McGills The Hunt for an
AncestorBy Way of History and Heraldry
When Andrew R. McGill was
Governor of Minnesota he applied to me by letter, and personally, for
information about our ancestors. Not having given the matter any special
attention I was surprised to find how little I knew about it, and what
little I did know was not in satisfactory form, consisting mostly in
unauthenticated traditions and oft-told tales, often not susceptible of
proof and not entitled to credence.
This condition of affairs prompted us to unite our
efforts and energies in procuring, as far as possible, authentic data from
which to compile a true history of our forbears. Each pursued his own
course in the collection of facts and all were placed in my hands for
compilation. I thus became the custodian of a large collection of scrappy
information that forms the basis of the following pages. Governor McGill
secured the services of Richard Oulahan, a learned Irishman in the
Treasury Department at Washington, to examine works in the Congressional
Library, not generally accessible, and to his work we are indebted for
many quaint and interesting items.
The following from the "Irish American" of Oct., 17,
1877, cannot but prove interesting to the student of history be he whom he
(The "Irish American," N. Y., Oct. 17th, i877.)
From Thomas Rogers Magill, of Charlotte, N. C.-"Laffen"
lately received a very interesting note of inquiry which was to this
As I desire to learn something of my genealogy I will
explain to you what I know of my name, originally Macgill - now McGill or
Magill. As far back as I can trace my father's side, I have found an
Arthur Magill, who was father to James Boyd Magill, who was father to
Thomas Rogers Magill. On my mother's side it appears that James Boyd was
father to Robert Boyd, who was father to Sarah Boyd, who was mother of
James Boyd Magill, who was by his wife, Esther Rogers Magill father of
Thomas Rogers Magill.
My father was born in Broughshane, Parish of Racavan,
barony of Lower Antrim, County Antrim, Ireland, 1799. He had
two brothers, the Rev. Dr. Robert Magill, pastor of Willover church
(Presbyterian), and Neill Magill. Robert Magill intermarried with the
Skiltons. I have in my possession several poems written by him during the
prevalence of the cholera in Ireland in 1832. He lived in the town of
Antrim and possessed a fine lot on Bowline street, on a portion of the old
lands of the Magills who once owned large possessions on Lough Neagh.
Shanes Castle was their burial place. Arthur Magill's bones yet rest
there, although his monument was removed subsequent to the burning of the
Castle (in 1816) by Rev. Robert Magill and his brother Neill, and placed
in a Presbyterian graveyard over the remains of the Boyd family, taking
the lettering off and substituting Boyd. Old Arthur, or Neill Magill,
married Grace Bartley and lived either in or near the town of Antrim. He
held in proprietary control the bogs of
Lough Neagh, whose property was probably the McGoverns.
I have been told that they and the McGills were nearer related than the
O'Neills who now hold it. The O'Neills and Magills I have also been told
Whole estates were confiscated and their owners rooted
out by William of Orange, after the overthrow and banishment of James II.
Some representatives of the family of Magills-McGills and Macgills-still
live in the County of Antrim in or near Ballymena, Broughshane, Antrim and
Belfast. I have several near relations who are Presbyterian clergymen,
including Beattie Pettigrew and Robert and George Magill. The Boyds claim
a Scotch origin, and it may be that the Magills are derived from the same
Will you please be so kind as to give me the origin of
the surnames of Magill, McGill and Macgill in the "Irish American."
-FROM THOMAS ROGERS MAGILL, Charlotte, N. C.
Our respected correspondent need not be in doubt as to
the origin of his name, which is of the old Irish connection, and long
prevalent in Ulster, though found well represented also in the Celtic
districts of Scotland, where it is classed with the surnames derived from
Ireland, of which surnames Galloway can supply from its inhabitants
numerous examples, many of them sadly mutilated or corrupted. Of Galloway
ancestry was the Makgills represented in the 16th Century by Sir James
Makgill, who in time of James V. of Scotland was Provost of Edinburgh, and
in that and two succeeding reigns was otherwise prominent in the turbulent
politics of his native land. His death occurred in A. D. 1579. He was the
ancestor of Makgill of nether Rankeillour, Parish of Colissie Fifeshire.
His younger brother, David Makgill, a Lord of Sessions, and from A. D.
