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THE McCLARYS OF EPSOM
By Warren Tripp.
ON a ship leaving Port Ruch, Ulster, Ireland, on Aug. 7, 1726, came Andrew
McClary with his family, reaching Boston, Oct. 8. He seems to have passed
the winter in Haverhill and reached the Scotch-Irish settlement at Londonderry
on April 19, 1727, and immediately after to have located at Nottingham.
The McClary family at this time consisted of Andrew McClary, his wife,
and son John, who was seven years of age. Here the family remained for
eleven years, during which time there were born to them another son, Andrew
McClary, Jr., and three daughters, Margaret, Jane, and Ann.
In 1738 they moved to Epsom and settled upon a rising knoll of beautiful
land on which now stands the old McClary house, where he reared his family
to habits of industry and thrift, and was himself a competent business
man, as well as a brave pioneer. The records show that he was chosen selectman
for eight years prior to 1756. The family was not large and never became
so; at no time were there more than four, and most of the time but two
or three, eligible to public office. Yet the records show that from 1743
to 1804, a period of sixty-one years, they filled the office of selectmen
of Epsom for thirty-one years; that from 1796 to 1819 they served ten
terms in the New Hampshire senate, and that one of them, "Hon. John,"
was a delegate from the senate to the provincial congress in 1775; that
all through the French and Indian and Revolutionary wars they were prominent
members of the New Hampshire Committee of Safety, which for twenty five
years held its sessions at the McClary house; that they were active and
influential in the organization and support of the state militia, one
of them holding the position of adjutant-general for twenty-five years,
and two of them holding at different periods the office of brigadier-general;
that one of them, "General Michael McClary," was tendered the
nomination of governor of the state, but refused it; that for eighty-three
consecutive years they held important positions of trust and honor in
At the beginning of the Revolutionary war the family comprised the old
emigrant, probably about eighty years of age; his two sons, John, about
fifty-five, and Andrew, about forty-five; also three daughters; Margaret,
who married Dr. Samuel [Deacon George] Wallace, Jane, who married John
McGaffy, and Ann, who married Richard Tripp. There were also two grandsons,
aged twenty-one and twenty-three, making only three men of proper age
for army life.
These three men promptly enlisted at their country's first call, and one
only returned. Andrew McClary, who held the rank of major under Stark,
was killed at Bunker Hill. John McClary, with rank of lieutenant in Whipple's
brigade, was killed at Saratoga in 1779. Michael McClary, who served in
Dearborn's company as ensign at Bunker Hill, was promoted to a captaincy
in Scammell's brigade, and served four years. He lived to be seventy-two
years old, and died at Epsom. So influential was he in all local affairs
that it became a trite saying among the mothers that if their children
would obey them as readily as the people of Epsom obeyed General McClary,
they would be fully satisfied.
Major Andrew McClary of Revolutionary fame was the second son of Emigrant
Andrew McClary. For ten generations his ancestors had lived in an atmosphere
of danger, and exercised that eternal vigilance which was to them the
price of safety as well as liberty. The earliest recollections of his
childhood must have been of the gatherings at the blockhouse, where in
times of danger the mothers took their little ones for safety. The stories
of his youth were the recitals of adventure from the lips of brave scouts,
who made his father's house a common resort. Thus we find him at an early
age acting as scout himself, and later an officer in Rogers's famous company
of New Hampshire Rangers. He was also a leader in all local expeditions
against the Indians. While he possessed in full measure the true Scotch-Irish
thrift, he could not be classed with the Presbyterian congregation, for
tradition says he was open-handed and generous and much given to hospitality.
It is more than possible that the innkeeper's comments on a Scotch-Irish
settlement that "they were a people who would praise good whiskey
and drink it and damn bad whiskey and drink that with equal relish,"
may have included the major, for it cannot be denied that he was somewhat
given to conviviality.
He was a favorite officer, nearly six and one-half feet in height, with
a Herculean form in perfect proportions, a voice like Stentor and strength
of Ajax, never equaled in athletic exercises and unsubdued in single combat.
Whole bodies of men had been overcome by him, and he seemed totally unconscious
that he was not equally unconquerable at the cannon's mouth. We find record
of his visiting Portsmouth, and while in an argumentative state of mind
entering into discussion with six British officers, who, not being pleased
with his sentiments, undertook to eject him from the room, with the result
of themselves being thrown through the window by this doughty patriot.
