The Butlers of Inishowen, Ireland
This webpage provides historical/ancestral
information about the Butlers who lived in Northern Ireland
beginning in the 1600s thru the Butlers killed in the Johnstown
Flood. The research work was originally done by Ed Butler and
posted on the Becton family website. Ed Butler has passed away and
the Becton family website is no longer active. The original
web page is still accessible at http://web.archive.org/web/20151002073035/http://home.comcast.net/~bectonfamily/butlers_of_inishowen.html
For an example of Ed Butler's research work, please see:
I had downloaded the original webpage for my own use,
and am posting a facsimile of the original page in case anyone is
interested in the ancestry/genealogy content.
The information given here will be of particular
interest to anyone whose Y-DNA is in the R-M269 Haplogroup and is
a descendant of Niall of the Nine Hostages. The George Butler I
and George Butler II in the article are my direct ancestors. If
anyone is trying to fit their ancestral tree into what I have
learned, here is a brief outline of my ancestors starting with
George Butler I.
DNA testing has shown that the ancestors of the
Inishowen Butlers were Irish and not English. When George Butler
II had his pedigree “fixed”, any information about this Irish
ancestry vanished from the official records, and it took DNA
testing to find out that Butler ancestry is Irish - all the way
back to “Niall of the Nine Hostages”.
The picture above shows the Family Tree DNA match map
for my DNA relatives. Each pin marker shows the earliest known
ancestral location for those people that had a 12 for 12 Family
Tree DNA match with my results. The heaviest concentration is in
Northern Ireland which confirms that my ancestors were living in
Ireland – and not in England (as per George Butler II’s
Here is a brief history of the Butler ancestry
George Butler I
C. 1610 – c. 1671 (Dec. 7, 1670 looks likely)
Lived in Ireland
Married Janet Brisbane (Jane Butler)
4 sons including George Butler
In 1659 George Butler was living at Ballycarron. This is about ½
mile northwest of Culdaff. Culdaff is at 55.287 N, 7.167 W http://clanmaclochlainn.com/1659cen.htm
Also see http://www.from-ireland.net/county/article/Muster-List-Inishowen,-c.1630/Donegal
George Butler II – lived in Ireland. Probably lived in
Ramsgrange Co Wexford. http://butlerfamilyhistoryaustralia.blogspot.com/2012/08/laurence-butler-ch-23-possible-birth.html
Born 1640. Died 1686 (Came in 2nd in a duel with George
Married Anne Smith
Son was George Butler
George Butler III
Immigrated to U.S. (Maryland) in 1698
Married Mary Merrit, Nov. 21, 1717 Boston, Suffolk, MA
Son was George Butler
Born Sept. 26, 1718 Boston, MA
Married Tabitha Pettingill July 17, 1732 in Newburyport, Essex,
(She was 13 years old at the time)
Son was William Butler, Sr.
William Butler - “William
Born on Oct. 15, 1769 in Boston
Married Nancy ?
Died in Mauch Chunk, PA July 5, 1842 Vouched for Irish
Wife’s married name was Nancy ? (born about 1782 - died Aug. 9,
William Butler moved to Mauch Chunk (Jim Thorpe), PA in 1826 -
possibly from Lycoming County, PA
Both died in Mauch Chunk, PA
There are lots of Butlers in the Hazleton, PA area who are
probably relatives, but I don’t have any direct information.
Robert Q. Butler (Born on Feb. 3, 1816 (1818 looks like a better
date) and died on May 5, 1894 in Trinidad, CO) was one of the
sons of William Butler.
He married Louise C. Clemmons (Alternately referred to as Lousia
Arcelli Clemons). (Born July 15, 1835 in Litchfield)
Of significance, the marriage was on 12/28/1854 in Litchfield,
CT. Thus Robert Butler who had been living in Mauch Chunk, PA
went back to Litchfield, CT to marry Louise Clemmons and then
both returned to Mauch Chunk, PA. My assumption is that there
are Butler connections in Litchfield, CT.
This is probably not the Robert Q. Butler that attended the U.
S. Military Academy.
Edgar Twining Butler was one of the sons of Robert Q. Butler. He
was born Oct 3, 1869 in Mauch Chunk, PA and died in 1936 in
Denver, CO. His last address in Denver was 271 S. Emerson
Street. Edgar Butler married Kathryn Perlot about 1902. Both are
buried in Crown Hill Cemetery.
The photograph above shows Edgar Butler in his home
at 271 S. Emerson St. in Denver CO. A larger view (which doesn't
fit on this webpage) shows a November 1900 calendar date. Although
Edgar tried to make his “selfie” impressive, Zillow gives a house
size of just 1,246 sq. ft.
The photograph above shows the gravestone for Edgar
and Kathryn Butler. It's in Crown Hill Cemetery in Denver, CO.
Edgar Twining Butler left
Mauch Chunk to make his fortune in the “gold fields of
Colorado”. The Golden Sun Mine was the principle mine although
there were others that were even more worthless. It appears that
revenues from selling stock certificates to east coast
“investors” probably exceeded mining profits. While the mine was
actually located about 3 miles west of Rollinsville, CO, it
would appear that the issuance of “Colorado” certificates wore
out their legal welcome which in turn led to the Wyoming
The Golden Sun Mine “operated” under several
different names, but it was a real hole in the side of the
Here’s a stock certificate for the “Golden Sun Tunnel”.
Same mine - same E. T. Butler signature – but new “investors”
(suckers) are invited to “make their fortune in the gold fields”.
And here’s a stock certificate for the “Sun Tunnel Mining &
Same mine - same E. T. Butler signature – but new “investors”
(suckers) are invited to “make their fortune in the gold fields”.
And of course, if you are going to “help investors
make their fortune”, you have to have a slick brochure. (Graphics
are better today and of course we have the Internet to spread the
word, but has anything really changed?)
This is the same mine shown below as per the promotion in “The
Here is an excerpt from the “PUBLICITY
ADVERTISEMENT SECTION” of “The Mining Investor”
(Click on picture to see the large, “Print Screen” image.)
The picture above shows a publicity announcement that
appeared in the July 27, 1914 issue of “The Mining Investor”.
Edgar Butler’s name is highlighted in yellow in the right-hand
The picture above shows the Golden Sun Mine as it
appeared in “The Mining Investor” article.
The picture above shows approximately the same view,
but as it appears today via Google Earth. There is nothing left
except the old mine dump - well almost nothing.
My grandfather (Edgar Butler) and grandmother kept a
cow at the mine so that the miners and/or my grandparents could
have fresh milk. The cow had a cowbell so they could hear where
the cow was even though it might be out of sight somewhere. I have
the old cowbell as a souvenir of what were the “hopes and dreams”
of my grandparents.
The promotional article in “The Mining Investor”
“The Sun tunnel is now in nearly 2500 feet and is driving ahead
for a vein series which shows fine values on the surface. It is
figured that 125 feet more of driving will put the tunnel into
this ore zone.”
A modern version of this might be:
“The “pot of gold” is only 125 feet further ahead – at the end of
All of the wild claims and enticing promotions that
promised you would “make a fortune” in the gold fields eventually
led to the Blue Sky Laws to try to protect investors.
Blue sky law
“A blue sky law is a state law in the United States that regulates
the offering and sale of securities to protect the public from
The picture above is from Google’s online book
library and shows that the“Sun Tunnel Mining & Transportation
Co” was one of the companies that was on the list of the “Hearings
Before the Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives”.
The vast majority of people who went west to make
their fortune “in the gold fields” ended up with nothing more than
black holes into which all of their hopes and dreams disappeared.
Some of them simply “disappeared” off the face of the earth, and
their families and friends never knew what happened to them. Very
few actually struck it rich.
Edgar Butler had two sons,
Lansford and William J. Butler. William J. Butler (my father)
was born in Denver, CO on Dec. 6, 1908 and died in Greenville,
RI on June 9, 2001.
Here is Ed Butler’s original information as
formerly posted on the Becton Family Website.
William J Butler married Elma Hess. (my mother) Elma Hess was
born Jan. 12, 1910 in Denver, CO and died in Warwick, RI on
April 18, 1994.
I am one of the sons of William J. Butler. I was born in
Pawtucket, RI on Jan. 13, 1939 and am currently living in
THE BUTLERS OF
Sarah Matilda Butler 1865 - 1937 > John Derrick Butler 1844 -
1913 > Robert Butler >
The following is an outline for a book on our Butlers that Ed
Butler was going to write. Sadly, he passed away before it was
THE BUTLERS OF INISHOWEN
Outline for the book to be written on the Butlers of Inishowen and
their descendants in Ireland and the U.S. This is a short outline
of the research for the book, THE INISHOWEN BUTLERS. The book will
describe the Inishowen Butler’s lives in far greater detail than
this outline. Aside from including additional facts, it will
illustrate the social culture our family lived in and comment on
the economic, political, and geographical influences that shaped
The first known Butler in our line is Thomas Butler. An educated
guess would put his birth date somewhere between 1555 and 1565.
Not much is known about him except that he was English.
Two lines of investigation are being pursued at the moment, (1989)
one, hopefully, will lead us to where he was from in England. The
first of these leads, would put his location in London. The second
would put him in County Down, Ireland, as part of an English
plantation in Ireland in the late 1500’s, some 20 to 30 years
previous to what is commonly referred to as the Ulster Plantation.
Our connection to Thomas is through his son Robert, born
approximately 1585 to 1590. Robert’s location is not definitely
known either. But, the one lead we have on him, would indicate
that he also may have resided in County Down, in the same early
English Plantation of Ireland as his father Thomas. We do know
Robert married Sarah Campbell, daughter of Mr. Campbell of Argyle
in Scotland. When this was first discovered, it was believed that
Robert had emigrated to Scotland from England. But, now that
County Down seems a strong possibility, and was so heavily
populated with Scottish settlers, it is suspected that he met, and
married Sarah in Ireland, after he or his father immigrated from
Robert’s son was Captain George Butler I. George gets this
distinctive title to differentiate him from his eldest son,
captain George Butler II. The information we have on George I is
extensive, relative to that of his predecessors. His birth date is
estimated to be 1605 to 1615, with a leaning to a more specific
date of 1610.
George I married a Brisbane. Her first name is not certain. As far
as is known they had four children. The mortality rate for
children was high at this time and it is possible that they had
more than the four, but if they did they did not live to
adulthood. The children were: George II b. 1635-42, William b.
1636-43, James b. 1637-1644, Robert b. 1638-45.
The religion a person professed was extremely important in this
period of history. George I has been described as an English
Protestant in all records that mention his religion.
Above, map of Ireland and the
suspected area that George I came from.
The first mention of him in any record found yet, is in the barony
of Inishowen in Donegal in the 1630 Muster of Ulster. He is
described as being unarmed. At this time when was probably living
on one of the estates on the east coast of Inishowen. (possibly
George Cary’s estate, another one of our ancestors) There were
only 174 adult British males in Inishowen at this time and with
the exception of a gathering across the bottom of the peninsula of
Inishowen, the majority of the British were distributed evenly
along Inishowens east coast.
The parishes of Culdaff and Cloncha were not settled with English
at this time. It is suspected that the earliest settlement of
English in these parishes was 1632, when Sarah Babbington and
James Downham got leases from the See of Derry and the Earl of
Donegal. It is probable that it was at this time George moved the
4 or 5 miles from where he had been living, to his first Culdaff
area home of Baskill.
Life in the parishes of Culdaff and Cloncha had to be lonely for
George I and his family, since by 1665 only 4 other English
speaking families had settled. It was not until after 1665 that
the plantation in this area really got underway.
The next mention of George I comes in the records of the Quarter
Sessions of Tyrone in 1634. He is charged with breach of peace and
evidently found guilty, as it is stated he was fined 5 pounds. It
is almost certain that this George was our George for several
reasons. His in-laws lived in Tyrone. No Butler had residence in
Tyrone at the time, and the nearest Butler in the Muster of 1630
was in Cavan. What brought about the connection of George with his
in-laws and ultimately his wife is unknown. Perhaps the friend of
a friend sort of thing. Or more interestingly, maybe the breach of
He is next noted in the Civil Survey of Ireland in 1655. He is
recorded as having lease of 80 acres in the townland of Baskil.
