The Strange Case Of Horatio Nelson McCully (Junior)


    When Horatio Nelson McCully Sr. was born in 1820, Horatio Nelson -- the British Royal Navy hero of the Napoleonic Wars -- had been dead for fifteen years. Were people still naming their children after him, or did Horatio McCully's father name him after their neighbor, friend, and Horatio's (far in the future) father-in-law, Horatio Nelson Morton -- who had been born in 1798, at the height of Admiral Nelson's fame, and surely was named for the Admiral? And when in 1854 Horatio Sr. named his second son Horatio Nelson, was he meant to be a junior, was he named after his grandfather Morton, or was his name another homage to the Navy war hero? Apparently, nobody knows -- and if this was the biggest mystery concerning Horatio Jr., I wouldn't be writing this essay.

   When, nine or ten years ago, I first researched the family of Horatio Sr., I drew a blank on Horatio Jr. Other than a general family acknowledgment that he had existed - and a spot on the family tree where another child could have been placed - I couldn't find any specific records of him. When I wrote my descriptions of the family, I speculated that Horatio Jr. might have "died young." But, if this was the greatest mystery surrounding Horatio Jr., you probably wouldn't be reading this essay.

The year I started to finalize the McCully genealogy (as if a genealogy is ever "finalized"), I thought I would give Horatio Jr. another shot. With new material being added to the Internet daily, I hoped for some new clues to his existence. I knew that an uncle and two of his brothers had left New Brunswick, Canada, for Massachusetts, so that was the first direction I looked. The search paid off quickly with a record of Horatio’s U. S. naturalization at Salem, Massachusetts, in 1879. So, he hadn't "died young," after all.

    Knowing that he had been somewhere for 25 years, I went back to the New Brunswick censuses to see if I had missed anything. I had. By placement within the family of Horatio Sr., and by the approximate age shown on the census, I determined that a close-to-illegible name in the 1861 census really was "Horatio." Ten years later, in the 1871 census, another nearly undecipherable scrawl turned out to be Horatio, almost doubly lost this time because the census taker had identified him as "a daughter.

    So, Horatio Jr. was in Canada until at least 1871, and he was in Massachusetts by at least 1879. To try to fill in the middle space, I turned to Massachusetts newspapers for possible mention of him. The first I found, dated 18 September 1871, was curious:

   "Last Saturday evening as Horatio McCully was standing by Dr. Barton's window, he slipped and fell through one of the large panes of glass. He offered $1 to pay damages."

   I had made a break-through! Well, actually, Horatio had made the break-through -- and it might have been a fall through Alice's Looking-Glass, rather than a window, because he disappeared from the record for the next eight years. His brother Albert had returned to Canada for a while; did Horatio go, also, or did he just fail to do anything noteworthy in the United States during the rest of the 1870s?

There is no obvious reference to him in either the 1880 United States census, or the 1881 Canadian census, but by 1882, Horatio was living in Peabody, Massachusetts, employed as a currier (the chosen work of most of his men relatives). If he had been hard to find previously, suddenly his name appeared almost daily in the local newspapers. He was accepted as a member of the local Masons Lodge in October 1884. At the same time,  he was an active participant in the local "roller polo" league (a polo-like game played on roller skates), and served as rink manager in Peabody.  In 1885, he was elected president of the Massachusetts Polo League. He leased the Willows Skating Rink in Salem, Massachusetts, for the summer, for playing roller polo and for local entertainment. He arranged a midsummer carnival at the rink in July 1885, and received rave reviews for it. There was talk of him starting and managing a local baseball team. And then.....

   And then, later in 1885, Horatio Nelson McCully Jr. left Massachusetts for Orange Park, Florida, where he was reported to own an orange grove. At first, it sounded like the trip was temporary, as his partner, C. A. Thomas, was left in charge of the ice rink “during his absence.” He never returned to Massachusetts (at least, before 1894; see later). He wrote regularly to friends in Peabody and Boston for several months, but then the correspondence dried up.

