Williamsport Gazette and bulletin.

In memory of John F. Meginness, journalist and historian online

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July 16, 1827— November 11, 1899.










The death of John F. Megiuuess occurred at Wil-
liam sport, Pa., ou Saturday uight, November 11,
1891), suddenly and without a moment's warning. He
had spent tlie day in Harrisburg, returning on a late
train. It was after eleven o'clock when he entered
his home, bearing a package of books, among the
number being a handsome volume, of his own crea-
tion, recounting the incidents of his Golden Wedding
celebration, which occurred on the 25th of October
previous. While exhibiting this book to his wife
and daughter-in-law the summons came, and he sank
to the tloor dead. At the instant of death he was
directing attention to the features of the book.
"Look at the title page," he said, pointing to the
time-stained marriage certificate. These were his
last words. The following chapters tell the story of
his life.


John Franklin Meginness, journalist and historian,
was born July !(>, 1827, in Colerain, Lancaster Coun-
ty, Pa., being the son of Benjamin and Sarah Megin-
ness. lie spent his boyhood upon his father's farm,
and attendcHl the common schools as opportunity of-
fcr(>d. A love of learning seems to have been born in
liini, and he studied hard and read deeply. The
family removed to Illinois in May, 1843, and the
youug man accompanied them. Not liking the ap-
l)earance of things in that country, he turned his
face, iu October of the same year, toward the place
of his birtli, having taken a sad leave of his mother,
of whom he was extremely fond, and whom he never
saw again. He tarried along the way, devoting some
time to making steamboat trips between St. Louis
and New Orh^ans. Having spent the winter of 1843-4
with an uncle in Indiana, he proceeded on his trip
to Pennsylvania, traveling on foot between Wheel-
ing, Va., and Ohambersburg, Pa. The following win-
ter was spent with relatives, and the time was oc-
cupied iu attending school and in diligently adding
to his sum of knowledge.

The next spring he proceeded to Danville, where
he was employed in the Montour Iron Works until,
the Mexican war having broken out, he enlisted April
9, 1847, joining Company D, Fifth U. S. Infantry,
then commanded by Captain Randolph B. Marcy. lie-
porting to his company commander at Hariisbuug,


Meginness was soon selected by the Captain as clerk
iu his office, a position which, by reason of his ex-
cellent penmanship, he Avas well fitted to fill. He be-
came a favorite with the children of Captain Marcy,
among- the number being the future wife of General
George B. McClellan.

The company to which Meglnness belonged, but
without its Captain, who continued on recruiting-
duty, sailed from New York, June 11), 1847, for Vera
Cruz, Mexico, where they arrived on July 20, 1847.
Joining a column of 1,000 men commanded by Major
Lally, they took up the line of march to join General
►Scott's forces. They were engaged with the enemy
at National Bridge and at other points along the
way, losing several men in a skirmish at the old bat-
tle field of Cerro Gordo, Meginness making a naricjw
escape, a musket ball having passed between his

riiiht arm and bodv


With a column under the command of General
Joseph liaue, of Indiana, Meginness marched to
Pueblo, near which place the officer commanding his
(•(jmpany, Lieut, llidgley, lost his life in a dash to dis-
lodge the enemy from a neighboring village. With
the same column the subject of this sketch entered
the City of Mexico, December 7, 1847. He made the
nuirch to the City of Mexico and back to Vera Cruz,
carrying all of his equipments and never having fall-
en out of the line. During his entire enlistment he
acted as clerk of his company. He kept a journal of
his experiences, which is now among his effects, and
which is not only worth admiring for the manner in
which it was written, but makes exceedingly interest-
ing reading.


It was Megiuness' good fortune to be present with
liis reiLj,iHient in the courtyard of the National Palace
when the first installment of three millions of dollars,
out of the fifteen millions to be paid for California,
was carried in from the wagons and delivered to the
Mexican authorities.

July 17, 1848, his regiment sailed from Vera, Cruz
on the bark Jane Gano, for New Orleans, which was
reached before the end of the month. Meginness and
other members of the company who had enlisted for
the war were discharged at East Pascagoula, Missis-
sippi, in August.

The ex-soldier then returned to Montour County,
this State, where he remained a short time, going
thence to Jersey Shore, Lycoming County. There he
took charge of a public school, which he conducted
successfully for two terms.

On the 25th of October, 1849, he was united in mar-
riage with Miss Martha Jane King, daughter of Wil-
liam King, of Mifflin Township, Lycoming County,
and soon aftenvards the young couple took up their
residence in Jersey Shore. Ten children were born
to them.

June 9, 1852, Mr. Meginness became editor of the
Jersey Shore Rvpuhlican, a weekly paper owned by
Robert Baker and Jacob Sallade, holding that po-
sition until June, 1854, when the paper was sold.
This was the beginning of his career as a journalist,
to which he thenceforth, with such marked ability,
devoted himself. On the 29th of June, 1854, he be-
came associated with S. S. Seely, and they founded
The News Letter at Jersey Shore, Mr. Meginness retir-
ing from the firm on the 30th of August, 1855.


