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The History of the McDivit Family

[The following historical narrative about the McDivit Family and their beloved "Home Place" was written Florence McDivit Casey in 1963.]

This study of the McDivit Family is based on the family Bibles of James and Joseph McDivit; upon the inscriptions on the tombstones in the peaceful little churchyard at St. Joseph's Church in Emmitsburg, Maryland; upon the clear-headed recollections of my father's only surviving brother, Dr. Harry N. McDivit, who was ninety-one years old on January second of this year, 1963; and also from the impressions which I picked up through the years from the conversations of the members of my father's generation. These facts and reminiscences gave me a background for questions which cannot all be answered without genealogical research, especially those prior to the time of James and Sally Wise McDivit, my great-grandparents. Perhaps there will be someone in the generations to follow us who will be interested in visiting courthouses and county-seats and in filling out the earlier records.


What little we know about the family centers around Emmitsburg, Maryland. There the McDivit Home Place may still be seen. The substantial and attractive stone house was occupied (1956) by a tenant of the owner, Gwynn Topper, who also owns the orchards on either side of the main road as you approach the house. It was sold by the McDivit family soon after the death of Joseph P. McDivit, the grandfather of my generation. He died September 7, 1875 and according to Uncle Harry the family lived there five years or so after that. Another of my father's brothers, Uncle Joe, said the family would probably never have lost the property if grandmother's sons had been old enough to protect her interests.

According to Uncle Harry, the old Home Place, as my father always called it, was part of Carrolsburg, and I have wondered if this in turn was connected with Carrolton Manor, a huge tract of land which had been acquired by Charles Carroll of Carrollton. Incidentally, the McDivit property was divided by the Mason Dixon Line -- part of it being in Maryland and part in Adams County, Pennsylvania. At what period the McDivit family acquired the land and how extensive their holdings were we do not know.

Uncle Harry believes the existing stone house was built by his father, Joseph P. McDivit, and says that his sister and brothers were all born there. James McDivit, the father of Joseph, was born in the "old mill house" which sat on a little hill above the mill, and there he raised his family of nine children (see Bible record).

In determining the exact age of the house, it would be interesting to know if it was actually built by James or by his son, Joseph. James died in 1858, at the age of seventy-six, and Joseph died in 1875, at the age of fifty-eight. There is an interval of seventeen years between their deaths, with the disruption of the Civil War (1861-1866) during this period. (With Gettysburg so close at hand, it was impossible for the family to remain untouched by the war.) Research may settle these questions some day.

The old home may be reached from Baltimore by Route 140 to Westminster and then over Route 97 to Emmitsburg. Drive straight through the town to the Emmit House (old when I was young); take the fork to the right; go one and a half to two miles; the house is on the left just before Tom's Creek. It is a stone house with colonial columns and a porch or gallery straight across the second floor. There is an old stone building beyond the house (possibly a mill). A creek is lower down. It once formed the mill race, but there was little water in it the day we were there, due to the clearing of a heavy stand of timber from the mountains nearby.

Uncle Harry says there was an L-shaped addition to the right rear of the house, the second floor of which was used for a school for the McDivit children. Miss Belle Kidgely was the teacher and he remembers her very well. She married later and lived in Baltimore.

The Home Place was designed to take care of the needs of the family and to provide additional income as well. Uncle Harry drew a rough sketch of the farm layout which is the basis for the following description...

To the back and left of the house was a very large wagon shed open at both ends and with corn cribs on either side. To the right and beyond a paling fence was a springhouse, the refrigerator of that period, with a trough for cooling milk. Still further to the right was a big bank-barn which burned down in later years. Behind the house was the ever essential well. Lovely large boxwoods and trees were near the house. A beautiful walnut tree, which "has never born nuts" according to its present occupants, is at the left of the house and a big ash tree near the springhouse was a favorite of Uncle Harry's. He also remembered the fenced-in vegetable garden some distance behind the house, as well as the chicken house.

