In May of 1775 as a set of my 4th and 5th great grandparents set sail for America from Belfast on a 350-ton brig named The Pennsylvania Farmer, they already knew what civil war was like.
But they probably hadn’t heard yet about the clash less than two weeks earlier on Lexington Green between colonial militiamen and British Army regulars.
Nor were they aware that the makings of the revolution and even after, in places such as North Carolina where they planned to settle was already more like a civil war.
The ship my ancestors were on had meant to dock in Charleston, South Carolina.
But cross-Atlantic voyages at the time, even aboard a ship as fast and maneuverable as a two-masted brig were often blown off course and forced to land at other ports.
So on July 1, 1775 The Pennsylvania Farmer (similar to the brig shown in the image in this essay) dropped my ancestors off in Baltimore instead.
Soon Thomas and Hannah McCrory along with my 17-year-old 4th great grandfather James plus some other relatives began trekking down the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia on the Great Wagon Road.
They were at the tail end of the Great Migration of 200,000 Scots-Irish who immigrated here between 1717 and 1775, most settling inland along the Appalachians and western Piedmont.
They were Presbyterians of differing factions whose lowland Scottish ancestors had been transplanted to Northern Ireland by the British. Even in religious, they understood civil war.
It is from their folk music, by the way, that country music spawned.
Initially it was successive droughts in Northern Ireland that drove them to leave. My ancestors, though, were weavers who also left because the linen market had collapsed and British estates had cancelled the land they leased.
Shortly after passing through the relatively new Moravian settlement of Salem, North Carolina (part of present-day Winston-Salem,) they planned to cut south on the Georgia Road to their final destination Waxhaw, North Carolina.
It was an area just south of the village of Charlotte where the month after their departure from Belfast, the defiant Mecklenburg Resolves had been signed as one of the earliest declarations of Independence.
But it may have been at Salem, that one of my 4th great grandfathers, James McCrory, decided to settle 28 miles east instead at a new crossroads that had sprung up around the Guilford Courthouse the year before, while Thomas and Hannah continued a hundred miles further south to Waxhaw.
After less than a year as Americans, Thomas enlisted as a captain overseeing a company of troops in the 9th North Carolina Regiment of the Continental Army commanded by Col. John P. Williams.
James also enlisted first under his father and then seemingly transferred to another company in the same regiment under Captain Ramsey.
Ironically, this is also when North Carolina purchased their old ship The Pennsylvania Farmer in New Bern and began to arm her as the centerpiece of the colony-soon-to-be-state’s Navy.
The regiment soon marched north to join General Washington in Middlebrook, NJ. They soon engaged the British Army in battles at Brandywine and Germantown where my 5th great grandfather was apparently mortally wounded in action.
His body must have been taken home to Waxhaw because he is buried near there on Mint Hill.
James eventually served in nearly every major battle in the Southern campaign including at Guildford Courthouse before marrying after the war and heading over the mountains in 1783 into Tennessee and eventually down along the Tombigbee River.
But why leave North Carolina? After Generals Greene and Cornwallis left the state, the nearly seven year Revolutionary War soon concluded in victory of Americans.
But in North Carolina, the vacuum meant the civil war continued to rage on between loosely organized gangs of armed men terrorized Tar Heels while presenting themselves as either revolutionaries or loyalists.
Totally undisciplined, according to the late Dr. William S. Powell in his book entitled, North Carolina Through Four Centuries, they were more like “robbers.”
These partisan gangs “burned houses, murdered men, and attacked women indiscriminately,” terrorizing large areas of the state while taking hundreds of prisoners hostage.
Normalcy wouldn’t come to North Carolina for nearly a decade.
Powell reminds us that during this period there were almost 350,000 people living here, a quarter in bondage with no hope of freedom and a third of those who were white still loyal to Great Britain.
Even after the war, only 40% of Tar Heels were un-ambivalent about Independence. A faction known as “conservatives” wanted a return to prewar ideals and conditions including renewal of trade with England.
Back then they even wanted to “tap the breaks” on Independence. Another known as “radicals” or “rioters” wanted even more change.
Sound familiar? I obviously come from a long line of moderates. But during that time Tennessee was part of North Carolina which had been granting land their to soldiers and their families.
My McCrory ancestors were close to the family of later US President Andrew Jackson both because they lived in the same Waxhaw district but also because Jackson’s brother married a Crawford relative of James’ mother Hannah.’'
Judging by the year, Jackson, my 4th great grandparents James and Jane McCrory along with his brother Thomas, Jackson’s friend, all migrated to Tennessee together in 1783, during this period of anarchy.
But life there was anything but peaceful.
While living on land along Cripple Creek, James was fired on by Indians just north of the Cumberland River in 1792.
By 1811 when my 3rd great grandmother Sarah Ann McCrory was born, her parents had purchased land down in the recently opened Mississippi Territory, along the Tombigbee near the western border of what five years later would become Alabama.
It was a still a tense time for the young family. A civil war soon broke out within the Creek Nation of Native Americans due to a hostile faction known as the “Red Sticks” because of of the red war clubs they used.
It soon spilled over with the massacre of settlers. In addition, there was the threat of invasion by the British via New Orleans as war broke out again in 1812.
This in turn drew General Andrew Jackson’s troops down from Tennessee in defense, along his friend my 4th great grandfather’s brother, Col. Thomas McCrory, who had built a two story cabin in 1790 along what is now Old Hickory Blvd. in Forest Hills, Tennessee.
The cabin is now on the National Register of History Places.
When the old solider, James McCrory finally died in his 80s, my great-great-grandmother Sarah Ann headed to Illinois and then across Iowa with her family hoping to make it into my native Rockies.
She died in route, just south of Des Moines, in the harsh winter of 1847 but it is in part from her daughter Amanda, who was five at the time, that I draw my 5th generation Idaho roots.
McCrorys were late comers compared to all but a couple of lines of ancestors who immigrated to America in the 1850s and 60s. Most had been here since the 1600s.
But uncovering their story and placing it in context makes me even more proud to be an American.