At this time he conceived the idea of writing a
history of the West Branch Valley of the Susquehan-
na, which was immediately entered upon. The work
was prosecuted with energy^ and published by Henry
R. Ashmead, of Philadelphia, in the autumn of 1856.
It made an octavo volume of 518 pages, and was the
pioneer history of this section of the State. The work
was kindly received by many people in the valley at
that time, who realized the importance of rescuing
their local history from oblivion, but being in ad-
vance of the times the enterprise did not i>rove
profitable. But the author lived to see the day when
a revised and enlarged edition was demanded a third
of a century afterwards. In after years the contents
of his book were stolen time and again by others who
entered the historical field, and two or three news-
papers republished it in weekly parts.

In May, 1857, he was offered the editorship of The
ISlcntmel, a. weekly paper published at Peru, Illinois,
which he accepted, and soon aifterwards moved his
family to that city. Early in the fall of 1859 the of-
fice was destroyed by fire, and he was again out of
employment. Politics at that time were warm in
Illinois on account of the great contest between
Judge Douglas and Abraiham Lincoln for the United
States Senatorship. Having formed the acquaint-
ance of Judge Douglas, that distinguished states-
man and politician took a warm interest in the
young editor, and through his intercession he was
given a position as editorial writer on the Springfield
l)(t\hi I\((/isfcr during tliat heated campaign. It was
his good lortune^ to be present at several of the great
(Icbati'S between those two tMuinent men and hear
them discuss the political issups of the day.



After retiring from the position of editorial writer
on, tlie RcgiMcr, lie was offered the charge of a week-
ly paper called The Spectator, at Carlinville, Illinois,
with the promise of assistance to purchase it. He at
once accepted the offer, and took charge of the paper
in December, 1858. He soon afterwards purchased
the paper, su])plied the office with new material
tlirougliout, and being liberally supported, was en-
abh'd to become the sole owner in two years. But
just as lie was in a position to realize something from
his labors, the rebellion broke out, and in a few weeks
all business was at a stand still. In. October, 1801,
after a residence in Carlinville of two years and nine
nvonths, he disposed of his newspaper office at a sacri
flee and moved his family back to the home of hi*-;
wife's parents in Lycoming County, Pa.

On June 30, 1802, he moved his family to Williams-
port. Late in the winter of that year he received an
appointment as a clerk under t^aptain Wm. Stoddard,
assistant quartermaster, Alexandria, Va. In a short
time C^iptain Ferguson, quartermaster in charge of
the post, and all his assistants, were removed. They
wer(« succeeded by C^aptain J. G. C. Lee, U. S. A., who
immediately surrounded himself with new officers.
The post at Alexandria was a very important one,
as nearly all the quartermaster and commissary
stores for the Army of the Totomac passed through


After two years' service in a subordinate clerical
position, Meginness was made chief clerk of the
bureau of transportation. Tliis office was an im-
portant one on account of its close relations with
Captain Lee, the (piarter master in charge, as all the


hills r»f ladino' of stores for the Arniy of the Potomac
passed through the chief clerk's hands, and he was
constantly beset with parties seekino- transportation
to the front. Frequent attempts were made to in-
duce him by bribes to issue passes to this class of
]HM)]>le, and on one occasion he was offered |100 in
gold to pass a certain party to the front. The offer
was firmly refused, and the party turned over to the
oflficer in charge, ayIio sternly rebuked him for at
tempting to corrupt the clerk who was placed in such
an important and confidential relation.

Shortly before the close of the war he resigned
his ( lerkship with Captain Lee, A. Q. M., to accept an
a]»pointment in the Division of Eeferred Claims, Pay-
master Generars ottice, Washington City, under
Colonel J. Sallade. Learning of his contemplated
departure, the clerks of his division, who had long
been associated with him, presented him with a hand-
some gold mounted cane.

After entering the Paymaster rxeneral's office, he
only remained there a few months, when he was ap-
pointed to a first-class clerkship in the Third Audi-
tor's office. Treasury Department, under Hon. John
Wilson, and assigned to the Division of State War
( 'laims. After about a year's service in this bureau,
he was transferred to the Second Comptroller's of-
fice. Col. Broadhead, Treasur}^ Department.

He remained in the Treasury until June 1st, 1800,
when he was mustered out, after being in government
employ for seven years. Soon after retiring from the
Treasury Department, he removed his family to Wil-
liamsport, l*a., and: accepted the managing editorship
of the daily Li/comiii;/ (idzcfte, the (ddest paper in


Lycoming County. He continued in this position un-
til the 22(1 of November, when the paper was consoli-

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Online LibraryWilliamsport Gazette and bulletinIn memory of John F. Meginness, journalist and historian → online text (page 1 of 5)