A brief history of the McGrew Family of Preston County, West Virginia - descendants of John McGrew of Scotland to Pennsylvania then to (West) Virginia

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Our McGrew Family History

By Ron Wall
One source says that the McGrew family name was originally MacGregor.  The Campbell and MacGregor clans were in a bitter feud in the late decades of the 16th century. In 1589 the MacGregor’s killed the Scottish king’s forester to revenge the hanging of some MacGregor’s for poaching. The Campbell's, supporters of King James VI, urged him to punish their MacGregor enemies. The King issued an edict banning forever the use of the name MacGregor. Many MacGregor’s were forced adopt the name McGrew.  It was not until 1774 the monarchy fully restored the McGregor name in Scotland, long after the McGrew family came to America.

Our McGrew and Whitsett families were among the thousands of Presbyterian Scotch-Irish the British monarchy enticed to move from Scotland to Ulster, Ireland in the attempt to replace Catholic land owners with non-Catholics. Many of these Scotch settled in the northern counties of Armagh, Antrim and Tyrone. In the latter half of the 17th century, English Quaker missionaries, men and women, proselytized extensively in Ulster. Most of their “convinced” (converts) were English Protestants. At first only a few Presbyterian Scotch-Irish joined the Quaker dissenters’ movement. In the early 1700’s, when the persecution of Quakers eased, Society of Friends meeting houses sprang up in Ulster. Eventually some Presbyterians joined with their Quaker neighbors and eventually there was a small but sizable number of Scotch-Irish Quakers in Northern Ireland. Among them were the Whitsett’s and the McGrew’s.

From the early 1700's Scotch-Irish Quakers emmigrated to William Penn’s colony in America to flee Ireland. The English imposed a ban on trade goods to and from Ireland, triggering an economic depression followed by a terrible famine. Beginning in 1729 a large number of Scotch-Irish followed their earlier brothern to America. A significant number of Irish Quakers moved to the frontier counties in the Carolinas and Pennsylvania.   A big lure in America was the promise of religious freedom and affordable land easily bought on credit with a small down payment. Between 1720’s and 1740 those with the money for the trip sailed from Belfast or Dublin to New Castle, Delaware and Philidelphia heading for destinations in Chester and Lancaster counties, Pennsylvania. As the population in western Pennsylvania grew, the colonial administrators of Pennsylvania divided Lancaster County to form York County west of the Susquehanna River. As the population continued to increase they further divided York and Cumberland and Adams counties were created north of York. Much of the former lands of the McGrew’s are in those two later counties.

In 1935, Mr. Scott Lee Boyd of Santa Barbara, California published a genealogy of his Boyd and McGrew ancestors. His sister with the help of a professional genealogist collected Quaker records on the family of Robert McGrew.  According to Mr. Boyd’s genealogy, the Quaker Robert McGrew came in 1726, to Chester County, Pennsylvania with his wife Isabella, whose maiden name was likely Finley, with five sons, John, Finley, William, Alexander and James and two grandchildren from County Tyrone, Ireland. Shortly after arriving in Pennsylvania the family left Chester County and settled west of the Susquehanna. Biographical sketches of our ancestors Patrick McGrew and his son James of Preston County, (West) Virginia tell us that Patrick was born to Ian (Scottish for John) McGrew in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania in 1751. Pennsylvania land warrants and surveys show A land warrant dated October 20, 1741 for John McGrew that was transferred and surveyed for John McGrew after the death of John McGrew “the Elder” sometime around 1786. It is interesting that Patrick and his family moved to Virginia in 1786 after the death of Patrick’s father. There is an interesting legend about patriach Robert McGrew that he came to America wearing the blue Scottish bonnet known as the Glengarry cap.

The earliest Pennsylvania record I found mentioning Patrick McGrew is a 1779 tax list for Cumberland County showing he paid a poll tax on himself and one cow. This is pretty good evidence that he was born before 1758 and was 21 or over and a taxable adult. In 1779-1780 we find Patrick on the Assessment (tax) list for Cumberland County. His profession is “blacksmith”, which is the occupation he followed in Preston County. He has one horse and still one cow. It is my opinion that Patrick was living and practicing his trade near Carlisle, the county seat of Cumberland County. The 1782 poll tax lists no occupation but shows Patrick now has two cows in his stable. On August 22, 1780 Patrick is in the inactive militia for Cumberland County, 3rd Battalion, 6th Company, 5th Class [platoon]. Many Revolutionary soldiers served in “frontier guard” militias. A name on one of these militias roles does not prove the individual served in active duty and we have no other record to show that Patrick did. His name is not on the roles for the Cumberland County three calls to active duty, all of which were in 1778 before Patrick joined the militia.

