How many generations lived between the Revolutionary War and now? It seems
like a long time, but in reality it has only been two hundred and forty three years. The Downey family lived though about five generations during that time. My ancestor may have inherited their long life genes from their ancestors or maybe their occupations required lots of exercise. Could be it was just “The Luck Of The Irish”. Read our history and see what you think?
The first American in our family was a young man from Ireland. He decided his future was going to be in America. It was a big decision for Peter Downey (1730-1803) to leave Ireland and migrate to this new land. Peter was a brave man then and later during the American Revolution. Leaving your home country and embarking on the unknown requires courage. The British Crown needed individuals with skills to populate their colonies. Peter’s knowledge of mathematics and geography is what the Colonies needed for growth. Peter was a surveyor like George Washington. They both organized the country and documented its land ownership in black and white. Peter would later fight for this country’s freedom like George Washington did with other American Patriots.
Peter departed England on a sailing ship. The ship’s Captain didn’t have a weather forecast because they didn’t exist. He was carrying passengers and cargo for the colonies. Many sailing ships didn’t complete their journeys because of primitive sailing conditions. The weather in the Atlantic can be terrible and a winter crossing was dangerous. When Peter’s ship arrived in New York, it had to sail across a bay to unload at the docks. The only alternative to sailing would have been launching the long boat and pulling the ship to the docks with oars. This works with no wind and a favorable current. If the wind was blowing hard in the wrong direction, you anchor and wait until conditions change. Many sailing ships perished in bad weather waiting for a favorable wind or tide to sail though an inlet.
Most people were not college educated back then and the way they learned a business or trade was by being an apprentice. Like father like son was very common. Peter received his training in Ireland, but the opportunities for surveyors in Ireland were small. He knew the Colonies needed surveyors to organize the country’s wilderness into roads, cities and private parcels of land. Most surveyors of the day became landowners. That’s because the governments paid their surveyors in parcels of land. Both the Crown and the Colonies paid for services with land grants. America needed technical people like Peter to survey the land and make roads, farms and cities into a reality. The reason that Peter settled in southern Virginia was that southern Virginia was the American frontier at that time. Peter was just following the business. His next move was to Guilford County, North Carolina as the frontier was moving south and west. Peter was working for the British during this period of time and paying high taxes. The British paid you in land and then taxed you on the land. Surveyor could become landowner over time if they could afford to pay the taxes. Peter married in Virginia and had two children. He had a son William Aston Downey (1755 to 1832) that followed in his father’s footsteps. They worked together for years while the Colonies were still British. His other son became a Constable and worked as a peace officer for a local government.
The survey business was moving west and if you wanted business, you had to move west with the business. Daniel Boone established a trail west to the Ohio Valley and Kentucky from Virginia and North Carolina. This happened just prior to the American Revolution. Peter’s son William decided it was his time to follow the business. He took Daniel Boone’s trail through the Cumberland Gap and the Indian Road to Kentucky. It was rough going on horseback to the new frontier. William settled in what is now Bowling Green, Kentucky. I’m sure the Downey name is on many public documents in that area. It’s the home of the US Army’s Fort Campbell and the 101st Airborne Division. William had been in Kentucky for about a year when the British started chasing the colonials through South Carolina’s bottom country hoping to kill the insurrection. They had already had some success at Charleston. It appeared the war was moving to North Carolina and William was part of the North Carolina’s Colonial Militia. He decided it was time to return to North Carolina and fight the British with his father Peter. The Revolutionary War was being fought on the Atlantic coast and inland as far as Guilford County, North Carolina.
The British won the battle of Guilford County Court House against General Nathaniel Greene and his Colonials. General Cornwallis lost so many men that his superiors said that if he had won many more battles like this one, they were sure to lose the war. General Greene was using his battle-tried tactics of fight and fall back that had worked so well for most of his encounters with the British in South Carolina. This was Cornwallis's last battle before Yorktown and his final defeat. William Downey participated in the Battle of Guilford Court House as a Revolutionary Minuteman. The Militia Commander decided that Peter was too old to fight in the battle, but was designated a Patriot for his contributions and support to the battle. I’m sure Peter didn’t agree with the Commander’s decision about his age.
Soon after General Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, William returned to Kentucky over the Daniel Boone’s trail and went back to work. Peter and his family continued to live in Guilford County until Peter died. At that time, the Downey clan in North Carolina moved to Kentucky to live with William. William built a house in Kentucky were people live today. As a surveyor, William became a landowner like other surveyors and that made him a wealthy man for his time. As a note of record, The Crown paid Peter 400 acres of land for surveying a road in Guilford County. He later sold the 400 acres for three hundred dollars. I wonder how much those 400 acres are worth today?
