13. In Memoriam: Pvt. Michael McClain

Except for limited notes at the end, all references and additional information on the persons in this entry are given in two volumes. The first is The Omnibus Ancestry (referenced as OA). It updates and corrects, in brief form, a number of works including the more detailed volume, Barth-Hickey Ancestry (referenced as BH). Both are available for download through Lulu.com.

A number of ancestors on both the Barth and Boles sides of the family have served their nation since its founding. My wife’s father, as well as my own, emerged unscathed from the Navy after World War II. However, two of my wife’s uncles suffered serious injury in that war. Lt. Paul Hickey received a head wound in the days following the Normandy invasion. His brother, Technical Sgt. George Hickey, lost both legs to a German bazooka. George had served in the Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes, and Central Europe campaigns, and received a Bronze Star for having voluntarily left cover under heavy machine gun fire to retrieve a wounded comrade [BH].

As far as is known, however, only one direct ancestor on either side of the family actually died in service in the long period from the Revolutionary War down to the present. He was my wife’s ancestor Michael McClain, a private in Co. B, 80th Infantry Illinois Volunteers, during the Civil War [OA,BH].


Michael McClain was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1822 or 1823. However, in 1844 he was in St. Louis, Missouri, when he married his wife Sarah Jane Brownlee. The couple moved to nearby Macoupin county, Illinois, where Michael was listed as a farmer at the time of the 1850 census. Later that year they moved to Alton, Madison county, Illinois, still close to St. Louis [OA].

In August 1862, Michael was a resident of Upper Alton when he enlisted. A description of him stated: “Michael McLain Co. B 80 Regt Illinois Infantry. Age 39 years; height 5 feet 4 inches. Complexion – dark, eyes-gray; hair – brown, Where born – Detroit, Michigan, occupation – farmer”. Enlisting from the same place, on the same date, and in the same company was John B.W. Brownlee, a brother-in-law [OA, BH].


Absent direct statements by the soldier himself, it is often hard to give details of battle service during the Civil War, for military records generally don’t specify it in the case of individuals. However, regimental histories are known, and from these reasonable inferences can be made as to a soldier’s service.

The 80th Regiment was organized in August 1862 under Col. T.G. Allen. Michael McClain and John B.W. Brownlee joined at its inception. On October 1st, the regiment fought in the battle of Perryville in Kentucky under Union Gen. Don Carlos Buell. Following a number of marches and skirmishes, the regiment defeated an enemy force at Blunt’s farm in May 1863, but was surrendered the following day to a greatly superior force under Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest. It was taken in coal cars to Atlanta, following which the officers were sent to Libby prison. The other men, presumably including Pvts. McClain and Brownlee, were exchanged and resumed an active role in the war in late June, at Nashville, Tennessee. Following several marches, in October the regiment was present at the battle of Wauhatchie on the Tennessee-Georgia border, and engaged in the battle of Missionary Ridge at Chattanooga, Tennessee, in November [OA, BH].

The regiment commenced the Atlanta campaign in May 1864, and participated in the successive battles of Dalton, Resaca, Adairsville, Cassville, Dallas, Pine Mountain, Kenesaw Mountain, Marietta, Peach Tree Creek, Atlanta, Jonesboro, and Lovejoy Station. It was during this phase of the war, during the battle at Dallas, that Michael McClain received mortal wounds. The remainder of the regiment, presumably including John B.W. Brownlee, marched through Alabama before falling back to Nashville, where it was in battle in December. Its remaining movements were in Alabama and Tennessee. It was mustered out of service in June 1865, having travelled in all 6,000 miles and having been in more than 20 battles [OA, BH].

It was on May 27th, 1864, that Michael McClain received battle wounds at Dallas, Paulding co, Georgia, during only the second day of a 10-day engagement that resulted in 2400 Union casualties. He thus had been part of the Atlanta campaign and of General Sherman’s army advancing on that city. He was severely wounded in his right leg, which was amputated. Most likely gangrene set in, and he died on June 1st [1, 2]. His burial site is unknown.


Michael left behind a 35-year-old widoMcClain, Theodore hatw and six children [BH]. Soon after the war Sarah Jane Brownlee McClain removed with her children to Decatur, Macon county, Illinois. In 1873 she remarried to George W. Burton, alias Burke, a Mexican War veteran. As Sarah J. Burton, she applied in 1902 to have a pension reinstated that had been based on her first husband’s service, the second husband having since died [OA, BH].