As an officer, he was the idol of his troops, "hail fellow well met,"
but whose kind heart would give him no rest until every wounded soldier
was personally looked after. A true history of all his adventures would
be as thrilling as Cooper's tales, but if he kept any record of his work,
which is improbable, it was burned with his house and other effects while
he was fighting at Bunker Hill.
At the beginning of the Revolutionary war he was at Epsom, cultivating
his large and productive farm. On April 20, 1775, while he was ploughing
the parade ground, which is the field now belonging to Joseph Lawrence,
a messenger came with news of the Battle of Lexington. Within twenty-four
hours he was at Medford, seventy miles away, ready to take his part in
the impending conflict.
Cogswell's "History of Northwood" gives an account of this forced
march ; of his being chosen captain of a company of eighty heroes, who
traveled on foot from Nottingham square to Medford in the short time of
about twelve hours, a feat unparalleled in the Revolutionary war. His
being chosen major of the regiment, his cool judgment and daring feats
in the battle are matters of history with which we are familiar.
He was killed by a random shot from one of the British frigates that was
stationed at a point in the Charles river, now known as the center of
Cragie's bridge. The shot which passed through his body put to flight
one of the most heroic souls that ever animated man. He leaped two or
three feet from the ground and fell dead upon his face.
At the dedication of Bunker Hill monument, the orator of the day, Daniel
Webster, in mentioning the important part taken in the battle by Major
McClary, closes in words as follows :
"Thus fell Major McClary, the highest American officer killed at
the battle, the handsomest man in the army and the favorite of New Hampshire
troops. His dust still slumbers where it was laid by his sorrowing companions
in Medford, unhonored by any adequate memorial to tell where lies one
of the heroes who ushered in the Revolution with such auspicious omens.
His death spreads a gloom not only over the hearts of his men, but all
through the Suncook valley; his sun went down at noon on the day that
ushered in our nation's birth."
James Harvey, the oldest son of the major, succeeded to his father's business
of taverner, storekeeper, and manufacturer. He served one or more terms
in the senate, and was for several years brigadier-general of the state
militia. He built the house and kept store where Charles Steele now lives.
Andrew and John became military men and died in public service. William,
the youngest son, emigrated to Canada. One of the daughters married Mr.
Haseltine, the first settled Orthodox minister in Epsom.
John McClary, the oldest son of Michael, was born in Ireland in 1719,
settled in Epsom with the family in 1738. John became industrious, methodical,
and exacting, a stern Presbyterian, very different from his jovial, rough,
impulsive, convivial brother, Major Andrew. He early became one of the
leading men in Epsom; was chosen moderator, and for over forty years was
one of the principal officers and advisers in town affairs. He was justice
of the peace under the provincial government, and all cases of litigation
in this vicinity came before Esquire John McClary for trial.
He was called out to do scouting duty in the French and Indian war; was
captain of the militia at that time and rose to the rank of colonel before
While his brother represented the military spirit of the Suncook Valley,
Esquire John represented the civil authority. The towns of Epsom, Allenstown,
Chichester, and Pittsfield were classed together and Esquire John McClary
was annually chosen to represent them in the convention at Exeter.
Esquire John McClary was a prominent member of the first convention to
organize a colonial government, and afterwards in framing our state government,
and was an active member for twenty years. He was treasurer of the Committee
of Safety from 1777 to 1783. This committee had power to call out troops
at such time and in such numbers as they deemed necessary.
In 1780 he was elected to the council, and annually for the four succeeding
years. In 1784 he was chosen to the council and also to the senate, and
served as member of that honorable body for three years.
He was tall, erect, commanding, dignified, and made an excellent presiding
officer. In early life, he was married to Elizabeth Harvey of Nottingham.
When she came to this town with him they rode on horseback, she having
for a whip a willow stick which she stuck in the ground near the entrance
of the driveway leading to the McClary house. The tree is now standing
which grew from the twig placed there by the hand of the bride, 161 years
They had four children,-the oldest son, John McClary, Jr., was killed
at the battle of Saratoga in 1779. They had but one daughter, Mollie,
who married Daniel Page of Deerfield.
The McClarys owned a very large landed estate, which was divided into
several valuable farms for the sons and daughters. In 1741, Esquire John
built a one-story house on the south side of the road. This house was
enlarged at various times and
became the venerable looking mansion it now is. For twenty-five years
it was the headquarters of the New Hampshire Committee of Safety, and
the Society of Cincinnati, of which he was president, met here three times.
Many of the schemes influencing the early history of New Hampshire were
concocted within its walls. In it great men have been born and have lived.
