While we do not have an actual birth record for Thomas McCargar, all the documents we do have are consistent in stating his birth year as 1758. As for his birth place, family lore states that he was born either in County Antrim, Ireland or Aberdeen, Scotland. To date, we have found no references to McCargars in Scotland prior to the mid 1800s, while we have found seven documents from Ireland, dating from 1653 to 1774. One such document is a 1759 index of wills approved by the Diocese of Conner in County Antrim. The will was for a Thomas McCargar, but unfortunately the will itself was destroyed in a fire at the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland. It's unlikely that the will was for our Thomas (wills for one-year-olds is unusual even today), but it may have been for his father. With all the known records originating from Northern Ireland, we are confident that County Antrim was indeed the birth place of Thomas.
We know nothing of Thomas's life prior to his enlistment in the British Army in 1776. We do not know the names of his parents, nor do we know how many siblings he had. Even his relationship to Joseph, his older brother, has no actual documented proof, but is based only on family lore and circumstantial evidence. However, unless we find some document that disproves the relationship, we will continue to refer to Thomas and Joseph as brothers.
The American War of Independence
The oldest record we have of Thomas is a muster roll for the 21st Regiment of Foot taken on February 28, 1777 at St. Johns, Canada, in which he is identified as a private, present for the entire muster period (June 25, 1776 to December 24, 1776). Family lore says that Thomas (and brother Joseph) came to America with the 21st Regiment of Foot (Joseph corroborates this in two different land applications); however, neither Thomas or Joseph appear on the muster roll taken in Plymouth, England on March 4, 1776, a month before the 21st set sail to America (see The McCargar Connection for details on the mystery surrounding Thomas's enlistment).
As a soldier in the 21st Regiment of Foot, Thomas would have fought in Burgoyne's campaign south and would have been one of the soldiers to surrender at Saratoga in October 1777. Like many of his fellow captives, Thomas escaped during the long march to Boston, and he settled in the small town of Halifax, Vermont. Halifax is on the border between Vermont and Masachusetts, and would have been near the route taken by the prisoners on their way to Boston. The area was predominately settled by Scottish and Irish, so Thomas probably felt at home there.
In 1779, Thomas appeared on a list of freemen in Halifax. Since his name is surrounding by known mill workers (according to a local historian), we can assume that Thomas was working in a mill as well. In fact, his future father-in-law owned the local Grist and Sawmill. This document also establishes a rough time frame for him being in Halifax. The town’s freeman’s list was compiled at the first of the year and consisted of prominent people, land owners and those trustworthy enough to participate in, and vote on, town affairs. Thomas must have been a resident for a sufficient length of time (a year or so) to have gained the trust of the people; thus his arrival in Halifax would have coincided with the British prisoners' march to Boston.
In June of that same year (1779), Thomas enlisted in the 8th Massachusetts Militia from the nearby town of Colrain, Massachusetts. He served for 9 months at Fort Arnold (West Point), including the bitter winter of 1779/80, and was discharged on April 1, 1780. His discharge records described Thomas as being 5’9”, black hair and twenty-one years old. There is a brass plaque mounted inside the front entryway of the Griswold Memorial library in Colrain titled “In the memory of the citizens of Colrain that served their country”. The name Thomas McCarger (sp) appears under the section for the Revolutionary War.
One note of interest regarding Thomas’s militia enlistment is that among the collection known as the George Washington Papers (kept at the Library of Congress) there is a letter called “List of recruits not accepted, and the reason why”, signed by Friedrich Wilhelm, Barron von Steuben. This letter refers to recruits attempting to join the continental army. Thomas’s name appears on this list with the word “Prisoner” under the Remarks column and “600 Dollars” under the Bounty Received column. Either Thomas’s commanding officer (Colonel Michael Jackson) never received the rejection notice or he ignored it since recruits were in short supply.
After his discharge from the Militia, Thomas returned to Halifax, and on April 21, 1780, he was a signing witness to a property transfer of lot 47 in Halifax. Thomas’s father-in-law, Samuel Thomas, sold the property to Captain John Thomas (Samuel’s brother) for the sum of three hundred Spanish Milled dollars. This lot contained two mills (a gristmill and a sawmill), and Thomas likely worked at one of them.
After the War
We have no records for Thomas between 1780 to 1803, so have had to rely on family lore, speculation, and extrapolation to determine his whereabouts and actions.
