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The McGills
Descendants of Patrick, the Pioneer—McGill, John, Son of Patrick


McGill, John—Son of Patrick.

John McGill, the eldest son of the family of the Pioneer, was born at Duncan’s Island on the Susquehanna, in Northumberland county, Pa., Oct. 19, 1795, and in December of the same year was domiciled on the banks of French Creek on the McGill Patent "Good Intent," whereon his father established his abode and permanent dwelling place.

John grew to manhood in surroundings and under conditions already described; and June 12, 1822, married Isabella Ryan, daughter of John and Catherine Ryan of Woodcock township, Crawford county, Pennsylvania.

Isabella, aforesaid, was born Oct. 28, 1800.

They established their home on the North Hundred of the Good Intent Patent, where they passed the remainder of their days, and raised a family of two sons and six daughters; two daughters died in infancy.

Isabella McGill; died March 26th, 1876; aged 76 years.

John McGill; died Oct. 27th, 1878; aged 83 years.

Their life during the fifty-four years they lived together was entirely and happily harmonious, though each bore a strong personality independent of the other. There was no incompatibility; their purposes ran parallel and they moved steadily to accomplish the ends in view harmoniously and without friction of any kind. The result was a well regulated household.

John McGill was five feet eleven inches high - of compact, well knit frame - symmetrical mold - quick, easy motion, and active as a deer. In the athletic sports of his youthful days he had few, if any, competitors who could excel him. He could jump higher and leap farther than most of them and was a sprinter of wonderful agility, as well as a wrestler whose back seldom touched the ground. These sports were common with the young people of his day and came in as an interlude between rolling logs and clearing the land.

They - John and Isabella - had moved into their new house on the North Hundred. "The clearing" was in front, many broad acres covered with the debris of the forest extending almost to their door. The outlook was wild and jagged, but the workers were looking beyond to the waving fields of golden grain that in after years spread a gorgeous mantle over the scene.

The rain was coming down in a steady pour, and John was standing in the door leaning against the jamb looking out toward the dripping forest.

Isabella came into the room from the pantry and in her businesslike way remarked, "John, we are nearly out of meat!"

John answered not a word, but glanced up toward his rifle that hung on the wall, then went out to the south end of the porch - scanned the outlook to the southwest - returned - took down the rifle and thoroughly cleaned and carefully loaded it. He then resumed his place, leaning against the door jamb with his rifle by his side, looking out at the falling rain.

The deluge ceased and only drops were pattering down from the tops of standing trees. Away to the northeast a magnificent buck bounded into the opening and took its way across the clearing. It was a long shot from the porch to the course of the fleeing deer, but without changing position the rifle came to his shoulder - his keen, brown gray eye, like a flash of light, glanced along the sights - "Crack!" and Isabella had her answer; the problem of the empty meat barrel was solved, for the time being, at least.

Years passed. The clearing in front of the house had lost all of its repulsive features, and in place of brush and logs and stumps was now embossed with the emerald green of the growing crops. The forest was creeping backward on the slope of the next plateau. The sound of the woodman's ax was ringing along the verge of the dying woods.

Near the summit of the next rise, on John's hundred, was a wonderful spring - wonderful in this respect; that the other springs bubbled out at the foot of the hill, while this one boiled directly up on top of the hill! It had there formed for itself a little basin which retained the water to a certain point from whence the overflow rippled off down to join the waters of the lower draft. Looking into this basin of pure, cold water one could see the tiny jets boiling right up out of the earth, causing bubbles on the surface, and here and there building up little mounds of fine sand around the jet, as if forming the crater of a mimic volcano. The water was pure, soft, cold and healthful. Nature had shaded the spot with a growth of young maples, while farther away stood the larger growth of oak and chestnut. Such a phenomenon as this spring presented had not gone unobserved and the wood men had carried bark and spawls and made a little platform on which they could lie down and drink out of the cauldron.