Then there was a hill, and down in the hollow beyond was the mill race with the mill for grinding grain raised on the farm (thus providing food for the family as well as for the animals). Oak bark, preferably white oak, was stored on the hill to be used in the tannery which was a level triangular spot beyond the mill and close to the junction where Friend's Creek (also called Mountain creek) ran into Tom's Creek, thus feeding the mill race. The cattle, and probably the hogs as well, provided hides for the tannery which had two vats. In addition to all of this, I can remember my father speaking of a sawmill which must have been a necessity in such an operation.

The Clarence Alexander family lived in the house in 1956. They gave their address as Fairfield, Route 2, Pennsylvania. They spoke of the small house just back of the main house as the old slave quarters. Ike Downey, a former slave, worked for the McDivits. His widow lived on the road to Emmitsburg according to the Alexanders. We tried to contact her on the way home but were unsuccessful. Older generations of Alexanders had also worked for them.

Uncle Harry says the house in which Mr. Topper lives was once a country store. The McDivit children delivered eggs there in exchange for groceries. Barter was not unusual at this time, particularly in the country.


[Life for the McDivits changed dramatically following the death of Joseph P. McDivit, who died suddenly in 1875, at the age of 58.] Grandmother must have been overwhelmed by her responsibilities following the loss of her husband. To be left a widow at forty-three with six children, ranging in age from ten years to fifteen months, was indeed a tremendous problem. The additional necessity of successfully running the family farm was doubly overwhelming. Her brother, Felix Diffendal, returned from the Midwest, where he had settled, to be with his sister. Apparently, his assistance was not sufficiently able to make the farm pay, however, and the family had to dispose of it. Life was a struggle for them in those early days, but Grandmother had reason to feel happy at the results. She was very proud of the McDivit name. (Uncle Harry once teased her about it.) She said she was not proud for herself but for her children. Unfortunately, Uncle Felix destroyed all the family records, saying that they were of no further value.

Uncle Harry commented on the freedom Grandmother allowed her sons, sending them off to gather wild berries even when they were quite young and putting no firm regulation on how far they could go or in what direction. Thus they enjoyed the freedom to explore the country around them and to learn the lessons of nature. They fished in the streams and when they reached sufficient age were allowed to have guns for hunting rabbits and other small game. The physical, mental and moral training of their boyhood enabled them to become self-sufficient men of character, well able to take their places in the cities to which they gravitated.

The McDivit children continued their education in Emmitsburg at St. Euphemia's School run by the Sisters of Charity -- receiving the limited education which small towns all over America provided in those days (but they lived in an era when this was usual and all of them were a credit to their mother and their forebears). Mary Angela (Aunt Mame) attended St. Joseph's Academy, now St. Joseph's College, in Emmitsburg, which was founded by Mother Seton, now on her way to sainthood. Uncle Jimmy [James Vincent McDivit] went to Baltimore to seek a wider field than Emmitsburg provided. Uncle Joe [Joseph McDivit], having attended Niagara University in New York state for two years, settled in Frederick. Uncle Pete [Peter Philip McDivit] went west and made St. Joseph, Missouri his home. Uncle Harry [Harry Norbet McDivit] came to Baltimore, followed by my father, John [John Albert McDivit], the youngest son.

In time, Uncle Jimmy became the president of a large spice company, the William N. Crawford Co. Uncle Joe became vice president of the Citizen's National Bank in Frederick. Uncle Pete was vice president of the John S. Brittain Co., a wholesale dry goods company in St. Joseph, Missouri. Uncle Harry studied dentistry at the University of Maryland and practiced successfully in Baltimore until retirement. John McDivit became president of the Henry H. Meyer Co., a concern which sold construction and industrial equipment.

The unmarried brothers provided for their mother and sister as long as they lived. Uncle Jimmy lived with them and Uncle Joe came down from Frederick frequently. The nearby grandchildren visited Grandmother's often. The other sons, Harry and John, lived not far away and stopped by regularly -- not through a sense of duty, but because they were devoted to their mother. Uncle Pete never failed to visit twice a year on his way to New York, where he did his buying for the Britain Company. His arrival always signaled a get-together at Grandmother's and young and old enjoyed the gay banter of the fun-loving McDivit boys. Grandmother was next door to heaven when they were all around her. She was a gentle, refined little lady, slender in her black silk dress.

