John Mcdonagh is a native of Rivers Town, County of Sligo, Ireland, and was born February 6, 1822. His mother, before her marriage was Elizabeth Carson. His father, William McDonagh, was the youngest of five brothers, four of whom volunteered in the militia at the time of the rebellion of 1798, afterwards joined the regular army, served under Wellington in the Peninsular War, and were with him till after the battle of Waterloo. His father, who was not a whit behind the four brothers in patriotism, served twenty-five years in the yeomanry or local militia, removing to Upper Canada in 1840, and settling in the Township of Tecumseth, County of Simcoe, where he died in 1877 at the age of eighty. The mother died about ten years earlier.
In the spring of 1840 our subject joined Her Majesty’s Royal Revenue Police, and served three years, following his parents to this country in 1843. After spending one year in the County of Simcoe, he removed to the Niagara District, and has resided in it for thirty-five years. He spent a little more than one year in a saw mill at Dunnville; then joined the mounted police on the Welland Canal, under command of Major Richardson, serving until it was disbanded a year or two later.
In the spring of 1850 Mr. McDonagh and other Canadians caught the gold fever, and made up their minds to see the young El Dorado of the Pacific Slope. Early in May of that year, twelve of them started out with ox teams on the overland route, going via St. Joe, Mo. (where they secured their teams and outfit), Fort Karney, Fort Laramie, Independence Rock, through the valley of the Sweet river, crossing it sixteen times, and on the 18th of June stood on the South Pass of the Rocky Mountains, where the westward flowing streams take their rise. In the morning of that day they found water frozen in their buckets.
They proceeded across the Big Sandy Desert a distance of seventy miles, to Green river, thence to the Big Bear, and up its flats to Soda Springs; followed the Humbolt Valley four hundred miles, to where it disappears in a sandy plain, and thence across to Carson river, sixty miles, where their provisions gave out. They were two hundred miles from Placerville, and four of the party, with four biscuits each, started on ahead of the teams, Mr. McDonagh carrying thirty-six pounds, the others nothing. One man besides him went through, the others giving out, and waiting for the teams to pick them up. Mr. McDonagh reached Placerville, then called Hangtown, at two o’clock, p.m. of the fourth day, faint, yet would have gone farther, rather than lie down and starve to death. He never saw a sick day on the entire route, and walked all the way from St. Joe to Placerville, a distance of 2500 miles, reaching the latter place in the latter part of August; others were sick, and were glad enough to be carried on an ox cart.
One of their party had a leg broken when eighty miles east of Fort Karney, and the teams never halted, night or day, until they reached the Fort, where he had his limb amputated, and had to remain some weeks.
Mr. McDonagh commenced mining in Calaveras County, and was in California nearly four years. During the first two he was with Italian, French, Portuguese, Chinese, and Indians, and never heard a word of English from any lips but his own.
He had good success, returned in 1854 by the Nicarauga route, and on his way to Canada, halted at Philadelphia, and had his ” dust ” turned to coin. He has been often heard to speak of the kindness which he received at the hands of the officers of the mint. They charged him and his associate nothing for services, getting their pay probably out of the alloy put into the coin to harden it, and politely showing them through the great establishment, &c.
Since returning to Canada, Mr. McDonagh has resided at Thorold, and is one of the leading business men of the town, he has been manufacturing and dealing in ship timber since 1855, and farming by proxy and through renters. He has a farm of three hundred acres adjoining the town, other property in Thorold and at Merritton and St. Catharines, being in very comfortable circumstances. The several buildings which he has erected in Thorold have been important improvements. He is quite enterprising.
Mr. McDonagh was in the Town Council five years; was Reeve and member of County Council four years, and has been magistrate of the county a decade or more.
About the time of the Trent affair, 1861, he raised a volunteer company, and commanded it for three years, and then resigned.
Mr. McDonagh is a Conservative in politics, and for the last eight years has been president of the Liberal Conservative Association for the County of Welland.
In 1854 he married Miss Mary Ann Williams, daughter of Daniel Williams, an early settler at Allanburg. The family came here from New Jersey, and are well known in this part of the Province. Mr. McDonagh belongs to the Episcopal Church, of which he was warden several years. He is a kind man to the poor, and a true friend of those suffering from any cause; has always been a hard working man; had some severe “roughing” in middle life, yet is still very healthy and robust, and as a business man he is a fine success.