This article was originally published in Familia, journal of the Ulster Historical Foundation (volume 2, no. 7, 1991). Published annually.

The McGoogins of Armoy,

A North Antrim Emigrant Family 1860-1890 [Part 2]

by John H. McGuckin

This, then, was the McGoogan family when, on February 28, 1860, John wrote to Samuel, enclosing a draft for 11 sterling. One pound of the remittance was from their mother for her namesake, Hugh's daughter Jane. The balance was to repay funds which Samuel had sent home to sustain their father through an undefined crisis. John wrote, 'What we send to you we do not look upon as a present at all but as part of your own which you sent my Father when he had need of it.'

The money was derived from the sale of 21 pounds of pork at the 'great' market fair held in nearby Ballymoney on the first and third Thursday of each month. Sending the draft through an Antrim bank to a Pittsburgh correspondent had occasioned some trouble and several trips to Ballymoney to arrange. Correspondent banking was in ifs infancy in the mid-nineteenth century as John McGoogan discovered. Not until 1871 did the American and British governments sign a postal-money-order agreement which would facilitate sending funds across the Atlantic.11

In 1860, however, John's local branch bank could not send money directly to Pittsburgh. In addition, he wrote, 'They told me that the main bank only corresponds with the main bank in a foreign country'. This meant a bank in New York City. John was not quite sure how Samuel would get the money from the New York bank. 'But, I suppose, and I hope, that as New York is a mercantile metropolis, there will be a branch in Pittsburgh where you may get it [the draft] cashed.'

Having disposed of his financial business, John proceeded to provide his brother with a farmer's overview of conditions in north Antrim in early 1860. Six inches of snow covered the ground, delaying any farming that season. With some pride, John informed his brother that the farm had twelve head of cattle and two horses. Given the advanced and prolonged winter, he was concerned about feeding them since 'the cry for fodder through the county is truly awful'. Although the McGoogans seemed to have enough to see them to spring, John wrote that straw was selling at five shillings per measure and hay 'at anything you like to ask'.

John wrote again on August 17, 1861, in response to a letter from Samuel, who had asked for money himself this time. John simply could not help, although 'my heart is sore for your distress'. John's response to his brother's plea contained a mixture of hope for the future and caution about the present. He wrote that the previous year's crop had been a bad one, yielding only three bags of corn, which he had exchanged for flour. Although the 1861 crop promised to be 'excellent' and the flax harvest was 'the best we have had since I came home we have had to purchase our meal all this summer, and our rent is now due'. Further, his nine acres in corn looked 'remarkably well, as also our potato'.

At the end of the season, 'we will be able to help you a little', he promised. But, he cautioned that the abundant flax crop was a provincial phenomenon, reducing prices. Borrowing to help his American brothers was impossible. The local Armoy shopkeepers were receiving 'scarce any cash' and were obliged to 'give all on credit', a further hint as to John's shortage of ready cash.

This letter contains two interesting pieces of information about John himself. First, he writes that the flax harvest was the best 'since I came home'. This indicates that he, too, had left the family farm at some time, but later returned. By 1861, his father James was already 75 years old and it is natural to assume that John, as the oldest son, may have emigrated and then returned during the 1850s to take care of his ageing parents and the family farm.

The unanswerable question is whether John returned to his native Scotland for temporary work or, like his younger brothers, immigrated to America. A John McGoogin, age 27, arrived in New York City from Liverpool, on 11 May, 1846, on the Atlas. With him was Ann McGoogan, also aged 27 and, therefore, more likely his wife than his sister. Was this John, following his brother Samuel to America? Again, the ages do not quite match. John McClure was 25, not 27, in 1846. We may never know.

The second piece of personal information is more definite. On 14 August 1861, John married Mary Tait, 'a fine tall comely girl, about 23 years of age and,' John added somewhat proudly, 'that is considered very young in this country' (John, himself was 40!). Mary was the daughter of Hugh Tait of Ballyoregaugh and his wife Jane Armour and was born in Armoy in about 1839. In the practical way of farmers, John wrote to his brothers, 'She gets no fortune at present, but she is of most respectable people and [our] father and mother are both very fond of her, and I am as happy as you could wish.' John closed this letter filled with momentous news with the hope that, despite his financial difficulties, Samuel could continue to send the weekly American newspaper back to Knocknahinch, perhaps another hint that John may have, at one time, been in America himself.

The next letter is addressed to Samuel in Fayette, Pennsylvania, a small town in the coal country south of Pittsburgh. It is undated, but must have been written during the summer of 1862 because it announced the birth of James Campbell McGoogan (the namesake of Samuel's own son born in 1858) on 2l May and his christening on 13 July. The letter also includes family news about various relatives still in Ireland. Unfortunately, John's letter does not provide any guidance about the exact relationship of these relatives or whether they were McGoogans, Campbells or McClures.

A relative named John Morgan had died, although his relationship to the McGoogans is unknown. Uncle George died on 14 July, 1862 and was buried on the 16th of that month. Uncle Andrew, perhaps Andrew McGoogan who lived nearby in Knocknahinch, parish of Armoy, and his wife were well. John then provided updates on several other relatives, who may have been Andrew's children. Hugh was a chef boatman in the Coast Guard, John and Ruth were at home, 'Young Andy is, as ever, working at a hundred trades' and the 'rest are in America'.

The next surviving letters were written more than a decade later, in 1878. The 1870 American census tells us that, in the meantime, there had been many changes in the McGoogan households in Fayette.

Both Samuel and Hugh were interviewed by the census takers in June-July 1 1870. Each brother gave his age as 40, although their wives were more honest.

Hugh McGoogan lived with his family in Wilkins Township in Fayette County, Pennsylvania. He apparently rented his house because he did not, in response to a question on the census, claim to own any real property. His wife Nancy gave her age as 47. She had been born in Pennsylvania and kept house. Their six children all lived at home: three of the older daughters, Sarah, Mary and Rebecca, were in school. James, the only son, was born in 1861/2 and Nancy was born in 1866/7. Hugh's oldest daughter, Jane, lived nearby in Wilkins Township with the John Morrow family as a domestic servant. Morrow was a farmer and Jane helped his wife Sarah take care of their two children, Olivia, age 3, and Benjamin, age 2.

Brother Samuel lived in nearby Sedickley Township and claimed that he owned real estate valued at $800 and personal property worth $100. Almira gave her age as 30 and, like Nancy, she kept house. James Campbell, their oldest son, was in school with his brother, John McClure, born on August 20, 11861, and sister Margaret Ann, born on 118 April, 1864. The baby of the family, Elizabeth Jane, born on 12 May, 1867, was at home. Sam's mother-in-law Elizabeth Christy, age 69, lived with them.


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