Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Some news on Captain Jack McQuesten

I am helping recreate a banner once carried by the Yukon Order of Pioneers that will hopefully be carried again at a big celebration in Dawson, this coming August.

I will be recreating the art, and a restoration expert will be recreating the actual banner. The banner was burned in the 1960s and we only had two black and white photos to go by. Luckily, someone found a color photo, shown below, and in looking at it closely, there appears to a man in the center at the top. My guess is that this is Jack McQuesten, since he founded the organization, and was such an incredible influence in the Yukon area.

Ed Jones is going to see if anyone's around that might remember. Regardless, if we do not put Jack's picture there, we will put a generic picture, which anyone is welcomed to assume is Jack. Here's the new photo -

Also, attached is a photo of Jack's store that still stands at Forty Mile. This would have been the actual physical birthplace of the Yukon Order of Pioneers. It is also the most likeliest location of the Mitchell, Alaska Post Office, even though it was located inside Canada. Postmarks from Mitchell are one of the highest prized postal collector items, because of the mystery surrounding its location. Here's the store photo -

I tried to get the Smithsonian to accept an article on Jack as Father of Alaska. They said it was too narrow of an audience, and I'm thinking "Ice Road Truckers," "Alaska Gold Rush," "Alaska State Troopers," "Sarah Palin's Alaska," the new Alaska bush pilot show, the long-time reality show "Greatest Catch," and a gadzillion other shows on survival in Alaska, touring Alaska, working in Alaska - who's not paying attention to TV lately at the Smithsonian? 

In addition to the Alaska connection, Jack also provided over 200 specimens to the Smithsonian, and recorded the first weather reports of the Upper Yukon - about 840 separate temperature readings and several hundred daily observations, all for the Smithsonian. 

I might try an "end run" on this. Had a little luck with that technique in the past.

Jack helped with the first Alaska census, grubstaked just about everyone up there, was called Father of Alaska, Father of the Yukon, Indian Papa, Yukon Jack and he should have also had the nickname "Father of the Klondike" since he sent Cormack (the guy who found the first Klondike gold) there and grubstaked him. Jack first recorded the Klondike River's Indian name, Thronduik,  in writing, three times before anyone else did. He established his first post just six miles away. He sent Joe Ladue to establish Dawson and Jack built the first Alaska Commercial Company store there. No other early pioneer had a greater connection to the Klondike/Dawson area than Jack McQuesten.

I met a very, very successful current Klondike miner (a few million a year!) who told me - "Dawson wouldn't be half the town it is without Jack McQuesten. I feel just as indebted to him as every old miner he ever grubstaked. Jack's bronze plaque faces out to the confluence of the Yukon and Klondike Rivers – and rightfully so. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Photo to accompany the previous story.

Note similarity in long face, tight lips, high forehead, jowls on cheeks - also both men were tall and slim, had wide-set ears, both were lawyers first before serving in the White House, both were great orators and writers, both had stern, almost depressed or fatalistic outlooks on life.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

There is strong evidence that President Andrew Jackson had McUisdean blood in him, which is covered elsewhere in my writings and will be expanded on in the near future.

Meanwhile, I just watched a special on the War of 1812 and of course Jackson played a prominent role in that war. Even though a treaty was already in the works, 10,000 British soldiers and sailors were still planning an attack on New Orleans. Though Jackson's men were way outnumbered they succeeded in one of the most lopsided victories in American wars. The battle is widely regarded as the greatest land victory of the 1812 war, and while Jackson lost only 24 men, the British suffered about 300 killed, 1500 wounded and about 500 missing in action.

The thing is these British soldiers and sailors were some of the best England had to offer, having just come from defeating Napoleon and being very battle-hardened. Their defeat by a group of common folks made up of every color and creed and social class you can imagine gave this country the confidence that we could stand on our own as a world power. Jackson became the most popular man in America.

Later, in 1818, he was charged with taking on the Seminole Indian Wars near Florida. Although the previous commander of the campaign had specifically been told not to take the two Spanish towns in Florida, Jackson was only told to do what he had to, to solve the problem. This came directly from President James Monroe, through Jackson's later VP, John C. Calhoun, Secretary of War.

As Jackson chased the Seminole into Florida he realized that it was they who ran the Spanish towns, not the few Spanish authorities there – authorities who were allowing the Indians to use these towns as bases to reorganize and recoup from battle. So Jackson simply took these towns as part of the campaign.

Well, this caused a near all out war with Spain and Monroe had to deal with them and with political enemies calling for his scalp, or at least that of Jackson. A cabinet meeting was held and, when asked his opinion, Calhoun said maybe they should call Jackson in to have him testify as to why he took the towns. Calhoun was not, at the time, anti-Jackson. He just thought this would be proper procedure.