The St. Joe McDivits spent summers here on two occasions, visiting at Grandmother's, at Uncle Harry's and at our house in West Forest Park. It gave us all a chance to know Aunt Helene [Helene Herrick McDivit], Herrick [J. Herrick McDivit] and Philip [Peter Philip McDivit III]. I was the oldest of the grandchildren. My sister, Mary Josephine ("Mate"), came next, with Herrick following her three months later. Mary Louise (Uncle Harry's daughter) was next in line. Philip, Margaret (another of Uncle Harry's daughters) and my brother, John A. McDivit, Jr., were all born the same year. Sadly, a small son of Uncle Harry's, Harry Norbet McDivit, Jr., died in infancy. These formed the list for this particular generation. Since my brother never married, the McDivit surname has disappeared here in the east, as far as our immediate family is concerned. We must depend on the children of Herrick and Philip, both deceased at an early age, to carry on the name in the Midwest where they now live.

After leaving the old Home Place, the McDivits lived at Valley House on the road to Gettysburg, and then at the Baker House on the Pike. As soon as feasible, Grandmother and Aunt Mame joined the sons in Baltimore at 3000 N. Calvert Street. Later they moved to 2415 Maryland Avenue, which was headquarters for the family for many years until the neighborhood had deteriorated and Grandmother, Uncle Jimmy, Aunt Mame and Uncle Joe had all found a resting place with their ancestors in the little churchyard in Emmitsburg.


James McDivit was the Justice of the Peace for the surrounding countryside and was known as the Honorable James McDivit.

Joseph P. McDivit might be termed a gentleman farmer, riding horseback as he managed the work on his farm. He also dabbled in politics. Uncle Harry said he did not drink but provided a decanter on the sideboard for those who did. He was hospitable and they frequently entertained at dinner the priests from St. Mary's College who came over the "back road" on horseback. he had great ambition for his sons, planning to educate them for the professions.

Grandmother, Mary Josephine (Diffendal) McDivit, was born in Libertytown, not far from Frederick. In addition to her brother Felix, she had another brother, Sam, who developed an extensive peach farm in Smithsburg, Pennsylvania. There were others in her family, among them the Diffendals of Frederick and of Philadelphia.

Sally Wise, wife of our great-grandfather James, was born in Conawaga, Pennsylvania, which is near McSherrystown, in Adams County. Uncle Harry says there is a long line of Wise family tombstones in the churchyard at Conawaga. These we hope to see when we go to Emmitsburg and Conawaga on a trip which my husband and I are planning for this spring, taking Uncle Harry along if possible. He says that Conawaga was a Jesuit settlement and that the first church was a log church situated on a hill and dedicated to the Sacred Heart. (It was from Conawaga that many settlers started west, following the trail along the Monacacy River.) There was a block house there as a protection against the Indians who kept returning to the springs for water. The Sneeringer family lived there and later gave it to the government.


Incidentally, the spelling of the name has sometimes been questioned. Our authority is found in the graveyard at St. Joseph's Church in Emmitsburg, where about fifteen of our ancestors are buried. (The eldest, Philip McDivit, was born in 1746.) I will list them all as a matter of record later on in this study.

The name has been retained here in Baltimore by my sister's son, John McDivit Tormey, now a doctor doing research at Johns Hopkins Hospital and by his son, John McDivit Tormey, Jr., just a year old at this writing (1963). It has also been perpetuated by my grandson, Thomas McDivit Casey (who will soon be ten years old), the oldest son of Harry J. Casey, Jr. -- the only one of the four grandchildren of John McDivit who was old enough to remember him.

McDivit's buried at St Joseph's Church


Date of Death

Age at Death

Date of Birth

Philip McDivit




Henry McDivit




James McDivit




Catherine McDivit




Sarah McDivit




Mary McDivit




Joseph P. McDivit




Jane McDivit




Martha McDivit




Julia J. McDivit




Mary J. McDivit




Felix Diffendal




Mary Angela McDivit




James V. McDivit




Joseph McDivit




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