Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Creative Spelling, Part III which we almost neglect to include mention of a key player, for lack of the correct spelling of his surname...

If you have been counting, as I rattle off the captains listed on John Jay Jackson's War of 1812 pension papers, you may have noticed someone had been left out of the tally. If so, I heartily congratulate you on your keen powers of observation. 

As it turns out, by some sleight of hand, I had inserted the name of the officer whose signature actually appeared on Jackson's discharge papers—Charles Pentland—because his name kept appearing in tandem with that of Captain Magee. Perhaps that had thrown off the count.

However, there was another reason for the count being off: I was rescued, just in the nick of time, from having to leave off yet another captain from this exploration of ancestral military duties. If it hadn't been for my penchant for getting lost in dictionaries and other volumes of the like, I wouldn't even have found Captain William Le Dufphey's entry.

So it is that, encouraged by that spelling conquest, I returned to the ever-helpful Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army to see if the one missing Captain from John Jackson's list could be recaptured.

The captain I was missing was surnamed "McGonigle." I honestly had hated to concede being unable to locate that name. I was pretty confident there was another way to spell that name—mainly because McGonagle is a surname that figures prominently in my husband's own paternal family line. If it hadn't been for the McGonagles of Perry County, Ohio, my Chicago-born father-in-law likely wouldn't have met his future bride. I thought it was a snap that the reason I couldn't find any War of 1812 officers by the name McGonigle was because it was really supposed to be spelled McGonagle.

How wrong I was.

Struggling through the discovery, the other day, that "Duffy" should really have been spelled Dufphey—and really, how was I to know?—gave me the courage to face the possibility that Captain McGonigle's absence from Heitman's Register might be owing to a higher intelligence than I ever hoped to attain. At least, a higher creativity at spelling.

I was right. Giving myself free rein to explore the Register—it is, after all, a type of dictionary—I finally found my man. Entered under the spelling McGunnegle, there he was: Pennsylvanian James McGunnegle, rising through the ranks of the United States Army as early as January, 1812. As First Lieutenant and paymaster, he was transferred to the Regiment of Riflemen on May 17, 1815, and attained the rank of captain in July, 1818.

With a little Google reconnaissance work, I found a few other mentions of Captain McGunnegle, who seemed now very much not invisible, thanks to having secured the actual spelling of his name. He had been mentioned in some court proceedings regarding his decisions while serving as quartermaster. His name came up in a case argued before the Missouri Supreme Court, in regard to some property he had once acquired. I even found a reference to someone bearing his name in an unusual Who's Who type collection listing the women of Pittsburgh. While this capricious entry likely does not refer to the James McGonnegle we are interested in (more likely, one of his nephews), it's worth a brief detour through the pages of The Social Mirror: A Character Sketch of the Women of Pittsburg and Vicinity, anyhow.
Mrs. Maria McGunnegle, wife of the late James McGunnegle, lives in Allegheny, and is a descendant of one of the oldest families of the county.

As had some of the other military officers stationed at the outpost in the early years of Saint Louis, Captain McGunnegle likely saw opportunity headed his way and jumped at the chance to capitalize on it. Mentioned in a biographical sketch of his nephew, it was quite obvious he was in the right place at the right time. His nephew, George Kennedy McGunnegle, was also born in Pennsylvania,
and in 1821, he went to St. Louis, Mo., where he was engaged as clerk for his uncle, Capt. James McGunnegle, of the United States Army, then Quartermaster of that military district.

Whatever dreams the captain may have entertained, along with his successful nephew, for future endeavors in that land of opportunity, however, were short-lived. Not long after attaining the rank of Captain, while still in the service, James McGunnegle died on 27 August, 1822. While I can find his name, thanks to Google, in all sorts of books about obscure court cases and land transactions dating back to that decade, I have yet to find any statement giving mention of his passing while still in the service of the United States Army. 

Above: "The Falls of Saint Anthony," oil on canvas, circa 1880, by Albert Bierstadt, German-born landscape painter of the American West; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. First Dufphey now McGunnegle (not to mention the Birdsell) spellings! I would assume most of these men, officers or not, were barely literate anyway.

    1. Well...all except for the ones whose job it was to keep the orderly books!

  2. Yes what Iggy said...they were men of war not books:)

    1. ...and we struggle to rectify the many spelling variations we find in census records of our own ancestors. Small wonder!


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