This is about a quarter of a mile from Lisdaragan, the present day
seat of the Butlers of Inishowen.
The Civil Survey was a census of a sort, that listed all the
important land holding citizens of Ireland in 1642. This was taken
because during the English Civil War, the Crown confiscated vast
tracts of land from those who backed the opponents of the Crown,
the parliament. When parliament won the war and made England a
republic, a system of government described as the Commonwealth was
instituted. The government under the Commonwealth then sought to
restore any property taken from those loyal to it and this
required a detailed list of landowners at the start of the Civil
Although George I and all the other important landholders are
listed in this survey, no confiscations appear to have taken place
in Inishowen. This appears to be because the largest landholder in
Inishowen and the landlord of George I was Chichester and he was
in the favor of the Commonwealth.
The Census of 1659 lists George I and his two oldest sons, George
II and William (this listed all males over the age of sixteen). He
is indicated as living at Ballycarron. This is about ½ mile
northwest of Culdaff. In the back of this book, he is also
described as being a commissioner for the poll taxes, once for
Lifford in mid Donegal in 1660 and for Inishowen as a whole for
In the 1665 Hearthmoney Rolls, George was recorded as having two
hearths and living at Culdaff. His son Robert had one hearth and
lived at Dunross (this is barely a stones throw from Culdaff).
The Ellis manuscripts show that Captain George Butler I played
host to John Bramhall, the bishop of Derry for two days in 1668.
The bishop was making his annual visitation of the diocese of
Derry. Other records show that our ancestor Rev. Robert Young, the
incumbent at Culdaff, who ordinarily would have played host to the
bishop, was ill at the time. Evidently, this was the reason for
the unusual arrangement.
George I’s next and last mention in the records is the execution
of his Administration Intestate. He died in 1671 and his
administrator is listed as William Brisbane. William is mentioned
as next of kin and a resident of Donegal. His residence is
probably incorrect. There were only one or two Brisbanes living in
Donegal at this time, and none of them were closely connected to
William Brisbane. His exact relationship to George is not
mentioned, but he was probably his brother-in-law.
During the forty years we know that George I lived in the Culdaff
area he is not known to have lived further than two miles from the
Captain George Butler I’s story poses two mysteries. The first, is
where was he from? The second is, how did he amass such a great
amount of land in the time period from the early 1640’s to the mid
1650’s? We know that his entire landed estate amounted to a mere
80 acres in 1642. Only about half of that was arable. In the
1600’s one did not rise above himself quite so easily. Hard work
and perseverance only got a person sweat and a sore back. So where
did George I raise the money to possess thousands of acres of land
by the last half of the 1650’s? Research is proceeding on this and
there is at least one lead. However, it may wait for some future
researcher to discover the answer.
This brings us not to the direct ancestor of most of the Inishowen
Butlers, but to his oldest brother, George II. If it had not been
for Captain George Butler I giving land to Captain George Butler
II, his eldest son, shortly before George I’s death, we probably
never would have known what happened to George II or his brother
William. After their mention in the Census of 1659, all word of
George II and his brother William disappear from the records of
It is extremely useful to go into George II’s life in detail
because it is interesting, and extremely illuminating in reference
to our family.
Above, Photocopy of George II's
George II was born sometime between 1635 and 1642. From an old
document kept at Culdaff House (the seat of the Youngs of
Inishowen) Amy Isabel Young, author of THREE HUNDRED YEARS OF
INISHOWEN, describes a transfer of land from Captain George Butler
I to George II. In it, George I states that because of his great
affection for his son, George II, he is giving him title to
certain lands. George II is described as Lieut. George Butler of
New Ross, Wexford. The document is undated, but because of the
mention of George II’s rank in the Irish Army, we can put the date
of this document between 1668 and 1671. George II did not attain
the rank of Lieut. Until 1668 and of course George I died in 1671.
George II got his commission in the Irish Army by personally
petitioning the Duke of Ormonde in London in 1660. This was the
year of the restoration to the throne of Charles II. Whether
George II traveled there, or was in the area going to college is
not known. We do have evidence that indicates that both he and his
brother William did attend an institution of higher learning.
The Duke’s name was James Butler. He was the hereditary head of
the great family of Butlers from southern Ireland. The Butlers of
southern Ireland were the leading Anglo-Irish family.
In a letter of recommendation to the general of all the English
Army, George Moncke, the Duke describes George II as being of the
Duke’s family. This was obviously meant in a broad sense or
perhaps was an exaggeration to insure a positive reaction to the
recommendation (there is no evidence whatever to connect the
Inishowen Butlers with the Duke’s family). George II carried the
letter in person, and presented it to the general or his
secretary. A year later we find George II as Coronet of the Duke
of Ormonde’s foot company at Duncannon, Wexford in southern
A person as important as the Duke of Ormonde was not expected to
be present at the quarters of his company. Indeed, he also held a
captain’s position in a troop of horse, as well as being the Lord
Lieutenant of Ireland. This last position was the highest
government position in Ireland. When the captain in a company held
his position in name only, the lieutenant in those companies was
acting captain. The lieutenant in George II’s company received a
promotion shortly after George’s arrival and George was acting
lieutenant and acting captain for nearly a year, before being
relieved of those duties by the arrival of a new lieutenant.
George II became a lieutenant in 1668 and kept that rank until
1682 when he purchased his commission as captain. We now come to
one of the most interesting and informative sources of information
uncovered in all the research.
In 1682 George II appears to have bribed the Ulster Herald (the
Herald of Ireland) to produce a false pedigree and attribute the
family arms of the Butlers of Bewsey in Lancashire, England to our
The Butlers of Bewsey had an illustrious history that went back to
the 1066 Norman invasion of England and produced many knights and
members of Parliament. The history of the Bewsey Butlers is
voluminous and extremely detailed in the book, THE LORDS OF
WARRINGTON, volume 1.
George II had the herald name Edward Butler (the last in the line
of Bewsey Butlers) as his great-grandfather Thomas’s father.
Historians are quite explicit on the fact that although Edward
Butler was married two times, (the first one wasn’t even
consumated) he had no children, legitimate or otherwise. In fact,
at the end of the book, THE LORDS OF WARRINGTON, vol. 1 the author
alludes to the very pedigree that George II had drawn up (he does
not metion him by name, but is is clear he is referring to George
II’s false pedigree) describing it as the pedigree registered in
the Ulster Herald’s office in Ireland, and saying it to be
contrary to any facts. The manuscript pedigree in the Herald's
Office itself has a penciled in notation, in the margin, made in
the 1800’s also describing it to be incorrect.
But, although the connection between Edward Butler and our Thomas
Butler is incorrect, it provides us with information that would
not have been available otherwise.
The pedigree when it is dealing with Bewsey Butlers, is quite
At the point our imaginative herald inserts the Inishowen Butlers,
the pedigree reads:
Edward Butler of Bewsey in ye county of Lancashire, Esquire, son
and heir to Thomas married Jane daughter of …………Brooke of County
Renfrewshire, Esquire and by her had issue Thomas.
Thomas Butler of Bewsey in ye county of Lancashire, Esquire, son
and heir to Edward was marryed to ……….by whom he had issue Robert.
Robert Butler of Bewsey in ye county of Lancashire, Esquire, son
and heir to Thomas was marryed to Sarah daughter of …….Camoll
(spelling was what you wanted to make of it in those days, Camoll
actually meant Campbell) of ye family of Argile in Scotland by
whom he had issue George.
George Butler of Bewsey in ye county of Lancashire, Esquire, son
of Robert was marryed to Jennet daughter to Sir John Birsben
(Brisbane) Baron in ye county of Bishopton in Scotland by whom he
had issue George, William, James, (James is our direct ancestor)
Robert viz. 4 sons.
George Butler of Bewsey now of Temple Lyons in ye county of
Wexford, Esquire, first son of George, was marryed to Anne
daughter to William Smith of Lyncolnshire, by whom he had issue
George, William, Robert, and Anne and Jane.
William Second son of ye first mentioned George, was marryed to
Letice Clinton of Lincolnshire by whom he had issue George,
William, Christophilus and Thomas.
Although the pedigree is false, it is quite obvious that the
omissions of a wife’s name and other data suggests that the names
that were used, when not referring to titled persons, were very
likely correct. Otherwise, it would have been a simple matter to
give fictitious names for the gaps that are present.
Beside the false attribution of a connection with the Bewsey
Butlers he took a few more liberties. He put his mother’s lineage
abit closer to the Brisbane main branch than it deserved when he
claimed her father to be John Brisbane, the Laird of Brisbane.
There indeed was a John Brisbane, Laird of Brisbane during the
correct period, but research has proven his daughter Jeannette did
not marry George Butler. The Brisbanes were a close family in
Scotland and there is no doubt that the woman that George I
married is tracible to the Laird of Brisbane in genealogical
terms, but it probably would be necessary to go back at least
So, we are left with an indefinite knowledge of George II’s
mother’s first name. Who knows, it really may have been Jeannette
(note that George II’s eldest daughter was named Jane. The names
Jean, Jeane, Jane, and Jeannette were all interchangeable in those
We do learn the following facts about our family by studying the
It gives us the name of our oldest ancestor, Thomas.
It gives us the name of Captain George Butler I’s father, Robert,
and his mother’s name, Sarah Campbell.
It gives certain proof of George I’s children’s names and the
order of their birth.
It gives the names of George II’s children and the order of their
birth. It confirms the name of his wife, and gives the name of his
wife’s father, and the area of England they were from.
It gives his brother William’s children’s names, and their order
of birth. It gives his wife’s name, and her father’s name, and the
area of England they were from.
All in all, a tremendous haul, genealogically speaking.
George II obviously had this pedigree manufactured to give his
background a needed boost. It is difficult for most people in the
modern day world to fully realize the implication of status in the
everyday world of 300 years ago. Everything was gauged by who you
were in those days. What you could do did count, but when the two
were weighed as to their importance, there was no contest. George
II was just made a captain or was just about to be, and was moving
in circles where it was essential to be of an armigenous family in
order to keep an upward progress, socially, and monetarily.
So, although a person today would condemn George II for his
outright masquarade, a person living 300 years ago, would give a
devilish wink, and an understanding smile.
Below, This is an enlargement of the impression left by George
II's signet ring on the sealing wax from one of his 1682 letters
to George Mathew, the Duke of Ormonde's half brother and estate
manager in Ireland. The ring was made to display the false coat of
arms on his letter seals and as everyday ornament. The crosses on
the right half of the coat of arms are from his wife's family
arms, the Smiths of Lincolnshire.On the left side, are covered
gobletsfrom the Bewsey Butler arms of Lancashire.
Above, a photocopy of George II's
seal ring with the family arms on it.
George II was stationed in all parts of Ireland during his 26-year
career in the army. His most common post was at Duncannon,
Wexford, where he appears to have made his base camp home,
Ramsgrange, just two miles from Duncannon Fort.
George II was killed in a duel in 1686. George Twistleton was his
opponent. Twistleton was the captain of a foot company, evidently
quartered near George II’s foot company. The location that this
took place is not known at the present, but there are several
avenues of investigation being pursued. Twistleton petitioned the
King through the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland for pardon from this
breach of military law, but, without success, and was cashiered
from the army.
George II did not leave a will. His wife Anne (Smith) handled his
administration intestate, and the matter was still peding in 1699,
when his daughter Jane (Briver) was in charge of the
George II’s children’s names were George, William, Robert, Jane,
Photocopy of William's signature
George I’s second son was William. Not as much is known about
William as is known about his brother George, but we do have some
details. He was born 1635-43 and was mentioned with his brother
George in the Census of 1659. He married Lettice Clinton of Dublin
in the church of St. Werburgh in 1674. Her family was originally
from Lincolnshire as was George II’s wife’s.
William appears to have purchased a captain’s position in the
Irish Army about 1677 with (from his own description) the money he
received at his father’s death. There is evidence that indicates
he also used the influence of the Duke of Ormonde to gain entrance
to the army.
There are a number of letters he wrote in the Ormonde Manuscripts
collection that indicate he was worried about his position in the
army in 1685, at the time King James II took over the throne, and
was at work reversing the prejudice of having to be Protestant to
be in the army to having to be Catholic.