In about 1786 Patrick was issued a patent for land in Monongalia County, Virginia, which is now Preston County, West Virginia. We cannot establish the date that our McGrew family came to Preston County, but we can assume is was about this time. The first historical record I have of Patrick and James in Virginia is the 1803 personal property tax list of Monongalia County. On this list is also James Clark, the father of James’ wife Isabella. The 1810 census of Monongalia shows both Patrick and James but does not pin-point their exact location. The census lists Patrick as over the age of 45 and James between the age of 26 and 42. Both Patrick and James appear on the 1820 census but only James is on the 1830. We have no good evidence to tell us when Patrick died, but one history of Preston County says it was about 1829. Patrick’s son Colonel James McGrew was given command of the 104th Virginia Militia on March 23, 1813. Patrick married Martha Welch about 1778 in Cumberland County. They had nine children born between 1779 and 1795: James, Alice, Patrick jr. who moved to Illinois from Pennsylvania, Samuel who went to Ohio, Squire who remained in Virginia, Jane, Anne, Robert who went to Ohio, and John F. McGrew who moved to Indiana.


“PRESTON COUNTY West Virginia  HISTORY” published by the Preston County Historical Society IN 1979 and written by Jennie McGrew gives us this account Patrick and her McGrew family.

“In 1749 our McGrew forefather ventured forth from his native Scotland, arriving in Philadelphia, Pa.  His only child, Patrick, was born in Cumberland Co., Pa. In 1751.  After Patrick grew to manhood, he married Martha Welch and located close by on a small stream called Yellow Breeches Creek.
“After the birth of their fourth child, Patrick and Martha moved the family and mother-in-law to Monongalia Co., Virginia – now within the territory of Preston Co., West Virginia and near where the village of Brandonville now stands.
“The region to which they had come, was a kind of interjacent frontier to which settlers were attracted by wild reports of the fertility of the soil.  The nearest store or doctor was in Morgantown or Beesontown (now Uniontown).  Knowing that he was going into wilderness region, McGrew had brought with him in a large Conestoga wagon, farm implements, hand loom, blacksmith outfit, a chest and desk (the latter two existing yet today) plus various livestock.
“As comforts increased, a new dwelling house was constructed.  This was pictured and described in the W.V. school history books, as the largest log home in the area.  It had two large stone chimneys, with five fireplaces and a memorable spiral staircase.  This family was blessed with eight healthy children of quiet, gentle manners.  Patrick, Martha, and Mrs. Welch are all buried in the McGrew farm cemetery.
“The farm was handed down from Patrick to his son Colonel James.  As these aforesaid facts were penned by Col. James’ son, James C. in 1908, he recalls his father in person as: a handsome man, six feet tall, 185 pounds, erect bearing, dark brown hair, pleasant address, strictly honorable in his dealings with others, at the same time exacting a full recognition of his own rights.  Frequently solicited, he never accepted but one public position – that of Colonel of the 104th regiment of Virginia Militia.
“Col. James McGrew married Isabella Clark. During his later years the home place near Brandon ville was deeded to his son Isaac.  Isaac and his wife, Margaret Forquar, continued their lives here rearing seven children.  Their only son to remain at home, Samuel, was next in line for the McGrew farm.
“Samuel married Sadie Neiman and in the late 1800’s built another home on the property.  It is the one still existing today.  Samuel and Sadie’s children were:  Ernest, James, Warren and twins Russell and Edith (Mrs. Myron Speelman of Bruceton Mills).
“Samuel deeded the homeplace to son Warren with whom he spent his later years.  Warren married Althea Haines and had four children.  The family resided at the farm and homes in Morgantown.  Their children were:  James Samuel, W. Ray, Dorothy and Marjorie.
“None of these families live in the Brandonville area now, except for Jim, who resides on the old homeplace.  After being away for 31 years, he moved his family back to the farm to take care of his elderly father.  Jim and his wife, Jeanne, have four children:  Carolyn Diane, James Jr., Sandra Kay, and Mark Patrick.
“The farm that the Jim McGrews have now has been in the McGrew name since Patrick acquired the land under a patent, dated 1786.”

J. R. Cole and Oren F. Morton co-authores of, HISTORY OF PRESTON COUNTY, WEST VIRGINIA, gives these account of our McGrew family.

"The American ancestor of the McGrews was a Scotchman, who about 1774 came to Cumberland county, Pa. There he died suddenly, leaving a son, Patrick. The widow remarried. In 1786, Patrick with his wife and four children and the grandmother located on the Samuel Murray place, a mile south of Brandonville. James, familiarly known as Colonel McGrew, was the only son of Patrick to stay on the homestead. Soon after his marriage in 1807, he purchased what was later known as the Lucian Smith farm, two miles north of Bruceton. It had a few acres cleared, and near the mineral spring by the present public road was a story-and-a-half log cabin. Here he did blacksmithing as well as farming. Aboout 1819 he sold to Jacob Smith and returned to the homestead to care for his parents, who were now alone. Though often urged, he always declined civil office. During the war of 1812, and for some years afterward he was colonel of the 104th Regiment. It was called into service in the Northwest. James ranked as one of the more substantial citizens of Preston, attained a great age, and lived a quiet, retired, orderly, and contented life. The wife was a woman of more than ordinary ability and was noted for the systematic arrangement of her household affairs. There being for years no doctor within 25 miles, she was often called upon in emergency cases, and when it was possible at all she gave assistance. Their distingquished son, James C., is elsewhere mentioned. Samuel, a younger son, was graduated from the Virginia Military Institute. Isaac, an older son, remained on the homestead. "
Colonel McGrew married Isabella Clark, daughter of James Clark, a native of Ireland, who became an early settler of Preston County. James Clark's first wife was Mary Ramsey. After she died in 1770 he returned to Ireland, where, in 1773, he married Eleanor Kirkpatrick, and later came back to America.

