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 4]

by John H. McGuckin

In the meantime, John McGoogan was not Samuel's only correspondent. In late July, 1879, he received a letter dated 14 July from his cousin and namesake Samuel McClure from Yuba City in Sutter County, in the California Gold Country. Samuel McClure was undoubtedly related through Samuel's grandmother Mary McClure. He describes himself by the all-purpose term, 'a cousin'. Samuel was a popular name among the Antrim McClures and it is even more difficult to trace this cousin through the American immigration records than it is to identify the McGoogans.

Three Samuel McClures arrived in New York during die Famine era. Two of these men arrived with their wives and children. A third arrived with his brothers and sisters. Samuel McClure, age 18, arrived on May 6, 1848, on the New Zealand, the same ship which had brought Samuel McGuggan to America in 1842. Travelling with him were his siblings William, a wood ranger, age 35, who headed the group as far as the immigration authorities were concerned; Betty, age 36; another William, age 22, who may have been a brother or a cousin; Mary Jane, age 17; and Eliza, age 17.12 Because Samuel McClure told his cousin that his family was scattered across the United States in Michigan and New York, where a sister Jane lived, it is tempting to think that he was a member of this large family which arrived together in 1848. His letters refer to sisters Sarah and Mary and a brother John who remained in Ireland.

Two Samuel McClures appear in the 1860 census for California, one lived in Sierra County and one in Siskiyou County. A Samuel McClure does not appear in the 1870 California census. However, the 1884-1885 Sutter County Directory lists him in Yuba City living on a ranch of 90 acres. He wrote in 1879 to reestablish contact with his cousin and to send along a picture of his youngest son. Samuel McClure married his wife L. J. Burnett in December, 1867. In 1881, he had two boys and two girls still living, another son, named after his own father, having died, aged 5, in 1873/74.

Shortly after Samuel McGoogan responded to Samuel McClure's letter, John McGoogan had another change of heart and determined to quit Ireland. On November 24, 1879, he wrote to Samuel announcing the imminent departure of the family, including his wife who was nearly eight months pregnant, for America. The arrival of some of his wife's Tait relatives from America, including two brothers who lived in Jersey City, New Jersey, had apparently led to lengthy conversations about immigration. 'They both came to us and encouraged us to clear out and go to America which I have done', John wrote. He sold the leasehold and planned to travel through New York City, planned to visit his Tait relatives and then travel to Fayette, where John hoped to find work. The excitement of the trip and the relief at having 'sold out' are apparent in John's letter. Since all his surviving children died in America, John had apparently persuaded his reluctant older sons to accompany him to Pennsylvania.

The New World held no relief for John McGoogan. He hoped to see his brother for the first time in decades at Christmas. 1879. He achieved this ambition and saw his son William born in Everson, Pennsylvania, on 11 January, 1880. There, John died on 26 April, 1880, aged 59. He left his widow Mary with a large family to support, close to the families of his two brothers. His brother Samuel's daughter Mary Malinda was born shortly thereafter on 5 April, 1880.

The news of John's death quickly reached Ireland via Samuel's correspondence. Samuel McClure, who had heard from his mother about John's death, sent his condolences from Yuba City in a letter dated 2 February, 1881. Samuel also remembered John fondly. He wrote, 'He was like a brother to me when I was a small boy and his kindness to me I never will never forget'. On 26 April, 1880, 'cousin' Andrew McGoogin wrote from Ballybregagh in Loughguile to mourn John, who was 'so upright and honest'.

Andy saw fit to let his relatives know that they were well rid of Ireland. He reported that 1880 was an even worse year than 1879. Although 'we have [a] warm dry summer', there was no work for the farms, a poor crop, no trade and no money anywhere. His own son James and his wife and eight children were barely scraping a living.

So many small farmers were close to bankruptcy and when the rent was due, many 'could not pay much more than one shilling in the pound'.

Samuel McClure was not having a better time of it in California. He wrote that continuous rain had broken the local levies, cut him off from the neighboring towns and flooded his entire farm, except for an acre or two. 'This is the worst time we have had for many a year,' he lamented. 'I cannot tell the amount of damage it has done....