Monroe declined and the vote was to let the situation cool down. Later, a letter came to light from one of Calhoun's political enemies named Crawford. This was at the time that Jackson was President and Calhoun was Vice-President. The letter said that Calhoun had called for Jackson's arrest at that 1818 cabinet meeting, and a copy was made available to Jackson.

Jackson wrote Calhoun a letter asking if this was true. Calhoun took offense that someone he had supported so long would doubt him. Unfortunately, he bagged on forever in the letter trying to prove his innocence. Jackson wrote back that whatever problems he had with his political enemy was between Calhoun and Crawford. But he added he was shocked to learn that Calhoun had even suggested that he testify. A few letters exchanged hands getting uglier every time.

Monroe finally stepped in to suggest that Jackson submit a letter to the War Department outlining why he mistook his instruction for the Seminole War, and Calhoun would submit a letter explaining what Monroe had really meant by his directive, and it would all smooth over.

Well Jackson wrote Monroe saying he would never send such a letter because as he saw it he had every right to do what he did according to the directive Monroe had given him and he would admit to nothing except serving his country.

The letters continued to fly between Jackson, Calhoun and Monroe. Especially those between Jackson and Calhoun got more ridiculous and childish as they went along. Finally, Jackson wrote that the country would be shocked to know that its two top leaders were acting in such a childish way, and he wanted no further letters from Calhoun.

The letter writing was aggravated by Calhoun's stand for State's Rights and Jackson's strong belief in keeping the Union together. Jackson had written much on this that was later used by Abraham Lincoln. In addition, Calhoun's wife and her clique were shunning the wife of one of Jackson's good friends in Washington. His own wife having died from a broken heart because of all the slander thrown at her during Jackson's election campaign, Jackson took personal offense to Mrs. Calhoun's actions.

Bottom line was Calhoun resigned after one term as VP and ran for South Carolina senator. Jackson said, as he left office four years later, that his one regret was that he didn't hang John C. Calhoun. The two had become bitter enemies for the rest of their lives.

As a footnote: There is considerable evidence that John C. Calhoun is the actual father of Abraham Lincoln. This has been discussed at length for over a hundred years. Calhoun, as a young lawyer, used to stop at a tavern run by the father of Nancy Hanks. It is speculated that he got her pregnant and paid a passing pig delivery man named Lincoln to take her away. In the Abbeyville, SC, Courthouse is a document filed where Calhoun promises to pay Hicks so much a year for child support.

Helping substantiate this story is that Lincoln told his law partner and biographer that he was adopted. When that biography came out it was pulled from the shelves and another was printed leaving out the part about the adoption. However, several copies remained in public hands.

As Lincoln was just beginning to make his way in life, one of his mentors was another man named John Calhoun. He made his debut in Springfield, Illinois, which just so happens to have first been named Calhoun after John C. Calhoun. There are other bits of info including eye witnesses that heard or told this tale at or around that time.

As life would have it, Lincoln followed Jackson's lead in keeping the Union together, totally rejecting Calhoun's philosophy, perhaps because he had been rejected by Calhoun as his son.

A quick super imposing of Calhoun's and Jackson's portraits will show the similarities between the men - long face, high forehead, protruding ears, etc. The jury is still out on this controversy, but it just so happens that my wife was related to Calhoun and in their Mormon family history there is at least one other Calhoun and Hanks intermarriage in the Abbeyville area, making the John C. Calhoun and Nancy Hanks story very easily possible.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Road to Guilford Courthouse

Anyone familiar with the McQuiston family history knows how involved we were with the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, which took place on the very Ides of March – March 15, 1781, near what is now Greensboro, NC. This date was also the 14th birthday of Andrew Jackson, a McQuiston relative and future U.S. President.

In a nutshell, Lord Cornwallis, the leader of the British troops, took over the homestead of Thomas and Ann McCuistion on March 12th and 13th as his headquarters. This home was right on the edge of the soon-to-be battlefield. However, Cornwallis left on the 13th, heading southwest. As he rode away Nathanael Greene, the American commander, began approaching the Courthouse area to make his stand.

On the late morning of the 15th, Cornwallis returned to the area around the McCuistion home and met two lines of militia and a final line of regulars strung out between his troops and the courthouse. As the battle commenced, the first line of militia fired one to three shots then fell back and regrouped, or hid in the nearby forest as snipers. Then the second line followed the same pattern. Finally the regulars became involved until Greene decided to retreat down McCuiston Road and across McCuiston Bridge.

Cornwallis logged his stay at the McCuistion homestead in his war log diary. The retreat of Greene down McCuiston Road and Bridge was recorded by Cornwallis's war artist.

The names were spelled a variety of ways as is the case with our family. It was in fact a McCuistion home that Cornwallis used as headquarters and the McCuiston Road and Bridge that Greene retreated over, based on the family that lived near the bridge. Both commanders of perhaps the most significant battle of the Revolution are connected to our family name through this story.