William died in 1688 from unknown causes as far as is yet been
discovered. He appears to have left a will but so far it has not
been located, if indeed it can be.
His children were George, William, Christophilus, Thomas and
William was stationed in various parts of Ireland during his
career. In 1682 there is an entry in the Derry Cathedral Register
recording the christening of his daughter Bridget. Coincidently,
he was stationed at the same post, Muff, when he died six years
later in 1688. This was a small village just 2 miles northeast of
Londonderry. (not the same village, also about 2 miles from Derry,
but in Donegal and directly north.
It is not thought that either William or George II’s families
returned to the Culdaff area. No evidence has been uncovered to
indicate this. George II’s family seems to have stayed in Wexford
or perhaps settled in the Dublin area, as is evidenced by serveral
letters in the Ormonde Manuscripts collection. It has been noted
from the same collection that perhaps William’s family located in
the near Dublin area.
The man that took over William’s company of foot, William Stewart,
marched the troop into Londonderry about a year later to become
part of the famous 1689 Siege of Londonderry.
(Since this was written much more has been discovered about
William. I will be altering the content of this outline in the
near future and will include the added information about William
at that time.)
We next come to the direct ancestor (in this generation) of
the majority of Inishowen Butlers, James Butler. Before the
discovery of the false pedigree, our only knowledge of his
existence was a copy of a lease made to his son Stephen Butler in
1716. Stephen is holding a lease formerly held by James Butler,
Late of Baskill. The time period involved seemed to demand that
James was of the same generation as George II and William. The
lease agreement goes on to refer to the lands involved as being
leased by George Butler of Bunnagee, in 1657, and the land being
passed down to Stephen's keeping to be by legal descent. This
established a generation lineage that seemed quite obvious, and as
the false pedigree confirmed, a correct one.
There are no other records, as yet discovered, with James' name.
The possibility is being investigated that James was the same
James Butler that was a lieutenant in a troop of horse, during the
same period that George II and William were in the army. But, as
yet, no hard evidence that would indicate he is the same James has
James died somewhere in the period 1705 - 1715.
Lastly, we come to Captain George Butler's youngest son, Robert.
Outside of the mention he gets in the 1665 Hearthmoney Rolls,
Robert is not found in any records, except the false pedigree.
There is a Robert Butler listed as Burgess for Londonderry in
1692. No evidence has been discovered that would indicate this is
the same Robert, but it is suspected that he is.
Next in line is James' son Stephen. Stephen is generally referred
to as Stephen of Foxborough. Since we have the birth date of
Stephen's wife, Jean Young (1682), as good estimate of his birth
would be the late 1670's. (It has just recently been discovered
(1999) that there is an entry in an ancestral names list that puts
Stephen's birth date at 1682 and Jean's at 1684. This still has to
be investigated as to authenticity.
Above, Photocopy of Stephen of
Stephen and Jean married in 1702, and had 11 children. The list of
their children are as follows: Elizabeth b. 1705, Robert b. 1706,
George, bap. 1709, Stephen b. 1709, Grace bap. 1712, Son bap.
1713, James bap. 1715, Norton, Bap. 1720, thomas, b. 1724, John,
bap. 1729, Joseph, bap. 1731.
This generation of Butlers gained quite an illustrious ancestral
background. Their mother, Jean Young, through her mother, Ann Hart
could claim to be a direct descendant to William the Conqueror.
This is a claim made by many families with little or no proof.
There are only a handful of genealogies that have the proper
documentation to back up direct relationship to William the
Conqueror. In this instance, the documentation is rock solid and
verified by the most imminent historians and genealogists.
One of the interesting pieces of trivia of this relationship with
William the Conquerer's, that this makes the infamous King John
(of Robin Hood fame) our direct ancestor. (Thank heavens Robin
Hood never existed)
Below is a photocopy of Jean's
But, before anybody gets blinded by the reflected glory, it must
be pointed out that because of the many children that Eleanor (who
we descend from), King John's daughter had, there are perhaps
three or four million people in the United States and England that
could claim the same relationship.
There are many other noted people to be pointed out in this
particular lineage, (particularly associated with the Ulster
Plantation) but because this is an outline, and not the book, they
will have to be passed over for now.
It would be useful at this point in the outline, to explain the
role the Young family played in the Culdaff area. Robert Young,
the fifth protestant minister to occupy that seat in the Culdaff
area, was by all evidences known, not particularly rich, nor was
he attached to a prominent family. But, by the first part of the
1700's, his family was in possession of thousands of acres of
land, and were the acknowledged gentry in the immediate Culdaff
area. George Young, Jean young's brother, was appointed High
Sheriff for Donegal in 1734 and throughout the 1700's and 1800's
the Youngs maintained their position as the gentry of Culdaff.
Although there were Inishowen Butlers that kept comparable
standing in the Culdaff through the 1700's and into the early
1800's, the Youngs appear to have superseded the Butlers early in
Stephen was comparatively well off financially, having lease of a
great deal of land from the Earl of Donegal. He truly fell into
the category of landlord. He made his will out in 1734 and died in
1742 or 1743. The probate for the will took place in 1743.
The following is the text of his will:
In the name of God amen, the 4th day of June, 1734, I Stephen
Butler, of Foxborough in the barony of Ennishowen, and Co. of
Donegall, gent. to my dearly beloved wife Jean, the sum of L 10 to
be paid her yearly out of ye rent of Baskell, and all my household
furniture and my stock to the said Jeane. If any one or more of my
children should prove disobedient to said Jean my wife I do order
and appoint that said child or children to have but one Brittish
shilling given them as a legacy. Jeane my said wife, Thos. Hart,
Esq. of Londonderry, merchant, and Robert Young of Culdaff, gent.,
to be my executors.
Probate 9 June 1743 by George Cary and the burden of the execution
thereof was granted 25 May 1752, to Jane Butler, wife of the
deceased, all the exrs. being dead.
Because of the relationship the Butlers shared with the Youngs,
through Jean Young, it would not be exaggerating to imagine that
the Butlers received favorable treatment in social and business
dealings with the Youngs. One small example being the following.
Robert, Stephen's eldest son, signed a bond for a loan from his
uncle, George Young, to Stephen in 1729. This was necessary
because Stephen had been having some temporary financial problems.
Robert is not mentioned again in any records. He most likely died
before his father or moved from the area, because Norton, one of
the older brothers seems to have reaped the benefits of
primogeniture and was the large landowner in later years.
During the first half of the 1700's there are three Butlers
mentioned in the records of Inishowen that cannot be identified
with relationship to Stephen. The first of these is a George
Butler that witnessed the will of Jean Young's mother in 1707. The
second is a James Butler that was on the 1735 Culdaff vestry
committee for upkeep of roads in the village area. The third is a
Walter Butler who signed the vestry book in 1738 and was mentioned
in the 1750 Protestant Housekeepers Roll. There is a good
possibility that this Walter was the son that was unnamed in the
list of Stephen's children.
We now come to another mystery in our genealogy and our weakest
link. Which one of Stephen of Foxborough's children is our
connection to the line? There is little to no doubt that one
of Stephen's sons were in our direct line. There were no other
Butlers in Inishowen beside that of Captain George Butler I's
children. Two of the four left at an early age and never came
back. George I's youngest son is absent from mention in almost all
the records and appears to have either moved from the immediate
area or died at an early age. There is a Robert Butler mentioned
as burgess of the city of Londonderry in 1688. The prevailing
suspicion is that this is George I's youngest child. Work is being
done to prove this. This leaves George I's next to youngest child,
James of Baskil, and through him, Stephen of Foxborough. Our
direct ancestor Stephen's grandson, George of Cloncha was born in
1752. There are only two of Stephen's sons that are NOT candidates
for being his father, Norton, and Robert. Robert because he
appears to have died early, and Norton, because we know his family
history quite well. John seems to be a good choice. Although he
was rather young to have had children by Anglo-Irish tradition, he
would not have had reason to wait for his father's death and the
subsequent inheritance to marry. His father was already dead.
Another reason John is thought to be George of Cloncha's father is
that, George of Cloncha's eldest son's name was John. John was
born in 1771. George's second son, George, was born in 1790.So, if
for the time being, we consider John our connection to the line,
we can move on to George of Cloncha (pronounced Glen-caw). As has
been said, he was born in 1752. George married Rose Gillen and
eventually moved onto Lisdaragan where Butlers still reside to
Rose Gillen appears to have come from old Irish stock. Her family
was identified as being protestant in the 1750 protestant
housekeepers rolls. There were a few native catholic-irish
families that converted. She is the first non-Anglo-Irish wife
traced to date. There is an interesting story that comes down to
us through the folklore of the family worth relating. Although the
date is lost, it can be easily assumed that the following took
place sometime in the 1790's. This estimate is arrived at by
considering all the facts involved and the events transpiring in
In the 1790's the country was in religious and political revolt.
The Catholic Irish attempted to overturn the English backed
Anglo-Irish protestant government. Catholic priests were among the
most encouraging leaders in this revolt. So, the Anglo-Irish set
about to put down the revolt. Their thought was, one of the best
ways to stem the tide of revolution was to jail, banish or kill
any Catholic priest. It appears that the Catholic priest in the
Culdaff area had to flee, lest he lose his life or freedom.
Evidently he was innocent of any involvement with the revolt, or
the Butlers had a special liking for him, because the Butlers of
Lisdaragan sheltered and hid him from discovery, until he could
escape safely. He was hidden in a small room or loft in the
cottage and to make sure no one discovered his presence he was not
permitted to move from the spot. He was given a small bell and
when he needed anything he was told to quietly ring it and a
member of the household would attend to him.
An appropriate amount of time passed and the bands of protestants
who were scouring the countryside, gave up their hunt. The Butlers
gave the priest one of their horses, a white one, to make his safe
get-a-way. As the priest was giving his thanks and saying his
good-byes, he said these words, "may good luck and fortune reign
over Lisdaragan and it's people as long as it has a white horse."
Lisdaragan was never without a white horse from that day, until
the early 1940's when mechanization provided the means of
improving farm practices and Lisdaragan purchased a tractor.
Rose Gillen, George's wife, was born in 1755 and died in 1837.
George of Cloncha died in 1809. He left a will but it has not been
A cousin of George of Cloncha, (or also spelled Clonca) Norton
Butler, who will be called Norton II to separate him from his son,
Norton III, and his father, Norton I, is a subject worth writing
about in more detail in this outline. In 1801, Norton II returned
from military service in the Rebellion of 1798 mentioned above,
and settled in the Culdaff area at Grouse Hall. He was married to
Rachel McNeil of Antrim and had two or three children. The family
later enlarged to include 7 children. He set about managing his
land and that of several absentee landlords. In time, he was
established firmly and enlarged on the number of clients that he
managed land for.
Sometime around 1810 illicit distillation of alcohol in the
Inishowen area became a major means of support for the poorer
Irish. The Irish parliament passed a law that fined landowners who
were found to have evidence of illicit distillation taking place
on their lands. So, the lawbreakers simply relocated their
apparatus to the more desolate parts of other peoples lands and
carried on with their activities. This soon became a great drain
on the profits of those who were innocent. Norton II being
responsible for his clients lands and his own, became one of the
greatest opponents of this illicit trade and gradually came to be
hated by the lawbreakers. Several attempts were made on his life.
In 1815, while he was inspecting his cattle in a field in back of
Grouse Hall, he was shot and bayoneted by two of the illicit
distillers, William McGuinness and his brother Daniel McGuinness.
The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland gave Norton's wife a pension of 200
pounds a year. This was accomplished through highly placed
Norton II's death was quite famous in Ireland at the time. During
this period, a young English politician, Sir Robert Peel, the
secretary of Ireland, gave a speech in favor of granting Mrs.
Butler's pension. This same Sir Robert Peel, some years later,
returned to England and eventually became England's Prime
Minister. Before leaving Ireland, Peel formed a new police force
that became a model for the modern day structure of England's
police force. At first, the new police were called "Peelers",
after Sir Robert. Later and more permanently, the nickname given
the police was also in honor of Sir Robert Peel. They were called
Norton II's two boys, Daniel and Norton III, later immigrated to
New York City, where they both pursued careers as clerks. Norton
III had first lived in Valpariso, Chile for several years before
making his way to New York. Norton II's wife Rachel, died in
Armagh in 1865 at the age of 88.
