James McGinnis was born to Larkin and Margaret “Peggy” Elizabeth Anthoney McGinnis about 1832, probably in Rutherford County, NC. Larkin and Peggy’s little family of three can be found in the 1830 Rutherford County census, the third individual being James’ older brother John; so it’s fairly certain they were still there when James was born. The Irish were well known for disappearing into the mountains and foothills of North Carolina and not making themselves known to the government head-counters; they had brought with them from Ireland a natural distrust of the ruling class. So it is not surprising that as of yet I have been unable to find the record of a Larkin McGinnis family, that should have included James, in either the 1840 or 1850 census.
The first record that I have been able to find of James is his marriage license of the 2nd of April 1855, when he married Lucinda Padgett in Cleveland County, NC and being officiated by the Justice of the Peace, A. T. Elliott. James and Lucinda apparently remained in Cleveland County and started their family which was enumerated in the 1860 census; listing James (28) as a farmer, Lucinda (25), Christopher C. (4), Louisa (3), and Madison (1). Everything seemed as it should be, and I’m sure none of them realized what the next ten years were going to hold for them.
The census had been taken on the 18th of August, and eight months later the first shots of the Civil War were fired. Knowing that James was there for the 1860 census, but missing from the family in the 1870 census; the first thought was that he most probably became a casualty of the war. I began my search, and I found a record that showed a James McGinnis had enlisted in the Confederate Army and was assigned to Company F, 62nd NC Infantry. In 1863 the Company was sent to defend the Cumberland Gap which is a mountain pass close to where the states of Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee intersect, and it was a pivotal access point from the North to the South. When confronted by a much larger force of the Union Army, the entire garrison surrendered on September 9th, 1863. James McGinnis became a prisoner of war and was sent to Camp Douglas, a prison camp just outside of Chicago. Camp Douglas was known as “ten acres of hell” during the War and afterward was often referred to as the “Northern Andersonville” due to its harsh conditions and high prisoner death rate. According to records, James McGinnis died at Camp Douglas on January 24, 1864 from “inflammation of the lungs”, probably pneumonia. All this documentation appeared to answer the question of why James was not with the family for the 1870 census, but it also raised many questions. I began to look closely at the dates and quickly determined that this James McGinnis could not be the father of William Andrew McGinnis who was born in October 1864. I then had to question whether I was a “McGinnis” at all, and then set out to solve the mystery of how William Andrew and two more of his siblings were born to Lucinda before that 1870 census.
The next document I found not only answered some questions, but complicated our family history. I found another marriage record which stated that James McGinnis, son of Larkin and Margaret Elizabeth (Anthony) McGinnis, married Mary E. Feagans, daughter of Daniel Feagans, on February 6th, 1868. So our James McGinnis did not die during the Civil War, was the father of William Andrew, and apparently was a “bigamist”. It appears that James tried to maintain the two marriages and two separate households for at least a couple years; since Lucinda’s children, William “Willie” J. McGinnis (born in 1869), and John Henry McGinnis (born in 1870) both listed their father as “James McGinnis” in later documents. About the “James” who died in the Civil War; there were several James McGinnises from the Cleveland-Rutherford County area that served, but I know who most of them were and what happened to them; so who the “James” was that died in Camp Douglas, I’m not sure. It is also possible that James enticed some other poor soul, through either a monetary payment or a promise of future reward (such as land), to enlist on his behalf and to use his name. It was not that uncommon of a practice, and once the charade was enacted, it was near impossible not to continue it.
There is no factual proof that I have to offer for how all this took place, but I would like to use some historical knowledge, family history, and some educated guessing to give a possible scenario; it can be complicated, so bear with me. First, a family history note, our special cousin, Susie McGinnis, who was considered “learning disabled” and would today probably be considered to be on the autism scale, was a sponge when it came to gathering information. When we were growing up, she would usually sit with the adults, listening to the conversations, and taking it all in. I found out much later in life that she was a “gold mine” of family history, and while I didn’t know the significance at the time, she told me that it had been said in one of those family conversations that “Grandma had helped to hide Grandpa in a cave”. Now let me say that I love to watch movies, especially those that might be rooted in some historical event, so it wasn’t until I saw the movie “Cold Mountain” that Susie’s statement started to register with me. In the movie, with much of the setting being Cold Mountain, NC during the Civil War, there are three characters who are Confederate deserters and who not only hide in a cave in NC, but eventually are aided by some local family members. Now it all made sense, if the statement had been made by our grandfather, Auther, then his grandfather “James” would have been the one to have been hidden in the cave, probably since he too would have been a deserter from military duty. Another tie in to this is the fact that a neighbor to James’ father, Larkin, was the Daniel Feagans family, which included, not only Mary E. Feagans, but also several sons of military age. I surmise that James and some of the Feagans might have hid in a cave during this time to avoid capture by the “home guard”, and were aided and supplied by their families. If this was the case, then it is very possible that Mary would have delivered supplies to the cave, and this could have been when she caught the eye of James. The War ended in 1865, but I’m sure that James probably continued his visits to his father’s house, and I believe that the continued encounters between Mary and James ultimately led to what was probably a “shotgun wedding” in 1868.
After marrying Mary, James kept a low-profile and disappeared from the public record; I have been unable to find him in either the 1870 or 1880 census, with or without Mary. I think it is possible that he moved the short distance over the state line into South Carolina, and tried to stay out of sight. Not surprisingly, I found him in court documents as part of a legal action in 1882-1883. His father, Larkin, had died in December of 1880, and several of his children and grandchildren were suing Larkin’s second wife, Elizabeth, as heirs to his estate and for possession of 110 acres of land that Larkin had owned in Polk County, NC. If nothing else, finding these documents prove a couple things, first is that James was still alive in 1883, and secondly he was still living close-by and in contact with his family. It also gives all the names of the plaintiffs which lets us know the names of James’ siblings who are still living and present at that time. There was a total of ten listed plaintiffs which include the surviving children of James’ deceased older brother John: William T. McGinnis, Louise “Lou” McGinnis, and Margaret McGinnis Womack, as well as, James’ siblings: Landrum McGinnis, Margaret Ann McGinnis Hall, Elvira McGinnis Walker, Nancy McGinnis, W. T. McGinnis (I believe this is actually William C.), and Martha McGinnis. The Superior Court Judge’s decision in the matter was that the wife Elizabeth would receive one-third of the land as her “dower”, and the remaining two-thirds would be sold and divided among the children, with each receiving a one-eighth share of the proceeds (John’s children were to divide his one-eighth share). These court documents are the last reference I have been able to find about our great-great grandfather; I don’t know where he went, when he died, or where he might be buried. He made the decision to live the latter part of his life in obscurity, and seems to have been very successful in doing so.
I would welcome hearing from any of our relatives out there that might have any further information on our James.