Sunday, April 21, 2013

Revolutionary rumors and William McKinley

William McKinley (and others) in the 1850 census. Right click and open in a new window to enlarge.

I've written before about the vicarious glory that descends upon an Iowa county when it can be demonstrated that the bones of a Revolutionary War veteran rest beneath its soil --- and about the fact we very nearly had William Crockett, but then he got away.

The revolutionary rumor that arises most frequently here, since we can't claim Crockett, involves the patriarch of all Lucas County McKinleys --- William --- buried (presumably) in an unmarked grave in the old Greenville Cemetery in Washington Township.

His son, Samuel and family, who arrived in what became Washington Township's Greenville neighborhood during October of 1848, generally are considered to be the township's second group of settlers (arriving a few months after Xury E. West and his family). The next year, William rolled in from Indiana with the remainder of his sons --- William Jr., James, Samuel, John and Abner.

John, described rather harshly in the 1850 census of Washington Township as "idiot," was the only son not to produce a family, which explains why there always have been so many McKinleys and McKinley descendants roaming loose in these hills.

But William McKinley was not a veteran of the Revolution. If you look at the 1850 census, you'll see that his age was given as 85 when the census was taken on Dec. 13 of that year. The usual dates given online for William, without attribution, are birth on June 5, 1767; death on October 5, 1850. Since William was very much alive on Oct. 5, 1850, the latter date has been invented. That throws the birth date into question, too.

Always remember that if you are an aspiring genealogist and plug an online family tree into your own without at least some thought and minimal research you are a certifiable idiot. There are many of those out there.

In any case, if William's commonly cited birth date is accurate he would have been 9 years old during the year independence was declared. If he were born during 1765, as notoriously inaccurate census records suggest, he would have been only 11. In either case, he is just too young to have been a veteran of the Revolution.

The source of the revolutionary rumors about William McKinley can be traced to our old friend Henry W. Gittinger, a native of the Greenville neighborhood and a grandson of Xury West. Henry began his career as a newspaper editor in Russell, then moved to Chariton where he took over The Leader, editing and publishing it until roughly 1930.

Henry did us all a favor by writting and publishing a good deal of Lucas County history. On the other hand, he occasionally made stuff up. What he writes here about William McKinley's war service, probably based upon neighborhood stories, is inaccurate, perhaps based upon someone else's story.

Henry wrote the article during 1891 when he probably was editing or at least working for a Russell newspaper (no issues of Russell newspapers from this early survive). It was published in The Des Moines Register, then picked up and republished in The Chariton Patriot of Oct. 28, 1891. The Patriot editor appended this note to the end: "We copy the above very interesting item, of local history from the Register of Sunday, having been written by a son of one of the honored citizens of Lucas county, who served his country faithfully." That honored citizen was Henry's father, Peter Gittinger. Here's the article (I've broken it down into paragraphs; the original was a single paragraph):


Russell, Oct. 23 --- Editor Register: A few miles southeast of this city is an obscure and rather neglected burying ground where the ivy angles up the yellowed and leaning marble shafts, with their moss covered bases, that mark the last resting places of many of Lucas County's early pioneers. Here and there may be seen rugged mounds, covered with tufts of tall grass --- the only indications that underneath this covering lies someone awaiting the judgment day --- forgotten by friends who have drifted away, or perhaps, the last of his race. This spot is sacred.

Six soldiers are buried here, the heroes of the four great American wars, who are awaiting the bugle for the eternal review. One of 1776; three of 1812; one of 1846-48 and one of 1861-65.

William McKinley was a Revolutionary soldier, enlisting at the age of 16, was captured by the British and taken to Quebec where he was afterwards exchanged. He died and was buried here nearly fifty years ago and is the early father of the multitudious McKinley family and is believed to be the only Revolutionary soldier buried in this section.

Of the war of 1812 there are three --- John May, Joseph McReynolds and Aaron Kendall. The latter lived to be almost a centenarian and to see two generations of his grandchildren and was mustered out little over a decade ago.

Peter Gittinger was admitted into the United States navy in 1838, and shpped in the Macedonia under Commodore Perry, from Annapolis, Md., for the coast of Africa, in the suppression of the slave trade, and was transferred to the land forces during the period of the Mexican war, and afterwards stationed in California.

The only soldier of the rebellion buried here is Ed Hickox, a gallant soldier in the field who was cut down in peace by as invidious a foe as southern slave-holders --- consumption.

So few in numbers, where is there a cemetery that better represents the war periods that this, and when the 30th of May rolls round again, we will not forget this roll of honor, nor neglect to strew the flowers of spring upon their graves and moisten them with a tear, for ...

"On fame's eternal camping ground
Their silent tents are spread.
And glory keeps the solemn round
The bivouac of the dead."

H.W. Gittinger

Postscript: As my friend Bill points out, "It does seem unlikely that William McKinley was in the Revolutionary War, but it doesn't appear impossible. Yorktown in late 1782 is usually quoted as the last major battle, but skirmishes were reported until spring 1783. If he was born in 1765, he could have been in one of those events at age 17."

So I'll stop jumping up and down and yelling, "no, no, no!" What's needed is a McKinley to look into all of this. Now that Paul's retired ...

1 comment:

Trish said...

Frank, when our son was expecting the next generation of McKinley's, I did some research on family names and what I found is that William's Father William born in 1740 is the one who was a private in the Revolutionary War. There is a lot of confusion concerning these two Williams in the genealogy world. So what did our son name his new baby...William! There should be enough time since the first William to avoid more confusion. Trish McKinley