But, back to our line. John, (born 1771) George of Cloncha's
eldest son, was known as John of Redford. As far as records show,
John only had one sibling, George (born 1792). In present day
Butler family lore in Inishowen, there is the story of this last
mentioned George's son George or Stephen accompanying his cousin
to Londonderry, upon the cousin's immigration to the United States
in 1847. Three of his same cousin's family (according to the story
handed down) died in the Johnstown Flood in 1889. This suggested
that John of Redford was the Ireland connection for the Clearfield
Butlers. He had long been suspected to be the connection for the
Clearfield County branch of the Inishowen Butlers, but there
didn't seem to be anyway of confirming the connection.
The above described story fueled suspicions to an even greater
degree. It took a great deal of research and an equal amount of
deducting to finally come to convincing proof that John of Redford
was the Irish connection to for the Clearfield Butlers. The
following trail of evidence is circumstantial, but even the
most conservative of experts should agree that when all
these pieces are put together, there is little room for doubt. The
tombstone in Culdaff churchyard lists John of Redford and his
father George of Cloncha and John's mother, Rose, plus John's
brother George and his wife and grandson as being buried beneath
it. The only other name on the tombstone is that of James, John's
son that died in 1832. No mention is made of John's wife or any
additional children on this tombstone or on any other tombstones
in the graveyard.
Mary Butler, the woman known to be the mother of that first
generation of Clearfield Butlers, arrived in Clearfield in 1847.
John died in 1845. there was no husband with Mary when she
arrived. No wife was buried with John. That's the first suggestion
of a possible matching of these two.
The second would be the eldest brother's name in the group of
adults that first entered Clearfield County with the elderly Mary.
His name was George. From the records that are available at this
time, George was actually the second son born to John and Mary.
While this does not follow the normal practice of naming the
eldest son after his male line grandfather, it does indicate that
perhaps this was one of those occasional times when the second son
was given the honor. This fact does not make the case as strong as
it could be, but indicates that the name was important enough to
be given to one of his eldest sons. John's father's name was
Thirdly, in the group of adults that arrived in the Clearfield
area was a sister with the name Rose (born 1825). She was the
second oldest girl (the first born daughter getting the mother's
name, Mary). Again, it was common enough custom to name the second
eldest daughter after the father's mother. John's mother's name
was Rose. Another match.
Fourth item to be considered is weak, but does fit in the scheme
of probability that would make one believe John to be our missing
link. And that is, that John died in 1845. This would give a
family just the right amount of time to think about a large step
such as emigration and to act on it. A year and a half.
The fifth piece of evidence tightens the case even more. In a dust
laden and cob webbed store room in the basement of the County
Donegal Court House in Lifford, Donegal (barely 10 yards from the
cell that held Norton II's murderer) was an old record book for
Inishowen listing the contributors to the fund for the needy in
1841. Among these yellowed pages was the notation that a MARY
BUTLER, of REDFORD donated 1 shilling toward the fund. Consider
it, a MARY BUTLER, the reigning family member of the Clearfield
Butlers in the U.S. in 1847 and a JOHN of REDFORD with no wife
beside him in his grave in Ireland, together with the persuasive
fact that a MARY BUTLER of REDFORD was contributing to funds for
the poor in 1841.
The last bit of evidence and perhaps the single most convincing
when joined with all of the other pieces, was found in the
historical society in Bellefonte, Centre County (just east
of Clearfield County). In a series of tombstone inscriptions of
the central Pennsylvania area preserved by a woman in the early
1930's, was the following inscription from the old public
graveyard in Clearfield. Mary Butler, wife of JOHN BUTLER, died
1863, aged 77 years at death. This tombstone is still standing in
the old Clearfield public graveyard. It's face is illegible. Thank
heaven someone thought ahead to the time when it would be
illegible. And, there was no inscription on her tombstone noting
her husbands death nor was there a tombstone for him in the
graveyard. It is hoped that anybody considering all of this
evidence would conclude that the relationship of John of Redford,
and Mary Butler, the elderly immigrant of Clearfield County in
1847 was clear. John of Redford appears to have followed the
practice of many Irish men. He did not marry until his father
died, or was about to. This seems obvious, since George of Cloncha
died in 1809 and John had his first child in 1811 by a wife who
was barely 23-years-old.John was 40-years-old at this time. The
reason that John was not living at Lisdaragan is not known at this
time. (If indeed he wasn't) Being the eldest son, he should have
inherited the homestead and the bulk of George of Cloncha's
estate. It may have been as simple as not wanting to move from an
established home. He did live in Redford for sure, at least in the
latter part of his life as is evidenced by his wife Mary's
contribution to the fund for the needy in 1841.
The two brothers, John of Redford and his brother George are the
direct ancestors for both of the branches of the Inishowen
Butlers. John for the Clearfield County branch and George for the
remaining Butlers in, or lately from, Inishowen.Outside of
information on birth and death on his tombstone, John of Redford
is only mentioned once in the records. This is in the Tithe
Applotment books of the 1828 - 1832 period. His name appears with
his brother George's as owning 1/4 of a lease of land in the
townland of Cloncha. Marchant is the second name in the lease.
Marchant owned 1/4 of the lease as well. The third name is
McGranahan. He owned half of the lease.
In 1977, when four of the Clearfield County branch were visiting
Ireland, they met a man named McGranahan. He lived about 100 yards
from what is speculated to be the visiting Butler's ancestor's
last Irish home. This is in the townland of Cloncha (just a very
short distance from Lisdaragan). The gentleman they met very
likely was the descendant and heir to the same McGranahan that
shared the lease with John of Redford.
The small cottage the Americans visited was in a ruined state. All
four walls were still up, and almost the entire roof was intact,
except for several small patches that allowed the sun in. But, the
dirt floor was strewn with litter and the remains of evidence of
livestock having inhabited the cottage. It evidently had been many
years since it had been occupied by humans. The roof was made of
sod, with abit of thatching. Still, it was fairly easy to imagine
how it once had been and to picture the Irish Butlers who
emigrated to America as they once had been.
We now come to the generation of the Clearfield branch of the
Inishowen Butlers. John of Redford had six children. James b.
1811-12, George b. 1812, Mary b. 1815, Robert b. 1817, Rose b.
1825, John b. 1827, and Elizabeth b. 1828.
James was nineteen when he died in an accident in 1831. He was
plowing a field with a rifle propped onto his plow, when it
accidently went off, wounding him fatally. No reason has been
passed down as to why he had the rifle with him. One possible
explanation would be, at this period of history the Culdaff area
was infested with a great over population of wild hares. It was a
problem that threatened many peoples livelihood. It seems likely
that many farmers made it a practice to carry rifles during the
work day to shoot as many hares as they could.
The second oldest living son, Robert, not having much expectation
of inheriting land from his father, appears to have sought his
fortune by emigrating. He must have arrived in Clearfield County
in the very late 1830's or 1840. This is evident, since records
show him selling a strip of land in the Mt. Joy area in 1841. He
must have received some grant of money from his father to set him
up in his new country. So, Robert was in the United States at
least seven years prior to the emigration of his family.
The emigration of the rest of the family was caused for a number
of reasons, that in combination, made the choice to emigrate an
obvious and easy one. First, they had someone in the new country
to smooth the way for them. Second, the father of the family was
dead. At the time he died, he was seventy four. The chances are,
had he lived, he most likely would have been against leaving his
home at such an age. Indeed, that may have been a factor in
delaying the emigration of the rest of the family as long as it
did. Third, although this branch of the Inishowen Butlers seems to
have been in adequate shape financially, the future in Ireland was
not a good one, because of the extreme over-crowding. By the time
of their emigration to the United States, Ulster contained an
average of 406 persons per square mile of arable land. Fourth, the
country was at the height of a famine. Almost everywhere a person
looked he saw poverty and desolation. Almost all of the poor class
was devastated by the successive loss of potato crops on which
they depended for the bulk of their food. Inishowen's crops were
more evenly divided between oats and potatoes, so the effects were
felt less in the area around Culdaff than in many other areas of
It is very unlikely, that the Butlers in our direct line, who had
remained protestant and consequently had land sufficient for rent
income or varied food produce, were in any danger of being the
victims of any great privation, since they did not depend on
potatoes alone for their sustenance. But, the effect in general,
was that it certainly didn't spell a future of good and plenty.
Fifth, Irish Robert in all likelihood was writing letters to his
family, trying to convince them that life around Clearfield was so
much better than what they had around Culdaff. He had just started
his own family and probably wanted his Irish family to join him in
America. Irish immigrants with this bent of mind colored their
letters with promises of success and opportunity.
So, in the spring of 1847 the group set off for America. They
arrived at the port of Philadelphia sometime in July, 1847 and
made their way to Clearfield County. Undoubtedly, the group stayed
with Robert for a short time, before finding their own home to
live in, about a mile away, in the direction of Clearfield. For
purposes of clear identification, the three adult brothers and
sisters from Ireland will be known as Irish George, Irish Robert
and Irish John as well as Irish Mary, Irish Rose (no pun intended)
and Irish Elizabeth.
Within a year of arrival, Irish Mary was married to one of
Clearfield's pioneers. Abraham L. Hess. Hess arrived in the area
around Clearfield Bridge about 1810 and cleared a settlement
beside Clearfield Creek. He was a widower and had several adult
children by his first wife. Irish Mary gave him his youngest son,
Abraham L. Hess, Jr. and a daughter, Rosanna, but she died at the
age of 5. Irish Mary had been engaged to be married in Ireland and
the prospective groom disappeared (supposedly to Scotland) when
the date of the wedding neared. Irish Mary was pregnant by this
time. She had a son, Jerimiah. He went by the name of Butler,
except for a short period of time after Irish Mary's marriage to
Abraham Hess, when he used Hess for his last name. Throughout his
life he was commonly called Jerry Butler. He is listed as such in
the 1875 Illustrated Atlas of Clearfield County. Abraham Hess died
in the middle 1850's and Irish Mary went to live with her brothers
and sisters alternatively. In 1860 she was living with her brother
Irish John in Mt. Joy. Their mother Mary, was also living with
Irish John at this time.
Eventually, Irish Mary moved into her own quarters in town. First,
in a house next to North Witmer Park and then to a house on N. 3rd
St. and Walnut. Finally, she bought a house on S. 4th St. and
Cherry where her descendants live to this day.Irish Mary lived
until December 15, 1887. She is buried in an abandoned graveyard
on Cowdrick's farm beside Clearfield Creek on the farm that
Abraham Hess first settled at the beginning of the 1800's.
Irish Elizabeth married Uriah Litz and had a daughter named
Hannah. They also adopted a son, L. T. Shimel, he appears to have
died in childhood. Irish Elizabeth lived until 1894 and was buried
beside L.T. Shimel in Stoneville cemetary with a plain unmarked
sandstone rock set upright for her headstone.
Irish Rose married Robert Litz and had a son named Rudolph Litz.
It has not been discovered when she died. Her husband lived until
1912 and was buried in the graveyard at the Clover Hill Church,
near Litz's Bridge.
Irish Robert married Margaret Derrick, the daughter of another
Clearfield County pioneer, Nimrod Derrick, in 1843 and had six
children. John D. b. 1844, Elizabeth b. 1846, George W. b. 1848,
Mary b. 1851, Margaret b. 1853 and Sarah b. 1856.The census
records indicate that Irish Robert's mother Mary was living with
him in 1850. No doubt Mary, the matriarch of the new American
Butlers, lived in shifts at her various children's houses, as was
the custom for older single parents until recent years.
As far as records reflect, Irish Robert only lived at one
residence during his married life. He died in 1861. His wife
Margaret, lived until 1901. She died of Gangrene at her
granddaughter's house in Clearfield's East End.
Irish John provides abit of a mystery that has yet to be solved.