In his 1934 McCargar news bulletin, Fred S. McCargar presented the following story dictated (circa 1900) to his mother Lydia by Jonas J. McCargar (Fred’s first cousin twice removed). Fred also noted that there are several versions to this story, but they are all substantially the same.
“About 1775 Lincoln’s great grandfather Thomas McCargar came to America as a British Soldier in company with his brother Joe. Quite likely they landed at Quebec. They both fought in the Revolutionary War, were taken prisoner and were separated. After the war Joe returned to Canada and settled in the woods.
Thomas married and lived in New York State. The first child was a boy whom they named Thomas. One day Tom told his wife that at a certain time he was going to move away and told her to be ready but her parents lived near and she didn’t want to leave them, she didn’t think he would go without her so she made no preparations. The time came and he went without her. He settled near Rochester married another girl and had two sons. One died young but the other, Joseph, grew to manhood.
After living there some years his first wife moved nearby but did not know it. One day while at the mill old Tom heard someone call a boy McCargar. He knew that there were no other McCargars in America but himself and brother Joe so he questioned the boy and found he was his son Thomas. He saw his first wife and then told his second wife all about it. She agreed to give him up saying the first wife had the prior right. He offered to support them both but she would not allow it, her people being wealthy.
After several years and after at least four more children were born, the family moved to the Province of Quebec about 25 miles from Prescott and within a half mile of his brother Joe although they did not know it for some time. Think the move from Rochester was Tom, his wife and five children, Thomas, Mollie, Robert, Garner, and Hugh with a Miss Thomas, a relative of General Thomas. Not sure but think the other children, Philander, Milo, Barnabus and Lottie were born here (Canada) while the first five were born in New York.
After his wife died he married a Mrs. Stoten (my grandmother on my mother’s side) and they had a daughter Sarah.”
We know Thomas’s first wife was Sarah Thomas (they got married about 1780 while Thomas was in Halifax), but there is no record of a marriage for the two in the Halifax town records. However, since Sarah’s family were devout Baptists and the nearest Baptist church was several miles away in Leyden, Massachusetts, the marriage may have taken place there instead of Halifax. Unfortunately, the Leyden Baptist church no longer exists, and according to the American Baptist Historical Society the church traditionally did not keep marriage records as part of church records, although some ministers did keep a private log of marriages preformed. It is very unlikely that there will ever be a marriage record found for Thomas and Sarah.
In 1781, Thomas and Sarah had their first child, Mary (Mollie), and in 1783 their second, Thomas William. This birth order differs from family lore, but we have evidence of both Mollie and Thomas Jr.’s ages from South Gower census records (Mollie is listed as the wife of Dennis Barton). Sometime after Mollie and Thomas Jr. were born, Thomas Sr. decided to leave the Halifax area. Sarah was unwilling or unable to accompany him, so Thomas headed off to the wilds of New York by himself.
Thomas settled in or near Dutchess County, New York (across the Hudson River from Fort Arnold where he served in the militia) and married (or took up with) a local girl, Rebecca Nowlin. While we have found no marriage record, we have found several references to the union between Thomas and Rebecca:
- The Nowlin-Stone Genealogy has Thomas McKargar (sp) as Rebecca's husband, and correctly names their two sons and their grandchildren.
- The grave markers for Rebecca and son Joseph are inscribed with “wife of Thomas” and “son of Thomas”, respectively.
- A Lancaster Nebraska history article refers to William McCargar (Rebecca's second son) as the son of Thomas McCargar.
We feel confident of Thomas's move to Dutchess County since Rebecca’s young age meant that she would have still been living with her parents - records show that Rebecca’s father, Michael Nowlin, moved to that area about 1750 and remained there into the 1800s. Rebecca bore Thomas a son, Joseph, in 1785 and then a daughter (name unknown) in 1789 or 1790. The existence of the girl is unproven, but family lore suggests that there was a daughter.
Sometime before November 1790, Thomas moved to northern New York, to the Skenesborough (Whitehall) or Granville area - an area Thomas may have know from his British Army days. We believe that it is here that Thomas reunited with Sarah and children, because Sarah's father, Samuel Thomas, appears on the 1790 census for Whitehall with three females in his household (probably Sarah and two sisters since Sarah's mother, Mary, died in 1780). The circumstances surrounding the Thomas/Sarah reunion and the Thomas/Rebecca separation probably fall into one of two situations:
- If we accept the story as told in Fred's newsletter, then sometime in the latter part of the 1780s Thomas and family moved to northern New York. Thomas encountered his son, rejoined with Sarah, and Rebecca (pregnant) and children returned to Dutchess County to live with her parents.
