The McElvains: A Family’s Ongoing Journey

Where did we come from? How did we end up in Illinois? Most of these stories are lost but a few pieces have survived. If people were wealthy enough to own land, there is usually a paper trail. Such is the case with the McElvains.

The American McElvains descended from the M’Ylvene or MacYlvene clan living in Ayrshire, Scotland. Mentioned in 1519, Alan MacKelvanes married the niece of the Earl of Casilas and owned the Grimet land in Ayreshire (shire = county), granted to him by King James V of Scotland in 1529. This land was handed down for generations. However, John MacIlvaine lost the land in 1640 during the Scottish revolution against Charles I. Charles insisted that the Scots give up their Presbyterian faith and tithe to his Church of England. When the folks from Ayreshire refused to cooperate, bloody revenge was carried out against the clans, including women and children. Now these Scottish clans were rough, tough, feuding, fighting folks. But MacIlvaine’s family (clan) had enough and took refuge in Ulster, Northern Ireland, joining about 200,000 other Scots. Our ancestors, John and Sarah Clark McElwain (McIlvane) and their six children crossed the North Channel from Ayr for County Antrim, a part of Ulster, in 1697. Click on the images to enlarge.
Migration Map Scotland to N Ireland

Scottish Presbyterians hated the English for cruelly imposing their will and despised the Irish Catholics even more. These Ulster Scots were “Born Fighting”, according to James Webb’s book of the same title, and these rebels and outcasts didn’t stay in one place for long. Three of John and Sarah’s sons and some cousins were the first to emigrate to America. Our guy, Andrew McElwain and his wife Elizabeth Swan, sailed from County Antrim in 1718 and settled in Pennsylvania, where there was a large community of Scots-Irish. (In fact, Drew Morrison is named for Andrew, one of the first known ancestors to touch American soil.) One of the cousins, Daniel McIlvain, left Ireland when his Protestant Presbyterian parents were murdered in their beds by the Irish Catholics.

In fact, there is a record of 5 ships that sailed into Boston harbor from Northern Ireland in August 1718. They originated out of Londonderry and Belfast with about 20 families on each ship. Some were tradesmen and some paid for their passage as indentured servants. Perhaps the McElvain clan were on board.

In 1723, Andrew and his brothers moved on to South Carolina where they lived for 15 years. Andrew and his brother Robert returned to Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1738, where he died in 1749. You can see their migration route in the map below.

Andrew and Elizabeth Swan's Migration Route

Robert McIlvaine was Andrew’s son. Born in County Antrim, he came with his parents to America. He married Mary Duffield, whose father was Reverend George Duffield, chaplain of the Continental Congress, and whose picture hangs in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. They raised their family in Lancaster.

George Duffield, Continental Congress

George Duffield, Continental Congress

Andrew McElvain was a son of Robert and Mary Duffield McIlvaine and we descended from him and his wife Margaret Workman. They moved their family from Pennsylvania, down the Valley Pike (today – Rt. 11) to Rockbridge County, Virginia near Staunton. In 1779, Andrew was a sergeant in Captain Finton’s Company, First Battalion, with the Pennsylvania Militia. He served 7 years as a teamster in the Revolutionary War in the colony of Virginia. (Teamsters were responsible for the movement of horses, wagons and cannon.) Years later, he died and is buried near Natural Bridge.

Andrew McElvain, teamster in the war

Andrew McElvain, teamster in the war

After Andrew’s death, his son Robert and 2 of his brothers left Rockbridge County, Virginia with their widowed mother in the 1820s for Illinois. Robert settled on a farm about 3 miles southwest of Du Quoin, Illinois sometime before 1830. While in Kentucky, he married Kiziah Wells, whose father served in the Revolutionary War. They brought along some of their small children as well as his McElvain family and her Wells relatives. Robert started the McElvain Cemetery on part of his land and many of these folks are buried there.

Robert and Kiziah had nine children, including Joseph Harvey. He and his wife farmed near Du Quoin and had 16 children. A previous post was written about their son Jonas McElvain.

From bloodied land near Glasgow, Scotland to parts throughout the world, the remnants of the McElvain family continue to spread.

Sources:

McElvain, Samuel M. Feburary 1948. Madison, Wisconsin. A Brief Genealogy of One Branch of The McElvain – McIlvaine Family and Related Links. This was my primary source and much of the information was summarized from Samuel McElvain’s work. I have not personally substantiated the information.

Ulster Plantation. Ulster Nationalist. Retrieved November 8, 2013 from http://www.ulsternationalist.freeservers.com/custom2.html.

All maps from Google Maps.

The Arrival of Five Ships in August, 1718. Lynx 2 Ulster: Culture, History, & Heritage. Retrieved November 5, 2013, from http://www.lynx2ulster.com/ScotchIrishPioneers/008.php

The McElvains: Corydon McElvain

In my last post, I mentioned Corydon McElvain, Jonas’ older brother, and his story is worth telling.