Sarah Jane was remembered with affection by her grandchildren, one of whom described her as “a feisty, smart, little lady although comical” [3]. Multiple memories were of a “little clay pipe” she habitually used. One grandchild related that her mother would walk past their house rather than go in, if she was walking with a beau and “Grandma Burton” was out smoking on the porch [3, OA, BH].

The only son of Michael and Sarah Jane McClain was Theodore McClain (1853-1921). He was long a barber on North Water St., Decatur [4, BH]. All five daughters married at least once in Macon county, including my wife’s great-great-grandmother, Josephine McClain Gullett [OA, BH].

In my wife’s family at least, any knowledge of Civil War ancestor Michael McClain was lost to the generations — that is, until application of The Genealogist’s Craft.


[1] Information retrieved from http://bgill1963.tripod.com/id33.html (2015). This site gives details of Michael’s death that correct and extend those given in OA and BH.

[2] Information retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Dallas (2015).

[3] Information retrieved from https://familysearch.org/photos/stories/6553567 (2015).

Picture attribution: Public domain.


12. Frances Latham, The Mother of Governors: Her Marriages and Ancestry

Except for limited notes at the end, all references and additional information on the persons in this entry are given in two volumes. The first is The Omnibus Ancestry. It updates and corrects, in brief form, a number of works including the more detailed volume, Foster Ancestors: Some Europeans, Immigrants, Colonists, and Pioneers. Both volumes are available for download through Lulu.com. They are referenced below as OA and FA, respectively.

This Mother’s Day it seems appropriate to recognize one of the most celebrated of my immigrant ancestors, Frances Latham (1609/10-1677). Born to a family in royal service, she successively married a perfumer, a nephew of an Earl, and a Baptist minister [OA,FA]. By this unlikely assortment of husbands she had twelve children, destined to be ancestors through direct descent or marriage of attorneys-general, speakers of the House, Revolutionary officers, a British rear admiral, an American ambassador to Russia; and Julia Ward Howe, writer of The Battle Hymn of the Republic [1].

But above all, Frances was The Mother of Governors. This name was bestowed on her by Louise Tracy, a genealogist who in 1908 listed as Frances’ descendants, directly or by marriage, 13 colonial or state governors and 9 deputy or lieutenant governors [1]. Recently this list has been expanded by an additional two governors. Even if the count is restricted to direct descendants, and redundancies are eliminated (e.g., by not double-counting lieutenant governors who became governors), Frances was the ancestor of an impressive 10 governors and 3 deputy or lieutenant governors [2].

Frances’ BirthLewis Latham

Frances was baptized on 15 February 1609/10 in Bedfordshire, England, the daughter of Lewis Latham and his first wife Elizabeth [6, OA, FA]. Lewis was of Elstow, two miles south of the town of Bedford. He was an “under falconer” in 1625 and a Sergeant of the Hawks in 1627, receiving £65 a year. His patron was King Charles I, a relationship that began prior to Charles’ coronation when he was the Prince of Wales. With Charles’ execution Lewis’ income fell dramatically, to the extent that when he made his will in 1653, his bequests were in pence rather than pounds. He died in 1655. In 1662, following the Restoration, his widow Winifred applied to King Charles II for arrears of his salary, and was granted £40 a year [OA, FA].

Frances’ Marriages

Frances, born into this background of royal service, was married in 1629 to William Dungan, a perfumer by trade. They lived in Waterside, an area of London situated between the Strand and the River Thames. William had been baptized only the year before as an adult, in the local parish church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Originally indentured to an innkeeper, he became involved in distilling oils for perfumes, which he sold from a shop at his home. The marriage was not of long duration, for William died in 1636. He left a widow only 26 years old and four young children; another is believed to have predeceased him [OA, FA].

Frances next married, in 1637 in England, Jeremiah (Jeremy) Clarke. Through his mother Mary Weston he was a nephew of Richard Weston (1576/7-1634/5), 1st Earl of Portland [3,4]. His father William Clarke was of the London merchant class, a son of grocer James Clarke. Jeremiah’s brothers Weston and James, both of London, were respectively a merchant and a grocer [3]. It therefore seems likely that Frances, widow of London perfumer William Dungan, met her second husband through mutual acquaintances among the merchants of London.