Although the family immigrated in 1847, he did not leave Ireland
until 1849. Why would a boy of 20 stay behind in Ireland when his
whole family had left? Recently there has been found a ships list
for 1849 Londonderry to Philadelphia that lists a John Butler and
a Mary Butler. Both the age of John and the age of Mary match the
ages they would be if they were Irish John and his mother Mary. It
has been thought that Mary came over with Irish George. But, given
this new information it appears that the possibility exists that
John stayed with his mother until she was ready to come to
America. This would explain John's delay, but not his absence from
the 1850 census in Clearfield county. Records show that he arrived
July 4, 1849. The census is blank for him in 1850. Where was he?
One possibility is found in the fact that on the same ship that
brought John and Mary to the states, was a Rebecca Butler. It is
not known if Rebecca was from our family. If she was, and John and
Rebecca stayed with friends or relatives in Philadelphia or it's
environs, then it would appear that Rebecca stayed there, because
of marriage or some other factor not known. It is known that
within three years of his arrival in the U.S. Irish John took over
the property that Irish George had been living on in Mt. Joy. He
lived there the rest of his years.
Irish John married Rebecca Maria Conklin in 1860 and had seven
children. Jefferson D. b. 1864, Rebecca b. 1868, Sarah b. 186-,
Mary b. 186-, Infant b. 186-, William b. 1869 and Thadeus b. 1872.
There is a small headstone in the old Clearfield graveyard not six
feet from that of Irish John and his wife's headstones that
contains the names of three or four children by the name of
Butler. At the time of examination in the late 1970's the name
Butler and the name Mary were barely discernable. Although it is
obvious that there are two or three more names and dates of birth
and death for each of the children, the letters are illegible.
This headstone is almost certainly for Sarah, Mary, William and
the infant all of whom died in childhood. In 1879 Irish John died
after a bout with Typhoid Fever.
Irish George married Margaret Frances Mulhearn in Ireland. This
took place approximately in 1843. she was known by her family and
friends in the United States as Fanny. In Ireland, her
family referred to her as Peggy or Aunt Peggy. George and Fanny
had eight children. Robert b. 1845, John b. 1847, (there is some
doubt as to this date for John. Some evidence exists to put his
birth date in 1844.) Mary b. 1851, Elizabeth b. 1855, Margaret b.
1863, Thomas b. 1857, Thomas b. 1864, (census records suggests
that George and Fanny had two children named Thomas, it was
relatively common practice to name a sibling of a recently
departed child by the same name) Stephen b. 1859. Thomas or
Thomas's and Stephen died in childhood. After moving from his Mt.
Joy farm in 1852, George bought a farm in Boggs township in the
Stoneville vicinity. He remained there for some years before
moving to a farm nearer Clearfield but still close by the Old Erie
It was in 1879, while still living on this farm that Irish George
decided to move to Virginia. The farm that he bought was about 3
miles from Farmville, in the extreme southeast corner of
Buckingham County, Virginia. Irish George died of a heart attack
on May 17, 1882. His age at the time was described as 69 years, 4
months and 23 days old. It is probable that this was telegraphed
to Clearfield since his obituary appeared in the Clearfield
Republican a mere two days later. The date arrived at after
subtracting his age from the date he died, would have put his
birth on December 25, 1812. It has never been discovered where in
Buckingham County he is buried.
The following episode in the Inishowen Butler's story will be
covered in this outline in a more complete fashion, because
of the direct effect it has had on the Clearfield branch and to
clear up any misconceptions that may have accumulated over the
Irish George's son, Robert, had married Lucy Heisler in
Clearfield, before the move to Virginia. He had 4 children. Anne
b. 1873, Francis b. 1876, Catherine b. 1878, and George b. 1879.
Records indicate that Lucy's family were living at Riverview on
the west side of the river, across from Reedsville, at the time of
her marriage. Robert didn't spend much time in Virginia. He was
there no longer than a year. Sometime in late 1880 or early 1881
Robert moved to Johnstown, Pennsylvania and went to work as a
laborer in the Cambria Iron and Steel Works. During the years in
Clearfield County he had worked as a clerk in a store and it is
assumed he liked towns better than farm life. He lived at 4th and
Broad in Cambria City, (an independent borough connected to
Johnstown) for several years, and then bought a house located at
8th and Broad in the same borough.
Life in Johnstown at this time was bustling. The Cambria Iron and
Steel Works was producing at record levels and both the
Pennsylvania and Baltimore & Ohio Railroads had major freight
depots operating in Johnstown. Nearly everyone had either natural
gas or electricity in their homes, and telephones were becoming
ever more common around town. Opportunity was everywhere. It was a
model of the American city in expansion during the industrial
About 1885 or 86 he leased the Pennsylvania Railroad Hotel and
Tavern in Millville, (another independent borough wedged between
Cambria City and Johnstown). He was in business for himself.
Beside saving his earnings from working as a labourer in
Johnstown, Robert had equity from his share of the farm in
Virginia to put toward going into business. He evidently needed
more money to get started and he turned to his brother for a loan.
Family lore relates that Robert's brother John was not at all
pleased that Robert was to be selling liquor. But, there is
evidence that indicates that John loaned Robert the money.
Robert's mother Fanny and his sister Mary, along with her husband.
Franklin Fers moved to Johnstown to be with Robert's family in
late 1882 or early 83. Mary had married Franklin Fers in Virginia
on May 24, 1882. Fers was supposedly born in Clearfield County.
What he was doing in the immediate vicinity of the Butlers in
Virginia is not known. It is thought that Robert's mother Fanny,
and Mary, and her husband Frank, left for Johnstown shortly after
Mary's marriage to help in Robert's household. This was because
Robert's wife Lucy, was ill. Mary and Franklin had one child,
Elizabeth. She died in infancy in 1888.
Robert's wife Lucy died in 1887. She had been bedridden for
several years and had a psychologically induced loss of voice. The
loss of voice appears to have been due to witnessing the death of
several neighborhood children in a fire. Her body was shipped by
train for burial in Altoona, where her mother was living at the
time. It is suspected that Robert's sister Elizabeth accompanied
her sister and mother to Johnstown. This is evidenced by a photo
of her by a Johnstown photographer. Her sister Margaret evidently
had mental problems of one sort or another, as is evidenced by a
lien against her estate in 1890 for arrears due the Virginia State
Asylum. She likely died there in late 1887 or sometime in 1888.
This is deduced by the fact that there are records that show in
1887, Elizabeth selling Margaret her share of the Virginia farm
for a token five dollars, or as the document puts it, her dower.
Court records show that neither Margaret or Elizabeth were living
in 1890. Elizabeth also evidently died in the same time period as
Sometime in April or early May 1889 Robert and several others in
the family were laid up with the flu. there was a flu epidemic
sweeping the country at this time. But, everybody recovered and
the picture looked bright for the Johnstown branch of the
Inishowen Butlers. Robert had a profitable saloon and hotel
business, plus $71.10 on deposit at the Johnstown Building and
Loan (this was the equivelant of almost 3 months labourer's
wages). He had a life insurance policy for $263.00, a valuable
liquor license and $9.00 in rent due from his hotel guests. All of
this and the ownership of a house and property in nearby Cambria
City. He must have felt fairly satisfied for a man so recently a
landless farm worker.
On May 10 or 11 work was completed on a two story addition to the
house Robert owned in Cambria City. This consisted of one room on
each floor and two fireplaces with the chimney built from the
ground up. For this he paid the huge sum of $140.00. It would have
been slightly more, but Robert had elected to do the painting
The people in Johnstown had long been aware of the danger of the
dam breaking at Lake Conemaugh. In 1881, during a flash flood,
rumors spread that it was ready to let go because this was the
first year that such a head of water had been put to bear on the
earthen dam. The Cambria Iron Company sent a group of men up to
the lake to inspect the dam and report it's holding abilities.
Although the water was barely two feet from the Crest, the men
reported that the dam seemed to be in good repair and well able to
handle the water it held. Never-the-less the people in the lower
end of town, in Millville and the area of The Point were
frightened. Many of them did not sleep that night.
But, dawn came and all things were as normal, Excitement
evaporated and the people went about their regular lives. As the
years progressed the routine repeated itself whenever the water
got too high, until by 1889 the thought of the dam breaking became
more of a joke than a fear that anything would actually happen.
They all agreed it would happen one day, but not to them. People
had gotten tired of hearing about a disaster that never happened.
By the spring of 1889 it was as common to joke about the dam
breaking as it was to comment on the bad weather.
Lake Conemaugh had been created originally to provide sufficient
water for the Canal from Johnstown to Pittsburgh. The funds for it
had been approved by the state legislature in 1836. Work was begun
on the dame in 1838 and the job was finished after many delays in
1852. Two years later, the canal was made obsolete by a more
comprehensive railroad network in the state. Soon afterward the
State sold the property to the Pennsylvania Railroad as part of
the package of the canal system. The railroad could use the canal
beds as right of way. In 1879 a group of rich men from Pittsburgh
purchased the lake property to start a resort for vacationing
Pittsburgh tycoons. The dam itself was 930 feet wide with a
spillway 72 feet wide. The thickness on top was 20 feet wide
graduating down to 270 feet. It was constructed of individual
layers of clay and coated on its outer face with large loose rocks
and smaller rocks on its inner face. The lake covered about 450
acres and was close to 72 feet deep in places. by 1889, sixteen
cottages had been built by the lake with boathouses and stables.
May 30, 1889, Thursday, was Memorial Day. In the morning, most
people in town went to the cemeteries to pay respect to their
departed loved ones and it is likely that Robert and his family
had done that very thing. After returning from the cemetery there
was the Memorial Day Parade to look forward to. Since the parade
took place only 3 or 4 blocks from where Robert lived, it's a good
bet that Robert and family walked over to join the crowd. Parades
then and for many years afterwards were a tremendous draw for
people. It was a major social event that was not to be missed,
particularly for the children.
The parade got underway about two-thirty. It progressed up Main
Street for the entire length of the town and then turned to go as
far as Sandy Vale where the war dead were buried (a distance of 3
miles). The fire department marched, the Morrellville Odd Fellows,
the Austrian Music Society, The Hornertown Drum Corps, the Grand
Army Veterans, and the Sons of Veterans, and half a dozen other
gourps of various designations. there were 30,000 people living in
the valley at this time and a great many of them had come to see
After the parade everybody drifted home to relax and get ready for
their evening meal. A light rain started to fall about four
o'clock. It was not welcomed by anyone. There had already been a
hundred days of rain that year. The rivers were already swollen
with eleven days of rain that month, not to mention fourteen
inches of snow that fell in April. It wasn't as if Johnstown
hadn't gotten used to spring flooding every year. It was a common
thing to have the water up to the top doorstep and sometimes to
the first floor windows. Many times cellars had to be dug out to
get rid of the mud from rising waters. It was just that everybody
hoped that they wouldn't have to deal with it again this spring.
Happily the rain stopped about five. The Butlers had their meal
and after an evening of chores and usual conversation they went to
bed.Meanwhile, the rain started again at nine o'clock that
evening. It was light as before but, about ten it came in a
downpour. This continued throughout the night.By morning, the rain
had slowed down and was little more than a drizzle. but, the
rivers were swollen and rising better than a foot an hour. When
the morning crew showed up for work at the mills at seven, they
were told to go home and see to their families. School had been
let out and the children were making the most of the situation by
sailing homemade toy boats and generally amusing themselves with
the then passive high waters. Some conservative minded individuals
moved their families to the mountainsides just to be sure. Others
were busy moving furniture and other valuables to the second floor
and readying themselves for another of their almost yearly spring
floods. Meanwhile, up at the Lake Conemaugh Dam, the engineer
hired by the club to look after the dam and grounds, 24-year-old
John Parke, had gotten up at six thirty that morning and set out
immediately to inspect the lake's level. He took a small rowboat
and rowed to the various inlets of the lake to see what kind of
level the streams had reached. To his horror he noted that the
lake was rising about an inch every ten minutes. He calculated
that the water would be going over the crest of the dam in only a
matter of hours at this rate.