The most prestigious member of our McGrew clan was James Clark McGrew of Kingwood, West Virginia. He was born in Monongalia county, near Brandonville, Virginia, on September 14, 1813, the sixth child and the forth son of James and Isabella (Clark) McGrew. He was the brother of my 3rd great grandmother Jane McGrew who married Samuel Grady Trowbridge. James C. McGrew was the grandson of Patrick McGrew, and great-grandson of Ian (John) McGrew. He was brought up on his father's farm near Brandonville in Preston County. It was said he, "received a practical English education" and "attended the common schools", meaning he had the equivalent of a high school education. He began his adult career in 1833 as a store clerk and eventually became a successful merchant before becoming a bank clerk in Kingwood, where he worked until the beginning of the Civil War. In 1841 he married Persis Hagans, daughter of Harrison Hagans of Brandonville, West Virginia.

In 1861 he was selected as a delegate to the Virginia secession convention in 1861, which met in Richmond in February, 1861. He was one of the "fifty-five" who voted against secession. He and eleven other delegates from western Virginia were expelled from the convention for their opposition to secession. Radical secessionist planned to assassinate these delegates when they left to return west and laid an ambush on the trail usually taken between Richmond and the Western counties. The anti-secessionist delegates were tipped off to these plans and took more round-about ways and reached home safely. Returning to Kingwood, he helped organize the new state of West Virginia, and was a member of the West Virginia house of delegates from 1863 through 1865. After the war he returned to banking.

In 1869 he ran for a seat in Congress and was elected as a Republican to the Forty-first and Forty-second U.S. Congresses, which met from March 4, 1869 through March 3, 1873. He served as chairman on the Committee on Mileage. In an interview for the Sunday Washington Post of February 6, 1910, Mr. W.A. Montgomery of Tera Alta, West Virginia said Rep. McGrew last his seat because he voted to raise the salaries of Congress from $5,000 a year to $5,000. At the time the issue was very divisive and several Congressmen lost their seats because of their yes votes.

James C. McGrew was elected as mayor of Kingwood in 1879 and 1880. He was the director of the West Virginia Insane Hospital for four years from 1863 to 1864 (today known as the haunted Trans-Allegheny Insane Asylum and has been featured in a television series about haunted places. It closed its doors as a hospital in 1994 and is now in private hands, open to the public). He was one of the organizers and the first president of the National Bank of Kingwood, and just before his death he completed the plans for the bank building that now stands in Kingwood. He was also a trustee of Ohio Wesleyan University. A devoted Methodist, he was sent as a lay delegate to the First Methodist Ecumenical conference in London, England, in September, 1881. The following year he traveled extensively in Europe, Asia, and Africa.

James Clark McGrew died in Kingwood on September 18, 1910 and is buried in the Maplewood Cemetery in Kingwood. His obituary appeared in The Washington Post, September 18, 1910. It reads, "Kingwood, W.Va. - JAMES C. MCGREW IS DEAD. Oldest ex-Representative Succumbs at 97 in Kingwood, W.Va. - Former Representative James C. McGrew died at his home, The Pines, here today. He was the oldest living former representative, having served from 1868 to 1872. He celebrated his ninety-seventh anniversary last Wednesday, September 14. Surviving children are Dr. J. H. McGrew [Geo. H.], rector of Grace P.E. Church, Silver Spring, Md.; Maj. W. C. McGrew of Morgantown, W. Va., and Mrs. Francis Heermans [granddaughter]. The funeral will be held here Tuesday afternoon. Mr. McGrew took a prominent part in the separation of West Virginia from the Old Dominion, being a member of the Virginia assembly at the time."

Jane McGrew was the second child and first daughter born to Colonel James and Isabella Clark McGrew on April 2, 1805 in the family log home near Brandonville. Unlike her famous brother we know very few details about her. She married Samuel Grady Trowbridge on February 17, 1825 in Brandonville. Her husband was a miller and a lay minister in the Methodist Episcopalian Church. Samuel moved with Jane and their son Edgar to Clark County, Missouri to pastor a Methodist church there. He died on April 26, 1872 in Medill, Clark County, Missouri. He is buried in the Medill Cemetery. Jane returned to West Virginia after the death of her husband and reportedly died in Cecil, Taylor County. I can find no census or other source records for her after the 1860 U.S. Census. Samuel and Jane had ten children born in Preston County: James McGrew, born in 1826, Mary Ann, born in 1828, David B., born in 1830, Isabella, born in 1832, Edgar Clark, born in 1834, Minerva, born in 1837, Martha Elizabeth, born in 1839, Harriet Virginia, born in 1842, Susannah, born in 1846 and Samuel Henry, born in 1850.

Ronald N. Wall
Modified: 06 July 2020