The relationship was too remote to repudiate, but as it was, Francis had special reasons for wishing to claim the McCormicks, and to establish for himself the best lineage and background he could. In a spirit of idle inquiry we may speculate whether he was ready to repudiate any of his kin who happened not to please him, perhaps because of lack of social rank. The presumption must lie against him.
When notification of appointment as Papal Chamberlain was given him, it perhaps already had been intimated to him through friends like the Schönbergs that two things would be requisite to his advancement in Rome. First, he must supply evidence of good ancestry and good social background. Second, he must marry a wealthy woman. It is beyond question that he received such intimations, and that he acted upon them. Hitherto he had seemed indifferent to young women and to marriage, which may not seem very strange when we recall he had been associated so much with celibates.
A blank book in board covers, in which is written in longhand a genealogical account of the McNaughts of Kilquhanity, remains as evidence of the service performed for Francis by a professional genealogist in Great Britain, engaged by him for the purpose of supplying one of the requirements of Rome. The sketch is brief, but accurate enough as far as it goes. It has nothing on the part taken by McNaughts as Covenanters, when several brought decrees of treason against themselves by fighting against the royal cause, Such omissions were preferable in the circumstances.
The genealogist's account, showing Francis to be a descendant of a family with armorial bearings, evidently satisfied inquiries in Rome. Then Francis set about an effort to establish direct relationship with the Virginia McNutt and McCormick families. In the minds of the elite of Europe, Virginia seemed the one State in the American Union that had an aura of aristocratic beginnings. To accomplish his purpose, Francis had to overlook or ignore his descent from Barnard and Jean McNitt of Palmer, Massachusetts through their son William, who went to Nova Scotia in 1761.
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Robert Hall McCormick was a son of Leander J. and Henrietta McCormick, and a nephew of Cyrus H. McCormick, who perfected the reaper that his father Robert had begun to develop in a small blacksmith shop on his farm in the Valley of Virginia. Henrietta was a daughter of Elizabeth McNutt Hamilton, and a granddaughter of Alexander and Rachel Grigsby McNutt of the Lexington neighborhood. All these Shenandoah Valley McNutts and McCormicks were plain, unpretending Scots Presbyterians of real ability but with no fancy ideas about themselves. They did not share in the glamor of the Tidewater tobacco aristocracy, nor did they care for glamor of that kind.
Mrs. Henrietta McCormick, at the time Francis was grooming himself for Roman and Vatican society in 1896, was working on her Genealogies and Reminiscences, which she published in the following year. Without any doubt Mrs. McCormick was a fine woman with honest intentions about her work. Her portrait shows her to have been a stately, even a beautiful, woman with a face full of character.
To her, Francis offered his services as collaborator. To him is due much of the criticism later bestowed upon the book by scholars for its inaccuracies regarding the early history of the family. Had Francis made even a superficial study of the McNaught family in Galloway and we know he did just that -- he should have perceived the untruth of this footnote, which he probably wrote or suggested:
There have been descendants of the family who alleged that their ancestors were Covenanters and left Scotland on account of religious persecutions. No warrant for this can be found, however, and it would seem rather that the family adhered to the Stuarts....No social prestige comes from the Covenanters, who were unfashionable rebels; there may be some in proved descent from those who gave allegiance to the Stewart dynasty, which was romantic and colorful. The MacNauchtans in Argyll were loyal to the Stewarts for generations, but we have seen that the last chief was put under bond in the Killing Time to restrain possible Whiggish impulses.
The most picturesque character in the Virginia McNutt family was Alexander the colonizer, and with Francis' aid, Mrs. McCormick made a great deal more of a soldier of him than he actually had been. Then William McNitt of Palmer, Francis' direct male ancestor who took the name-form McNutt in Nova Scotia, was torn from old Barnard's family circle and made a brother of Alexander McNutt, the Nova Scotia colonizer.
That gave Francis the appearance of direct relationship with the
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Virginians instead of with the men of the Massachusetts house -- all of whom actually were of the same rugged sort.
Then Francis went further. He had discovered the armorial bearings of the McNaughts of Kilquhanity and he adopted the coat of arms, without benefit of authorization from the Lyon Court in Edinburgh. The old motto he did not like; for Omnia Fortunae Committo (I Leave All to Fortune), he substituted Non Est Tantum, which in free translation means "We're Not So Much." This was an amusing touch of false humility.
When Francis later established himself in a palace in Rome, his male servants were liveried in silver and azure, derived from the inescutcheon of the armorial device of the McNaughts of Kilquhanity. All his household silver was engraved with the McNaught arms.