- The less romantic, but probably more realistic, version of the story would be as follows: for some unknown reason, Thomas left Rebecca (then pregnant with their third child) and sought out Sarah and children. He either returned to Halifax only to discover that Sarah had moved to Whitehall with her father, or he heard that Sarah had moved to Whitehall and went to find her. The latter would also provide a possible reason for Thomas leaving Rebecca.
In either case, we know that the reunion occurred sometime between April and November 1790, since both women gave birth to boys in 1791--Rebecca had William in early 1791 and Sarah had Robert on August 13, 1791. William was probably born in Dutchess County and Robert was probably born in the Whitehall aea.
There are two other seeming coincidences involving McCargars and the Granville/Dutchess County area:
- Thomas’s brother, Joseph, was living in the Granville area around the same time as Thomas--he appears in the 1800 Granville census.
- A Robert McCarger (no relationship proven) appears on the muter roll for the New York Volunteers. This was a British regiment, raised in America, whose soldiers were recruited from the Hudson valley, Dutchess County area.
Moving to Canada
Thomas and Sarah stayed in New York and had six more children (Robert in 1791, Garner in 1792, Hugh in 1795, Philander in 1796, Milo in 1798, and Barnabus in 1800), before moving to Canada in late 1800. Sarah had one more child (Charlotte in 1802) after their arrival in Canada. The Miss Thomas (a relative of General Thomas) that accompanied them on their move to Canada could have been either Sarah's sister or one of Captain John Thomas’s daughters (John Thomas was Sarah’s uncle). The “General” designation would have been the result of a phenomenon commonly known as “time embellishing military ranks”.
We do not known whether Thomas and Joseph reunited before or after they move to Canada, but the family lore indicates it was afterwards and the facts may agree. The town of Prescott (mentioned in the lore) has been claimed by three different Canadian provinces over time: by Quebec before 1791, by Upper Canada between 1791 and 1841, and by Ontario after 1841. Prescott is about 25 miles south of the Edwardsburg/South Gower (pronounced Gore) area where the brothers settled. The towns of Edwardsburg and South Gower are not far apart, so the Joseph/Thomas reunion tale is quite plausible. However, as mentioned above, we know Joseph was living in the Granville area as of the 1800 census.
In 1803, Joseph and Thomas, along with 30 others (including Thomas’s son-in-law Dennis Barton), applied for Crown land at South Gower. The application claims that all applicants were emigrants who had been in the province for upwards of four years. Of the 32 applicants, 29 received 200-acre parcels of land, with each applicant having to pay 5 pounds for the land and 1 pound 7 shillings 6 pence for survey costs. Thomas received lot 3 concession 5 and Joseph received lot 1 concession 5. This land purchase has provided us with an abundance of information on the early McCargars in Canada. We have copies of South Gower census records and property assessments from 1804 to 1850 (over 80 records in total), which provide us with details like names and ages of people in each household, amount of cultivated vs. non-cultivated land, and numbers of each kind of domesticated animal on the land.
In 1809, Thomas applied to lease lot 4 concession 5 (the lot next to the land he already owned), then in 1817 (probably after Thomas’s death), this lease was transferred to his son Hugh. In 1818, half of Thomas’s original land (lot 3) was transferred to sons Milo and Barnabus, with the other half being transferred to son Hugh.
In 1814, about a year after his wife Sarah died, Thomas remarried (for the third time) to the widowed Elizabeth Stoughten. Elizabeth already had a daughter (Mary, who later married Thomas’s 6th son Hugh) and possibly a son from a previous marriage. In 1815 Elizabeth gave birth to Thomas’s last child, a girl they named Sarah.
Thomas died on March 20, 1817. The date comes from a family source, but analysis of the South Gower census and land assessment records supports it. Thomas shows up on the 1813 census but not on the next one in 1817. His name appears on the Land assessment records for all years between 1804 and 1816, but not 1817. He also appears on the district’s special land assessment list for both 1816 and 1817. This means he died between the tabulation date of the 1817 special assessment and the enumeration date (May 10th) of the 1817 census, which supports the March 20 death date.