When he was 17, Corydon fought at the battle of Vicksburg. In the summer of 1863, the Union armies converged on Vicksburg, Mississippi, trapping a Confederate army. After a long siege, the Confederates surrendered, splitting the Confederacy in half. The last stronghold of the south was defeated. 17,000 men died and are buried there.

Corydon was captured and sent to the most notorious prison in the Confederacy – Andersonville, Georgia. Although it was only in existence for 14 months, more than 45,000 Union soldiers were confined there. The Confederate government could not provide adequate housing, food, clothing, or medical care, and many prisoners were routinely shot. Over 13,000 died. Fortunately, Corydon made it back home to Du Quoin, Illinois.

He married and had children. After his wife died, he lived with his daughter in an apartment above Riggio’s Ladies Clothing Store on East Main Street. Irma Dean remembered her family visits there when Uncle Corydon made Hot Toddies in a coffee cup. She tasted the foam on top but wasn’t allowed to drink the liquored tea.

In 1938, Gettysburg Battlefield hosted the Blue and Gray Farewell Reunion for its 75th anniversary. About 2500 Civil War veterans, both North and South, most in their nineties, came together to be honored. Corydon, 92, desperately wanted to be there in spite of his poor health so his grandson accompanied him on the ten day trip. Corydon “met one of the Andersonville prison guards who kept watch there and they talked over old times. He was the only veteran to return to read his own name on a tablet located at Vicksburg dedicated to the Union men that fought in that battle”, according to his Du Quoin Evening Call obituary. Here is actual footage of the Gettysburg gathering:

The trip took its toll on Comrade McElvain, as he was called, and the day after his return, he died.

His body rested in a casket at the home of Loren and Esther Davis for the two day wake. Of course, someone stayed with the body every hour as was the custom. At night, Irma Dean and Betty looked down through their bedroom register upon his body.

During his funeral at the First Christian Church, the Mayor of Du Quoin requested that all businesses close for two hours to pay homage to the last Civil War soldier in the city.

Sources:

Vicksburg. Civil War Trust. Retrieved October 24, 2013 from http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/vicksburg.html.

Battle of Vicksburg. HISTORYnet.com. Retrieved October 24, 2013 from http://www.historynet.com/battle-of-vicksburg.

Andersonville Prison. Civil War Trust. Retrieved October 24, 2013 from http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/warfare-and-logistics/warfare/andersonville.html.

2500 Civil War Veterans Meet at Gettysburg, 1938. wizardofbaum – You Tube. Retrieved October 24, 2013 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwRbDxf7kT4.

July 11, 1938. “All Du Quoin Joins in Solemn Tribute to Comrade Corydon McElvain Tuesday Afternoon Between Hours 2:30 to 4:30″. Du Quoin Evening Call Newspaper

July 11, 1938. “McElvain Funeral Services 2:30 P.M. Tuesday”. Du Quoin Evening Call Newspaper.

Irma Dean Davis Duncan. My Memory of Uncle Corydon McElvain. June 18, 2010.

The McElvains: Jonas McElvain

In the 1840s, a railroad was conceived and built to connect the “Lakes to the Gulf”. It passed through isolated Perry County Illinois and brought jobs, goods services, people and new ideas – the world! Folks living in what is now Old Du Quoin began moving their community closer to the “Station”, dismantling homes and buildings, and rebuilding in the new Du Quoin in the 1850s. Click on any of the photos to enlarge.
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When Jonas McElvain was born January 13, 1851, Zachary Taylor was President of the United States and the rush for California gold captured imaginations then as the MegaMillion lottery does today. Joseph Harvey and Esther Lipe McElvain, farmed outside of Du Quoin where they eventually raised eleven children. Jonas was their eighth. Around the time he was born, his parents and some friends organized the Disciples of Christ Church in Du Quoin and, when he was five, built the Main Street Christian Church.

Jonas was ten when the Civil War began and his older brother Corydon (pronounced Cordon, like Gordon) left to serve in the Union army. Because of the railroad and its need for coal, Du Quoin was a stop for troop trains. According to “Historic Du Quoin: Images From the Past“, one day a troop train stopped in town and many shopkeepers left their stores to see it. Mr. Pope left his clothing store to watch and while he was gone, a two-horse wagon backed up to the rear of the store and cleaned it out. During the war, Corydon fought at the Battle of Vicksburg, was later captured and sent to the notorious Andersonville Prison. Fortunately, he was one of the few who survived and returned home, becoming a local hero until his death at age 92. Since their dad Harvey was a Whig turned Republican, I imagine they grieved the death of President Lincoln.
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As Jonas entered his teens, so did Du Quoin. According to Charles Hatfield in “Historical Events of Du Quoin”, the little town of 2500 flourished. Coal mined nearby was a prime source for the railroad’s coal-burning engines. Livestock roamed free along the rutted unpaved streets. Migrating birds flew over the woods and prairie “in clouds almost hiding the sun”, and game and fish were plentiful. Waiting teams of horses lined up along the streets, as groaning wagons, piled with crops of beans and corn, were unloaded into the trains’ wooden hoppers. Business boomed and trades flourished. In the 1880s, there were grist and flour mills, 8 boot and shoe makers, a brewery and a whiskey distillery, 5 different meat markets, a soda water factory, tailors, coopers, and harness makers – just to name a few. When he was eighteen, Jonas’ dad sold 40 acres of his land to the District Fair Association, northwest of town, for a racetrack, amphitheater, and farm exhibits.

