Jackson County Historical Society
Editors Note: Nearly every other Thursday afternoon for several years, three women, members of the archives committee, have worked together on the archives collection, cataloging and organizing the material, so that it will be easily accessible for research. But, Miss Eleanor Minor, Miss Margaret Woodson and Mrs. Emory Write have more in common than an interest in history. These three women are granddaughters of three brothers who came to Independence in the early days of the town’s existence. We asked each one to write about her grandfather. The family sketches follow.
By Eleanor and Grace Minor
In 1838, two brothers came from Chillicothe, Ohio, to seek their fortunes. They were John and William McCoy. Only by chance did they come to Independence. One brother wanted to settle in St. Joseph, Missouri. The other one favored Independence, so they left it to a toss of a coin. The decision was for Independence. A third brother, Alexander, was persuaded to come to Independence a few years later.
John and William McCoy, with a friend from Kentucky, Carey A. Lee, started a mercantile business on the Square. They had brought a supply of goods from their father’s store in Ohio with that idea in mind. The business prospered. Their customers were those traveling westward along the Santa Fe Trail, as well as townspeople.
In the 1840’s William McCoy was an active partner in the firm of Waldo Hall & Co., which carried on trade with the Indians and with Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Independence, a village with 900 citizens, was incorporated in 1849. William McCoy was it’s first mayor. He served one term only. He was not interested in public office, preferring his business career, but this services and advice were freely given whenever they were sought.
In 1850, he married Miss Eleanor Waddle of Chillicothe, Ohio. During the twelve years since he had left Ohio, he had been trying to persuade the young lady that she could live west of the Mississippi!
He built for her the big brick house which still stands at the corner of Farmer and Spring streets. The surroundings were much different then. The house stood alone on a 14-acre tract in the middle of a large yard of bluegrass. To the west was a large flower garden; beyond that was a large pasture. Ridgeway and Pleasant Streets were not cut through, and the pasture was bordered on the west by McCoy Street, and on the north by College Street. The old “Air Line” was given a right of way through the northeast corner of the property, crossing a trestle over College Street, and on to Kansas City.
William and Eleanor had two children, Nancy and Allen. Allen married Scottie Buchanan, the daughter of another early-day settler, and their two children were Katharine and William. William was also a Mayor of Independence for one term after World War I. Nancy married Charles L. Minor, and we, Eleanor and Grace, are their only children.
During the Civil War, William McCoy, Preston Roberts, a Mr. Stone, and perhaps others, organized a bank, known as McCoy and Stone. This bank was robbed in 1867. The robbers escaped with $20,000 in gold. Our grandfather and Mr. I.N. Rogers, the cashier, were locked in the vault. They were later released by our grandmother, who had a duplicate key. Jesse James and his gang were suspected, but this was never proven.
William McCoy retired some years before his death because of failing eyesight. At that time, he caused the bank to close, pay every depositor in full on demand, and go out of existence. His death was in September 1900, and he is buried with his wife in Woodlawn cemetery.
One closing newspaper paragraph published when he died might give insight to his character. “For many years, Mr. McCoy has been a banker and prominent factor in the financial world. He was among the first pioneers of Jackson County, arriving when the old timers wore Calamander shoes, and a lamp was a luxury. He can remember, with many others, the arrival of a steamboat at Wayne city landing full of clocks…the first for the community. He can recount early adventures without number, and few men are living today to whom the people of Independence owe more than they do to Mr. McCoy. Tall of form, courteous in matter, he was an important factor in the town.
He was the confidential adviser of many, and never betrayed a trust. He was a religious man, a man of strong convictions and earnestness, and this was his success. Mr. McCoy was respected by both sides during the war, and was often called upon to act as a mediator, but the people of Independence never had greater cause to thank him than during the time Jameson was making for the town. Independence was considered the hotbed of outlawry at this time, and many southern sympathizers lived here who did not bear arms against the government. Jameson marched towards the town with the intention of laying it in ashes. It was considered that only the total destruction of the town would be effective in stamping out the guerilla business, which seemed to thrive in and around Independence. There was great fear among the people, and Jameson arrived with the intentions of carrying out his threat. Mr. McCoy pleaded with him until three o’clock in the morning, arguing the matter. At that hour, word came to Jameson that a wagon train had been attacked by Quantrill of Harrisonville, and he ordered his troops in pursuit, holding in abeyance his idea of reducing Independence to ashes.
In politics, Mr. McCoy was conservative. During the war, his influence as a Union man was used to help his neighbor, who never appealed to him in vain when it was in his power to afford them the required assistance. He became greatly loved by southern men as well as northern men. As stated, the history of Jackson County together with the life of William McCoy is as an open book.
By Margaret Woodson
John McCoy was born in Chillicothe, Ohio, on March 21, 1816. He was one of four sons and two daughters born to John and Jane McCracken McCoy.
Shortly after his graduation from Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, he was sent by his father to New Orleans to sell hog meat, which had been processed in Chillicothe. On another occasion, his father sent him to western Tennessee to investigate some land, which the former owned but had never seen. Since there were no railroads west of the Allegheny Mountains, these journeys were made largely by means of stagecoaches and boats.
Apparently, young John McCoy had an itching foot, for at the age of 22, he came with his brother, William, (three years his senior) to Independence. Even after settling in Independence, he continued his travels, occasionally visiting eastern cities for business reasons, and making several trips over the Santa Fe Trail with merchandise. After his retirement from active business, shortly before the turn of the century, he spent much time writing of these journeys. His articles were published in various newspapers in Independence, Kansas City and Chillicothe.
