Friday, March 23, 2012

Family Friday - Thomas McConahy, in depth

            Thomas McConahy, or “Big Tom” as he was known, looms larger than life for many of us McConahy descendants.  Not only was Big Tom a giant of a man physically – his 6’1” sturdy frame towering nearly half a foot above the average men of his era who were a mere 5’8”[1] – but Big Tom’s unusual behaviors and accusations documented during the final twenty years of his life also have had an enormous impact on his family for generations.
            It was only relatively recently as I began to dig more into my history that I discovered the family’s not-so-secret sorrow and heard the story of how Big Tom deserted his family.  I was intrigued, and because his behaviors are so far removed from my life, it was an easy task to objectively do some research into the life of Thomas McConahy and see if I could uncover what happened and perhaps offer some explanations of why.
            A quick warning before we go any further.  As I tell my clients “Our purpose is to know, understand, and celebrate the events that relate to our families.  While delving into the past may produce some less-than-savory ancestors, or put an end to a family legend, a sense of humor and a desire for truth will enable us to celebrate our families as they really were and are.”  In other words, I will tell you what I know, tell you where my sources come from, and tell you what I think explains the events of Big Tom’s life.[2]
            My records for Thomas McConahy begin with the 1850 US Census.  Thirty-nine-year-old Laughy (Laughlin) and his slightly younger wife, Sarah, lived in South Slippery Rock Township in Lawrence Co., PA where Laughy worked as a farmer.  Although the native of Ireland could not read and write, he was comfortably well off, with the estimated value of his real estate at $1000 in 1850, or over $400,000 in today’s money.
            Laughlin and Sarah had a large family:  Maria (15), Thomas (10), Nathaniel (8), John (6), Nancy (4), and Elizabeth (1).  Thomas and Nathaniel attended the local school, while Maria apparently stayed at home to help out and the younger children were too young to go to school.
            Ten years later, the 1860 Census shows us that few changes had occurred in the McConahy family.  Everyone has aged, no one has married or passed away, Thomas is now listed as a “farm laborer” as are Nathaniel and John, but the two younger boys, and Nancy, also attended school.  No doubt the family was keenly aware of the political situation in America, with a potentially polarizing national election fast approaching.
            April of 1861 saw the United States plunged into a civil war.  Both sides wrongly thought that this would be a 90 days’ war at best, north and south each certain that they were physically and morally superior to the other faction.  As tensions heated up, newly –elected President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 militiamen from the various loyal states to help suppress the rebellion.  Pennsylvania, the second most populous state, was required to provide12,500 men to serve for 90 days.[3]  It is unknown if Thomas and Nathaniel were interested in joining that initial group of volunteers, but after the disastrous Frist Battle of Bull Run (VA) on July 21, 1861 and the call for more soldiers to serve for a longer duration went out.  This time Thomas and Nathaniel answered the call, joining the 100th Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment, or the “Roundheads” as they became known.[4]

[2] My apologies to those of you who have spent more time researching this and, as a result, have more records and documents to aid you in your research.  As I said, I am newly come to this side of my family, and I only have some of the records thanks to the generosity of Pat Adams and Sheri Slater who graciously sent me copies of the various records they have in their possessions.  I am still awaiting the word from my local LDS center to let me know the microfilm has arrived.  I fully expect it to show up about two hours after I hit “send” on this email to Pat!  If you have additional documents that I don’t have, I would love to see them.  And if your information differs from what I have discussed here, please let me know.  You can’t hurt my feelings if you disagree with me, and the more we know the smarter we all become!
Washington, April
 15, 1861.
        SIR: Under the act of Congress "for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections, repel invasions," &c., approved February 28, 1795, I have the honor to request Your Excellency to cause to be immediately detached from the militia of your State the quota designated in the table below, to serve as infantry or riflemen, for the period of three months, unless sooner discharged.
        Your Excellency will please communicate to me the time at or about which your quota will be expected at its rendezvous, as it will be met as soon as practicable by an officer or officers to muster it into the service and pay of the United States. At the same time the oath of fidelity to the United States will be administered to every officer and man. The mustering officer will be instructed to receive no man under the rank of commissioned officer who is in years apparently over forty-five or under eighteen, or who is not in physical strength and vigor.
[4] When Captain Leasure applied to the Secretary of War for authority to raise an independent regiment among the yeomanry of central Pennsylvania, Cameron said, "Yes, Captain, if they will be men that will hold slavery to be a sin against God and a crime against humanity and will carry their bibles into battle".
"I have no other kind to bring", responded the Captain.
"All right," exclaimed General Scott who chanced to be present.  "We will call them 'Roundheads".
This is a reference to the Puritans who fought under Oliver Cromwell against the royalist forces under King Charles I in the English Civil War.  I would like to recommend this website to those of you who are interested in Tom’s Civil War history.  David Welch, the man who has created and maintains this great resource, is a friend of mine, and the descendant of another Roundhead soldier.  If you have questions about the life and times of any member of the 100th PA, Dave can probably answer it for you!


  1. My great grandfathers name was Thomas mcconahy, as well as his son, my grandfather. If you have any more info regarding mcconahy history it wld be greatly appreciated as my mother has since passed and there's rlly no one left on tht side of my family to get any history from.

  2. Good morning Christina. Not sure if you are related to "my" branch of the McConahy's or not. There were several all from the same part of Pennsylvania. MY Thomas McConahy had eight children, including my great-grandfather, Thomas Braden McConahy. So for your to be related to this branch of the family, your mother would have to have been one of his daughters. Contact me at my email address ( with your mother's name for more information. If you aren't related to my family, I can help put you in touch with someone who can help you from there.