Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The McCaskeys in the 1870s

The 1870 Census for Pennsylvania is as important for what it does not say as for what it does say.  Here’s why. Looking up the McCaskey name in Beaver County reveals nothing.  What happened to that large family?  Where are they?

The first part of the answer lies with the Civil War.  The oldest McCaskey son, James, shown as a 21-year-old farmhand enlisted in the 100th Pennsylvania Regiment in August, 1862, and went off to fight in the Civil War. He was killed in the Battle of Secessionville, on James Island, SC, on June 16, 1862. 

The McCaskey family remained in North Sewickley throughout the war, but when the other members of the 100th Pennsylvania (Roundheads) came home, John McCaskey found the reminders of his son too much to bear. He decided to uproot the family and move to Kansas.  I haven’t been able to find many details of their adventures.  Most of what I know comes from my mother’s stories, which she had heard from her father, who was still a young teenager when the family became pioneers again. So I don’t know when they left Pennsylvania, or what route they took toward Kansas. All I know for sure is that by June 1870, when the census taker came around, the McCaskey farm was empty.

Next door, however, the adjoining farm was now occupied by Simon P. Fisher, the local blacksmith, and his wife, Sarah Jane McCaskey Fisher. When were they married? Well, their oldest daughter Louisa was 16 in 1870, so she was born in 1854. It seems safe to date their marriage to some time around 1853. The Fishers had a large family. By 1870, Louisa had been joined by John C., 13; Eunice E., 10; Wilhelmina, 8; Joseph Grant, 6; Emma J., 3; and a second Louisa, age 1. Also rounding out the household was Eunice McCaskey, Sarah Jane’s sister, age 26.  I know that Eunice never married. Her tombstone in the North Sewickley cemetery puts her death on January 13, 1895. But I don't know why she stayed in Pennsylvania when the rest of the family took off for Kansas. 

And what about those pioneers on their way to Kansas? My mother described the trip in a typical Conestoga wagon, with a crate of chickens for eggs, a cow tied to the back of the wagon, and two old horses pulling the wagon loaded with two adults and three teen-aged sons, John, Theodore, and Joseph. Somewhere along the way, Great-Grandfather John contracted consumption, and his wife and sons persuaded him to turn around and go home. Again, I don't know when they returned, but GGF John died at home in 1875.  It was at that point that Jane McCaskey commissioned three matching tombstones -- one for John, one for herself, and one to mark the empty grave of son James, who had died in the war. In an old notebook I have an unreadable xerox copy of John's will and the appointment of John Jr. and Simon P. Fisher as co-executors of his estate.

That's about all I know of the early McCaskeys.  Of the children of John and Jane, the only one I have found no further trace of is Theodore -- still waiting for a long-lost cousin to turn up.  Or perhaps he never married.  John Jr.'s family just recently contacted me.  He apparently married a woman named Anne Emory, and fathered a son, Joseph Lyle.  Joseph Lyle's grand-daughter is currently working on that family line.  And of course, little Joseph, the baby of the McCaskey family, was my own grandfather and the father of those eight girls with whom we started this family chronicle.

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