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Agatha (McDowell) Birney (1798-1839)
Daughter of Judge William and Margaretta (Madison) McDowell of Kentucky.
  • by Marvin Kusmierz (March 2003)
  • Born: 1798 - Bowling Green, Warren Co., KY.
  • Died: 1838 - Mercer Co., KY
  • Buried: Unknown
  • Spouse: James G. Birney, married 01 Feb 1816 in KY.

    Unfortunately, there is not much that can be found on the background of Agatha -- she grew up during times when it was rare for historians to acknowledge the contributions of women. It was a time when women were delegated to supporting role for men -- thankfully, we know better today! Women have always been a force of progress. It would be hard to imagine we could have gotten without their quiet but gentle push in the right direction.

    While I have attempted to put flesh to Agatha's life through research -- I have not been successful. Even, the one source (shown below) only makes mention of her, "Agatha is the fourth daughter of" then moves on to identify the men of relevancy during her life.

    Even her burial place remains a mystery. She died in 1838 and that year accounts have her living with James in New York -- it may there or her birthplace of Danville, KY. What is known is that she had ten children during the thirty-three years of her marriage with James. She appears to have had: three sisters - Lucinda, Mary and Eliza; two brothers - Samuel and William. Another sibling is listed, but without a given name.

    Agatha must have been very proud mother for many of her children went on to become outstanding public individuals. James, the first child, became a senator and lieutenant governor in Michigan. Two sons, William and David, were generals -- son Dion a major and a grandson, James G. a captain. All serve in the Union army during the Civil War.

    Agatha, the fourth daughter of Judge McDonnell (William McDowell), married James G. Birney, the abolition candidate for president in 1844. Mr. Birney's father, James Birney, was a native of Ireland, who had settled at an early day on a farm near Danville, and whose wife was one of the daughters of John Reed, also an Irishman, who had emigrated to Virginia about the middle of the eighteenth century, and was one of the pioneers of Lincoln county, where he built his fort, in 1779.

    Many men of distinguished talents trace their ancestory to this John Reed and Lettice Wilcox, his wife. His youngest son, Thomas B. Reed, was the eloquent United States senator from Mississippi. The late Wm. D. Reed, Judge John Green, Rev. Dr. Lewis Warner Green, Willis G. Hughes, and James Gillespie Birney, were among his grandsons. The wives of Major James Barbour, of Dr. William Craig, of Dr. Ben Edwards, of Judge Cyrus Edwards, of Judge Paul Booker, of Sidney Clay, were among his granddaughters. Revs. Joshua F. and William L. Green, James and Rev. Lewis G. Barbour, Rev. Dr Willis G. Craig, Dr. Willis G. Edwards, of St. Louis, and General Humphrey Marshall, were among his great-grandsons.

    The history of James Gillespie Birney is that of Kentucky, the South, and of the country. His son, General William M. Birney, is engaged upon work which will present the details of his life, and which it is unnecessary to anticipate. His oldest son by Agatha McDowell, James G. Birney, an intellectual and cultivated man, an able and learned lawyer, won distinction and wealth at the bar in Michigan, was lieutenant- governor of that state, and was the accomplished Minister of the United States at The Hague. In the war he was a colonel, and did good service. The second son, William M. Birney, an elegant scholar, was for some years professor of English literature in the University of Paris, France; returning to this country, engaged in a successful practice of the law in Cincinnati and Philadelphia; was all through the war as a colonel and brigadier in the Federal army; and now, in the afternoon of his life, enjoys a lucrative practice at the bar of Washington City; one of his daughters has been successful in literature. The third son of James G. and Agatha Birney was the handsome and chivalric David Bell Birney, talented as a lawyer, and succesful in business in Philadelphia; as colonel of a Pennsylvania regiment, he was one of the most daring fighters under the gallant Phil. Kearney, was promoted to the rank of general for distinguished gallantry in the field, and died from exposure, in 1864.

  • Source (reprint): HISTORY OF KENTUCKY, by Lewis Collins, and J.A. & U.P. James, published 1847.
  • Birney Family Menu

    Agatha McDowell Birney
    Photo donated by Cynthia Jones

    Family Genealogy
    Family Pictorial
    1893 KY Newspaper Articles
    * {1948 Saginaw News (pdf)}
    First family:
    Agatha (McDowell), spouse
    James Birney, 1st child
    William Birney, 2nd child
    David Bell Birney, 5th child
    James G. Birney IV, grandson
    Second family:
    Elizabeth (Fitzhugh), spouse
    Fitzhugh Birney, 1st child
    Names Referenced
    Barbour, James (Major)
    Barbour, Lewis (Rev.)
    Booker, Paul (Judge)
    Birney, David
    Birney, Dion
    Birney, James
    Birney, James G.(Lt.)
    Birney, James G.(g-son)
    Birney, William M.(Gen.)
    Clay, Sidney
    Collins, Lewis
    Craig, William (Dr.)
    Craig, Willis G. (Rev./Dr.)
    Edwards, Ben (Dr.)
    Edwards, Cyrus (Judge)
    Edwards, Willis G.(Dr.)
    Green, Joshus F. (Rev.)
    Green, Lewis W.(Dr.)
    Green, William L. (Rev.)
    Hughes, Willis G.
    Kearney, Phil.
    Marshall, Humphrey (Gen.)
    McDowell, Eliza
    McDowell, LUcinda
    McDowell, Mary
    McDowell, Samuel
    McDowell, William (Judge)
    Reed, John
    Reed, Thomas B.(Senator)
    Reed, William D.
    Wilcox, Lettice
    Subjects Referenced
    Civil War
    Cincinnati, OH
    Danville, KY
    Ireland
    Lincoln Co., KY
    Mercer Co., KY
    Michigan
    Mississippi
    New York
    Philadelphia, PA
    St. Louis
    Union Army
    Univ. of Paris
    Virginia
    Washington City

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