In its dining hall famous men have sat at the board. In its chambers distinguished
statesmen, jurists, and heroes have slept. Before the wide fireplace in
the reception room have gathered the wit and beauty of a time when men
were strong, and women fair, and wine was red. No wonder that the echoes
of long lost and forgotten music are said lo return at night when darkness
and silence reign.
Alone in this great guest chamber one might fancy he had for companions
the shades of Daniel Webster, Jeremiah Mason, General Sullivan, and other
distinguished men, who have in other days slept within its walls. It is
at present owned and occupied by Michael McClary Steele, of the fifth
generation of the McClarys, and great grandson of Esquire John. This is
the most historic place in all southern New Hampshire, and a visit here
will be found very interesting. The present owner is a gentleman of ability
and will receive you most cordially.
General Michael McClary, second son of Esquire John, married Sally Dearborn,
daughter of Dr. Dearborn of North Hampton. They had five children. The
oldest, John, born, in 1785, was of great personal beauty and accomplishments.
He was representative, senator, and held a clerkship at Washington. He
was killed by a.falling timber while assisting to raise a shed, when but
thirty-six years of age. The funeral was said to be the largest ever held
in the Suncook valley.
The second son, Andrew, born in 1787, sailed for Calcutta and was lost
at sea. General McClary also had three daughters of rare attraction. The
oldest, Nancy, married Samuel Lord of Portsmouth. A son of theirs, Augustus,
once purchased a part of the McClary estate and improved it for some years.
Elizabeth Harvey married Jonathan Steele, a lawyer from Peterborough.
They settled on the homestead now owned and occupied by their son, Michael
McClary Steele. The third daughter, Mary, married Robert Parker of Fitzwilliam.
After the marriage of Ann McClary, the youngest daughter of the old emigrant,
to Richard Tripp, they settled on the farm now owned by Samuel Quimby,
where he cleared a small place and erected buildings thereon.
The country being new and they being poor, they were subject to many hardships,
but being Scotch-Irish they were strong and muscular and enabled to endure
the hardships which circumstances compelled them to pass through. Tradition
says she was able to pick up a barrel of cider from the ground and place
it in the cart. And at one time she traveled on foot seven miles through
the woods to visit a neighbor, carrying a child in her arms, and the cloth
to make a shirt. After making the shirt, she returned home the same day.
There are many other instances that might be related that go to show the
wonderful muscular power which this woman possessed.
In the year 1781, they, with their two sons, Richard and John, moved on
the place now occupied by the writer at Short Falls, they having cleared
a few acres previously. At this time their nearest neighbor lived where
Benjamin Fowler now resides. They afterwards built a sawmill, just above
where the Short Falls bridge is, where they sawed out four-inch white
oak plank and sold them for one dollar and fifty cents a thousand, delivered
on the hill near the house where Hiram Holmes now resides, where they
were purchased by parties from Durham for shipbuilding, using the money
to pay for the land, the price of a thousand of lumber paying for an acre
D. H. Kurd's history of New Hampshire says: '' The town of Epsom has furnished
many worthy men during the past one hundred and fifty years who have held
positions of trust and honor in the state and nation, but none stand out
in such bold relief or are more worthy of remembrance than the McClarys.
In fact no family in the Suncook valley fills so large a space in its
history or the hearts of its people. For nearly a century they were the
leading influential men in all our civil, political, and military affairs,
and were identified with all the important events and measures that received
the attention and governed the acts of the successive generations during
that long period of time. We know of no instance in our state where history
has so sadly neglected to do justice to a family which has rendered so
efficient service in defending the rights and promoting the interests
of our commonwealth and nation, as in this instance."
General Michael McClary
By JOHN C. FRENCH
MICHAEL, second son of Esquire John McClary, was born in Epsom in 1753.
He received the advantages of a fair education, was a smart, active lad
and, in common with other members of the family, had military tastes.
At the age of twenty-three, he joined the army at the breaking out of
the Revolutionary War, and was appointed Ensign in Captain Henry Dearborn's
company in Stark's regiment. This company rendered heroic service at the
battle of Bunker Hill. In 1777 he was promoted and made Captain in Colonel
Scammel's regiment. He served four years in the army, taking part in some
of the most decisive engagements of the war, and suffered with his men
some of the severest privations and fatigues.
His soldierly qualities, engaging manners and family connections gave
him the acquaintance and friendship of the leading officers of the Revolution,
and by a severe experience in the army he gained a thorough knowledge
of men and national affairs, which proved of great practical advantage
in after years. On returning from the army, he at once took a prominent
position in social and political life, which he held for half a century.
