The earliest known references to McCargars in North America are from the American War of Independence era, in the 1770s. We have found records of four McCargars from that period: Joesph and Thomas McCargar (brothers), Robert McCarger, and David McCarger. Joseph and Thomas served in the British 21st Regiment of Foot (Thomas also served in the Massachusetts Militia after his capture at Saratoga and subsequent escape), Robert served in the New York Volunteers (a British unit), and David served in the Pennsylvania Militia (an American unit).
Family history has long considered Joseph and Thomas to be brothers, but David and Robert’s relationships are still unknown. One family story has four McCargar brothers coming to America, but we have yet to find any records to support this (or to dispute it). However, given the rarity of the McCargar/McCarger name, it seems very likely that David and Robert had some family relationship to Joseph and Thomas (perhaps cousins if not brothers). Additionally, the names David and Robert appear frequently in known family lines, further supporting some sort of family ties.
Joseph and Thomas
The story of Joseph and Thomas’s arrival in North America with the British army is not as straight forward as we once believed. Family lore and Joseph’s 1831 land application indicate that the brothers arrived in Canada in 1776 as members of the 21st Regiment of Foot (the 21st arrived in Canada on May 31, 1776). However, there is an apparent discrepancy as neither Joseph or Thomas appear on the regimental muster roll taken on March 4, 1776 at Plymouth, England (covering the period from June 25 to December 24, 1775). Both do appear on the regimental muster roll taken in Canada on February 28, 1777 (covering the period from June 25 to December 24, 1776), noted as being present for the full muster. We do know that Joseph (and presumably Thomas) enlisted after the War Office’s Proclamation of December 16, 1775, as per his discharge letter. Additionally, Joseph’s army discharge (dated June 24, 1784) states that he “served faithfully and honestly for the space of 8 years.” This seems to favor an enlistment date of June 1776 (after the 21st’s arrival), but the “8 years” may be only an approximate, and therefore would not preclude an earlier enlistment date. We do have a British War Office document listing the numbers of officers, men, women, and children embarking from Plymouth on March 31, 1776 which also lists “One Drummer, one Private and four recruits not yet joined from recruiting”. If, as we suspect, Joseph and Thomas were two of those recruits, their enlistment date would probably have been April 1776, when they physically joined the regiment (which still fits the “8 years”).
Unfortunately, the British only kept enlistment records for pensioned soldiers, so we may never know exactly when or where Joseph and Thomas enlisted. What we do know is that by June 25, 1776, both Joseph and Thomas were in Canada and enlisted as privates in the 21st Regiment of Foot.
David and Robert
We know very little about David, other than he appears on a Bucks County, Pensylvania militia roll dated 1775 or 1777 (the document is unclear on the year), and is reported to have died at Valley Forge in 1777 (this remains unconfirmed).
We know a bit more about Robert. He appears on the New York Volunteers muster rolls from August 1777 to April 1783, settled in New Brunswick after his discharge, and died in the spring of 1787 (as per a land petition by Michael Hawkins in 1788).
We have found no birth or death records for either David or Robert (other than the references above), nor have we found any information on when they came to America or where the emigrated from.
Other Non-Linked McCargars
The US census records contain a large number of records with McCargar-like spellings. It is often very difficult to determine if these represent other family names (non-McCargars) or variations of the McCargar name due to enumerators’ misspellings, misinterpretations, or poor penmanship. We have been able to link 15 different spelling variations to known McCargars, but there are many other spellings that are close enough to be potential matches.
One McCargar of interest, for which the spelling is not in question, is Keziah (Kezia) McCargar, born between 1780 and 1790. She appears on the 1830 Baltimore, Maryland census with three daughters. She remains a complete mystery since we have no male McCargars of the appropriate age that could be her husband.
The vast majority of today’s McCargars are descended from Thomas. He had twelve or thirteen children (nine boys and three or four girls) and eighty-three grandchildren (this does not include his third wife’s children from her previous marriage). At last count, the McCargar roster contains over 6,000 names, of which over 3,545 are direct descendants of Thomas.
We know little about Joseph’s family. On an 1802 Ontario land application he stated that he had three children (names, birth dates and genders not specified), but none of these children appear on his 1800, 1804 or 1805 census records. We know that as of late 1785 he was still unmarried, so if he got married in 1786 and had three children there should have been three children under age 14 on his 1800 census. His South Gower census records show that he had a Joseph Melvin living with him from 1804 to 1812, which leads us to speculate that perhaps the declared three children were actually his wife’s (Catey) from a previous marriage. If this is the case, there would be no McCargar descendants from Joseph. However, there are some McCargars out there that do not fit into other known family lines and are of the appropriate age to be Joseph’s offspring. Unfortunately, we have been unable to find any definitive connections yet, and Joseph’s line and these unlinked lines seem to end after one or two generations, leaving us with very little information to use to identify any prospective children for Joseph.
There are numerous other McCargars found in North American records that we have not been able to link to known lines, some of whom claim Ireland and England as their place of birth. We can only hope to find additional records for these unknown McCargars that will allow us to link them to the main family line.