Our colonies were organizing themselves into a nation of States after the Revolutionary War. William Downey and his family were on the western frontier in Kentucky. His survey business was booming and the Cherokee Indianans were peaceful. He would see the Colonies become States along with his current home of Kentucky in 1792. As Kentucky and his business expanded, William did some surveying in the adjoining wilderness that would soon be Indiana. Some of the Downey Clan moved there as the frontier moved west. They continued to move west with the business like they had in the past.
One side effect of surveying was land ownership. If you were a successful surveyor, you were going to become a landowner. If you owned land, you needed to put the land to work. The Downey's put their children to work on the land. As their boys grew older, they became successful farmers. This is where farming replaced surveying as a source of income for the Downey Family. Farming meant that they could stay in one place, build houses, take roots and enjoy family and friends. Evansville, Indiana became a permanent home for the wandering Downey Clan. William Aston Downey (1755-1832) had a son, James M. Downey (1821-1902). James didn’t become a surveyor like his father and decided that farming would be his occupation in Gibson County, Indiana.
The Country was moving towards a Civil War. The Downey’s had slaves in Kentucky and didn’t have slaves in Indiana. Their homes in those States were only one hundred miles apart. The character of the United States was changing. The family members available for the coming War were James and his son William T. Downey (1846-1913). The War Between the States was from 1861 to 1865 and both men served from the beginning of the war to its end. Sergeant James M. Downey was a member of Company B, 65th Indiana Infantry. William T. was a member of Company D, 120thIndiana Infantry. The majority of the engagements for the Indiana Regiments were fought in Kentucky, North Carolina and Georgia. The Confederates were trying to supply Atlanta by railroad from the coast of North Carolina. The Union troops were deployed to interrupt that supply route and occupy Atlanta.
In an odd occurrence, William T. fought Confederates at the same location where his Grandfather William had fought the British over one hundred years earlier. Guilford County, North Carolina was a railroad hub used by the South. William T. fought the Confederates at different railroad crossings between New Bern and Kinston, North Carolina. Both Father and Son were fighting in the same areas at the same time. They both survived the War, but William T. was discharged with a physical disability. As I mentioned before, “The Luck The Irish” was holding true. Someone had to run the farm and William T’s wife had done so during the war. William T. couldn’t do the farm work like he did before the war. Millie C. Downey (1849-1933) and her eight children ran the farm until she died in 1933. It helped that all the children were boys.
Elza L. Downey (1881-1941) was one of William T. and Millie’s eight children. He didn’t fight in WWI because he had a large family at that time. He left the farm and moved west becoming a professional plumber during the Great Recession. He supported the war effort in WWII by building Naval Air Station barracks in Florida. Elza’s occupation was similar to the surveying and farming that his ancestors had pursued during their lifetime. They provided necessary services and not optional ones as other occupations did. His daughter Ruth G. Scott (1906-1987) was school trained as a comptometer operator. Complicated math machines were needed even during the Great Recession. Having reliable employment during that difficult period of time was almost impossible.
In the early days of our country, our Armed Forces were known as citizen soldiers. Their occupations as citizens were one reason that they were successful warriors. That could be the reason our Civil War was such a terrible war. Both sides were equipped with citizen soldiers. Individuals that survive in business are well equipped to survive in most situations, even wartime. As I write about the Downey Clan, I go from their occupations as civilians to their patriotic duties. Did they all survive the wars because of their occupations or was it the “Luck of the Irish”. Whatever it was, it is still working today because their current ancestors are still going to war and surviving to fight another day.
The little boy in the picture above worked for the government during The Great Depression of the 1930s. A job was hard to come by during those difficult times and only a few people had jobs. Juan Downey (1908-1968) volunteered and worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps before WWII. He built roads and other public utilities. He was in the Army during the War, but didn't stay long for health reasons. If you look at the life spans of the male members of the Downey family, you can see that some lived to be old men and others didn't. A detrimental factor in the men that didn't live that long was alcohol. Most died from heart attacks that was brought on by alcoholism. I think they knew that alcohol was going to kill them, but they kept on drinking because alcohol is such a powerful addiction. I saw the affects of alcoholism when I was a child and I was afraid that it going to affect me as it had them. Even though our genes were very similar, I have never had a problem with alcohol.