It was about 10 o'clock in the morning and John, who was splitting rails a few rods farther down the hill, became thirsty and went up to the spring to get a drink. It was a delightfully cool place in that alcove formed by the young maples, and he stood there for a minute fanning himself with his straw hat, and then lay down on the platform and took a long, cooling draught from the spring. As he raised up on his feet he found himself confronted by a large, black bear, and so close, that had each extended a forearm they could have shaken hands. The situation at once became interesting and the possibilities of high tragedy were imminent. The man and the beast looked one another square in the eye; the hair went up erect on the back of Bruin and he exhibited a mighty fine set of teeth. With the exception of a snarl from the bear at the instant of surprise no words were spoken or sound uttered.

There were men in the woods at work, thirty or forty rods away, but to call for assistance would precipitate an onset. The young maples might afford means of escape, as John could spring into the top of one nearest him with the agility of a cat and could then call for help. He thought of this mode of escape and determined to adopt it if he had to, but never for an instant did he glance toward the maples or remove his fixed stare from the eye of the beast; like statues they stood and stared - it was a quiet battle of the nerve force of the man and of the beast.

Bruin had approached that spring with no hostile intentions; he simply wanted a drink of water; he was not on a man hunting expedition by any means and his surprise at the encounter was very great, but it was not in bear nature to decline a conflict when the enemy was so near at hand, and the attack would have been inevitable had the surprise been less complete, and that, with the gleam of the woodman's eye, caused him to hesitate, and he was lost. There was a fascination there that paralyzed his aggressive nature and held him sternly at bay. John saw that the bear quailed under his fixed stare and threw into it all the intensity he could command.

He had never heard of such a thing as hypnotism, and would not know the meaning of the word if he saw it, and would have been greatly amused at the theory had it been explained to him; yet, nevertheless, John hypnotized the bear.

And now began the tactics of retreat. Stealthily Bruin, without taking his eye from that of his antagonist, raised one foot and with scarcely perceptible motion, placed it a few inches to the rear - he was stealing away - then followed in the same manner another foot and minutes elapsed before the brute had moved half a yard away, at the same time maintaining a vigilant, hostile front. John was well aware of the danger of any precipitate action on his part at that crisis and stood as immovable as the Sphinx. He realized that a separation was about taking place and that such action was very desirable and he would throw no obstacles in the way, but at the same time he made up his mind to have some fun out of the predicament as a compensation for the strenuous time that had been imposed upon him.

Bruin was now going backward with accelerated speed and had half turned to flee when John sprang out toward him, giving out a yell that would discount all "Noth Calina" rebel yells that were ever heard. There was a whirlwind of dried forest leaves went over the knoll back of the spring. The bear was ahead of the cloud, and John was in it, sending forth such howls as were never before heard along those hills. The terrorized brute now took to a tree for safety, and around its base the woodman pranced in fantastic style, still keeping up the clamor of those awful yells, until the outcry brought, as he intended it should, men with dogs and guns to investigate the cause of the tumult. Bruin then and there paid the penalty for having looked in the eye of a man, and there was a replenishment of other empty meat barrels, but not of ours, for John and Isabella did not care for bear's meat.

Numerous incidents are related of the frequent and successful intervention of John McGill in quieting riotous proceedings, and preventing personal encounters in the whisky drinking times of his early manhood. He never drank intoxicating beverages; he would not tolerate them on his premises, and on this account apparently incurred the ill-will of many of his neighbors.

The lurid light from the fires of five distilleries could be seen from his door of an autumn evening, and the morals of the community were being debauched by drink. So uniform was the custom that ministers of the Gospel imbibed the red ruin and fine minds were being wrecked by the pernicious habit.

John, standing almost alone, declared a war upon it. He gave out the mandate "Touch not; taste not; handle not the unclean thing. I will not furnish it to my men, nor shall it be used on my place if I can prevent it." Men cursed him, but it mattered not, no change of program was possible.

The necessities and isolation of the new community made co-operation indispensable, and raisings, log rollings and sundry gatherings, where the strength of the community combined to do the heavy work were common, and at all these whisky flowed like water and men got drunk and fought and behaved badly.

With his entire force, John was always on hand rendering efficient service on these occasions, but standing aloof when the drunken orgies began. Maddened with drink, good men would quarrel and strip for the fight; great, strong, savage men whom no one could pacify. John would quietly step between them, and with a few words subdue their angry passions, the belligerents often shaking hands and parting in the best of humor. This was so common that his reputation as a peacemaker became widely known, and as long as that generation lived it was a part of the unwritten history of the times.

