David McGill drowned at Fairhaven was the headline on page 1 of The Morning Mercury’s edition of 13 June 1935. The Morning Mercury was a New Bedford, Massachusetts newspaper. The report stated that it was believed that he had fallen from the pier. David McGill was a retired businessman who was a well respected figure within the community.

However, who was he and how did he achieve his success given his modest beginnings? It is here that I declare an interest as he was my two times great uncle, the younger brother of my great grandfather, Robert McGill.

David was born in Rosewell, a small mining village which lies a few miles south of Edinburgh on 5 December 1861. Rosewell is in Lasswade parish. His parents were Hugh McGill and Agnes (Blair) McGill. Hugh and Agnes were married in 1851 and had nine children, two of whom died in infancy. Living in a mining community it is not surprising to learn that Hugh was a coal miner when his children were born. Previous generations of McGills had worked in the mines of the local parishes although Hugh and Agnes, in later years, moved into Edinburgh where he was employed by the City Council. However, when the 1881 census was taken his occupation was given a mill worker. Maybe this was a transition to improve his life, but at 55 perhaps he may have been deemed too old to be a coal miner. Two of David’s siblings were mill workers living at home in Leyden Place, Bonnyrigg, in the nearby parish of Cockpen.

By this time David was 19 and had moved away from the family home. In fact he was living next door to his older brother, Robert, who had been married the previous year. Robert was a grocer and provision merchant employing one man and two boys. David was boarding at 1 Horne Terrace, Edinburgh, with the Gillespie family giving his occupation as a provision merchant. Robert and Isabella, his wife, were at No 3. There is no reason to doubt that perhaps David was employed by his older brother.

However, life as an employee in Edinburgh could have been short-lived as there is a record of a David McGill, aged 19, sailing in October 1881 bound for New York from London on the “Persian Monarch”. Certainly when the 1900 US census was taken David had been living in the US for 18 years which would tie up with the passenger on the 1881 sailing being him. The 1890 US census was largely destroyed in a fire so his entry in that one cannot be established. David was not the first McGill to settle in the US, another distant cousin, Adam, left Scotland for Utah many years prior to David. Adam’s descendants continue to live in the state today.

Settling in Massachusetts David established a grocer’s business which developed into confectionery “candy”. I’ve already mentioned Robert’s similar business in Edinburgh. Perhaps there was a family “calling” as another brother, Thomas, two years older than David established a confectionery business in Hamilton, Lanarkshire, a town 40 miles west of Edinburgh.

Settling in Cambridge, MA it was not long before David married Annie Gill, the wedding taking place in Boston on 19 May 1886. Annie was born in Fochabers, Morayshire and arrived in the US in October 1872 on board the “Polynesian”. The vessel, owned by the Allan Line, was on its maiden voyage and was bound for Quebec, however, the Gill family were “ticketed” to Boston. So by the time David arrived Annie had had almost 10 years of living in the US.

Annie and David had five children. The eldest was John Hugh born in 1887. He was, no doubt, named after Annie’s father, John  and David’s father, Hugh. Two girls followed, Annie in 1889 and Lillian in 1891. Sadly Annie died in 1890. The final two were Damon, a son born in 1892 and a further daughter, Mildred who was born in 1900. As births were fairly consistent over the years of the marriage perhaps Annie had lost children before the safe arrival of Mildred.

The birth of Damon in 1892 has for some time intrigued me. He was born in Hamilton, Lanarkshire while all of his siblings were born in the US. In addition his christian names Damon Wade Fales also were a mystery to me. Perhaps Fales was the maiden surname of his maternal grandmother, however, that was Grant. Why did they give him those names?

Damon’s birth certificate states that he was born on 28 May 1892 at 56 Quarry Street. Interestingly David gave his occupation as  “Evangelist” despite the fact that he had been, by all accounts, a successful grocer and confectioner back in New Bedford. It is known that the family were deeply religious, a tradition that has continued in his descendants today. Perhaps he made the journey to Scotland as a sort of mission to make sure his siblings back in the mother country shared his faith. This is, of course, supposition and we may never know the answer.

I do recall my aunt telling me that as a child whenever she and her siblings, my father and uncle, visited their Uncle John, David’s elder brother, for a meal he prayed for everyone in the family whilst the food got gradually colder! To add to their “misery” John lived in a top floor flat and they had had to walk up all the stairs.

However, I digress in this story. The family had sailed from New York to Glasgow in December 1891 on the “State of California” and returned in August 1892 on the “Scandinavian” which left Glasgow bound for Boston. Whilst Lillian is listed as an infant along with 4 year old John Hugh, there is no mention of baby Damon. Lillian would have been 18  months at that tine. Maybe there was no need to record such young passengers as Damon but somehow I doubt it.