In 1853, he married a young kinswoman from Columbus, Ohio, Jane Elizabeth Stewart. This marriage endured over 51 years, ending with John McCoy’s death in 1904. There were four children. The eldest, Robert Stewart, was accidentally killed at the age of 23 when he was away from home on his first job as a civil engineer. He attended military school in Mexico, Missouri, (I think) and was a graduate of Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. Jane, the only daughter, married Samuel Hughes Woodson. They had two daughters, Elizabeth, who died in 1958, and myself.
The third child, John, died in infancy. The fourth, Joseph Addison, was graduated from Westminster College, and subsequently became a lawyer. He married Lucy Chrisman. They had two children. Jane married Julien Harris Harvey of Kansas City, Missouri. Their daughter, now Mrs. Lester Dow Berger, resides with her husband and three sons in Canaan, Connecticut. The son, Joseph Chrisman McCoy, married Amy Dean Davis of Washington, D. C. Their son, named for his father, is now a lieutenant commander in the United States Navy. He married Kathleen Barbeau of Batavia, Ohio. The have two small daughters. (Kathleen McCoy Pfeiffer, the typist, is one of their daughters..not so small now).
Because of his wife’s early and prolonged invalidism, it was necessary for John McCoy to confine his activities more and more to Independence. Many of them were carried on in connection with his brother, William. In the last decade of the nineteenth century, he owned and operated a woolen mill in partnership with a Mr. McAfee. It was located in the general vicinity of the Waggoner-Gates Flour Mill.
John McCoy was a deeply religious man. For fifty-five consecutive years he served as superintendence of the Sunday school of the First Presbyterian Church and he was the senior elder of the church when he died. In 1887, he built a large house on the northeast corner of Main and White Oak Streets, which was occupied by his descendants until 1957.
Alexander Watts McCoy
By Mrs. Emory Wright
William, John, and Alexander McCoy were all born in Chillicothe, Ohio, and all were educated at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.
They were not related to John Calvin McCoy, founder of Westport, but were such close friends that the children in the different families addressed the elders as “aunt” and “uncle.”
Alexander Watts McCoy, born in 1812, was a civil engineer by profession and lived most of his life in Chillicothe, Ohio. In 1849, he brought his wife and oldest son to Independence to remain while he joined a party seeking the California gold fields. The party met with trials of all sorts and had to return by ship “around the horn.”
When he rejoined his family, he bought a farm near Atherton, and later moved his family to Independence, where he published “The Occidental Messenger” for a year or so. During the Battle of Independence the building was burned and he and his family left and returned to Chillicothe. He is best remembered in Ohio for having surveyed the original Cincinnati Pike.
In the late 1870’s and early 1880’s, Alexander’s sons came to Independence, and were joined later by their widowed mother and their sister. The sons were Will, a real estate dealer, John, a merchant, Charles, a physician, and Lew, who was Clerk of the Circuit Court for many years. Their sister, Martha Jane, married Daniel Bullard, who was connected with the Waggoner-Gates Mill.
The Charles McCoys lived for years at the edge of town between Main and Noland Streets. The house burned years ago.
Letter from John McCoy to son Robert Stewart McCoy
Independence, MO, May 14, 1877 (the same year that Robert McCoy later died)
My Dear Son,
I have intended to write to you for some time past, but have been kept pretty busy at the factory. This evening I met Mr. John Taylor, who said he was going back to Joplin tomorrow morning. I did not know that he was here. He said he received a letter from home today in which one of them spoke of you getting back from Short Creek, the new mining region and that your prospect for business was better. I am glad to learn that you feel more encouraged about your work and hope you will have enough to do to keep you busily engaged. I am satisfied if you will attend to your legitimate work – that among the different projects opening up, you will find work to do. The great danger is that where there is such excitement and many persons becoming enriched suddenly by finding mineral that you will share the excitement and get into the speculation mood. If a person had money to spend, it might do to risk money – but where one has an employment that he expects to earn a livelihood from, it is best not to suffer himself to be called off from it by any outside operation – if perchance something offers in the way of your operating that promises a certainty, it might not be a risk to invest a little after he has earned the money to operate with, but to go in debt or to borrow money to make the risk, it is a dangerous thing. By all means dread going into debt or borrowing money or becoming security for any one. This last, by all means refuse and if even asked to do so. Tell them plainly that you have nothing to risk in that way. In your servicing, if persons would agree to pay you in town lots, there would not be so much risk in that for it is only your labour. First of all establish a reputation for paying everything you promise, at the time it is due. Another thing I would urge upon you is to avoid all bad company and never touch a card or indulge in any bad habit. First of all give yourself away to God to be his dear child and then when temptation presents itself, which it certainly will, you have the assurance in the Bible that a way of escape will be provided for you. Make it a practice every night and morning to read a portion of the scriptures, for in it are treasures of wisdom for all of us, in every condition of life. The day of trial will come and God the Savior can only help you out of it. Your mother and sister, I suppose keep you pretty well advised about things at home and the news. We had so much rain of late that very little is done in the garden or by the farmer. Your mother, I suppose told you of her father and mother’s golden wedding, it seems they were taken by surprise. The wedding here of Maggie Chrisman and Mr. Swope was quite pleasant and attractive to all interested in it. The church sociables are continued and old and young folks attend them, so that they have become an interesting feature in church life. We have all enjoyed good health thus far and I trust you being blessed in like manner. You must be careful about exposure, especially at night. Mrs. Bess Wallace is fast sinking with consumption and will soon be called away to test the realities of an eternal life. When one is thus laid low, earth and earthly affairs appear very trifling compared with the life beyond – that you and each of us may be prepared for that last change and that we may all reach heaven is my earnest prayer. Write as often as you can and let me know how you are doing.
Affectionately your father.