The Old Methodist graveyard in which Thomas was probably buried was neglected for years. In the 1950s, the town decided to clean it up, but the grave markers were in such disarray that they were unable to determine their proper locations. They decided to record as much information from the remaining stones as possible and to erect a monument. Today, in the center of the graveyard sits a wrought iron fence enclosing a tall grave marker with eight headstones (two are of McCargars) laying flat on the ground around it. One of the transcriptions taken in the 50s that is of interest to us is that of a partial stone with the only inscription being “homas McCarg”--this almost certainly once read “Thomas McCargar”. We are unsure if the stone was for Thomas Sr. or Thomas Jr., but due to its simplicity we suspect it was for the Thomas Sr.
Thomas was a very prolific father, and his descendants account for over half of the documented McCargars. He produced nine boys and three (possibly four) girls, who in turn produced a known total of eighty-three grandchildren. At last count there were over 6,000 names in the McCargar roster, of which 3,545 are directly descendanted from Thomas.
Thomas's children, in birth order:
- Mollie (by Sarah)
- 1781 at Halifax, Vermont
- Dennis Barton (1779-?) in 1796
- Lectey, Andrew, Daniel, Sarah, Thomas, Robert, unknown girl, two unknown boys, Milo
- Thomas Jr. (by Sarah)
- 1783 at Halifax, Vermon?
- 1855 at Kemptville, Ontario
- Phoebe Beach (1788-1881) in 1803 at South Gower, Ontario
- William H, Samuel, Sarah, Nancy, Hugh, Elizabeth, Mary, Henry, Benjamin, Thomas, Phoebe, Tyrus, David Henry, Milo
- Joseph (by Rebecca)
- Apr 8, 1785 in Dutchess County, New York
- Feb 11, 1867 at Shelby, New York
- Anna Robinson (1794-1858) in 1809
- Rozillah, Hannah, Phoebe J, Daniel David, John Robison, Henry Vaughn, Joseph Jackson
- unknown girl (by Rebecca)
- 1789 or 1790 in Dutchess County, New York
- William (by Rebecca)
- 1791 in Dutchess County, New York
- between 1840 and 1850
- Hannah Whaley (1794-?)
- James L, Mary Ann, John Warren, Harriet, Elizabeth, Amelia
- Robert (by Sarah)
- 1791 in New York
- Jun 15, 1858 at Walcott Twp, Minnesota
- Jane Hunter (1796-1879) on Feb, 17, 1816 at South Gower, Ontario
- Joseph, Catherine, Mariah, Philander, Samuel, Alpheus, Hannah, Erastus, Alfred Henry, Ransom
- Garner (by Sarah)
- 1828 at Oxford, Ontario
- Hugh (by Sarah)
- Feb 26, 1795 in New York
- Jun 26, 1870 at Mountain Twp, Ontario
- Mary Stoughton (1797-1876) in 1815 in Ontario
- Dinah, John, Rosin, Joseph, Cyrus, Elizabeth, Annis, Jonas Jones, Sidney, Eliza, Caroline, Mary H
- Philander (by Sarah)
- Feb 9, 1796 in New York
- May 20, 1860 in Minnesota
- Susannah Snyder (1799-1873) in 1813
- George, Charity, Albert, Solomon
- Milo (by Sarah)
- 1798 in New York
- Jan 14, 1860 in Ontario
- Dianna (1799-?) in 1820
- Rosanna, Alexander A, James, Edward, Gideon, Rosanna, Arthur
- Barnabus (by Sarah)
- Jun 21, 1800 in New York
- Oct 4, 1879 at Oxford Mills, Ontario
- Catherine Boyd (1803-1890) in 1820 at Cardinal, Ontario
- Thomas, Harriet Catherine, William, Sarah, Isaac, Barnabus, Urias, Joseph, Caroline, Dorcas, Adaline
- Charlotte (by Sarah)
- 1802 in Ontario
- Jun 5, 1825 at South Gower, Ontario
- Benjamin Beach (1798-1857) in 1821
- Harriet Charlotte
- Sarah (by Elizabeth)
- Feb 27, 1815 at South Gower, Ontario
- July 22, 1842 at South Gower, Ontario
- Henry Byce (1817-1887) in 1839 in Ontario