Steven Butler's Family History Website



The Magill Family
(also spelled McGill or Megill)

Magill Family
William Magill, Sr. | William Magill, Jr. | Samuel Magill

By Steven R. Butler

I am a Magill descendant by virtue of the marriage of my grandfather William Ollie Jenkins to Ida Lee Seay, who was the daughter of Margaret Inez (Ward) Seay, who was the daughter of Mary Ann (Lowry) Ward, who was the daughter of Elizabeth B. (Murdock) Lowry, who was the daughter of Eliza or Elizabeth (Magill) Murdock, who was the daughter of Samuel Magill.

The Magills were Scotch-Irish from Northern Ireland (also known as Ulster), the "offspring of lowland Presbyterians who had moved out of their ancient homeland after 1607," historian Parke Rouse, Jr. has written, "in response to English inducement to colonize Ireland and grab cheap farmlands." For more than a century the Scottish continued to come, "building up profitable linen and woolen manufactures" in Ulster. But in 1698, at the urging of English wool producers, the British Parliament passed a law forbidding "Scotch-Irish wool growers…to sell their product to any buyers except the English."

"Persecuted both in politics and business," says Rouse, the Scotch-Irish also found themselves the targets of religious intolerance by "Ireland's Anglican conformists," who, "in countless ways,…made life difficult for the followers of John Knox."

As a consequence of the harsh treatment they received, Rouse continues, "the younger sons and daughters of transplanted Ulster Scots began to move in small numbers to America," beginning about 1718. Within a decade, what began as a trickle had become a steady stream. "When famine struck Ulster in 1740," it became a torrent. "Thus," lamented one contemporary observer, "was Ulster drained of the young, the enterprising, and the most energetic and desirable classes of its population."

Departing from the ports of Belfast or Derry, these "hardy middle-class farmers and craftsmen" made the eight-week-long voyage across the oftentimes storm-tossed North Atlantic, seeking shelter in the darkness and foul smell of some tiny vessel's hold. In wooden sea chests, each family brought only those items that they deemed essential, their "few clothes, tools, kitchen implements, and books." During the day, Rouse has written, if the weather was fair, "they were permitted abovedeck, crowding the rails to watch the gray seas while the square-rigger beat her way at eight or ten knots across the 3,000 miles of sea which separated Ireland from the American coast."

Altogether, about 200,000 Scotch-Irish immigrated to America prior to the American Revolution. Because Pennsylvania had a reputation for religious tolerance, most of them arrived at the port of Philadelphia, at that time one of the largest cities in the American colonies. A few others landed in Delaware, where Presbyterian congregations had also begun to thrive.

WILLIAM MAGILL (SR.) (ABT. 1670-1749)

Among the thousands of people who left their homes in Ulster to come to America during early 1700s was our ancestor, William Magill, who is said to have been born in Scotland about 1670. According to one researcher, William and his two brothers, John and Charles, along with their father, Robert, were comparative latecomers to Northern Ireland. In 1715, they emigrated to the village of Tullycairn. At the time, William was about forty-five years old and was married. He and his wife, whose name is unknown, had six children, as follows: James; William, Jr., who is said to have been born in Northern Ireland shortly after his parents emigrated from Scotland; John; Elizabeth; Sarah; and Esther.

William Magill, Sr., along with his brothers John and Charles, immigrated to America about 1726. Like most Scotch-Irish newcomers, they settled first in Pennsylvania. Later, William and John and their families removed to Virginia.

At some point in time, William Magill's first wife died (perhaps on the sea voyage to America, not an uncommon occurrence unfortunately) and he re-married. His second wife's name was Margaret Gass, a widow with one son, David. Margaret's maiden name is unknown.

Large numbers of Scotch-Irish settlers left Pennsylvania during the 1730s, migrating south along the Philadelphia Wagon Road, originally an Indian trail that snaked its way through the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Many of these emigrants settled in Augusta County, located in Virginia's famed Shenandoah Valley. It was here that the family of William Magill carved a home out of what was then a wilderness on the far western edge of the British colonial frontier in America. Although it was first formed in 1738, Augusta County was not formally organized until 1745. Thus the first mention of William Magill in Augusta County court records, the eighth item in Order Book No. 1, indicates that he was one of the region's earliest settlers. Dated February 11, 1745, it records that he and a neighbor, Thomas Stinson, were directed by the court to "view" a road "from North River to John Anderson's." This meant that although the county assumed the expense of maintaining the road, the actual responsibility for keeping it in good repair belonged to Magill and Stinson. The second time William Magill's name appears in Augusta County court records is November 20, 1746, when he was appointed constable.