He as well as others had to call on his neighbors for help, even as they called on him. He was about to erect a large frame barn. The timbers were on the ground, ready to raise, and all the men along the wayside were invited, and came. It was the custom to pass the jug before putting up the first bent. Everything was ready, but the jug did not appear.

Then came a committee who informed him that the customs of the country must not be broken, and his barn could not be raised without whisky. He replied, that such being the case, the timbers must rot on the ground. "But, gentlemen," he said, "I have as fine a supper prepared for you over there in the shade of the trees as you ever sat down to; never mind the barn, but please come over and take supper with me before you go." They raised the barn.

His harvest was on hand, and it was rich and bounteous and great, and only he and a hired boy on the premises; but he had harvesters engaged, some of whom had received part pay in advance. He set the day on which to begin the work and rode out to notify his men when to come. Some of them lived two or three miles away.

The first man he came to carelessly remarked, "Of course, you will have whisky; everybody furnishes whisky in harvest?"

"No, sir. I will not," was the reply. "I will furnish my men everything that is good, but whisky is not good for men and I will have none of it; and you know, Jake, the good book says: `Cursed be he who putteth the bottle to his neighbors' lips,' and I don't want to be reckoned with that class."

"No whisky, no work," was the answer. He rode on, and with each one of his men substantially the same conversation took place. The situation was becoming interesting, whereat he was greatly amused. He saw that a combination had been effected to compel him to recede from the position he had taken on the temperance question, and he knew that these poor laboring men, so largely dependent on him in many ways, had not originated the objection; that it was the work of a hidden hand that dared not meet him openly, and he laughed audibly and rode blithely homeward. When he arrived he looked out over his broad fields of ripening grain with no harvesters in sight, and he laughed again and was happy.

He told Isabella all the happenings of the day. "The miserable curs," she indignantly exclaimed. "Time and again you have given them food when they were hungry and filled their meal sacks when they were empty, and for these acts have exacted nothing on the day of settlement. Where now, do they expect to get flitches of bacon, hunks of pickled pork and sacks of flour and meal when they have no money and there is no work to be had? They will find that such goods will not be handed out free at Mr. Saeger's new distillery.

"It is too bad. I will tell you, John, what we will do. Anna and Sarah must take care of Gus, and I will go out into the fields with you, and you and I will take care of that crop."

And then he smiled and gently said: "No, no, Isabella. Your plans are excellent, but wait. Those men have three days in which to think, and I left them thinking. They are not fools, and on Monday morning they will be on hand" - and they were. The harvest was gathered in, and never again was the question of whisky raised at gatherings on the North Hundred of the "Good Intent Patent."

Never, within my recollection, was there a time when homeless waifs, ranging from infancy to tottering age, were not sheltered beneath his roof, receiving all the kindness and care bestowed on members of his own family.

The humorous side of his nature was always in evidence, and he would crack a timely joke with a bishop as readily as with a farm hand, and he would extort genuine fun out of conditions and circumstances that would have been exasperating to other men.

Once in the night he came upon a man with a partly filled bag, stealing grain from his bin. John collared him, and compelled him to fill the sack full and shoulder it and carry it home, fiercely admonishing him as a scoundrel, that if he ever mentioned the theft to a living soul he would have him sent to jail.

He got great fun out of compelling a thief whom he caught stealing roasting ears, to fill a bag full, and come out into the highway and carry it home. He never prosecuted any one, but he enforced his own penalties on pilferers by threats of the law in case of non-compliance, and the punishments he inflicted were of such unique character that no offender ever repeated the offense.

He was for over fifty years an official member of the M. E. church, and through all this strenuous life Isabella stood by his side, fully his equal in intelligence; in moral and intellectual force and his superior in learning; the mother of his children, and their instructor and guide; the queen of the household unsurpassed in the great qualities of a godly motherhood that transmits blessings that never fade.

Many years before his death, all animosities on the part of those who opposed him when he first marked out his course in life, had disappeared. He never swerved a hair’s breadth from what he considered the line of duty. His honest, unassuming, straightforward, consistent bearing, at all times and under all circumstances won the hearts of men, and when the time of his departure came he was the most respected and best loved of all that strain of noble old men who came in with the settlement and cleared away the forest wilds.


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