On This Day: Birth of Robert Beattie Cathcart

Robert Beattie Cathcart was born on October 2, 1820, in Rocky Creek, South Carolina.

He was my great great grandfather.

Robert Beattie Cathcart was one of nine children born to John Cathcart (1789-1864) and Mary Harper (1789-1873), who were each born and raised in County Antrim, Ireland. The couple and their two small children immigrated to Chester County, South Carolina, in 1816. Robert was one of the couple’s seven children born in America.

Upon coming to America, the Cathcart family was welcomed into a growing community of Covenanter immigrants who had settled in South Carolina. These Scots-Irish believers and their ancestors had escaped religious persecution in the United Kingdom. They found religious freedom in the New World, but by the middle of the nineteenth century, the young country was becoming more and more polarized with regard to the practice of slavery. Many Covenanters found it increasingly difficult to reconcile their church’s and their own personal opposition to slavery with residing in communities where many others did not share nor appreciate their abolitionist beliefs and for whom the practice of slavery was considered essential to their existing way of life.

I have written previously about other members of my family who were Covenanters who elected to relocate to Bloomington, Indiana, another Covenanter enclave.

Suffice to say, my numerous Covenanter ancestors faced difficult choices as the country moved ever closer to civil war.

The very first generation of my Cathcart family to have emigrated from Ireland had been Robert’s grandfather, James Cathcart, Sr. (1763-1861) and his wife Nancy Jane Beattie Cathcart (1765-1845)–my 4X great grandparents. They left County Antrim, Ireland in 1816, accompanied by their eight children, the oldest of whom was John Cathcart–Robert’s father. John and Mary Harper had been married several years and had two small children at the time that they immigrated. Robert and his other siblings were born after the family’s arrival in America.

South Carolina Flag of 1861

It is possible that James Cathcart, Sr.’s brother, John Cathcart, Jr., immigrated to South Carolina as well; we know that his children did so. James’ brother Samuel Cathcart, Sr. (1778-1861) remained in County Antrim, but several of Samuel’s sons–James’ nephews– immigrated and remained in South Carolina.

Sons of Samuel Cathcart, Sr.--nephews of James Cathcart, Sr.-- who stayed in South Carolina as did their descendants.  The brothers were born in Bushmills, County Antrim and died in Columbia, South Carolina.

Pictured, left to right:
Robert Cathcart: 1811-1865;
George Hume Cathcart, Sr.: 1813-1859;
John Huey Cathcart, Sr. (in Citadel uniform): 1826-1908

James Cathcart, Sr., and Nancy Beattie Cathcart and seven of their children chose to remain in South Carolina. The eldest–Robert’s father John–did not.

In 1847, several years after his mother’s death, John, along with his wife Mary Harper Cathcart (my 3X great grandparents) and their nine children (including Robert) moved to Randolph County, Illinois, joining a burgeoning Covenanter community there.

Jannet White Mathews and Robert Beattie Cathcart on their Wedding Day – 23 Jan 1851 – Chester, Illinois
The original Bethel church, erected in 1834, where the Cathcart and Mathews families worshipped.

Robert was a young man by now, and it was here that he met a young Irish immigrant: Jannet White Mathews. Both the Cathcart and Mathews families descended from Scottish Covenanters, and both families were members of the Bethel Reformed Presbyterian Church in Eden, Illinois. Robert and Jannet were married in 1851.

As I detailed in a previous post, the Cathcarts’ life in Illinois was marked by tragedy with the couple having to bury five of their children there. Partly in the interests of removing his despondent wife from a place associated with such loss and grief, Robert and Jannet and their five surviving children relocated to eastern Kansas, settling on a farm near Winchester.

The family’s faith and the church community had been the center of their lives in Illinois, and Robert wasted no time becoming an integral part of efforts to organize and expand the Reformed Presbyterian congregation in their new home. Shortly after the family’s arrival, Robert was chosen for the office of ruling elder. He served the congregation in that capacity for more than thirty-two years.


Robert Beattie and Jannet Mathews Cathcart and their adult Children. Winchester, Kansas, ca. 1895.
The Winchester Star – Winchester, Kansas – 16 Feb 1900 (Note the advertisement for corsets in this photocopy of the print edition!)
The Reformed Presbyterian Church of Winchester, as it looks today.

Robert Beattie Cathcart, along with many other members of my family, is buried in the cemetery alongside the church he helped to organize. I have numerous living cousins who worship in this very church to this day.