The Downey Family Life Span
|James Miller Downey
|Samuel Ellet Downey
|William Aston Downey
|James R. Downey
|James McGrady Downey
|William T. Downey
|Millie C. Downey
|Ruth G. Downey
Lets jump to current times. The Downey ancestors living today didn’t know anything about their family’s history in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars or the times before that. Somewhere during the last three hundred years our family lost track of those details. A family sibling, Kelly Whitney was interested in family history and with the communication devices available today, she was able find the information that you see in these pages.
Some of the ancestors of the Downey Clan currently live in North Carolina. You remember in the preceding chapters when the family moved west from North Carolina to Kentucky and then Indiana. They continued to move west to Missouri during the Depression and WWII. Some the Downey ancestors that are alive today served in the Navy and Marine Corps. One ancestor that enlisted in the Marine Corps served for twenty-two years. One of his east coast duty stations was in North Carolina and that’s where he met his wife and started a family. After retirement from the Marine Corps, he and his family settled in Richlands, North Carolina. They are only three hours by car from Guilford County Court House where Peter and William fought the British and fifty miles from Kinston where James and William T. fought the Confederates. Settling in North Carolina was strictly happenstance. We didn’t know anything about our family history at that time. It may have been “The Luck Of The Irish” that put us so close to our family’s history.
When growing up, we all want to know who and what we will be when we grow up? Psychologist’s say our personalities are half inherited and half environment. Knowing who your ancestors were will help answer those important questions about who we are. Like father like son is a true statement for most of our ancestors. Our early Downey family members were technical people with military backgrounds. Our family is currently teachers, government employees and individuals associated with the military. Surveyors, farmers and trade people were the technical people of their day. They fought their country’s battles when needed. My early ancestors were American Patriots and successful businessmen all at the same time.
To be a good businessmen or soldier, they needed to do what was necessary to be successful. Their personalities didn’t allow them to be failures. Our early ancestors were intelligent enough not to die early from mistakes or accidents. They didn’t die from someone else’s mistake either. Staying alive while living an active life style is an art. Most of them lived to be really old considering the conditions they encountered during their life. Blood pressure pills or preventive medicines were not available in early days of our country. Irishmen are known for their alcohol consumption and that problem still persist today.
Our dead relatives may tell us about our future and ourselves. What they did during
their lifetimes may give us a hint about what going to happen to us. If you know what
happened to them, you might be able to predict what’s going to happen to you. By the
time you get old; you already know who you are and what you did during your lifetime.
Knowing your family history may help younger members with their lives? The ability to remember what we hear and what we read is an identifiable Downey family trait. My children and I never have to study for written tests. We remember what we hear and read the first time. It also works in the other direction. We can look at what we do and say today and for the most part, our ancestors might have done or said the same thing during their lifetime. That helps when researching your family history.
Could the ages of my relatives and the fact that they were businessmen and women that expended large amounts of physical energy be connected? Could exercise be one reason for their long life? During our family research, I noted Daniel Boone passed away at a very old age. His exploration of the eastern half of this country used large amounts of energy. Is exercise the reason for his long life? Of course long life could be in the genes or it could be “The Luck of the Irish”.
After reading the first three chapters, you should have concluded that exercise helps people live to be older people. The second element of a long life is the long life genes that are really the absents of those bad genes like cancer, heart problems or other hereditary diseases. The third and maybe the most important element of a long life is what I call “The Luck of the Irish”. You don’t have to be Irish to have good luck. Some people have it and some people don’t. Most people that are old people can recite many the times where they had close calls. Close calls are times when they should have died, but didn’t for one reason or another.
I’m thinking that the knowledge of ones ancestors may become another part of our preventive medicine procedures. It will help us stay healthy and live a long life. My ancestors didn’t have a good way to retain their family records and their history was lost over time. The family bible was the only method used to retain birth information and everyone needed to stay in one place to make it accurate. Keeping records today are much easier using computers as record keepers. People that are alive today need to know their early history and that means they need to research their history. They need to know how long their relative lived and the ones that died early, the reason for their death. All of this information is available in databases somewhere on the Web. The best place to get started is www.ancestry.com.
The Downey family members that lived the longest used large amounts of energy in their occupations. I think exercise helped them livelonger. The members that used excessive amounts of alcohol and smoked died about twenty years before the ones that didn’t. Smoking was common back in our early history.
Some of our current family members have been involved in the defense of our country. They were and are all volunteers like our forefathers. Would you believe that we are basically technical people just like William and Peter were before and after the Revolutionary War. We are avoiding alcohol and no one smokes. Someone has to be the oldest family member still alive. Maybe I’m going to be the oldest family member ever?
The Blood Line Continues!