According to many researchers, Irish immigrants of the 1840s endured unspeakable hardships during the voyage. Cleanliness was impossible because the amount of water issued each day to passengers was insufficient even to quench their thirst. The food was poor and caused many to become ill, and deaths, followed by hasty burials at sea, were a daily occurrence. They relied on their courage, stamina, and determination to get them to the United States, and it was a trial of survival of the fittest. The McKinley family of 12, ages 5 to 52, survived the voyage.
In June of 1842, they arrived in northern New York state and settled in the town of Hounsfield, Jefferson County. They regretted their choice of locale because the soil was rocky and infertile, a bleak contrast to the rich, moist fields of their native Ireland. However, much hardship lay behind them, and they sought a better life where their children could go to school and 'get somewhere.'
In 1845, after Ann was married to George Ebben, the family packed their few belongings and moved to the Black Creek section of Clayton. At first, they probably rented the land, and they lived in a log cabin on the site where Pat McKinley Wagner's house now stands, chosen because of the artesian well and an ample supply of water. Michael and Bridget purchased 48 1/2 acres of Penet Square from Eldredge Merrick, a lumberman and shipbuilder, for $245.70 in 1850. John and Eleanor, with their first child Patrick, bought land nearby to the south. They cleared the land of trees, and I often heard my grandfather say, "They cleared 16 acres in the month of June, and nobody could have done any better."
Their chief concern was food, and until they could harvest a crop, their staple victuals were bread, potatoes, oatmeal, johnnycake, eggs, and Lea. The village of Clayton was only four miles away, and they traded eggs for other available necessities. They started a dairy, for milk and butter were indispensable foods.
Michael McKinley lost no time in filing his petition for U.S. citizenship. The Jefferson County courthouse was in Watertown, a horse-and-buggy trip of 22 miles from his home, or about four hours in those days. With his signature, Michael, his wife Bridget, and their minor children became citizens of the United States. The documents are displayed here, exhibits A and B (facing page).
The family worked hard, each member seeking every opportunity to work for money or board. By 1850, only Bernard and Mary Ann were at home. Ellen Carrier, age 5, was living with Michael and Bridget, and I have no further information about her. John and Eleanor had two more children, James and Michael, with more to come. Tragedy struck in April 1857 when Michael was killed, gored by a heifer on his own farm. He had apparently left the farm to Bernard and Patrick, although no will is recorded.
Arthur, my great-grand father, purchased the farm from his brothers, and in the same month he and "Molly" (Mary) Hayes, daughter of a Tipperary immigrant family, were married. Bridget then made her home with her daughter Ellen Laughlin and family, where she was still living in 1875. I have no record of when or where she died.
In the early 1860s, the log house was moved by teams of oxen from its location by the creek to the knoll where it now stands. The upstairs room, called "the old chamber," was the children's bedroom. The two large rooms downstairs were the living quarters.
Molly churned butter those summers, using water from the creek to the south of the buildings to rinse it. She carried two pails at a time on a neck yoke, with a baby in a sling on her back. My grandfather, Francis Patrick, born May 8, 1863, was one of the babies carried this way. He became her favorite because she saved his life when he nearly burned to death in his young childhood.
Arthur and Molly had a frame house erected in front of the log cabin, and the entire structure was faced with white clapboards and green trim. A stone cistern was built in the cellar, and a pitcher pump, bolted to the dry sink in the pantry, pumped the soft water. A furnace, installed in the front cellar, provided central heat, a big addition to their comfort. Barns and out-buildings were built and acres added as the years went by.
 They sold four acres to the Clayton-Theresa Railroad, and train transportation to Clayton became a reality in 1873. The dairy of Holsteins produced the milk which was drawn to the Dutch cheese factory, providing a good income. Their hospitality was widely known; friends and relatives came to visit and stayed for a meal, a day, or 'a spell.' The parties and dances make wonderful stories.