Why was Damon given these Christian names which did not have a direct bearing to the names of any of his ancestors? I have a subscription to Ancestry and found a tree containing Annie Gill and her family. One of Annie’s sisters, Margaret, married a Damon Wade Fales who had been born in Boston in 1850. Margaret and Damon were married in Boston in 1880.

Damon Fales was therefore Damon McGill’s uncle through marriage to Margaret Gill. The various US census’ list his occupation as either a grocer or the manager of a candy store. Given the family connection he may well have worked for David McGill. If not the families certainly knew each other and perhaps were in competition together albeit in different locations.

Damon McGill, sadly, died aged 17 from diabetes. He had had this condition for a year according to his death certificate. He was buried in the family burial plot in New Bedford Cemetery.

John Hugh McGill, the eldest of David and Annie’s children was married twice. His first wife was Jessta Louise Arderhold whom he married on 11 January 1911. John was 24, while Jessta, who was of Austrian heritage, was 28. They subsequently divorced, however, there were no children. In all Jessta married four times and lived to 102! At the time of their wedding John was a salesman from Cambridge, MA. However, when the 1920 census was taken he has recorded as being divorced and living as a lodger in a boarding house with his occupation being a selling agent for real estate.

John married again, this time to Alice Stanwood Murphy on 8 April 1920 in Maine. Like John, Alice was a divorcee, her first husband was Robert Spencer who she married in January 1912 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. They divorced in 1919. Whilst I did find a Draft Registration Card for both WW1 and WW2 service for John I have found no evidence that he did serve in the Great War, he would have been 30 when the US joined the conflict in 1917.

Alice and John had no children of their own, however, they adopted a boy, William Richard, who was born in 1921. William died in 2003. He married Marjorie Reid and they had three sons – James, Donald and Charles. Alice died in 1954, while John died in 1968. Kelly McGill, the son of James lives in Washington State. I have yet to establish whether any of James’ siblings married and had children.

Lillian McGill, David and Annie’s second daughter, married James Watson on 23 September 1914 in New Bedford, MA. They had no children. From what I have been able to gather Lillian ran her father’s business in his later life. Eventually it was sold. Ironically David’s brother, Robert’s wholesale grocery business in Edinburgh was liquidated in the 1960s due to competition from the cash and carry trade that was emerging. Lillian died in 1965, while James died in 1951. 

The youngest daughter, Mildred, married Glasgow born James Stevenson in 1921 when she was 21. James was 27. He was a book finisher according to their marriage record. They had three daughters, Louise, Ruth and Lillian. Sadly Louise was born with Downs Syndrome and was institutionalised when she was 12 and died in her early 60s. Ruth and Lillian married and had their own families. Indeed there are now great grandchildren of Ruth and Lillian. Whilst some live elsewhere in the US the majority still have their roots firmly planted in Massachusetts where their ancestors settled all those years ago after emigrating from Scotland.

However, to go back to the beginning of this story. David McGill and Annie had been married for 30 years before she died on 2 August 1916 from an oedema of the lung and a brain haemorrhage. She was laid to rest in the family lair (plot) in New Bedford Cemetery. 

At the time of his death David was living with his daughter Lillian and her husband James Watson at 720 Rockdale Avenue, New Bedford. The newspaper report said that the Fairhaven police believed that he had slipped from a board pier. He was found by James. It had been high tide and he may well have slipped on a loose board. His death notice was recorded in The Boston Globe of 14 June 1935.

During the course of his business life David had also been an agent for Cunard. Indeed he was listed as a passenger on the “Elysia”, a Cunard vessel which left Boston on 26 September 1919 bound for Glasgow. This was reported in The Boston Globe. Many old newspapers have been digitised and can be viewed online either for free through libraries or subscription services. The Fall River Daily Globe of Monday 13 August 1917 carried a brief article in which David was mentioned in his capacity of Cunard’s agent.

This article noted that he had received a cable from Cape Town reporting that the “City of Athens” had been lost en route from New York to Cape Town. All the passengers were saved and were delivered safely to Cape Town. David believed that it was the victim of either a mine or torpedo. Among the passengers were a party of seven missionaries bound for Central Africa. They were from a local religious organisation, Gospel Hall. David was actively involved with this group.

David had therefore made full use of his new life in the US, arriving as a 19 year old, forging a successful business career and maintaining  his deeply held religious beliefs.

My interest in family history has been ongoing for over 20 years and I have made some interesting discoveries. It is good to note that the power of social media can be an asset when locating “lost” or new family members. Indeed Lillian Stevenson now Fulton embraces Facebook as she enters her 90th year. Many of David McGill’s descendants can be found on Facebook.

Sources:- Lil Fulton and family, Joyce Pendery a genealogist based in MA, local newspapers and my own research using amongst others Ancestry, Find my Past and Scotland’s People.