Upon arriving back at the South Forks Hunt Club he was summoned to
the dam itself. When he arrived, he was met by a small crowd of
men. The water was only two feet from the crest. The men were
unsuccessfully trying to bolster the dam with added earth and also
trying to cut a new spillway in to the tough shale of the
mountainside.To compound the situation the spillway that
ordinarily relieved the dam of its excess water was badly clogged
with stumps, pieces of logs and all other sort of debris. The
general manager of the South Forks Hunt Club, Colonel Unger was
present and helping with the feverish work being done. John
Bucannon, a South Fork resident, was there too and he tried to
convince Colonel Unger to remove the bridge above the existing
spillway and tear out the screens that were being clogged. Colonel
Unger would not do it. When he did agree to do it a short time
later, it was too late. The screens were unmoveable, the pressure
on the huge amount of debris was like a padlock.
By eleven o'clock the water was level with the crest of the dam.
Colonel Unger then told John Parke to ride to South Fork, a ten
minute horseback ride, and telegraph Johnstown of the tragic
situation. When Parke started that ride he didn't expect to see a
dam when he returned.The message was telegraphed from South Fork
to Johnstown. Two additional warnings were to be telegraphed that
afternoon. None of the warnings received in Johnstown were taken
seriously. In fact, there is no evidence that the information was
even passed from the telegrapher in Johnstown to any
authorities.When John Parke arrived back at the dam he was
surprised to see it still standing. But, the water was spilling
over the top. It was about six inches deep and growing. It was now
shortly after noon.
John Parke was now faced with a grave decision. Should he cut
spillways at the sides of the dam proper, where the softer earth
and the pressure of the water itself would finish the job of
cutting the spillways? This would get rid of the excess water in
quick fashion without risking the collapse of the main section of
the dam. But, it would mean the total destruction of the dam and a
great deal of damage below. The club would be held accountable for
any damage and loss of life that would result. There would be no
way of proving that the dam would not have held. On the other
hand, if nothing was done and the main section of the dam did
break, the ensuing devastation would be many times worse and an
enormous loss of life would result. If his first thought was put
into action, he of course, would have to live with all the blame
of the results. What man not knowing with absolute certainty what
the future holds would have the courage to take on such a
John Parke was not such a man. But, no one can blame him. Perhaps
a person with hindsight would, but everyone knows how much
hindsight is worth. Instead, Parke turned his horse and rode up to
the club for his midday meal.When he returned to the dam, things
had gotten worse, Several large rocks had fallen away from the
face of the dam and the water had cut a hole into the dam about
ten feet wide and four feet deep. Each minute the gap enlarged.
All Parke and the other men could do was wait and hope.Soon
afterward the first big chunk of dam seemed to dissolve into the
rushing waters. It was described to be large enough for a train of
cars to go through. The water then seemed to slice its way as a
knife through soft butter. It wasn't more than several minutes
later that the entire face of the dam seemed to move as a unit out
into the mist shrouded gully in front of the dam and disappear
into the white torrent that was sweeping all before it. It was now
ten minutes after three o'clock.
In Johnstown, Robert Butler was finishing up the transfer of those
articles he could move to the second floor and seeing to it that
his family was gathered in their parlor. The water was up to the
first floor windowsill and he was resigned to suffering more water
damage to his premises than was usual but, he must have reasoned
that his family was alright and all that was to be done was done.
He had elected not to move the family to the nearby mountainside,
so it appears he was not overly fearful.
Meanwhile, about 18 miles away, twenty million tons of water and
thousands of tons of debris was hurtling down the Conemaugh
Valley, leaving in it's path nothing but bare rocks and deep
gauges in hard clay. It has been estimated that the water charged
into the valley at a velocity and depth comparable to that of the
Niagara River as it reaches Niagara Falls. Or to put it another
way, the bursting of the South Fork dam was about like turning
Niagara Falls into the valley for thirty minutes.To further
complicate the situation, at various points in its plummet to
Johnstown, the debris would clog up the path, forming a water
tight dam. Then the pressure behind this accidental dam would
build up until the whole thing burst as if dynamited. In effect,
the mass of water charging toward Johnstown stopped every now and
then to give an encore performance of the collapse at the South
Forks dam. This meant that the speed and force of the onslaught
didn't have a chance of dissipating it's energy.
The difference in elevation between the South Forks dam and
Johnstown was 500 feet. It has been estimated that the theoretical
speed which the wall of water could have achieved by the time it
reached Johnstown was 90 miles an hour. Of course, the accidental
damming and friction with objects in its path greatly reduced
this. The speed of the water at most points was gauged at
approximately forty miles per hour. The friction of the ground and
the obstacles in the water's path caused the bottom part to move
slower than the top. This forced the top part to slide over the
bottom. The top then fell down in front of the wall of water,
producing a huge hammering wave. Any person caught in the open, in
front of this hammer and anvil like process, would be pounded deep
into the mud.Railroad locomotives, boxcars, houses, and bridges
were swept away without the slightest resistance. And so it was as
the water roared into Johnstown at 4:07 p.m.
Afterwards, people had their own personal ways of describing the
sound and sight of the wave as it hit Johnstown. To some it
sounded like thousands of horses in a cavalry charge, to others,
incessant thunder. Some people thought it looked like an immense
carpet of undulating houses, trees, planks, humans, locomotives,
frieght cars, and black water unrolling toward them at break-neck
speed. But one thing everybody who saw agreed upon. This dark mist
that preceded the wave, was later to be dubbed "the death mist".
In front of the mist was a wind that set trees to waving and
carried away the smaller wood structures that it hit.
The following is an excerpt from David G. McCullough's extremely
interesting book, THE JOHNSTOWN FLOOD. It gives the experience of
one of the survivors, a boy of seventeen years, Victor Heiser. The
Heisers lived about 5 blocks up from the Butlers, where the family
had a grocery store and living quarters. It is probably typical of
the situation that most people in Johnstown faced that day, with
the single difference that Victor somehow survived, instead of
becoming victim of the grisly fate that many suffered.
" The water in front of the Heiser store had been knee-deep since
early in the afternoon, which was a record for that part of town.
In the other floods over the years there had never been any water
at all so far up on Washington Street.People had been coming in
and out of the store most of the morning joking about the weather,
buying this and that to tide them through the day. The floor was
slick with mud from their boots, and the close, warm air inside
the place smelled of tobacco and wet wool. George Heiser, wearing
his usual old sweater, was too busy taking care of customers to
pay much attention to what was going on outside.But by early
afternoon, with the street out front under two feet of water,
hardly anyone was about, and the Heiser family was left more or
less to itself. A few visitors dropped in, family friends, and an
occasional customer. Mrs. Lorentz, from Kernville, sat visiting
with Mathilde Heiser upstairs. She had come by alone, without her
husband, who was the town's weatherman, and no doubt a busy man
Sometime near four o'clock George Heiser had sent his son, Victor,
out to the barn to see about the horses. The animals had been tied
in their stalls, and George, worried that they might strangle if
the water should get any higher, wanted them unfastened.The barn,
like the store front, was a recent addition for the Heisers. It
had a bright red tin roof and looked even bigger than it was,
standing, as it did, upon higher ground at the rear of their lot.
To get to it, Victor had left his shoes and socks behind and, with
a pair of shorts on, went wading across through the pelting rain.
It had taken him only a few minutes to see to the horses and he
was on his way out the door when he heard the noise.
Terrified, he froze in the doorway. The roar kept getting louder
and louder, and every few seconds he heard tremendous crashes. He
looked across at the house and in the second story window saw his
father motioning to him to get back into the barn and up the
stairs. Just a few weeks earlier he and his father had cut a trap
door through the barn roof, because his father had thought "it
might be a good idea".The boy was through the door and onto the
roof in a matter of seconds. Once there he could see across the
top of the house, and on the other side, no more than two blocks
away, was the source of all the racket. He could see no water,
only an immense wall of rubbish, dark and squirming with rooftops,
huge roots, and planks. It was coming at him very fast, ripping
through Portage and Center streets. When it hit Washington Street,
he saw his home crushed like an orange crate and swallowed up.
In the same instant the barn was wrenched from its footings and
began to roll like a barrel, over and over. Running, stumbling,
crawling hand over hand, clawing at tin and wood, Victor somehow
managed to keep on top. Then he saw the house of their neighbor,
Mrs. Fenn, loom up in front. The barn was being driven straight
for it. At the precise moment of impact, he jumped, landing on the
roof of the house just as the walls of the house began to give in
and the whole roof started plunging downward. He clambered up the
steep pitch roof, fighting to keep his balance. The noise was
deafening and still he saw no water. Everything about him was
cracking and splitting, and the air was filled with flying boards
and glass. It was more like being in the middle of an explosion
than anything else.
With the house and roof falling away beneath him, he caught hold
of still another house that had jammed in on one side. Grabbing on
to the eaves, he hung there, dangling, his feet swinging back and
forth, reaching out, trying to get a toe hold. But there was none.
All he could do was hang and swing. For years after he would have
recurring nightmares in which it was happening to him all over
again. If he let go he was finished. But in the end, he knew, when
would have to let go. His fingernails dug deep into the water
soaked shingles. Shooting pains ran through his hands and down his
wrists.Then his grip gave out and he fell, backwards, sickenly,
through the wet, filthy air, and slammed down on a big piece of
red roof from the new barn. And now, for the first time, he saw
the water; he was bumping across it, lying on his stomach, hanging
on to the roof with every bit of strength left in him, riding with
the wave as it smashed across Johnstown.
The things he heard and saw in the next moments would be
remembered later only a gray, hideous blur, except for the one
split-second glimpses which would stick in his mind for the rest
of his life.He saw the whole Mussante family sailing by on what
appeared to be a barn floor. Mussante was a fruit dealer on
Washington Street, a small, dark Italian with a drooping mustache,
who had been in Johnstown now perhaps three years. He had a
pushcart at first, then opened the little place not far from the
Heiser store. Victor knew him well, and his wife and two children.
Now there they were speeding by with a Saratoga trunk open between
them and every one of them busy packing things into it. And then a
mass of wreckage heaved up out of the water and crushed them. But
he had no time to think more about them or anything else. He was
heading for a mound of wreckage lodged between the Methodist
Church and a three story brick building on the other side of where
Locust Street had been. The next thing he knew he was part of the
jam. His roof had catapulted in amongst it, and there, as trees
and beams shot up on one side or crashed down on the other, he
went leaping back and forth, ducking and dodging, trying
desperately to keep his footing, while more and more debris kept
booming into the jam.
Then suddenly, a freight car reared up over his head. It looked
like the biggest thing he had ever seen in his life. And this time
he knew there could be no jumping out of the way. But just as it
was about to crash on top of him, the brick building beside him
broke apart, and his raft, as he would describe it later, "shot
out from beneath the freight car like a bullet from a gun."
Now he was out onto comparatively open water, rushing across a
clear space which he judged to be approximately where the park had
been. He was moving at a rapid clip, but there seemed far less
danger, and he took some time to look about. There were people
struggling and dying everywhere around him. Every so often a
familiar face would flash by. There was Mrs. Fenn, fat and
awkward, balanced precariously on a tar barrel, well doused with
its contents, and trying pathetically, to stay afloat. Then he saw
the young negro who worked for Dr. Lee, down on his knees praying
atop his employer's roof, stark naked, shivering and beseeching
the Lord in a loud voice to have mercy on his soul.
Like the Mussante family, they were suddenly here and gone like
faces in nightmares, or some sort of grotesque comedy, as unreal
and as unbelievable as everything else that was happening. And
there was nothing he could do for them, or anybody else. He was
heading across town toward Stony Creek. As near as he could reckon
later, he passed right by where Horace Rose's house had stood,
then crossed Main and sailed over the Morrell lot and perhaps
directly over where the Morrell greenhouse had been. Almost
immediately after that, about the time he was crossing Lincoln
Street, he got caught by the back-current.
Until then he had been keeping his eyes on the mountainside, which
looked almost close enough to reach out and touch, and on the
stone bridge. Both places looked to be possible landings, and
either one would do as well as the other. But now his course
changed sharply, from due west to due south. The current grabbed
his raft and sent it racing across the Stony Creek a half mile or
so, over into the Kernville section, and it was here that his
"I passed by a two-and-a-half-story brick dwelling which was
still remaining on its foundations. Since my speed as I went up
this second valley was about that of a subway train slowing for a
stop, I was able to hop to the roof and join a small group of
people already stranded there."
