Madness Monday ~ James Joseph McGhee/McGee

This past week I have been working on the last family to marry the children of William and Rebecca Oney Corel, the McGhee/McGee family. The father of the three children who married three Corel siblings was James Joseph McGhee, born October 28, 1796 in Treanamullin, Stranorlar, County Donegal, Ireland to Margaret Stewart and Thomas M’Ghee. James Joseph was the oldest of eight children all born in Stranorlar Parish, Ireland. The other children are Robert, Adam, Thomas, William, Nancy “Sarah”, Margaret, and Caldwell S. (possibly Stewart).

Family legend states that three McGhee brothers, James Joseph, Adam, and Thomas, arrived in New York from Ireland about 1819. One descendant of James Joseph recalls hearing stories of James working on the Erie Canal, which was constructed between 1817 and 1825. Another descendant wrote of the three brothers being grading contractors for the Illinois Central Railroad, “and finishing their contract in 1852, they had $8,000 in silver dollars which they concealed in nail kegs and traveled by wagon train to Kansas City from St. Louis, and after a time went to Kansas where they took up land east of Lawrence.”

James Joseph McGhee married Mary Ann Neidigh in Bellefonte, Centre County, Pennsylvania in 1826 and that they had seven children before leaving Pennsylvania. The McGhee’s arrived in Stephenson County about 1839.

I have recently found that on June 4, 1839 James’ parents and some siblings arrived in New York, by way of Liverpool, on the Barque Agenora. Those passengers were: Thomas and Margaret McGee (parents), Thomas, Margarite (Margaret), and Caldwell McGee (siblings), and Robert and Elizabeth McGee (brother and sister-in-law) with their children, Sarah, Margaret, Elizabeth, and Thomas.

All of the McGhee children are accounted for in 1850, living in Stephenson County, Illinois, except for Adam.

In going back to the family legend, I am struggling to prove or disprove a majority of the lore. In my research, I did find something that has only added to my confusion. In the 1820 census in Bellefonte, Centre County, Pennsylvania, there is a James McGhee listed next door to a Thomas McGhee. I would be quite excited, if there were no other family members listed. The James McGhee family shows three males under 10, two males 18-26, and one male 26-45, as well as one female 26-45. The Thomas McGhee household has one male 26-45, one female under 10, and one female 16-26. One theory I have is that perhaps the McGhee’s listed in Centre County are uncles or cousins. With the James McGhee household having two males between 18 and 26, it is certainly possible that this could be James Joseph, and perhaps his brother Adam.

In searching for the immigration of James Joseph McGhee, I have not even been able to locate naturalization records for any of the McGhee’s.

The one thing that I do feel fairly confident about concerning the family legend of the McGhee family is that Thomas McGhee did not come to America in 1819 with two other brothers. Along with him being listed on the passenger list with his parents and siblings in 1839, in 1819 he would have only been five years old.