1582 to 1589 Lord Advocate, whose death took place March 12th, A. D. 1594,
was descended in the second generation Sir James Makgill, also prominent
in public affairs, who in A. D. 1627 was raised to a baronetcy, and in
April, 1651, to the peerage under the title of Viscount of Oxford and Lord
Makgill of Couseland. Robert Makgill second Viscount, son and successor of
the first Viscount of Oxford, failed of "Heirs male," and thereafter the
titles, though from time to time assumed by the descendants of his
daughters and claimed by other Makgills of his kindred were classed, as
they now are, amongst the dormant peerages of Scotland.
These Makgills intermarried with the Maitlands of the
Lauderdale connection, many representatives of which family have been
distinguished in the naval and military service of Great Britain,
including Sir Frederick Lewis Maitland (1779-1839), to whom, as commander
of the Bellerophon, Napoleon surrendered himself in June, 1815, and by
whom the great Emperor was conveyed to his island prison of St. Helena in
July of the same year.
McGill, Magill, Maguille and Maguillan appear on record
in the Anglo-Irish documents of the Sixteenth Century, chiefly relating to
Ulster. Maguille and Maguillan were variations of Macquillan, which was
borne by an Antrim family of wide renown, whose territory was known as
MacquilIan's Country, within the Country of the Roet (Route). The
Macquillans have been represented as deriving mostly from Welch ancestors.
The founder of the family in Antrim was said to have been a soldier of
fortune whose remains the Scribe of the Earl of Essex in A. D. 1556 makes
mention of as then reposing to the left of the Altar in the Monastery of
Cool-brahan, beneath a tomb whereon "lieth the picture of a Knight armed."
Some of these Macquillans have been represented as having, in later
generations, reduced their name to MacQuill, or changed it to MacGill,
which latter forms have been likewise spoken of as having been adopted by
other families of purely old Irish origin, into some of whose ancient
names Macgiolla, or Macgilla entered a component part, like MacGillabride,
now usually rendered McBride, though also appearing as Mackilbride or
Kilbride. Macgillafinnan, MacGillapatrick, now Fitzpatrick,
MacGillashuilligh, MacGillhooly or simply Gillhooly, etc., etc.
In the seventeenth century several representatives of
the Magills or MacGills took opposite sides in the civil wars of Ireland
and shared the fortunes of their Chiefs. Captains Hugh, James and Robert
served in the royal interest against the Parliamentarians. Captain Arthur
McGill, an Antrim man, commanded a Company of Infantry in the Regiment of
Colonel Cormack O'Neill, in the service of James II., of which Company
Cormack McGill was Ensign; another Ensign Magill serving with Captain
Gilmore, same regiment.
A Captain Arthur Magill held command of a Company of
Infantry in the Regiment of Colonel Alexander McDonnell, Earl of Antrim -
John McGill, Esq., was Sheriff of the County of Dublin
at the time of the restoration of Charles II. His family subsequently
removed to Naptown, County Dublin, and established itself on a land grant
at Gillford, County Down. Arthur Magill, Esq., of Dublin
and Antrim, was attainted by the Williamites in A. D. 1691, as were also
Bryant and Roy McGill of Antrim.
About the beginning of the Eighteenth Century Robert
Hawkins Magill, Esq., married into the Massereene family, and was
mentioned in the last will and testament of Lady Rachel, wife of
Clotworthy, second Viscount of Massereene of this family.
Many respectable families known as Magills or McGills
have been residents of Ulster and other portions of Ireland, down to our
own times. A generation ago the Magills of Ulster were represented by such
names as those of Samuel R. Magill, of Cookstown, County Tyrone, who was a
justice of the Peace ; James Magill, Esq., of Fairview House, Cardonagh,
County Donnegal; James Magill, Esq., of Belfast, and William Magill, Esq.,
who resided at Littleton Lodge, Ballymahon, County Longford, about forty
Several worthy clergymen of the Roman Catholic Church
have borne the name of our esteemed correspondent in one or other of its
forms, including the late Right Rev. Dr. John McGill, Bishop of Richmond,
Brig. Gen. James McGill (1744-1813), founder of the
McGill University at Montreal, Canada, was a native of Glasgow, Scotland.