When he had been standing on the roof of his father's barn,
looking across the housetops at the avalanche bearing down on
Johnstown, he had taken his watch out of his pocket to look at the
time. It was a big silver watch with a fancy-etched cover, which
had been his fourteenth birthday present from his father. He had
snapped it open, because, as he would say later, "I wanted to see
just how long it was going to take for me to get from this world
over into the next one."
Now, on the rooftop in Kernville, realizing that he had perhaps a
very good chance of staying on a little longer in this world, he
pulled out the watch a second time.Amazingly enough, It was still
running, and he discovered with astonishment that everything that
had happened since he had seen his home vanish had taken place in
less than ten minutes.
Victor was soon to discover that neither his father or mother had
survived and in searching for the remains of the household he came
upon a standup closet with his father's civil war uniform in it.
In looking through the pockets he found a penny. this was the bulk
of his inheritance.
About 5 blocks south from where Victor Heisler started his
eventful voyage and just about the same time it started, Robert
Butler was at the second floor window of his living quarters at
the rear of the hotel, having a casual conversation across the
alley with his friend of nine years, Thomas Broderick. The rest of
Robert's family were in the room with him. Most of Robert's hotel
residents were in their rooms.
Thomas Broderick lived across Cinder Alley from Robert,
approximately 16 feet away. They were talking about the flood
waters which by now had reached the first floor windows.
All of a sudden Robert heard a sound that caused his eyes to dart
to the north. His face turned a deathly white color and he uttered
the words "Oh my God!". At that moment his hotel was struck by the
wave that was flattening Johnstown. As Broderick later reported
the sight, "the hotel just seemed to collapse, breaking into
pieces", it then disappeared into the mass of twisted wreckage and
Thomas Broderick miraculously survived that initial hammering wave
and later made his way to the mountainside and safety.
Chances are great that Robert and his family got caught in the
tremendous pile up at the Stone bridge. The Pennsylvania Railroad
had a bridge for its trains to cross the Conemaugh River at the
lower end of town. This bridge figured large in the stories that
would be told about the Johnstown Flood. All the debris and water
had but one way to go from Johnstown. The bridge was it. The
mountains at the southwest corner of town graduate down to the
river and form what might best be described as a funnel mouth for
any water coming from upstream.
Sixteen acres of debris piled up above this bridge during this
disaster. Even after hundreds were crushed or drowned by the
fantastic amount of water and debris that battered into that
bridge, hundreds of others were pinned down and burned to death
from the fires of natural gas vents and other flammable agents
that were present.
There was a gap that opened up on the Johnstown side of the bridge
that allowed part of the torrent to carry innumerable houses and
other debris downstream to Cambria City.
What Robert and his family's fate was, will never be known. No
trace has ever been found of them. Franklin Fers body was
discovered. But, it is not known where he is buried.
Webmasters note: I encourage
anyone to visit this website. The Butlers are clearly listed
among the missing, and there are additional photographs, and
eyewitness accounts of this devastating tragedy.
History of the Johnstown Flood
A list of flood victims, including their ages, addresses and
It would have been a day or two before Robert's brother John would
have been made aware of the great tragedy. Clearfield County as
well as the entire northeastern United States had quite a flood
situation to deal with themselves. It was nothing even approaching
the Johnstown situation, but never-the-less great inconvenience,
property loss and to a much lesser degree, loss of life was a
great deal to handle before news of other town's tragedies
filtered through to the remote areas. Clearfield itself had
suffered one of its greatest floods and was busy digging out of
It is not yet perfectly clear where John was living. In records
relating to the settling of Robert's estate, it is stated that
John was a resident of Punxatauney, Pennsylvania. This was
possibly a broad reference to his location at the farm he later
bought at Troutville. The only thing wrong with this is that
Dubois is closer and would have been a more accurate description
of his location.
Imagine if you will, unsuccessfully telegraphing, trying to get
word as to the status of Robert and his family, and not being able
to get through. For nearly a week all the telegraph lines were
being used to send out messages for the business of recovery and
for newspaper accounts. His next move would be to go to Johnstown
as fast as he could to learn what had happened to his family.
John appears to have been accompanied by his cousin, John Derrick
Butler, (Your webmasters Great Great Grandfather) Irish Robert's
son. Chances are that John stopped by Clearfield on his way to
Johnstown and John D. volunteered to go with him.
It is sure that he was in Johnstown at least six or seven days
after the flood. Court records with dates within two weeks after
the flood describe his pursuing the administration of his brothers
On the way to Johnstown they were probably on horseback and
encountering refugees filtering out from Johnstown, disheveled and
still dazed by what they had seen. Perhaps they met the
10-year-old who when asked what happened in Johnstown, answered
that "If I was the biggest liar in the world, I couldn't tell you
the half of it".
They would have needed to get a pass from the military guards
around Johnstown in order to get into town. Sightseers and relic
hunters had plagued the city immediately after the flood, so the
military had cordoned off the city and to gain admittance a person
had to have legitimate business.
Once they arrived, they would have been greeted by a horrifying
sight. Johnstown proper would have appeared like the world's
largest junk yard, with several huge swaths of bare ground leading
up to the still smoking sixteen acres of debris. There were some
houses still standing, but the immense stretches of clear mud
flats where city had once been, had to send a chill down the spine
of anybody who had seen Johnstown before the flood.
While making inquiry at the main headquarters for the disaster,
the Pennsylvania Railroad Depot, just a block and a half from
where Robert's hotel had been, John would note that where his
brother's hotel had stood was the fringe of the huge pile of
debris. He would then know that Robert's hotel had been in the
main path of the murderous wave. John probably hoped that Robert
and family had gone to the mountainside before the flood.
Walking around the few streets that were passable with their
trousers tucked into their boots, the two cousins would have
searched from one temporary morgue to another hoping to find the
bodies of Robert's family, or word of their survival, but without
success. After a day or two of agonizing search he would probably
have realized there was no hope. His family was gone.
According to court records, John did find about $300 or $400 worth
of personal property belonging to Robert. This suggests that
perhaps he located at least a section of the hotel. If he did, and
where it finally came to rest is not known.
John wrote his mother's family in Inishowen (just north of Muff)
to let them know of the disaster and of his mother's passing and
to the Culdaff Butlers about his family and the tragedy in
general. He gave the house that Robert owned in Cambria City as a
return address. Whether the house was habitable or not is not
known, since much of Cambria City had suffered a fate similar to
One of the stories that has evolved over the years is that the
lawyer handling the management of the probate for John absconded
with the entire inheritance. This was supposed to have been an
extremely large amount of money.
The net inheritance according to court records only amounted to
$2,500.00. Of course, in 1889 this was a great deal of money.
Whether the lawyer did take off with it or not is not certain, but
John seems to have had enough capital left over to purchase a farm
and buy Robert's house from his estate as soon as six months after
The following fall, while accompanied by his wife Patty, John
completed the work on Robert's estate.
John's exact age is not known. In the records, his birth varies
from 1844 (which would have made him older than his brother
Robert) to 1847. These are the dates best relied on, but an even
wider range has been shown in the various census's over the years.
It seems that John's mother was anxious to give all her children a
break on age, since the practice of shaving off years was applied
to her other children as well.
We can be assured that the latest possible date he was born was in
early 1847, because the cousin that accompanied Irish George to
Londonderry reported that George's wife had two small infants with
her. One of them, supposedly the smallest one, was crying the
whole way, wanting to go home, instead of on a strange journey to
who knows where.
Although John was born in Ireland, his early age at entry into the
U.S. would have made him very American in outlook while growing
up. Most of his boyhood companions and their parents were born in
this country and the area around Clearfield was extremely
It was the practice in many Irish families, because they repeated
the same names in alternate generations, to give a nickname to
specifically identify one from another. John's nickname was Black
John. This was derived from his dark hair.
According to records, both he and Robert appear to have attended
school at least until the age of fourteen or fifteen. John is
known to have worked in the lumber camps in Clearfield County
during the winters, as did many farmers. In the summer, he worked
with his father on the farm.
In 1882, with both his father and his brother gone, John became
the man of the house, and worked the farm for his mother in
He married Patty Brown (born with the given name of Ellen) who
lived in adjoining Cumberland County on Dec. 4th 1882. Patty was
the daughter of Edwin L. Brown and Emmiline Pollard. Edwin had
been killed in a railroad accident in 1865. Farmville was just
several miles from both of their farms and it is assumed they met
Since John was now married, and his wife was keeping house for
him, it made it all the easier for his mother Fanny to move with
her daughter Mary and her husband to Johnstown to join Robert and
his family. Meanwhile, Patty's sister Martha or Mary (it is
recorded interchangeably in various documents) had married a
widower, Thomas Wells, 4l-years-old, a native of Farmville, on May
24, 1882. Mary or Martha was 26-years-old at the time. It's
interesting to note at this point that all marriages that were
performed for the Butler family in Virginia, as well as that of
Martha Brown's, were officiated by J. V. Crute.
Martha and Thomas had a child named William in 1883. Within a very
short time Martha became ill and it became obvious that she would
die. On her deathbed she requested that Patty take charge of
William and raise him. Patty agreed to this and suddenly John had
John and Patty's first natural child was Fanny, named after her
grandmother. She was born Sept. 1, 1884.
Benjamin Franklin Butler was born to John and Patty in September
1886. Joseph followed in November 1888.
The farm was located about a mile north of the James River and
about 2 1/2 miles from Farmville. It occupied 406 acres, but there
is no way to tell how much of it was cleared for planting. The
soil was none too rich and the topography was one of a gently
rolling nature. The farm never had more than 6 cows and 3 horses,
some years less.
Originally, the farm had been bought from a man named McCracken
who lived in Clearfield County. And, coincidentally, it was sold
to a man from Clearfield County. Abraham Varner traded his farm
outside Troutville for the farm in Virginia, with a small
additional amount of money thrown in by him. The final
transference took place January 1, l890.
The house and barn in Virginia stood until the early 1970's, when
they were torn down for their lumber. There is almost no evidence
of their existence today and the entire area around the house and
barn is medium growth woods from the nearby road back to a small
stream about thirty yards behind where they once stood.
John settled his family on the farm outside Troutville and Robert
was born on July 12, 1892. The family lived there until about 1900
when he and Patty separated.
Patty moved about this time to Dubois for a short time and then
she settled just outside Clearfield on the farm that Joseph later
would buy for himself to live on. In between Patty's occupying the
farm and Joseph's purchase of it, a family by the name of Wall
lived there. Nora Wall, one of the children, would go on to be a
writer of life in China, and gained a renowned reputation for it,
second only to that of Pearl Buck, the author of THE GOOD EARTH.
John decided to homestead in Canada in 1903. He transferred his
property to his daughter Fanny before setting out. He arranged to
meet his two youngest sons, Robert and Joseph on the road leading
down from the farm outside Clearfield. It was at this meeting that
he said his good-byes and promised to send for them, once he was
settled in Canada.
Less than a year later, while making his way upriver, accompanied
by an indian guide, above Ft. Edmonton in Saskatchewan, Canada, he
had a heart attack and fell out of his boat. The Canadian Mounted
Police buried him and notified his survivors of the death.
Patty moved from the farm outside Clearfield to Clearfield proper,
into a house on Clearfield Street, on the west side, about 1907.
She married Henry Kuntz and was ever after referred to as Grandma
Kuntz. Patty divorced Henry after several years and lived the rest
of her years in her house on Turnpike Avenue between Clearfield
and Nichols Streets.
This brings us to the point that most living Butlers are most
familiar with, the 20th century. There is little I could write
about, that most older Butlers would not be more familiar with
than I am. I leave it to them to inform those that are interested
about the family in this century.
The following is an overview of the outline, meant to give the
reader a sense of our ancestor's place in society and the reasons
for that place. It is also meant to brainstorm (for those
interested in such things) with some facts and perhaps give some
answers otherwise unattainable.
From all records that are available it would appear that
both our oldest known ancestor Thomas, and his son, Robert were of
the Yeoman class of farmer (a yeoman was a farmer with at least a
small farm, that he farmed himself, large enough and fertile
enough to give him a noticeable profit. He was considered not
quite a gentleman, but, just below that station in life).
This is assumed, principally because of George I's position in the
early English settlement of Inishowen. For George to have been
able to get the lease of 80 acres of land, it would have
necessitated being the son of a farmer higher placed in money and
position, than that of the common laborer or poor farmer with
several acres to eke out a mere subsistence living.