Mention of William Magill as a neighbor of Andrew Erewin (or Erwin) in a deed recorded 5 March 1747/48 reveals that the Magill's frontier homestead was located on a branch of the "North Riv[er] of Shanando [i.e., Shenandoah] called Long Blade Cr[eek].

In October or November 1749, William Magill died at the age of about seventy-nine. For some unknown reason, his widow Margaret "renounced all benefit or advantage under her husband's will," which was proven in the county court on 29 November 1749. Perhaps this seemingly unusual course of action was connected with the fact of her being William's second wife. Nevertheless, when accounts against Magill's estate were finally paid on 15 November 1758, Margaret Magill was one of nine individuals who each received 9 pounds, 1 shilling, and sixpence from Hugh Campell and Robert Cravens, the will's executors.

WILLIAM MAGILL (JR.) (ABT. 1715-17??)

William Magill, Jr., was born about 1715 in either Scotland or Northern Ireland. As a child, he came with his father, two brothers, and one sister to America. It appears that his mother died young, possibly on the voyage across the Atlantic but perhaps earlier or later. Following his wife's death, William Magill, Sr. married a widow named Margaret Gass, who had a son of her own, David.

In America, the Magill family lived first in Pennsylvania. Sometime prior to the 1740s, they migrated south, obviously along the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road, which led them to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, where they settled in newly-formed Augusta County.

The children and grandchildren of William Magill, Sr. are mentioned with some frequency in the county court records of Augusta County, particularly James, who by the time of his father's death was married and also had a son named William. The name of the boy's mother is not known. William Magill Jr. was married about five years after his father's death to Jean Fowler, daughter of a neighbor, Robert Fowler. Together, William Jr. and Jean had eight children: Robert, John, James, Samuel, Elizabeth, Charles, Hugh, and William.

The first mention of William Magill, Jr. in Augusta County court records is dated 1751, when he and several neighbors petitioned the court to have a road built "from John Davis' mill to Wood's Gap, or to the road now clearing over th e mountain near said gap." Hugh Campbell and Robert Fowler were also signers. On May 28 of that same year, both William and John Magill, along with Campbell, Fowler and several other neighbors, were ordered by the court to keep the road in good repair once it was built.

In 1756 James Magill was one of seventeen men who brought charges in county court against a particularly undesirable neighbor. Their petition read:

To the Worshipful Court of Augusta County. The petition of sundry inhabitants of this County by this North Mountain, in Captain Harrison's and Captain Love's Companies, humbly sheweth: That your petitioners are daily troubled by John O'Neal, a person of evil fame, who being [an] ill natured, evil, designing, citigious, wicked man, he often takes occasion to come to the houses of some of your petitioners and then designedly raises and foments disputes with them in which make use of the most opprobrious and abuseful words he can invent, and as he is bound to the peace, dares any one to strike him, there, should any of us strike or beat him we know not what the consequences as we are unacquainted with the law and his usual manner threatens to shoot us if he sees any of us out of our own plantations, that he will do us all the damage he can by killing our horses, cattle, &c., and when reproved of his misbehavior he tells us that if he does any action, be it ever so bad, that he will be cleared by this Court for two pieces of eight. His behavior is such that your petitioners are afraid to leave their families to go about their lawful affairs, not knowing but he may fulfill his threats before our return by killing our wives and children, burning our houses, or doing some other irreparable damage, and, as doubtless your Worships is [sic] well acquainted with the behavior of this malicious man, we hope you will take our case into consideration and fall upon some method to hinder him from being guilty of such outrages and irregularities for the future. That we, being subjects to his Majesty and the laws of the Dominion, may be no longer abused by such a person in the above manner, and your petitioners, as in duty bound, shall ever pray.

That O'Neal was every bit as threatening as he was portrayed appears to be confirmed by the fact that two of the petitioners afterward denied signing, one tried to erase his name from the document and a fourth, Gawin Black, told the court he had nothing to say against John O'Neal, claiming that he "was overpersuaded by some of the petitioners." In the end, the word of the other fourteen men seems to have been enough the court that something needed to be done. O'Neal was found guilty of the charges against him but his punishment, if any, went unrecorded.

In 1756 a struggle erupted between the British and the French for dominion over North America. Lasting for seven long years, it has gone down in history as the "French and Indian War." Not surprisingly, the Scotch-Irish settlers of western Virginia, who had suffered for years at the hands of Indian tribes allied to the French, were eager volunteers in the colonial militia. The Magills were no exception.