   In Florida, Horatio worked on his land for a while. I found no specific mention of oranges (couldn’t squeeze anything out of it), but he grew tomatoes and strawberries. He seemed particularly accident-prone. The winter before leaving Massachusetts, he had fallen on the ice and broken his ankle. In Florida in December 1885, “he was building a trellis for tomato plants and was using a hatchet when it slipped and entered one foot just below the ankle, cutting a severe gash. Mr. McCully hobbled to his nearest neighbor, and as he was not at home it was an hour  before his boot could he removed, and he had lost a large quantity of blood.” He still hadn’t been able to work when “H. N. McCully has met  with another accident at his orange grove, in Florida. This time the fingers of his right hand were badly  crushed.”  The Peabody, Massachusetts, news editor opined, “He has had bad luck since he went to Florida.”

   Perhaps in part because of his farming misfortunes, Horatio went to work for Armour & Company, as a traveling sales representative. A note in an Atlanta , Georgia, newspaper in 1890 said that he “travels all over the world to sell grain.” I didn’t find any records of foreign travel, but notices in various newspapers 1888-1890 show that he traveled regularly through the South, and as far west as Kansas.

While working for Armour, he kept busy with Florida promotional activities.[1] He was reported to be President of the Florida Travelers’ Association ca 1890, but I couldn’t find any specific references to his job. In 1890 and 1891, acting as Manager of the Orange Park Fruit and Wine Company, he placed ads in newspapers all over the East, inviting “farmers and gardeners to locate in Orange Park, Clay County, Florida, to grow strawberries and other fruits.”[2]

   Horatio quit the Armour Company in 1862, and went to work with Cudahy Packing Company. He left Florida in mid-June 1863 and went to Chicago, apparently to continue to work for Cudahy out of their main offices. However, after getting to Illinois, “he was considering offers from several firms.” When he left his Chicago hotel on 12 August 1893, it was believed that he was moving to San Francisco. He had his baggage taken to the train station. It was still there in late December, as was his mail that had been forwarded to the Placides Hotel in Jacksonville, Florida.  Horatio was never seen again. Or was he? Read on.

From the various newspaper accounts, we finally get an idea of what Horatio, the man, was like. In December 1893, he was thought to be 38 years old, was six feet one inch tall, weighed 240 pounds, had a light complexion, sandy moustache, blue eyes, and “a pleasing address.” He was unmarried, and no relatives were known. “He was one of the best known and most popular men in his business.” His friends did not think he would commit suicide – although one account described him as “despondent” just before he left Florida.

   One odd twist occurred on 26 December 1893, when an account in the Atlanta Constitution claimed that the Pinkerton detectives in Chicago were “on a hot track,” and that Horatio had likely been taken “by a bold gang of kidnappers” – also described as “a gang of professional fakirs” - and was being held for ransom somewhere in Georgia, possibly in Atlanta. Supposedly, the ransom was to be paid by the Armour Company. Why the packing company would come up with a big ransom for one of their traveling salesman was an immediate question, especially since Horatio didn’t even work for them, anymore! I couldn’t find any follow up to that story. 


The year 1893 ended with Horatio still missing, his baggage unclaimed in Chicago, and his mail unclaimed in Florida. Jump forward seventeen years to 2021, when I happened to stumble  on a cemetery record. In 1935, an “H. N. McCully” was buried in the Oakhill East Cemetery in Palatka, Florida – the town in which he had lived before he moved to Chicago! Coincidence?

Apparently, most of the cemetery records were destroyed, but local genealogists reconstructed some of the data. So far, all I know is that “H. N. McCully’s” birth was listed as 1859, his death in 1939, and the cause of death was “renal failure.” The birth year is a little later than for Horatio, but well within the range that might have been given by someone without personal knowledge of him.  There are no local records of any other “H. N. McCully” – but no evidence that Horatio was living in the area at the time of death, either. ‘Tis a puzzlement.

   We may never be able to show that Horatio Nelson McCully and the “H. N. McCully” buried at Palatka were the same or different persons. If different, it leaves Horatio missing in Chicago in 1893. If the same, what happened in Chicago, where did he go for over 40 years - and why?


[1] Horatio McCully’s activities in the late 1880s and early 1890s were gleaned from various newspaper stories. Not all of the accounts agree, but the next two paragraphs are probably fairly close to reality.

[2] Apparently, nothing ever came of the attempt to bring farmers and gardeners to Orange Park, and the Great Freeze of 1894-1895 put an end to all commercial fruit growing in the area.



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