When the Rev. Charles Justin McCarthy moved to Canada in 1788, the authorities there thought he was a rabble-rouser and a rebel.
“I think we shall be able to banish him for Crimes of a heinous Nature,” wrote the Rev. John Stuart, who was on the board that denied Charles’ request for a land grant.
In reality, Charles, an itinerant preacher and my sixth great grandfather (the ‘h’ eventually dropped from the family name), was probably just a typical McCarty: a stubborn man unafraid of voicing his opinions, no matter the consequences.
By 1770, Charles left his home country of Ireland for the colony of New York after being educated to be a Catholic priest, according to a 1989 article by Catherine Milne, a historian of Hamilton Township, Ontario. It’s not known why he immigrated, but it’s possible the New World simply needed more priests.
But in New York, something unusual happened: For the only known time in his life, Charles changed his mind. After hearing the evangelist George Whitefield preach, he converted to Whitefield’s Methodist theology.
When the American Revolution started, like many Methodists, Charles remained loyal to the British and was even imprisoned and tortured by the rebels, according to Milne’s article.
So when the rebels won, Charles took his wife and children to the Kingston, Ontario, area, where he preached to other displaced loyalists. Through his “especially eloquent” preaching (according to Milne) and his personality (according to Charles’ entry in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography), he converted many people. But his activities angered the authorities of the Church of England, Canada’s official church, who, after the American Revolution, thought outsiders may be revolutionaries.
The Anglican-controlled Mecklenberg Land Board rejected Charles’ land request in 1789. In April 1790, Charles was arrested and accused of being a vagabond, imposter and disturber of the peace. He was tried April 13-14 and was ordered to leave the Kingston District. He did but soon came back. On July 13, he was put on trial again and was sentenced to deportation to Oswego, New York.
Charles was never seen or heard from again, and no one knows how or when he died. Some say he was left to starve on an island. Others say he was stabbed to death. Although it can’t be documented, Methodists in Canada have said the Church of England was behind Charles’ death, and to this day, he is considered a martyr.
Eventually, several McCartys came back to the United States. Charles’ son, David, immigrated to Iowa sometime between 1851 and 1856. His son, Hayes, my fourth great grandfather, had already moved to New York by 1833. No one knows what brought them to the land their forefather fled, but as they were farmers, it may be the abundance of land here was too tempting even for loyalists to pass up.
In the U.S., the McCartys stayed true to their Methodist roots. It’s impossible to determine what some of them were like, but it’s easy to see how the McCarty personality, if harnessed correctly, could’ve been advantageous in pioneer life in Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska.
If the stubbornness gene wasn’t passed from generation to generation, it reintroduced itself into the family gene pool in recent generations.
My dad, Chris McCarty, remembers hearing shouts of “I know I’m right” as a child on holidays at his grandpa’s house.
“The guys would always have arguments about some dumb thing,” Chris said.
My Great-Grandfather Rea McCarty reportedly took the usual stubbornness to a new level, earning the moniker “Mean Old Man” among some of his grandchildren, Chris said.
Many family members have said that before Rea and my Great-Grandmother Pearl got married, Pearl became pregnant. But Rea denied the baby was his, drove Pearl from McCook to Denver and forced her to give up the baby for adoption.
Rea got his way for the rest of their lives. In 1949, he started Mac’s Drive-In, a McCook restaurant. But Pearl was the one who really ran the place.
Chris said people tell him all the time, “Now, Rea, he didn’t do much work, but if it wasn’t for your grandma, that place never would’ve made it.”
Rea’s son, my Grandpa Larry McCarty, had a much better work ethic, exhibiting the positive side of stubbornness: relentlessness. After college, he started his own restaurant before joining his parents in revamping Mac’s in 1959. Later in life, he ran an arcade and helped my uncle start a greenhouse. Even in retirement, grandpa kept busy, working tirelessly to keep his lawn looking perfect.
Long before I knew him, he was an alcoholic for about 20 years — according to Chris’ estimate — drinking hard when he wasn’t working hard.
He remained functional and stubborn, so my Grandma Marilyn had to be stubborn for him to get help.
She kicked him out of the house in the early 1970s, and although she let him move back in, she borrowed $50 from Chris and filed for divorce a few years later.
But Larry changed, something McCartys rarely do, by seeking treatment for his alcoholism at a Valley Hope rehab center. He and Marilyn remained married until her death in 1999.
Of course, he was still stubborn and opinionated on everything from religion to football.
Larry was an ardent atheist and wasn’t afraid of denouncing religion as the cause of the world’s problems to the faces of his mostly Christian family.
And he even had the guts to call the great Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne a wimp, according to my mom, Leeann.
At Larry’s funeral in 2009, my cousin sang “My Way,” by Paul Anka. Now, I realize how well the lyrics described my grandpa and the entire McCarty family.
“For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows, I took the blows
And did it my way”