James McNair 1746-1778

James McNair was born in Campbeltown in 1746, like many Scots at that period he left for America.  It is likely that other members of his extended family had moved to America during the 18th century and probably earlier.

He  died fighting on the American side in the Battle of Monmouth, NJ on 28th June, 1778. It was a battle fought at the height of summer in very hot weather and many casualties were killed by the heat.  It is remembered in association with the story of Molly Pitcher, the wife of solder who carried water around the battle field (hence her nickname) and took over from her husband as a canon firer when he collapsed from heat or injury.  James McNair died a gruesome death, he was decapitated by a cannon ball.  His nephew (or half nephew) John Smith, who emigrated to Willow Creek, Illinois wrote
“Tears like the morning dew should fall on the memory of the
heroes. At the battle of Monmouth, on the 25th of June last, fell Lieu-
tenant McNair of the artillery, an officer who deserves the tears of his
country. Born in North Britain, he came to America, and early embarked
in the cause against the tyrant. He served as a private in the first cam-
paign at Boston, and afterwards rose through the intermediate offices
from a private to a lieutenant without the least solicitation to obtain that
promotion and without the interest of one friend but what his merit
gave him. His captain, in a letter from the camp at White Plains, writes
as follows : ‘I cannot help lamenting of the death of so valuable an offi-
cer. He was cool, attentive to his duty, intrepid and brave, undisturbed
in the hottest engagements, and commanded with the firmness and courage
of a Roman. He was loved and esteemed by his officers, and loved and
feared by his soldiers. He had a warm sense of duty to God and lived
regularly and religiously. He was humane and extremely charitable. He
was humble in spirit, modest in manner, and steady in his conduct. He
possessed the highest sense of liberty and wished to establish the inde-
pendency of his country. He dies fighting bravely against slavery and
tyranny. Not less than a cannon ball separated his noble soul from his
body. It may be said of Britain what Solomon said of Sin : ‘Many has
she cast down wounded ; many strong men hath been slain by her.'”

These remarks were quoted by a descendent, David Smith in a pamphlet of recollections of his family published in 1915.

James McNair was known to  George Washington,who wrote on 17th August 1777 in a letter to the Maryland Delegates ‘I was just now informed that  Lt. McNair of the Artillery  has been arrested and stand over to the next Court to be held for Harford County for enlisting two men to serve in one of the Continental Regiments of Artillery.’  (The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript, Vol. 9).


About jenjen999

I am a family historian with an interest not only in direct lines but in the social background and historical setting of the families I research.
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