Climbing My Family Tree, Part 11 A

Immigrant Rev. John McLeish

This week I learned I have family members who sought their fortunes as California 49ers and survivors of the great San Francisco earthquake and fire. 

It amazes me how it is often easier to research 17th Century immigrants as compared to those who came here in the 1800s. Because this part of my family tree has proven to be so time consuming, and because it falls during Spring Break (when I can do some traveling and further research in person), I will present my findings in two parts, Part A today and Part B next Saturday.

Reverend John McLeish (my three times great-grandfather) was born in Glasgow, Scotland to William McLeish and Annie Rennie in 1809. He was the oldest of their six children.

He left his homeland, sailing from the port of Dundee in Scotland on the Bolina, arriving in New York on July 10, 1832 at the age of 23. When looking at generalized reasons for immigration from Scotland in the 19th Century, poverty is almost always at the top of the list. Since John was a clergyman, we might also speculate he immigrated to spread the gospel in the New World.

Shortly after his arrival in the New York, he continued on to Massachusetts where he married Rhoda Bassett of Cape Cod.

John and Rhoda’s children were all born in Melrose, Massachusetts, where  John served as the minister of the First Protestant Methodist Church. Their children who survived to adulthood scattered far and wide across the United States.

  • Minerva, their first child, died at the age of seven.
  • John, and his oldest son, John Jr. (who was 16 at the time), boarded a brig by the name of Sea Eagle, and headed for the California Gold Rush in 1849. (John is listed as a passenger; John Jr. was a cabin boy, and therefore crew.) After a 234 day journey around Cape Horn, the McLeish men found no gold and soon returned to Massachusetts. John Jr. later married and had a daughter. Following in his father’s footsteps, he became a minister. He served as chaplain for the 26th Iowa Infantry during the War of Rebellion (US Civil War). He died in Sabinal, Mexico, and was buried in Cincinnati, Ohio.
  • Their third child, William, married and stared a family in Massachusetts. In his late 20s he headed west, settling in California. He had a total of five children, including his youngest daughter, who he named, California Nevada McLeish. William was an engineer on a steamer. This branch of the McLeish family survived the great San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906. I am headed to San Francisco today, and hope to learn more about my family while in the city.
  • Several genealogy sites list the fourth child as Rhoda. I am unable to find any information beyond a name and birth date.
  • Their fifth child, Daniel, lived but six months.
  • Joseph, child number six, moved to upstate New York, he married and had four children, and became a railroad brakeman.
  • I have discovered precious little regarding John and Rhoda’s seventh child, who was also named Minerva (the name of their first child). Minerva (my two times great-grandmother) and her husband, William Sacues, are recorded as parents of my great-grandmother, Mabel Edna Sacues (per Mabel’s Social Security paperwork), but I have not been able to find any additional facts to date.
  • Other than Elizabeth’s name and birthdate, I know almost nothing about John and Rhoda’s eighth and youngest child.

My great-grandmother, Mabel Edna, was born in Pennsylvania in 1878. She was living in upstate New York with her Uncle Joseph in 1900, at the age of 22. I have not yet found the death dates of Mabel’s parents, and I wonder if she lived with Uncle Joseph because her parents had passed away.

Mabel returned to Philadelphia in 1907, when she married my great-grandfather. She died in Camden County, New Jersey in 1947, at the age of 68.

If not for her Social Security application, I would be unable to trace Mabel’s family line back to John McLeish. Mabel’s maiden name has been spelled Sacues, Sague, Sanves, Saues, and Sanes. With all the variant spellings and no birth or death date, I have not found any family history on Mabel’s father William as of yet. I plan a trip to Philadelphia next August, and perhaps I will find more answers during that visit.

I think about my ancestor, John McLeish, and wonder what it must have been like to leave his native home of Scotland to raise a family in Melrose, Massachusetts, a town in its infancy, in the years leading up to the Civil War.

Glasgow, Scotland was in a period of unprecedented growth. In 1770 the population was just 30,000 inhabitants. By 1830, the population had surged to over 200,000. John’s father, William McLeish, moved the family from Stirling, a village of about 5,000, to the growing metropolis of Glasgow during this period.

Glasgow suffered the growing pains you would imagine. Industrialization resulted in residential segregation of the working class from the middle class. The city was highly congested. In the early 1800s there were riots over food and water shortages. In 1817, there was a typhus epidemic. New factories belched a “permanent pall of smoke” into the air, and dumped pollutants into streams and rivers. Crime increased and Glasgow’s vivacious taverns were blamed for “anti-social” behavior.

With all these factors in mind, it is not hard to imagine why young John McLeish sailed to America, a young country with seemingly unlimited potential.

John moved to Massachusetts during a period when the state was receiving a high number of Catholic immigrants from Ireland and Germany. It is likely John was more welcome than other immigrants due to his protestant faith. The country was moving into a period of intense anti-immigration sentiment, particularly in regard to limiting entry to Catholics.

John died in New Orleans in 1867 at the age of 58. I have no information regarding the circumstances of his death or why he was in Louisiana at the time.

John embraced the American Dream. He served his adopted community as a pastor, he sought his fortune as a gold prospector, he raised a family of fiercely independent children, each of whom went out and seized the Dream in their own right.

Has your family benefited from immigration to America? Do you believe our diverse population makes us stronger? Do you want to be part of the solution? Consider the following:

Doctors Without Borders / Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) works to make a difference in the lives of refugees. Founded in 1971, MSF is a private, international association. The association is primarily comprised of doctors and health sector workers who provide assistance to populations in distress, to victims of natural or man-made disasters, and to victims of armed conflict. They do so irrespective of race, religion, creed, or political convictions.

In 2015, MSF provided more than 8.6 million medical consultations for people in 69 countries. MSF saves lives and eases the suffering of people caught in acute crises, thereby restoring their ability to rebuild their lives and communities.

Please go to their website, read their stories, and see how you can help.

Did you enjoy this post? Please like and share. I would love to hear from you!

 Thanks for reading!



My Family Tree:

  1. John McLeish


  1. William McLeish


  1. John McLeish


  1. Minerva McLeish


  1. Mabel Edna Sacues


  1. Paul de Meurers


  1. Weldon Paul deMeurers


  1. Me (Alan deMeurers)

Running count of my direct immigrants from Europe to North America = 32


Reference Links:


3 thoughts on “Climbing My Family Tree, Part 11 A

  1. Rev. John McLeish wrote at least four letters about his trip to California that were published in a Boston newspaper. I located them while doing research on the gold rush in Eastern newspapers. Let me know if you would like copies of the pdf files I have of them. Terrence J. Lindell, Department of History, Wartburg College, Waverly, Iowa 50677.

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