He took an active part in the organization of the State Government and,
being well versed in military affairs and of good executive ability, he
was appointed Adjutant-General for the State of New Hampshire. He organized
that department and held the office twenty-one consecutive years, In 1796
he was elected Senator and was a member of that body seven years, and
such was his popularity that the votes in Epsom were Unanimous in his
favor and nearly so in the adjoining towns. He was United States Marshal
for a long time, which, during the last war with England, with the large
amount of privateering prosecuted at Portsmouth, was a very responsible
office. He was tendered the nomination of candidate for Governor, but
declined to accept. Though well known throughout the State, with positions
of honor and trust at his command, his popularity, power and influence
in his native town was remarkable. He seemed to control the affairs of
Epsom with almost universal consent. For over fifty years he served his
townsmen in some capacity, either as Moderator, Town Clerk, Representative
Said an old Federalist, "If I had a family of children who would
obey me as well as the people of Epsom do General McClary, I should be
a happy man." Though once a Federalist, he cast his lot with the
Democratic Party and carried the town with him almost unanimously. During
the last war with England, party feeling ran high and party lines were
closely drawn. Governor Plummer, through Adjutant-General McClary, called
out detachments of the militia without calling together the Council or
Legislature, which provoked a great deal of controversy. General McClary
procured supplies for the troops, made preparation for the defense of
Portsmouth, purchased cannon and munitions of war. But in 1814, when the
Federalists rallied and elected John T. Gilman as Governor, General McClary
resigned his office with virtuous indignation, which he had filled with
credit and ability, and in which capacity he had reviewed every regiment
in the State.
The town of Epsom strongly supported the war. A full company, under Captain
Jonathan Godfrey, volunteered for the defense of Portsmouth.
Michael McClary also did much business as justice of the peace and probate
judge. He took an active part in organizing the New Hampshire Branch of
the Society of the Cincinnati. He was the first treasurer and held the
office twenty-five years. This honorable body of Revolutionary officers
met annually on the Fourth of July. Three of their annual meetings were
held at the house of General McClary. This society is worthy of more extended
mention, and their annual meetings called together more noted men than
ever assembled on any other occasion. He was also a Free Mason. While
in the army young McClary had met in secret conclave such men as Washington,
Lafayette, Sullivan and other brothers of the mystic order and became
an earnest worker in the craft. In connection with other ex-officers he
was instrumental in organizing a lodge at Deerfield, and in honor of General
Sullivan it was called Sullivan Lodge. He was the first Senior of this
lodge, and afterwards Worshipful Master. In appearance General McClary
was tall, commanding, well proportioned and prepossessing. He made a fine
appearance as a military officer, either on foot or in the saddle, which,
with his position, means, and hospitality rendered him exceedingly popular.
He was remarkably affable and engaging in his manners, interesting in
conversation, graceful in his movements, convivial in his habits, generous
and public-spirited, fond of power, and when opposed displayed some traits
not recorded among the Christian graces. His acquaintance and correspondence
was remarkably extensive, embracing many of the most distinguished men
of the country.
He married, in 1779, Sally Dearborn, an intelligent, interesting and accomplished
lady, daughter of Dr. Dearborn of Northampton. They entertained company
with style and grace, and around their festive board have been many happy
meetings of the prominent men of the times. They had five children. The
oldest son, John, born in 1785, was of great personal beauty. He was early
promoted to offices of trust, Representative, Senator and a clerkship
at Washington. He was killed by a falling building when but thirty-six
years of age. The second son, Andrew, born in 1787, was wild and roving.
He entered the army in the War of 1812 and served as Captain. He married
Mehitable Duncan of Concord, in 1813, and had one daughter. Shortly after
he sailed for Calcutta and was lost at sea. General McClary also had three
daughters. The oldest, Nancy Dearborn, born in 1789, married Samuel Lord
of Portsmouth, whose ability and wealth is well known. One of his sons,
Augustus, purchased a large part of the old McClary estate. The second
daughter, Elisabeth Harvey, married Jonathan Steele, a lawyer from Peterboro.
The third daughter, Mary, born in 1794, married Robert Parker and lived
General McClary and wife both lived to old age. He died in 1825, aged
72, and was buried with his ancestors in Epsom, where rests the dust of
many heroic dead, whose lives and deeds are fast fading from the memory
of passing generations.