglican cemetery in Fawn Township.
Sometime between 1803 and 1805, George and Sarah’s daughter, Jane, married John Wise. The 1810 census shows them living in Harford County, Maryland, which is the county just across the Pennsylvania line from the McMullan farm. Jane’s parents, George and Sarah McMillen are living on the adjacent property. The census was taken in August, but by December, John and Jane have moved to Belmont County, Ohio, where their signed names appear on a land deed on December 4. Within a few years they were joined by the Jacob and George Wise families,134 and also by Jane’s parents, George and Sarah McMillen. They all settled in Pultney Township, which is directly across the Ohio River from Wheeling, Virginia, (now West Virginia). In 1817 land records in Belmont County show George McMillen selling all of his household goods, farm equipment and crops already seeded in the ground, to his son-in-law, John Wise. This probably coincided with the terminal illness of George’s father back in York County. I suspect that George and family went back to Pennsylvania to cope with that crisis. Lastly, Philip and Mary Wise also came here and are both buried in the Rock Hill Cemetery.
George McMillen died in 1838 in Belmont County. His will leaves his property to be divided among the eight surviving children,135 but a special provision is made for the children of his daughter, Jane, who had preceded him in death. His wife, Sarah, is not mentioned, and so is presumed to have died before then.