Military records from this period reveal that James Magill served as both a lieutenant and a captain of the colonial militia while his son William and brother William (known at this time by their peers as William Jr. and William Sr., although one was the nephew and not the son of the other) both served in Capt. Alexander Sayers' (or Syer's) company during the summer of 1758, along with James Fowler, William Magill Sr.'s brother-in-law.

One of the incidents of the French and Indian War that seems to have concerned our intrepid forebears was an attack on one of the many frontier forts that settlers built to protect themselves against the Indians. In his History of the Valley of Virginia, early-day historian Samuel Kercheval, described what happened:

Seybert's Fort was erected on the South Fork of the South Branch of the Potomac, on the land now owned by Mr. Ferdinand Lair, twelve miles northeast of Franklin, the present county seat of Pendleton. In the year 1758, a party of Indians surprised the fort, in which were thirty persons. They bound ten, whom they conveyed without the fort, and then proceeded to massacre the others in the following manner: They seated them in a row upon a log, with an Indian standing behind each; and at a given signal, each Indian sunk his tomahawk into the head of his victim; an additional blow or two dispatched them...

Another tradition says that Seybert's Fort was not surprised. It had been invested for two or three days, and after two Indians had been killed, the garrison agreed to surrender on condition that their lives should be spared, which was solemnly pledged. The gate was then opened, and the Indians rushed in with demoniac yells. The whites then fled with precipitation, but were retaken, with the exception of one man. The massacre then took place, as before related, and ten were taken off as prisoners.

Another tradition says, that, on the fort's being given up the Indians seated twenty of the garrison in two rows, all of whom they killed except the wife of Jacob Peterson. When they reached her, an Indian interposed to save her life, and some altercation ensued. The friendly Indian at length prevailed, and throwing her a pair of moccasins, told her to march off with the prisoners. How long she remained in captivity is not remembered.

Earlier that same year young Fowler was involved in an alleged mutiny, while serving under Capt. Abraham Smith. Following the occurrence, a court martial was held at the Augusta County courthouse on May 19, 1758. No less than ten officers presided, including two colonels and a major (the remainder were captains). The record of the court reads as follows:

The inquiry, held on the complaint of Edward McGary, involved the conduct and behavior of Capt. Abraham Smith who was out with a party of his company on the South Branch after Sybert's Fort was burned by the enemy. Thomas Baskins and Thomas Patterson swore they heard Edward McGary say that Capt. Smith was a coward. McGary proposed three men as evidence, but they were not admitted as they were in a mutiny in which McGary was said to be the promoter. Capt. Love, Lt. Archer, John Young, Mathew Patton, and William Magill swore that Capt. Smith behaved in a prudent manner to be a good officer without showing signs of fear. Capt. Smith was acquitted.

At a court of inquiry of the behavior of Edward McGary, William Cravens, James McClure, and James Fowler, soldiers in Capt. Smith's company, on the complaint of Capt. Smith and Capt. Love with the following present: Col. Buchanan, Col. Stewart, Maj. Smith, Capt. James Lockhart, Capt. Israel Christian, Capt. Alexander Syers, Capt. R. Bratton, Capt. Thomas Armstrong, and Capt. Robert Brooks, with William Preston, clerk. Henry Smith and John Smith swore that they were on duty when the above four left the company contrary to orders and went where Sybert's Fort stood. When they returned, they would not join the company although ordered to do so by their officers. McGary swore that he would not be under the command of any officer. McGary fined 40 shs [shillings] for the offense and 5 shs for one oath. Cravens, McClure, and Fowler were fined 10 shs each.

Sybert's Fort or Fort Sybert, mentioned above, was of a chain of forts that the British army had built along the western frontier, for defense against the Indians.

Augusta County court records show that James Magill was made a lieutenant of militia in 1762 and again in 1765.

During the American Revolution, several members of the Magill family served the patriot cause. One was Samuel Magill, son of "our" William Jr. (in other words, the son of William, Sr., not James' son), who in 1778, participated in an "expedition against the Cherokees" under the command of Capt. John Gilmore. Another was James Magill (probably also William Sr.'s son), who served in Captain Henderson's Company of Augusta County militia, John Magill, who served in Captain Trimble's Company, and a William Magill, who served in Captain Stephenson's company (and who was either the elder James Magill's son or William Sr.'s youngest son).



This website copyright © 1996-2011 by Steven R. Butler, Ph.D. All rights reserved.