Saturday, 7 February 2009

A Captain, a Will, and a Library

The other day I wrote about a late 18th Century family who lived in Irvine, Ayrshire, Scotland. Robert and Elizabeth (nee Jamieson) McElhago had three sons, James (born 1791), Samuel (born 1793) and Robert (born 1796). If they were following the Scottish naming pattern, a third son would be named after his father, and Robert was. A second son would be named after his maternal grandfather, which probably means that Elizabeth's father was Samuel Jamieson. A first son would be named for his paternal grandfather, which gives us the possibility that the progenitor of this family in the middle of the 18th Century was a James McElhago. If father Robert married Elizabeth about 1790, he may have been born about 1765. His father, possibly James, could have been born about 1740.

At present we have no documentary evidence for this succession but we do have some circumstantial evidence. Robert was a sea captain and all his three sons became sea-farers. The probability is that this was a long-established family tradition and that grandfather 'James' was also a ship's captain. Now a James McElhago, a man of some standing and substance, turns up in 1763 and 1765 on the East Coast of North America. We have no evidence that a James McElhago emigrated about this time, so he may have been there on one or more occasions as the captain of a brig.

James' first appearance in New Jersey offers us a vignette from a place called Mount Holly. He appears as one of three witnesses to the will of a widow, Elizabeth Jackman. Maybe he had been lodging with her, a way for her to earn money that clearly she needed. The Calendar of New Jersey Wills reads: 1763, Dec.20. Jackson, Elizabeth, of Mount Holly, Burlington Co., widow; Will of.:

'Daughter, Hannah Stapler, bed and such clothing as my friend, Elizabeth Ross, shall think proper for her. Friend, Elizabeth Ross, my gold ring. Friend, Mary Hopewell, cloak. Said Elizabeth Ross to take care of my daughter, Hannah Stapler, who is incapable to care for herself, but, if my friend Elizabeth Ross do not live, then Sarah, the wife of Daniel Jones, to care for my said daughter. After the death of my daughter the amount that is left I give to my friend Stephen Stapler, of Philadelphia, and my friends, Alexander Ross and his wife, Elizabeth Ross.' Executors - said Stephen Stapler and John Clark, of Mount Holly. Witnesses - Ann Sharp, Daniel Jones, Jr., James McElhago. Proved April 19, 1764.

It would be nice to know more about the relationship of James McElhago to the Jackson-Stapler family. He must have been a trusted friend to be asked to witness Elizabeth's Will. And he must have had some standing in the Mount Holly community, as just over a year after the Will had been proved, he is involved in a major community project there. A new library is established. The Bridgetown Library, Mount Holly, was chartered by King George III on June 11th, 1765. Among the incorporators is one James McElhago. Again, we have no detail about him, but surely he must have been respected as a man of substance and standing to be so recorded in the annals of this prestigious library.

We have postulated that James, father of Robert, if such he was, could have been born as early as 1740. If he and the 'James of Mount Holly' are one and the same, maybe we can push that date back by ten years. We are talking of events that took place 250 years ago and from that time to the present there can be as many as ten generations. It is an extremely remote possibility, but we must ask whether there could be a link from 18th Century Irvine, Scotland, to the only McElhago of whom we know today. It would be good to have information about his ancestors.

1 comment:

  1. Another Will has come to light. Only three months after James witnessed the Jackman Will he witnessed another, on 8th July, of Mary Bennett also of Bridgetown. She was a midwife in the township of Northampton, Burlington County. She left 5 shillings to her son, William Bennett and to her daughter Mary Bennett the rest of her real and personal property. She appointed her daughter as her executrix. Three people witnessed her will: David Jones, James McElhago and Aaron Smith. The Will was proved on 21st November 1766 when an Inventory of all her property was made by Aaron Smith and Daniel Jones Jr.. The value of the property amounted to £112.16.6.