Sunday, June 16, 2013

David McDonald - Farmer & River Pilot

On this Father’s Day I thought it would be fitting to write about the oldest known McDonald relative that we have concrete proof of – David McDonald. David McDonald is my 4th great grandfather.

David McDonald was born about 1803 in Dublin, Ireland. His location of birth was listed in The History of Clarion County Pennsylvania written in 1887 by A. J. Davis.  David married Bridget Lynam in Ireland. Their first son James was born 1829 in Ireland. Sometime between 1929 and 1831 David relocated to the United States with his family – he would have been about 27 when he departed Ireland.  From new information recently located – it looks that David made the journey with his father Richard McDonald, his sister Ellen McDonald and her husband Edward Lynam.  Edward Lynam and David’s wife Bridget were brother and sister. It is with special thanks to Benjamin Norris that these details are now known.
Upon first arriving to the United States possibly at the Port of Boston, this information is currently unverified; the McDonald and Lynam families first went to Scranton Pennsylvania area. Many Irish immigrants were living in this area working in the Cole Mines.  They then made the decision to go West into what would have been the frontier and very rural unsettled Pennsylvania at that time. In the early 1830’s the family relocated to what would become Farmington Township, Clarion County, Pennsylvania and became one of the founding families.
From The History of Clarion County: Chapter LIII History of Farmington Township, Page 515:
"In 1831 the solitude of the wilderness in the northeastern portion of the township was broken by James Black, who came from Sugar Creek, Armstrong county, and settled on the homestead near North Pine Grove. The country abounded in game of all sorts, deer, bears, wolves[,] panthers, wild cats, wild turkeys, and pigeons, besides the smaller species. The streams were alive with trout. Within a year or two came his brothers, John and Patrick Black; Thomas Meagher, Charles and Dennis Boyle, David McDonald, Thomas Walley, Robert and Archibald Haggerty, David Griffin, Henry McNairney; soon after these, William Wilkinson and Arthur McCloskey; the latter, with his family, came from Philadelphia in 1835. These settlers were all Catholics, the majority of them from Butler and lower Armstrong counties"
Another reference to David McDonald also appears in The History of Clarion County: Brief Personals, McDonald, Michael Page xxxv:

“McDonald, Michael, Vowinckle p.o., Farmington, the sixth child born to David and Bridget McDonald; was born in Farmington on May 10, 1839. The parents were both natives of Dublin, Ireland, from whence they emigrated to this country in the pioneer days.”
David and Bridget went onto have ten children, eight of which survived and started the very large McDonald family that today has eight generations of descendants.  
  1. James McDonald was born 1829 Ireland, the birth city is possibly Dublin. James would travel with his parents by boat to the United States and travel across the wilderness at a young age. James would fight in the civil war. He married Bridget and went on to have four children.
  2. Mary Ann McDonald was born 1834 in Farmington, Clarion County, Pennsylvania. She married a James Kelly and had five children. Two of the children were only recently identified as a result of locating David McDonald’s will.
  3. John McDonald was born 1836 in Farmington, Clarion County, Pennsylvania. John would also fight and die in the civil war. It is currently unknown if John was married, but the Will of David McDonald indicated he has one son – William McDonald.
  4. Michael McDonald was born May 10, 1839 in Farmington, Clarion County, Pennsylvania. Michael would be known as a successful businessman in the lumber industry. Michael married Anna Haggerty, the daughter of Robert Haggerty who was also recorded in The History of Clarion County Farmington as a founding family. Together they had fifteen children.
  5. Andrew McDonald was born 1840 in Farmington, Clarion County, Pennsylvania. He like his older brothers would serve in the Civil War. Andrew married Anna and had three children.
  6. Bridget McDonald was born 1842 in Farmington, Clarion County, Pennsylvania. She would marry also marry into the founding Haggerty family. Her husband Thomas C. Haggerty was the brother of Anna – her brother Michael’s wife. Bridget and Thomas C. Haggerty would have seven children together.
  7. David J. McDonald was born 1844 in Farmington, Clarion County, Pennsylvania. He also married into another founding family mentioned in The History of Clarion County  – marrying Hannah E. McCloskey. Together they would have seven children.
  8. Peter McDonald was born March 1, 1847 in Farmington, Clarion County, Pennsylvania. His first wife was Mary Ann McAvoy. Together they had eight children. After her death he married Elma C. Nye and together they had three children. Peter was also a well-known citizen as he was also featured in The History of Clarion County Pennsylvania along with his brother Michael.

We know from historical references and family stories that David McDonald was farmer and river pilot -as logging was big business in those early years as growing cities like Pittsburgh required timber. David was recorded in the 1840, 1850, 1860 and 1870 United Stated Federal Census – listed as farmer by profession. His son Peter McDonald recalls learning how to pilot river boats from his father:

True Tales of the Clarion River, Volume 1
An Old Timer's Early Thrills on the River, by Peter McDonald of Vowinckel, Pa., Page 42-44

"As this is my eighty-sixth birthday and I have a holiday, I will try and write my first experience as a raftman on the Clarion and Allegheny rivers.

My experience as a raftman up to the time of this story, which was in December of 1862, was of the traditional style handed down by my father, David McDonald, who had helped Davis Munn run several rafts down the Clarion to Lower Hillville. There he sold them to Jacob Hill, who had a boat scaffold and furnished 100 foot boats for the Pittsburgh coal companies. 

These boats were dropped into the water without the aid of lines. My father and Mr. Munn used grapevines for cable to anchor the rafts. David Munn ran his first raft around 1840. He had purchased 150 acres on Troutman Run near the Clarion. He and his wife lived and died on this piece of ground, and their tombstones are standing to this day. They should have a monument. As I pass their lonesome resting place it brings back memories of the earlier days of the lumbering and rafting business and along with these memories of the many hardships the early pioneers had to endure.”

An additional reference to David on the river:

True Tales of the Clarion River, Volume 1
Adventures in Boating and Rafting on the Clarion and Allegheny Rivers, by Victor M. Baker, Masonic Homes, Elizabethtown, Pa., Page 136-137

"We have some old timers here who used to raft on the Clarion and Allegheny rivers. There are George Hazlett who used to work for Croasman Brothers, Horace Greely Sigworth, A. B. Sarver and Harry Horton. We also have here David McDonald and Mr. Hutton who used to run 90 foot platform rafts on the Susquehanna River. I don't believe that any of the 90 foot platform rafts ever came out of the Clarion."

David McDonald lived to be 77 years old. This is remarkable considering the time he lived in and his dangerous profession as a River Pilot. The Last Will and Testament of David McDonald was located. The will was dated August of 1871. Given the heavy cursive script and the quality of the scan – portions of the will were difficult to transcribe. In two locations David makes mention to Bridget as “my beloved wife Bridget” – this must have been a true testament to their sharing a life time of challenges and risks together. First coming from Ireland, traveled through the Pennsylvania wilderness, started a farm from a land covered in Virgin Pennsylvania timber, having eight children in a rural setting, watching their sons go off to War in addition to the day to say dangers of farming, logging and river piloting.
He died before June 25, 1880 as he was not recorded in the 1880 United States Federal Census. His burial location is unknown.

  1. Individual – Virginia McDonald Geary
  2. Individual – Benjamin P. Norris
  3. Davis, A. J. (1887). History of Clarion County Pennsylvania. Syracuse, NY: D. Mason & Co. Available here to download:
  4. Sheffer, George P. (1933) True Tales of the Clarion River, Volume 1. Clarion, PA: The Clarion Republican Newspaper Co. Available for purchase here:
  5. Last Will & Testament of David McDonald