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.

On This Day: Birth of Matilda Small Russell

Matilda Small Russell was born September 13, 1846, in Bloomington, Indiana.

She was my great great grandmother.

Matilda Russell, like many members of the maternal line of my family, was a descendant of Scottish Covenanters.

For several centuries, this sect of Scottish Presbyterians fought for the right to uphold their own church government and practices rather than those imposed upon them by the Commonwealth of England and the Anglican Church. Many Covenanters were persecuted and even martyred for continuing to practice their faith. For that reason, many Covenanters chose to immigrate to America in the 18th century. Communities were born around such congregations, and one of those enclaves was in Bloomington, Indiana. Matilda and her family were members of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Bloomington.

The Covenanters, a group of Scotch-Irish Presbyterians from South Carolina, had settled just outside Bloomington by 1821.  Believing that slavery was a moral evil, the Covenanters acted on their principles and during the Civil War provided a way station for escaped slaves traveling north on the Underground Railroad.

From the website VisitBloomington.com

Each of Matilda’s parents had emigrated from Ireland directly to Bloomington. Her father, John Alexander Russell, married Margaret Fullerton in Bloomington, Indiana, in 1843. Matilda was one of five children that lived to adulthood.


Because of the church’s abolitionist views, many of the early Covenanter immigrants who had originally settled in South Carolina began to question the wisdom of staying in the south. Most of the South Carolina Covenanters in my family chose to relocate to other areas, primarily Indiana and Illinois.

James Faris Curry (1842-1921), who would marry Matilda Russell, came from just such a family.

His great grandparents on his father’s side—Samuel Curry (1752-1811) and Margaret Erwin (1750-1831)—had emigrated from County Antrim in part of the first generation of Covenanter immigrants, settling in Chester County, South Carolina. His great grandparents on his mother’s side—John Smith (1730-1784) and Agnes Faris (1743-1838)—had followed the same path. These four ancestors are my 5th great grandfathers and grandmothers.

Some of the Curry children remained in South Carolina, others went North. The same was true of the Smith family.

One of those Curry children, William Curry (1772-1847) married Margaret Harbison (1773-1845) in Chester County, South Carolina and moved to Bloomington. And one of those Smith children, David M. Smith (1771-1841) married Sarah Neil (1780-1861) in Chester County, South Carolina, and moved to Bloomington. These four ancestors were my 4th great grandparents.

Samuel T. Curry and Sarah “Sally” Smith Curry—my 3rd great grandparents and James Faris Curry’s parents.

And, finally, we get to James Faris Curry’s parents. They were Samuel T. Curry (1810-1882)—a son of William Curry and Margaret Harbison Curry—and Sarah “Sally” Smith (1811-1888)—a daughter of David M. Smith and Sarah Neil Smith.


James Faris Curry in Union Army uniform

James served the Union Army with Company L of the 4th Indiana Cavalry and Company E of the 145th Indiana Infantry. At the end of the war, James Curry returned to Bloomington, and in March of 1867, he and Matilda Russell were married in Bloomington.

The couple and their two young children left Indiana for Jefferson County, Kansas, about 1871. Matilda left behind both of her parents and her three surviving siblings. James’s parents and his six siblings accompanied them to Kansas. James’s brother John Haxton Curry returned to Indiana, staying only one year in Kansas.

Bloomington Reformed Presbyterian Church. This particular building was erected in 1877 by the congregation of which Matilda and James had been members.

The young couple’s shared faith and the connection of “sister” Covenanter communities in America were surely responsible for giving them the courage to pick up and move West to Kansas. They would have known that a supportive pastor and congregation would be there to welcome them to Winchester—another Covenanter community.

Rachel Agnes Curry Cathcart (1875-1957)


James and Matilda Curry had seven more children after arriving in Kansas, four of them reaching adulthood. Their second oldest daughter, Rachel Agnes Curry, was my great grandmother.

Their other children were Ollie Henry (1870-1958); Vera Addie (1879-1966); James “Cam” Cameron (1881-1950); and John Thomas (1884-1976).

Matilda Russell Curry is buried with her husband and most of her children in the Reformed Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Winchester.