In 1915 Francis caused to be inserted in Colonial Families in America, a set of volumes compiled and edited by George Norbury MacKenzie, a sketch of the McNaught (McNutt) family that is completely erroneous in its account of the departure of four brothers from Scotland to Ulster in 1667. There is no record of the precise dates when any of the McNaughts migrated to Ulster. In this sketch Francis planted the legend of his Virginia descent.
Further to establish history as he wished it to appear, Francis persuaded the Venerable Archdeacon Raymond to write a monograph on the life and colonizing career of Alexander McNutt, for the Royal Society of Canada. This in fact proved an excellent work, except for several bits of disinforrnation given by the instigator to Archdeacon Raymond.
As a frontispiece to the monograph in the large bound volume of Proceedings of the Royal Society for 1911, there appears in full color the McNaught coat of arms with Francis' motto: Non Est Tantum.
When the errors he had been led into making were pointed out to him, Archdeacon Raymond wrote another paper for the Royal Society, which was published in the Proceedings of a subsequent year, in which he deprived the colonizer of the title of Colonel, and erased his imaginary exploits with Gates at Saratoga and DeKalb in the South.
The various efforts of Mrs. McCormick and Francis Augustus MacNutt to gild the honest but modest fame of Alexander McNutt caught the censorious eye of Arthur Wentworth Hamilton Eaton, D.C.L., who as a loyal Canadian was jealous of the integrity of Nova Scotia's history. Another chapter deals with the paper Dr. Eaton wrote for the magazine Americana, in which William McNutt was returned to the Massachusetts family where he belonged. This publication must have
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ruined a day or two for Francis and others who wished roots in Virginia instead of in Massachusetts, if they saw it.
If Francis was disturbed by the Eaton article it was not for long. When he wrote his autobiography a decade later "Colonel Alexander McNutt" was still his "versatile ancestor." He owned that remoter ancestors in Galloway" were neither illustrious nor history-makers," though he rejoiced in unauthorized use of their coat of arms.
At some idle moment he elected to go to Shelburne in Nova Scotia to have a look at McNutt's Island. It seemed a dismal spot of rocks to him, clothed with scrub evergreens. Someone told him McNutts still were living in Onslow, but he felt no urge to look them up. He might have chosen to repudiate them had he seen them, for they still spelled the name McNutt. In his mind, Mac connoted land-owning, while the abbreviated Mc to him may have betokened a low social state. While Mac is the original form, the difference in meaning between Mac and Mc today amounts to the difference between Mister and Mr. Those who like traditional usage are partial to Mac and that is that.
Roy Douglass McNutt, New York lawyer and member of the Nova Scotia family at Onslow, relates that while the brief visit of Francis Augustus MacNutt caused quite a stir in Shelburne, the verdict following his departure was unfavorable. The good people of the town had meant to show respectful honor to one claiming descent from the colonizer, and he had high-hatted them with patrician disdain, rejecting friendly overtures.
When in Boston not long after the publication of the Americana article, I found Dr. Eaton, a keen little man, in a third-floor back room of a rooming house on Beacon Hill. When I remonstrated with him a bit for twigging the colonizer so roughly, he insisted that the family had Francis Augustus MacNutt to thank for setting up an image he had felt it his duty to modify.
Francis deluded a number of the Nova Scotia McNutts living in the United States with his legend of descent from a brother of the glamorous colonizer. One of them was the late Dr. William Fletcher McNutt of San Francisco, who wrote me a long letter in 1917 endeavoring to support the myth. The vital records of Palmer, Massachusetts, make all such efforts futile.
What does it matter anyway? All are related in some degree to all the figures in the story, and all in the McNaught line derive from the same worthy Covenanters in Scotland, who became tenant farmers in Ulster, and whose sons were sturdy immigrants to the American colonies. Francis Augustus MacNutt's vagaries were amiable: he didn't mean to
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harm anyone by his little prank of identifying himself and near kinsmen with Virginia, and he didn't harm anybody by decorating his family tree with extra candles he thought might beam more brightly: enough more brightly to make it resemble a Christmas tree.
In the end, in the days of his disillusionment, he admitted the truth. In his autobiography he moved with the lightness of an angel's breath through the inconspicuous statement that the Virginian Alexander McNutt picked up William McNitt in his Massachusetts home and took him along to Nova Scotia. The colonizer's father Alexander, he conjectured very reasonably, was a brother of Barnard McNitt of Massachusetts.
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