Frances soon immigrated to America with Jeremiah, who in 1638 was admitted an inhabitant of Aquidneck island, part of the colony of Rhode Island. Their seven children were all born in the colony and survived to adulthood. Jeremiah died in January 1651/2 [FA].

Frances last married, by January 1656/7, a Baptist minister named William Vaughan. It is believed the couple were childless. After Frances died in 1677, her gravestone gave her name as “Frances Vaughan”, yet described her as “ye mother of ye only children of Capt’n Jeremiah Clarke” [FA].

Frances’ Ancestry

The parentage of Lewis Latham, Frances’ falconer father, has long been a matter of supposition. In 1632, the will of a William Latham named as brothers both Lewis and Simon Latham. Simon was a famous falconer in his own right, who authored books on the subject including Latham’s Falconry [OA].

Alfred Justice, author of an influential Clarke and Dungan genealogy, believed that the brothers were the children of John Latham, Jr., of Brigstock, Northamptonshire [5]. While he was correct as to location, it is now known that Lewis and his brothers were actually the children of John’s uncle Oliver Latham (ca 1516-ca 1572), gentleman keeper of the Little Park of Brigstock [OA].

Oliver, in turn, was named as a son in the will of Thomas Latham (ca 1488?-1558), of Culworth and Kingsthorpe, co. Northampton. He was keeper of the Game Park in Moulton and Kingsthorpe. A violent man in defense of his territory, it was testified at a hearing in 1542 that he had killed a mastiff and a dog, and had forbidden the inhabitants of Boughton to use long bows in their fields. Further, he was said to have beaten and wounded shepherds and herdsmen in the fields at Kingsthorpe. It was even alleged that his servant had killed a man, and that Thomas himself had beaten to death another [OA,FA].

Thomas’ parentage is unclear but was almost certainly not that advocated by Justice, who suggested that he was the son of Nicholas Latham. Nicholas, whose now-missing will was dated at Lathom, Lancashire, in 1461, was of a completely different, distant county. It is more likely that Thomas was the son of James Latham, underkeeper of the fields of Kingsthorpe, co. Northampton, ca 1485-ca 1497. He was also, like Thomas, at some time keeper of the Game Park at Moulton [OA].

A fascinating deposition given by one Simon Mallory indicates that James was a man of very different character than his turbulent successor. Mallory admitted “That the said James Latham did oftentymes take the deponent in stellyng and kyllyng of conyes [rabbits] in Pysford feld w’ hys bowe, and dyd oftyn take away the bowe of this deponent, but upon the gentle entretye of this deponent the said James Latham did always restore to this deponent his bowe agayn” [OA].

Clearly the locals perceived a big difference between the stewardship of this keeper and possible ancestor, and that of Thomas Latham, who was otherwise the earliest known Latham ancestor of The Mother of Governors [OA].


[1] Tracy, L. (1908). An Historic Strain of Blood in America: Frances Latham — Mother of Governors. New Haven, Conn: Reprinted from The Journal of American History.

[2] Information retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frances_Latham (2015).

[3] The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, v. 74, pp. 68-76, 130-140 (1920).

[4] Weis, F.L. (1992). Ancestral Roots of Certain American Colonists. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co.

[5] Justice, A.R. (1922). Ancestry of Jeremy Clarke of Rhode Island and Dungan Genealogy. Philadelphia: Franklin Printing Co.

[6] “Split dates” like that cited — 15 February 1609/10 — may seem imprecise to those unfamiliar with them, but the contrary is true. Before 1752 in England, the Julian calendar was followed in which the new year began not on 1 January, but on 25 March. Thus a split date is one in January, February, or most of March (in this case February), with the year first given as shown in contemporary records (1609) and second as understood in today’s calendar (1610). Genealogical novices frequently “simplify” by leaving the date as one or the other (15 February 1609 or 15 February 1610). This is a mistake because it fails to differentiate between two distinct days, a year apart.

Picture attributions:

Lewis Latham — Public domain.

Featured image of hawks on Facebook, etc. — Thomas O’Neil – http://www.thomasoneil.com/photo.php?f=416, used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license.