But, even though this may describe George's father's sociological
position, and George's in earlier life, there is no explanation
for George's sociological position in later life. Of course, there
are many possible explanations for this, but which one it may be
is not now known.
The case may be that George's father was better off than is
suspected and that after he died, George inherited the bulk of his
estate. Another possibility is that after his father died, his
mother remarried a well to do man and she inherited his estate and
upon her death passed this onto George (there are actually some
leads to suggest that this may be the case). Still another
possibility is that through ambitious and intelligent endeavor
George managed to gather the means, both political and financial
to (more gradually than is apparent) enlarge his land holdings and
work his way up to the thousands of acres he enjoyed in the middle
1650's. In George's middle and later life he appears to have been
the predominant gentry in the Culdaff area and one of two main
families in northern Inishowen. The Carys of Moville, being the
This would be a good place to explain how a person's economic
place in Irish society was determined in the period from the 1600'
to the late 1800's.
Economic historians have determined that the level a farmer in
Ireland fell into roughly agreed with the following:
Proprietors were those privileged few that enjoyed the possession
of great amounts of land directly from the crown, sometimes entire
Middlemen were the next step down. They leased anywhere from
hundreds to thousands of acres from the proprietors and in turn
rented this land out.
Strong farmers rented anywhere from thirty to hundreds of acres
from the middlemen. They in turn would rent a portion of this to
the next level of farmer.
Middling farmers rented from 10 acres to 30 acres and farmed it
Below this and the next thing to being an ordinary laborer was the
Smallholder. The true peasant of the land. He held from 2 to 10
acres of and. Barely enough to grow enough food for his family.
Before we get to far along with the progress of the Butlers of
Inishowen, it might be useful to explain that Butlers in the north
half of Ireland were a rare commodity. There was a small
sprinkling of them around the Belfast area in the early and middle
1600's and of course, the noted settler Sir Stephen Butler of the
Belturbet area in Cavan. But outside of those just mentioned, the
remainder of the Butler population of Ireland lived in the
southern half of Ireland. This were the descendants of the Butler
that came to Ireland in the early 1200's with the invading army of
King John. From him came the line of earls of Ormond that ruled
for the crown in southern Ireland. They were one of the two
dominant English families in Ireland for hundreds of years. The
FitzGeralds being the other one.
After being in Ireland for many years, the FitzGeralds, became, as
has often been quoted, "more Irish than the Irish".
This led to feuds between the two families and eventually by the
middle 1500's the FitzGerald's lost most of their power from the
Crown of England. This left the Butlers of southern Ireland with
even greater influence from the Crown and by the middle 1600's to
a Dukedom for the inheriting Butler.
No blood connection has ever been found to tie the Inishowen
Butlers with these Butlers.
This geographical information has been mentioned to stress the
point that any Butlers in Inishowen up until the present, with the
exception of a few government officials that were in residence
only temporarily, were descended from Captain George Butler. Being
a peninsula, Inishowen would not have received accidental
migration as occurred in other parts of Ireland. Anybody who went
there did so purposely. Although beautiful and in certain sections
fertile, given the remote quality that Inishowen had, there would
have been little reason to relocate there. The soil in many parts
of Inishowen was poor and the soil that was fertile was tightly
held by the ruling protestant families.
One of the major factors that led to a gradual lessening of
influence on the part of the Butlers can be attributed to the fact
that neither of the elder sons of Captain George Butler I remained
in the area. If George II had remained in the area, there is
little doubt that with his inheritance, he and his descendants
could have expanded George I's holdings and probably would have
been a major political and economic power in Inishowen, if not all
The drain on George I's land holdings by inheritance to George II
and William had to devastate his holdings. Even so, James, George
I's third son, our direct ancestor, seems to have had enough land
left over to have made him a landowner in the category of
We have no way of knowing how many children James had. There is
great suspicion that the George Butler that witnessed Elizabeth
Young's will in 1707 was one of his sons, but we have no way of
being sure of this. And his name does not appear to come up in any
other records before or after this date.
There is a record of a James Butler marrying a Mary Butler in
Donegal in 1690, but again there is no proof that either of these
Butlers were children of James. The male in this marriage seems
unlikely to have been his son, because he undoubtedly would have
been older than Stephen of Foxborough, and Stephen unquestionably
got the bulk of James's estate. There is still the possibility
that the Mary Butler in this marriage was his daughter, but this
is not clear either.
Stephen had quite a few sons. This should have led to more Butler
families in the Inishowen area than it did. One possible reason
was that all the children did not live to maturity. Another
possibility was some could have immigrated. The 1700's was the
century that the first large emigrations from Ireland and
principally Ulster, started taking place. Several famines and a
discontentment on the part of Ulster Presbyterians were causes for
great numbers of Northern Protestants to immigrate to North
America, England and Scotland. The small portion of immigrants
that went to Scotland and England were principally Catholic. The
proportion of Catholics that went to North America also was small
in the 1700's.
The Catholic Irish seemed welded to Ireland and it was going to
take a great deal more than periodic famines to loosen them from
their ancestral land. The Anglicans, Presbyterians and the rest of
the Protestant denominations did not have this binding tie to the
land and they moved when it seemed to be the thing to do.
There is evidence that several of the Butler families in Inishowen
switched to the Presbyterian faith in this century as well to that
of Catholic. The pattern of these conversions seemed to be of,
marriage by the male Butlers to Catholic or Presbyterian women.
This was followed by the male Butler either converting or allowing
his wife to raise the children in her faith. It is not known how
many of these male Butlers making a break with their traditional
religion of Anglican did so, on an individual conscience level,
before marriage, but, it appears to have been rather small..
More than likely, the first Butlers to immigrate to the United
States and Canada were those that converted to the Presbyterian
faith. This would have followed the trend of immigration in
Ulster. Those that did turn to the Catholic faith, likely followed
the actions of the rest of the Catholic faith in Ireland, and
didn't immigrate, at least in the 1700’s.
The first Catholics in the Butlers of Inishowen that have been
found in the records were those of the Butler family living at
Ardanary in 1782. This is a small farm immediately beside
Lisdaragan. His first name and his wife's have been omitted in the
records. There is a second Butler (not catholic) listed as living
at Ardanary at the same time. He is said to have had a wife and
one child. This quite possibly could have been George of Cloncha.
The above mentioned Catholic Butler's children of course would
have served as a foundation for many other Catholic Butlers in the
following years. While maintaining a small presence in the Culdaff
area, the Catholic Butlers in later years seemed to have polarized
in and around the small villages of the east coast of Inishowen.
Moville, Quigley's Point, Carrowkeel and Ture held the bulk of the
Catholic Butlers in the 1800's. They were shopkeepers, bakers,
fishermen or other town oriented workers.
Given religious attitudes of that period and even to a smaller
degree today, it is likely that sons that strayed from the
traditional Anglican religion were cut off without any
inheritance. This would account for the comparatively small
representation found in the farms surrounding Culdaff. One of the
Catholic Butlers that did remain in the area was a Thomas Butler.
He appears to have had a lease of land in the townland of Baskill
during the early and middle 1800's.
His son, Charles Butler lived there until his death, sometime
after 1901. In fact, by 1901 there were less than 10 Butlers in
all of Inishowen of the Catholic faith. Some of these had left for
the United States and returned.The Inishowen Butler Catholic
population was devastated by the famines in the 1840's and 1870's
when huge numbers immigrated to the United States and the British
During the famine of the 1840's the Inishowen Workhouse had a
sizable representation of Catholic Butlers. This, of course, was
because of the uneven position of most Catholics in Ireland. With
no land upon which to grow subsistence foods and no work because
of the current state of the country, they had nowhere else to
turn. They had long ago grown apart from their more fortunate
Protestant relatives, both because of their religious status and
location. Both these groups were probably barely aware that they
had any connection with each other.
The 1870's shows a marked drop in births of all the Butlers of
Inishowen. The deaths that are listed reflect this as well. Almost
all deaths registered during this period are for the elderly. This
was not true during most years of the death entries. Babies and
young adults were represented to a greater degree outside the
period of the 1870's. Marriages also took a dramatic drop during
It was obvious that the Inishowen Butlers were leaving the area.
By 1800 and continuing throughout that century there was a fairly
large group of Protestant Butlers that did not enjoy the holding
of adequate lands to support their families in comfort. They had
to resort to side occupations to supplement their incomes. When
not working in the fields they were weavers, shoemakers,
lighthouse keepers etc. They were probably not much better off
than their Catholic cousins.
So, during the 1870's, it is no surprise that both groups of the
Butlers of Inishowen followed the pattern of the rest of Ireland
and took to immigration to relieve them of hard times.
However, since the 1700's there was a core of Protestant Butlers
that would be described as "strong farmers". At least half of
Stephen's sons were holding these amounts of land in the middle
and late 1700's and at least one of them, Norton I, qualified as a
Middleman and "gentleman" (a farmer holding enough land to allow
him to live entirely off of the rents he charged the smaller
farmers to farm on his land). By 1800 this prosperous group of
Butlers seems to have been whittled down by immigration and death
to a much smaller group. Norton II remained, as well as George of
Cloncha and several others. As the 1800's progressed this was
still further whittled down by Norton II's misfortunes as well as
the continuing pattern of immigration.
Finally, by the mid 1800's the only Butlers that could be
described as "strong farmers" were those of Lisdaragan and
Claggin. Both of these families were of sons of George, John of
The places that the Inishowen Butlers chose to immigrate were
varied. The greater amount obviously went to ports frequented most
by ships that departed from Londonderry. The port most frequented
by ships out of Londonderry was Philadelphia. Whether this
influenced Irish Robert to seek passage there is not known. It
very well could have been because of an earlier immigrant settling
in the Clearfield area. No early settler in the Clearfield area
has yet to be traced back to the Culdaff area, but there are many
names in the early records of Clearfield that match those from
around the Culdaff area. Porter, Wallace, Long, Faulkner,
Daugherty, Peoples, Beard, Young, Gillen, Bradley, Mitchell,
Gallagher, McLauchlin, Orr, Crawford, Reed and many other names in
the Clearfield area were direct reflections of names from around
Nova Scotia, Boston, New York, the Carolinas, New Orleans, not to
mention various ports in South America (as Norton III`s
immigration to Valpariso, Chile illustrates) were selected by the
Inishowen Butlers to start a new life. As far as the British Isles
were concerned, Scotland seemed to be the favorite place of
immigration, for the Butlers around Culdaff. No doubt, this was
because of the short distance to be traveled. Starting in the
early and middle 1700's the name Butler starts to pop up in the
records for the areas around Glasgow and Edinburgh in great
numbers. Previous to this time, almost all, if not all, of the
Butlers in Scotland could trace their family back to a Patrick
Butler of Edinburgh in the 1500's. And, if anybody is wondering,
there has been no evidence to connect this Patrick Butler with
Not surprisingly, there was a large population of Butlers in
southeastern Pennsylvania in the early and mid 1800's and some of
these same families with the practice of naming alternate
generations Stephen and George.
What connection they have with the Inishowen Butlers (if any) is
not now known.
As a matter of fact, there was a George W. Butler with a wife
named Fanny in the immediate area of Farmville, while Irish George
was in Virginia. Research has shown that his family was from South
Carolina where it is suspected that many Inishowen Butlers
immigrated. It'll take a great deal of further research to connect
those southeastern Pennsylvania and South Carolina Butlers with
the Inishowen Butlers, if indeed it is possible.
Today, it would not be an exaggerated guess to say that there are
descendants of Captain George Butler I in all the states of the
United States. Not only descendants by blood, but descendants with
the surname of Butler. They cover the majority of professions and
rungs in the ladder of economic success.
What a treasure it would be to have the equivalent of a Reader's
Digest account of all the lives of our ancestors back to Thomas,
describing their important life experiences and the information
that would allow us to know to some small degree what their lives
were like. It's safe to say that there would be many attention
riveting passages and surprises in such a collection.
It's often wondered by the writer, how many Butlers are as he once
was, knowing only the name of their grandfather and a vague
reference to his coming from somewhere in Northern Ireland.
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