Like John before him, Samuel was thinking of selling 'as soon as I can find a buyer at any price and leaving here'. So desperate was he that he told his cousin that we would accept $30 an acre, half the price he had paid for his farm.

We do not know if Samuel actually sold his farm. He was still there in 1884. His next letter to Fayette was from Ballycraig in Antrim. He had accompanied his mother on a visit to the old parish and wrote on 30 July, 1890, to tell his American cousins that much had changed. He wrote,

I passed the old home where you and I often plaid together it don't look much like the old home when your father and mother lived there There is a great change Well, there is so much change in Ireland, in every thing. It don't look like the same country to me.

Not the least of the changes was the result of better economic times for rural Ireland. Samuel wrote that money was now plentiful and the farmers were doing well. Houses were built throughout the country. 'Times is good and money is plenty. Men gets good pay here for all kinds of labour'. Rain was plentiful, but not destructive, and Sam thought the local crops looked good, He repeated many of these comments in a second letter, dated 22 December, 1890, but admitted, 'I like California a great deal better on account of the climate'.

With this the surviving correspondence ends. Several themes are apparent from these letters. First is the strong, continuing religious faith shared by both the McGoogans and the McClures. The death of James McGoogan, as described by his son, is an edifying scene and it is clear that John ascribed any good fortune to divine Providence. In 1861, he wrote to his brother, '... [I]f the Lord be pleased to send us a favorable harvest, we will have plenty of everything in a short time....' Despite his personal sorrows, he expressed a belief in the Lord's blessing, writing' will not trouble you any more at present but to assure you that wife and family all join in love to you and yours and in praying for God's blessing upon us all...

His cousin Samuel McClure shared this solid faith. In 1881, he wrote to Sam McGoogan after John's death.' urging him to submit to the will of God: 'in a short time we much all follow him to the last resting place.' In describing the floods which spelled financial ruin and the end of his California dream, Sam sounds exactly like John when he wrote, 'Dear Cousin, I have not time to write you one half what I would like to but thank God my family are all well..'

A second theme is evident, the strong feeling of family which bound this extended Antrim clan. The correspondence between the brothers and between the cousins is affectionate and warm in tone. Money clearly flowed back and forth across the Atlantic as it was needed and as it could be repaid. Information and newspapers were constantly exchanged both between Fayette and Armoy and between Yuba City and Fayette.

The separations caused by time and distance were keenly felt and family ties remained strong. In the mid-1870s Samuel McClure had obtained information about his McGoogan kinsmen from one of their cousins, H. McNeal, who showed up unexpectedly at the McClure ranch. McNeal stayed for part of a day, and 'left to bring his trunk to my house, but never returned.' Unimpressed by this lack of consideration, McClure did not respond to McNeal's later letters, but kept the information about the McGoogans and sought to see them when he next came east.

In his I 879 letter, Samuel McClure summarized an odyssey he had made in 1874, when he left California to visit friends in the east of the United States. He visited his sister Jane in New York, seeing her for the first time in twenty years. His aunt Mary's family lived in Rockland, Illinois, and, en mute, his sister urged him to look up the McGoogans around Pittsburgh. Arriving on the morning Pennsylvania Central train in Pittsburgh and armed with Samuel's address from a friend or relative.' William McMillin, he searched vainly throughout the day for a trace of Samuel McGoogan, 'but could not hear anything of you. So I left out of hart. I could only stay the one day as my wife had telegraphed for me to come home.'

Finally, life during the latter part of the nineteenth century was not any easier in America than in Antrim. Samuel McClure's perilous existence as a rancher in Sutter County, California, was no easier than his cousin John's hard life in Annoy. Their letters evidence a common concern for crops, lifestock and the weather. We do not have Samuel McGoogan's part of the correspondence, but the life he and his brother Hugh passed in the coal mines could not have been easy ones. Like many Irish immigrants of an earlier era, they could have written to their kinsmen, 'This America is not what it used to be', or 'any person who can make a fair living at home are better Stay theire'.13 Still, they persevered. The correspondence summarized here remains a lasting testament to the determination and courage of those Irish men and women who left their native land to search for a better life.