Arthur's family grew up on this farm on the Black Creek Road. They attended District 22 School, and Molly arranged for the girls to take painting and piano lessons. Daughter Rose married Maurice Fitzgerald, who taught on Grindstone Island. She died in childbirth, and Maurice remarried but remained a close friend of the family. Daughter Mary married John Nolan, a Carthage merchant, but died young of tuberculosis, or "T.B.," leaving a family of four small children. They attended boarding school and spent their vacations at the farm. My grandfather Frank P. married a schoolteacher, Minnie Kelsey, daughter of Ellen Fenton Kelsey McKinley (see below), and they bought the title to the farm and returned there to live with children Clara and Paul after the death of Frank's father Arthur in 1890. Molly, called "Big Grandma," lived with them until her death in 1899. John L. married and lived in Watertown. Alice married James Maher, a businessman from Cortland, and she also succumbed to T.B. Her youngsters were educated in boarding school and visited at the farm. "Little Arthur," unmarried, died at age 21 of pneumonia, or perhaps also tuberculosis.
Of son John McKinley's family, George, the fifth child, was a successful entrepreneur in Clayton, owner of the Mckinley Block on James Street. His wife, Margaret (Halpin), was the daughter of his partner Capt. Halpin, and their home was the brick house on the corner of John and Hugunin Streets. Their son Frank Michael was the lawyer mentioned above.
Rose McKinley, the sixth child of the second generation, married Michael Hayden, and after his early death she married second Michael Nester. I knew her daughter Libbie Hayden, a saintly spinster who lived with her sister Rosella Winslow, a dear cousin in whose home my mother and I boarded the year I was in fifth grade. It was my privilege to know them so well.
Mary Ann married Stephen Pilon and their farm was on East Line Road, according to Gerald Pelow, their grandson.
Bernard (Barney) went to Cape Vincent, where he owned property and engaged in farming. He married three times and was the father of 12 children. His monument marks his grave in the cemetery behind the Catholic Church in Cape Vincent.
Patrick sailed the Great Lakes and was the pilot of the first schooner that ran from Kingston to Chicago. He bought a farm on East Line Road, Road #13 as it was called, where he and his wife Margaret McLaughlin McKinley lived and where five sons and one daughter were born. Margaret died at age 30, leaving Pat with the young family to raise. He was fortunate to find a new wife, Ellen Fenton Kelsey, a widow, living in Plessis, whose son and three daughters were young adults. Legend has it that, with the date drawing near when he had to board ship, Pat called on Ellen one Sunday, and the following Sunday they were married.
Ellen Fenton Kelsey Mckinley was called "Little Grandma," not only because she was a little lady but because she was the new grandmother McKinley, thus distinguished from "Big Grandma" Molly Hayes McKinley.
The McKinleys were Catholics and attended mass without fail, regardless of the weather. The men, using their teams and bobs, drew stone for the Construction of St. Mary's Church in Clayton from the quarries to the west of the village, an all-day trip, stopping for a meal at a farmhouse on the way. Wearing their buffalo-hide coats, they endured the cold, handled the stones, worked their horses, and watched the edifice grow. St. Mary's Church opened for worship in 1889 and is a lasting memorial to the devotion of these early parishioners.
The MacKinlay/McKinley saga in America is the story of a family of Scots-Irish immigrants who met the challenges of their adopted country. The paths of the McKinley descendants are varied, leading from a farm in Jefferson County, New York, to distant locations and professional pursuits undreamed of by those resolute pioneers, the McKinleys from County Armagh, Ireland.
References:Child, County Gazetteer Directory, 1684 - 1890.Garand, Father P. S., History of St. Mary's Parish, Clayton, New York.Leech, Margaret, William McKinley, President of the United States.New Topographical Atlas of Jefferson County, New York (1864).New York State Historical Association, Fenimore House, Cooperstown, New York.Oakes, R.A., County of Jefferson, New York, Vol. 1 (1905).Records of Jefferson County Clerk, Ben Mitchell, Watertown, New York.Records of Town Clerks of Clayton, Cape Vincent, Orleans, and Vilna, New York.Records of Montgomery County Archives, Fonda, New York.
The above article is reprinted (first published in the McKinley family association newsletter) with permission from the author. Mrs. Ross Hornbeck compiled the story based on family records such as charts, letters, photograph albums, scrapbooks, and conversations, verified with town and county records, census records, maps, wills, and deeds in this county, and with other records at the National Library in Dublin, Ireland. A genealogical table of this branch of the family has been prepared. The author plans to continue her research, a lateral study of the McKinley family in America, and welcomes additions, corrections, and biographical sketches of sixth generation family members from readers. Send them to Alice Hornbeck, c/o NEXUS.