Jonas McElvain, second from left, and brothers

Jonas McElvain, second from left, and brothers


Jonas farmed, mined coal, built houses and furniture, and later, served as Wheatley School’s custodian. (In fact, my first teaching assignment was in Wheatley School’s old furnace room where Jonas and Katie, Esther and Harvey spent winter nights so Jonas could stoke the fire, keeping the school warm.) In 1896, he even served as a City Alderman while Corydon acted as Street Commissioner. Average in height and slim, Jonas’ green eyes were flecked with brown and he sported a big droopy mustache. He liked to dance and may have swung the girls to tunes like this.

At the age of 50, this bachelor married Kate Ritter Broyles, a 28-year-old German immigrant and widow with 2 young children. Two weeks to the day after their wedding, Kate’s 2 year old illegitimate daughter Catherine died. After her death, the family never spoke of her again. Joseph Harvey (named for Jonas’ dad), was born the following year and Esther Ellen (named for Jonas’ mom and close sister) joined the family two years later.

Esther, Jonas, Harvey, and Kate McElvain

Esther, Jonas, Harvey, and Kate McElvain

Esther, Jonas, Kate, and Harvey McElvain

Esther, Jonas, Kate, and Harvey McElvain

Jonas, his sister Ellen, and Kate McElvain

Jonas, his sister Ellen, and Kate McElvain


Rocking chair, perhaps built by Jonas McElvain and currently cared for by Mindy Morrison.  It sat on the McElvains' back porch for years and then in Grandma and Grandpa Davis' living room.

Rocking chair, perhaps built by Jonas McElvain and currently cared for by Mindy Morrison. It sat on the McElvains’ back porch for years and then in Grandma and Grandpa Davis’ living room.


I interviewed my grandma Esther McElvain Davis for a book called Grandmother Remembers: A Written Heirloom for My Grandchild. It was obvious that she adored her Papa. She said he taught her to value money and to do her share of chores. “Papa was a good and kind person. We were very close.” After she and Loren Davis had their first child, Jonas walked from his Laurel Street home to Vine Street every day to visit little Betty Jean. She was 2 and Irma Dean was only 8 months old when Jonas died in 1926.
Funeral Card

Funeral Card


By then, Du Quoin had undergone dramatic changes, as did many towns along the Illinois Central Railroad. European immigrants and freed former slaves brought their unique cultures, mixing with long time Scots-Irish settlers, like the McElvains. Permanent brick buildings and homes lined the paved streets. Jonas had seen the arrival of horse drawn street cars, coal and salt mines, telephones, electricity and automobiles, a variety of newspapers, and a growing diverse economy.
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The McElvain family held an annual family reunion at the family farm.

The McElvain family held an annual family reunion at the family farm.


Jonas and Du Quoin were born about the same time. Of course, Du Quoin lives on but he and his family were part of its growth as some of his descendants still are today.

Sources:

Headstone: Jonas C. McElvain. McElvain Cemetery, Du Quoin, Illinois. http://genealogytrails.com/ill/perry/perrycty/mcelvain.html

(October 3, 1903). Joseph H. McElvain: The Oldest Settler in Perry County. Reprinted in Du Quoin Evening Call Centennial Edition 1853 – 1953.

Census, U. S. 1900, 1910 and 1920.

Hatfield, Charles H. 1934. (Transcribed and Illustrated by Robert R. Morefield). Historical Events of Du Quoin, 2009, and Historic Du Quoin: Images From the Past, 2007: Du Quoin Historic Preservation Commission.

Grandmother Remembers: A Written Heirloom for My Grandchild. Completed by Esther McElvain Davis in the 1990s. Library of Mindy Duncan Morrison.

Remembering Loren Wilkes Davis

Loren, with dirty feet

Loren, with dirty feet

Loren Davis

Loren Davis

Loren and Esther

Loren and Esther

Loren and Esther's 50th Anniversary

Loren and Esther’s 50th Anniversary

When we were kids, my brothers, cousins, and I spent many hours with Grandpa, digging in his garden, swinging from the big shady elm tree, eating oatmeal with diced buttered toast mixed in for breakfast. When it was about time for him to head home for dinner at noon, Rex, David and I watched with our friends by the front yard curb for his pickup truck. He stopped and we piled into the backend for a spin around the block. Then we’d jump out and off he’d go.
Simple pleasures. Lovely memories. Thanks, Grandpa.