He served in the Militia of Canada through the War of 1812-1815. He won
eminence and fortune as a merchant and some distinction also in civil
stations in Canada.
Of the McNeills of Ballycastle, Parish of Romain,
Barony of Carry, County Antrim (whose burying place was Romain), was Rose
McNeill, who became the wife of Rev. William Boyd, Rector of Romain, the
remains of whose son, Hugh Boyd, Esq., rest in a vault beneath the church
of Ballycastle, which church had been built under the su
pervision and at the expense of the said Hugh, whose
father was interred with his people-in-law in the old burying ground at
Romain, which village gave name to the Parish.
So saith Michael Hennesy under the name of "Laffen" in
the "Irish American," New York, Oct. 17th, 1877. Criticism is deferred
until other counties are heard from and the returns canvassed.
(From Daniel MacGill, Sligo, Ireland).
Town Clerk's Office, Town Hall, Sligo, 24 March, 1891
My Dear Sir: I am favored with your esteemed of the 26th
ultimo and note contents.
My family were originally of the North of Ireland-I
think, the County Antrim ; they came up and settled in the adjoining
county-the County Caven.
My father's name was McGill, and he died sometime ago
at the round age of 92 years. From what I used to hear him say when a lad,
I have little doubt but your family and mine are closely related. In 1885
I was Mayor of this town, which forms a population of 11,000, and Alderman
for 25 years, but speculations and reverse of business caused me to take
the office which I now hold and which is highly respectable. The salary is
not large, but I am much respected by my fellow townsmen of all
My brother, the Very Rev. James McGill is President of
Saint Vincent's College, Philadelphia, and greatly respected for his great
learning. He was over to see me in September last and spent some time
here, and returned to Philadelphia.
I know he would be glad to see a namesake, if you at
any time visited that city. My family always spelled their name McGill,
but to make the name more Irish I made it Macgill.
I enclose you a paper which I got printed, which may be
interesting to you. Our town is a very good place for business, but
requires capital. Our lakes and our mountains are much admired. If at any
time you would visit old Ireland how happy I would be to see you and give
you all the hospitality in my power. Expecting to hear from you soon, I
remain, my dear sir,
Your Faithful Friend,
To A. R. McGill, Esq., St. Paul, Minn.
Daniel Macgill above named, whose autograph letter is
now before me, carries a very pretty Coat of Arms. My limited knowledge of
heraldry will not permit me to interpret its significance-whether it is a
family embellishment or the municipal insignia of office used on official
paper, I am unable to say, but in either case it seems significant of "the
woes of Ireland" about which we have heard so much; however, I am inclined
to the opinion that it is a Corporate Stamp or insignia of office. It is a
plain shield in beautiful colors, without bordure or quarterings. On the
right is a wide spreading tree, under the branching limbs of which stands
a broken wall or house, fragments of which are falling and strew the
ground. On the left a hare is seen running across a beautiful green plain.
In the distance is a vista in faultless perspective and on a bar across
the base of the shield are inscribed the words "Sligo 1612."
To complete the Daniel Macgill episode, before giving
place to Mr. Oulahan I will say that we opened communication with the Very
Rev. James of St. Vincent's, with the following results:
St. Vincent's Seminary, Germantown, Phila., Pa., April 10,
A. R. McGill, Esq.
Dear Sir : In reply to your esteemed favor, I beg to
say that I left home when quite young, and since that time I have been
engaged exclusively in ecclesiastical duties, and in the duties of the
sacred ministry. I must confess, to my regret, I have never turned my
attention seriously to look up the early history of my family. When next
you come to Philadelphia, if you can spare the time to run out to
Germantown, I shall be most happy to see you.
With every good wish, I remain, with great respect,
Your Obedient Servant, JAMES McGILL.
Governor McGill availed himself of the courteous and
kind invitation of the learned Domini and visited him at Germantown, Phila.,
where he was received with the utmost kindness and respect and entertained
like a Prince, but all efforts to draw out any of the details of the
family history beyond the sea were unavailing.
Other efforts in the same direction, in those latter
days, have met with no better success, and we have reluctantly come to the
conclusion that information for our people through the Catholic clergy is
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