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McVeigh descendant retraces ancestors’ steps in Hannibal

Photo contributed by Jack Ramirez of Kansas City, Mo., descendant of Hiram McVeigh and Hiram M. McVeigh.

Hiram McVeigh moved from his homeland of Loudoun County, Virginia early in 1850 in search of a business climate suitable for raising his large and increasing brood of children. His goal was to plant roots and raise his family on Missouri soil, and to remain in Hannibal the remainder of his life.

He succeeded in his goal, but his death in 1865, following the deaths of two of his sons, Jesse McVeigh in 1863 and John White McVeigh, a school teacher, in 1864, combined with McVeigh’s unsuccessful business ventures, left his widow and remaining children in financial peril.

By 1870, his wife and a handful of her younger children had left Hannibal and were living in Baltimore, leaving behind them Hiram McVeigh’s dreams of business success in his adopted hometown of Hannibal.

But while the physical presence of Hiram McVeigh’s family no longer exists in Hannibal, the family’s early presence left a lasting imprint.

Descendant visits

Recently, one of Hiram McVeigh’s descendants – Jack Ramirez, a retired attorney now living in Kansas City, Mo., - visited Hannibal, hoping to retrace the same steps that his ancestors walked during the decade of the 1850s, and during the Civil War era.

He learned that his ancestor, Hiram McVeigh, operated a store in connection with Mr. Sausser at the beginning of 1850, and eighteen months later, opened Hiram McVeigh & Co. on Hannibal’s Main Street. Hiram McVeigh’s store was a long, narrow storefront located opposite of the City Hotel. (Note, City Hotel was located on the west side of Second Street [Main], three doors south of Hill Street. That would place the McVeigh store roughly where the Becky’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor and Emporium is located, 318 North Main, on the east side of the street.)

Other early 1850s business in the same block opposite City Hotel: Hiram McVeigh, Boys Coats, pants and vests; T.B. Stevens jewelry, watches; Dr. R.N. Anderson drug store, and John E. James grocery.

An advertisement in Hannibal’s Tri-weekly messenger dated Jan. 20, 1855, describes McVeigh’s business:

“I have a fine assortment of the very best men and boys clothing and furnishing goods. Silk, wool, cotton and flannel undershirts and drawers, Guernsy shirts, a fine stock, Calico, cotton and linen bosom shirts, Linen collars, Ladies silk and wool vests, Shoulder braces, Trunks, Saddlebags, Hats and Caps, Comforts, Fur, Buck, Beaver, yard, cotton and all other kinds of gloves. As the season is advancing, these goods will be sold at a small advance on cost. I would like to reduce my stock as much as possible by the 1st of March next. So, come one come all and judge for yourselves, for now is the appointed time for bargains. Hiram McVeigh, Ag’t.”

One year later, during the spring of 1856, two of Hiram’s sons, Thomas H. McVeigh and Francis A. McVeigh, published advertisements in the Tri-weekly messenger, announcing the liquidation of the financially strapped McVeigh business, offering the business building for sale, and urging those indebted to the McVeighs to come forward and pay, or face collection action.

Francis A. McVeigh, who at the time had relocated to Audrain County, Mo., signed his name to this advertisement on March 1, 1856 in the Tri-weekly messenger: “I will sell the store house, which is a good one, and well arranged, and will give immediate possession. The stand is considered one of the best in Hannibal. Anyone disposed to negotiate in this matter, will call on my father, Hiram McVeigh, in charge of the store. Francis A. McVeigh”

Hiram M. McVeigh

Jack Ramirez grew up in Montana hearing about Hiram McVeigh’s son, Hiram Mark McVeigh, who – just like his contemporary, Sam Clemens - started working in the newspaper business in Hannibal while still a teen.

Ramirez, in traveling from St. Louis to Chicago during September 2015, stayed with his wife of 50 years in the new addition of the Best Western on the Mississippi, overlooking Hannibal’s historic district and a wide span of the Mississippi River. He walked along Main Street, where his ancestor operated a clothing store during the same era when Sam Clemens called Hannibal home.

Hiram M. McVeigh, (son of Hannibal pioneer businessman Hiram McVeigh) who moved to Hannibal with his family when he was 10 years old, is profiled in a large biographical publication, “Bibliography: Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Eastern Arkansas,” published in Chicago by Goodspeed Publishers in 1890.

In the book, the author of Hiram M. McVeigh’s biography describes his early years in Hannibal, beginning with his work. “His father, having failed in business, was not able to give him a collegiate education, and, when fourteen (circa 1854) years of age, young McVeigh entered a printing office and learned the art.”

He continued in this work, and in addition began the study of the law in 1860 and 1861. He was admitted to the bar in Hannibal during the summer before his 21st birthday.

“While pursuing his legal studies he also edited, for a short time, the Hannibal (Mo.) Daily Messenger, and during his experience as a printer he worked at the (printing) case in the office of the Hannibal Courier, Quincy, (Ill.,) Daily Herald, Keokuk (Iowa) Gate City, Palmyra (Mo.,) Sentinel, Huntsville (Mo.) Citizen, and the Mexico (Mo.) Ledger.”

Hiram M. McVeigh closely watched how the editors worked, gaining inspiration for his later writing and legal pursuits. Among those men was Mr. Josiah T. Hinton, who was one of the editors of the Hannibal Courier in 1853. (Note: From 1848-1853, Sam Clemens worked at first the Hannibal Courier, and then his brother’s newspaper, the Western Union.)

The onset of the Civil War disrupted the start of Hiram M. McVeigh’s pursuit of a legal career. His biography reported: “He responded to the call of Gov. Jackson, of Missouri, for troops, and went into camp under Gen. T. Harris, of Northeast Missouri. He was present and participated in several conflicts between the Federal and Confederate troops in Missouri, and after the siege and battle of Lexington, in which he took part, he was appointed assistant ordnance officer, with the rank of lieutenant. Upon the disbanding of the Missouri State Guards, he received authority to recruit a company for the Confederate service, but was captured in Northeast Missouri by a Federal cavalry regiment, and, after remaining a prisoner on parole for nearly a year, was finally exchanged. He again entered the confederate service, and remained in active duty in the Trans-Mississippi department from the winter of 1862 until the surrender, at which time he was the enrolling officer of the Mississippi County.”

When the war was over, just as the court system was established in Arkansas, Hiram M. McVeigh settled into that state. There, he raised a large family of his own, and acquired notability in the legal profession and in state government.

This 1854 map of downtown Hannibal shows the location of the McVeigh clothing store, across Main Street to the east of the City Hotel. The Courier newspaper was in the same half block as the McVeigh store. The Messenger newspaper office was at the southwest corner of Main and Center streets. Map from the Steve Chou collection.

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