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John McCormack
Mary Birdwell

Exactly who was John McCormack? He is a man of mystery. According to early published histories of Giles County, Tennessee, John McCormack was one of the very early settlers in about 1809, on the Indian Creek of the Elk River. As many early deeds and records were destroyed when the courthouse at Pulaski was hit by a cyclone 100 years later, few early records of John have been found. Records generated after his death in 1830 are more revealing.

John may have been confused somewhat with another man of the same name who also was in Giles County, even before it was formed from Maury. This older John McCormack never actually settled in Giles, but did buy land in Maury Co. which later fell into Giles Co., from John Purviance. Matters are complicated by the fact that this John, who was a native of Lincoln Co. KY and left his will there, had a widow and children who settled later in Giles County. It seems logical to try to connect the 2 John McCormacks, but I think it is an error to do so, as this John did not have a son John named in his will, and no other records have been located to link the two men.

According to the census of 1820, John was born c 1775. Later cenci of his children state he was born in VA. He died on August 12, 1830 in Giles County, and a brief obituary refers to him as "Captain" John McCormack. 1812 seems a logical choice for his war, but no record has been located.

Also among the early settlers to Giles at the same time were John Birdwell and Josiah Phelps. Both these men were to be linked to John McCormack. He married Mary "Polly" Birdwell, the daughter of John Birdwell. She was born in 1801 and was at least 25 years his junior, begging the question: had John been married before? They had 7 children, who were named in a lawsuit later in Chancery Court and thus proven as his children: Eliza Ann, born c 1819, died between 1855 and 1860. She married c 1839 James Milton Marks. Mary Jane, born c 1820, died before 1850, the wife of Levi Abernathy. Martha "Patsey", born c 1822, married Joseph/Joel Dyer. Marcella, (1823-1916) married Alfred Rowe. Virginia, born c 1826, married James E. Abernathy. Emily, born c 1827, married William House/Houze. John , born 18 June 1830, married #1 Caledonia Wilson, #2 Sarah Beck. He lived in Pulaski all his life and died there Dec. 27, 1912.

John McCormack SR. can be found in court records referred to as a coroner. He farmed and ran a small amount of livestock. When he died in 1830 his estate was barely solvent. Family lore states that Mary, his widow, took in laundry to support herself and her children. In such straits, it is unsurprising that Mary took opportunity to wed Josiah Phelps, a widower with grown children, in 1832. With Josiah, Mary had 5 additional children: Xantippe, born 1833, is said to have been the wife of "Doc" Wright. Julia (1834-1859) died unmarried. Thomas Hart Benton Phelps, born 1837, married Samantha Loyd, and later went to Texas. Napoleon Bonaparte (1839-1862) is said to have married a McCormack girl. Parthenia, born in 1841, died unmarried.

No one has located a grave for John McCormack Sr. Most likely he was interred on his own land. The last record of Mary Birdwell McCormack Phelps is the 1850 census, after which she disappears. Giles County history references state that she went to Texas and died in 1900. However, no proof of this has ever been found of her, either in Ellis County TX where her son Thomas settled, or in Montague County Texas where her daughter Marcella’s family settled. No third marriage record has been uncovered in Tennessee.

Submitted by: Regina Roper