Monday, September 24, 2018

Couldn't Keep 'Em Down on the Farm

My husband's maternal McClure family came to America specifically to buy land and farm during the 1730s. Until they couldn't keep 'em down on the farm any longer, about 150 years later.

The patriarch, Halbert McClure (1684-1764) led a group of his sons, a daughter, and several brothers making the journey from Donegal to Philadelphia in the 1730s. Originally from the Isle of Skye before being forced to relocate to Donegal, the McClures had enough money to pay for their Atlantic voyage. After landing in Philadelphia, the family walked to the colony of Virginia and plunked down cash for hundreds of acres of fertile farmland.

In hubby's direct line, Halbert's son Alexander McClure (1717-1790) and grandson John McClure (1781-1834?) both were farmers. John, however, ventured from Virginia into Ohio to be a pioneer farmer. John's son, Benjamin McClure (1812-1896) was born in Adams County, Ohio and he became a pioneer farmer in Wabash county, Indiana. Benjamin was my husband's 2d great-grandpa.

At top is a land ownership map showing where Benjamin's 80 acres were located in Paw Paw township in 1875. Benjamin was a civic leader as well as a farmer, and served as an Elder in the Presbyterian Church in Wabash county. Benjamin was the end of the line as far as career farmers in his branch of the McClure family.

Benjamin's son (hubby's great-grandpa) William Madison McClure (1849-1887) worked for "the railway" (according to 1880 census). Another of Benjamin's sons, John N. McClure, was a farmer and then later went to work for the railroad. A third son, Train Caldwell McClure, was an oil mill operator (1880 census). The oldest son, Theodore Wilson McClure, was a farmer and storekeeper in 1880 but became a day laborer by 1900, according to Census records.

William Madison McClure had four children and none of them had anything to do with farming. In fact, all moved to more urban settings. The oldest daughter, Lola (1877-1948), became a teacher and married a civil engineer.

The oldest son grew up to be hubby's Grandpa Brice Larimer McClure (1878-1970). He was a master mechanic, first with the railroad and then with industrial firms in Cleveland, Ohio.

The younger daughter, Lucille Ethel McClure (1880-1926) moved to Chicago and married a farmer turned plumber, who worked on new construction in the booming economy of the Windy City.

The younger son, Hugh Benjamin McClure (1882-1960), began as a shipping clerk and then worked as a salesman before owning his own successful manufacturing firm in Peoria, Illinois.

The next generations had nothing to do with farming, either. Just couldn't keep this McClure family down on the farm after 150 years.

Thanks to Amy Johnson Crow for the #52Ancestors prompt about "on the farm" (or, in this case, "not on the farm").


  1. The family history of farming you describe is similar to what happened in my NH family. My 4th great-grandfather had 7 sons, and none of them carried on with the farm.

  2. I think there's a similar pattern in the UK too, it's so difficult to keep a farm in the family. And it's hard to make a living from it too these days.

  3. Thank you both for commenting! It's quite interesting to see the pattern of family farming for generations and then identify the generation where the pattern was broken. Few family farms are left in New England these days, unfortunately. But some are adding to their income by adding ice cream stands and other extras, happily.

  4. My farming families also moved to the city and many worked for the railroad, from laying track to engineer. The building of railroads took many a young man from the family farm. Only one son, with a neighborhood friend, ventured west and pioneered their own farms. He had no children to leave it to, and as he and his wife aged they sold the farm and moved in to town.

    One thing I want to say about farming.... my brother worked summers on farms all through high school. He went to college to take agriculture, but quit when he discovered the government only gave farming grants to children of farmers. Most kids I knew who came from family farms hated it and couldn’t wait to get good paying jobs in the city or start traveling. Crazy!

    1. A very hard life for farm families, definitely. And the weather adds unpredictability. Railroad jobs and other non-farm jobs allowed these families a steady income most of the time!

  5. Love land ownership maps! It's so great to actually see where the land was, gives great context to our ancestors!
    Sue (