However, since nothing happens in a vacuum, here is the bigger story.

In November of 1743, the home church of the McQuiston family, in Middle Octorara, PA, held a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Scottish covenants, along with the congregations from other nearby Presbyterian churches, which ended in raised swords and a declaration of independence against King George. A generation later, these same families played a major role in making that independence possible.

In 1771, Thomas McCuistion, of Guilford County, NC, served as a Regulator in what some have called the real first battle of the Revolution, the Battle of Alamance.

James and Anthony McQuiston of Westmoreland County, PA (near Pittsburgh) signed the Westmoreland Resolves, or basically the areas own declaration of independence, which was written in 1775.

War broke out across the 13 colonies. In New England, the McQuesten families joined the Colonials in many battles, while McQuesten women melted down their own pewter to make rifle slugs.

In Pennsylvania, James McQuiston became a "spy on the western frontier" while Anthony became a Navy bombardier on the Delaware River.

As Cornwallis invaded the south beginning in late 1788 at Savannah, the South Carolina McQuistons became suppliers to the Colonial troops, there. They also, no doubt, fought as militiamen, as Cornwallis made his way up through South Carolina.

His bloody sidekick, Banastre Tarleton, massacred many militia men at the Waxhaws, even though they had thrown down their weapons and surrendered. This became known as "Tarleton's Quarter" meaning no quarter given to prisoners. This would be used against the British through the rest of the campaign, and militia would charge the British crying "Tarleton's Quarter!"

One person to witness the Waxhaw massacre was young Andrew Jackson. He, his mother and his last surviving brother fled to Guilford County, where they mingled with their relatives, the McCuistions and McCuistons. It is said that Andy rode to the McCuiston home on the morning of the the 12th to tell of Cornwallis's approach. He helped Ann Moody McCuistion hide the family treasure – a barrel full of gold worth an estimated $25,000 in money of that time.

Andy was a messenger for General Davies, his "ideal officer" and the man who gave him his first pistol. Davies was Commissary General for Nathanael Greene at the courthouse battle and so this places Jackson in that area on that day. He says himself, he was above Charlotte as Cornwallis approached, and that he did not leave North Carolina until after Cornwallis, which would be after the Guilford Courthouse battle.

Last month (December 2010) I visited the two battlefields leading up to the courthouse battle. Having already been to the Guildford site twice, I thought it would be interesting to see these other sites.

The Colonials had taken a beating at Savannah, at Charleston, and most recently at Camden. It looked like Cornwallis would sweep North Carolina as he had South Carolina and Georgia. He sent a Scotsman named Ferguson to protect one of his flanks, commanding mostly local royalist militia. Tarleton covered the other flank.

At a small town called Cowpens, Tarleton was soundly defeated mostly by local militia. Below is a photo I took of a display at the Cowpens Battlefield showing weapons used on that day by both sides.

The militia had a distinct advantage in that they were using the Pennsylvania or Kentucky type rifle that shot accurately at great distances, while most of the British led troops used the short-range, mostly inaccurate musket. Also, the same war plan later used at Guilford, was put into place, where two lines of militia fired first and then the regulars engaged the enemy. This technique relied 100% on local militiamen and so their worth to the war effort is without contest.

From the Cowpens battlefield I traveled north to just a mile or so over the North Carolina border to the Kings Mountain battlefield. Here is where Andy's brother Hugh died. Also fighting against the British that day was John Crockett, father of Davy Crockett. Andy was only 13 and was charged with watching the horses at the foot of the mountain. Militia from all over nearby states had converged on Ferguson's troops and chased them to the top of Kings Mountain on October 7, 1780. With the coming defeat of Tarleton at Cowpens on January 17, 1781, Cornwallis was left with no one on either flank.

Below is a photo of a display just below the mountain peak, and another showing the final climb, where the final battle took place. Though there wasn't a path, I climbed the final ascent to the top, imagining what it would have been like that day, crying out "Tarleton's Quarter," and winning freedom for the colonies.

Cowpens and Kings Mountain had taken out both of Cornwallis's flanks. He charged on north to meet Greene at Guilford Courthouse, where one quarter of his best troops were taken out of action. Though Greene retreated, he truly won the day, and Cornwallis fought no other major battle until his surrender at Yorktown. Though records are sketchy, most evidence points to our family being at the 1743 declaration, at many battles from New England to the Carolinas, as spies and suppliers for the Colonials, and taking part in these last three major defeats of the British - Cowpens, Kings Mountain, and Guilford Courthouse.

Even at Yorktown, Ebenezer Denny, nephew of Ann Denny McCuiston, wrote the most often recorded description of the surrender of Cornwallis. 

We can be so very proud of the role we all played, all spellings, from New England, to Pennsylvania, to the Carolinas, in winning freedom for America.