Vol. V, No. 4, Spring 1992

The MacGiolla Dhomhnaighs, or MacGillewneys, or Looneys of The Missouri-Arkansas Border

By Donald R. Holliday

Author's note: Most of the information contained in this sketch was gathered over a fifty-year period by Miss Mary Elizabeth Looney of Washington, D.C. Most of the remainder was collected by Christine Moyer Lacey.

The author. Head of the English Department at Southwest Missouri State University, shares Looney heritage with other members of the SMSU family--Dr. Marvin Looney, Vice President for the West Plains Campus; Wilda Looney. Director of Housing; and Mary Looney. with the Department of Management.

My m other's mother's family were Looneys, people -- especially the women -- with a long collective memory and given to peering into their own past. But I grew up a Holliday, a species cultivated only by transplant among rocks. Although also of the Missouri-Arkansas border, Hollidays bear only a vague genetic sense of Pennsylvania yankee stock. My poor mother, grafted upon such an aloof species, was cut from stock flourishing through both aerial and adventitious roots. A Holliday, I'm awed, and a little abashed, at this discovery of my other family--the Looneys.

In the newsletter of the North American Manx Association (spring, 1974), Ed Sayle wrote:

Little did Robert Looney, a Manx farmer from Balla-gilley, Maughold [town and county in the Isle of Man], realize when he arrived in the New World about 1731, that he and his descendants would be recorded in the annals of their new land as frontiers-men and patriots.

It is unlikely too that the Looney descendants who were born at or near Elm Store or Pocahontas in Randolph County, Arkansas, or who have spread from that central settlement across northern Arkan sas and southern Missouri and beyond, know the distinguished past of their family. From Robert the Manx Friend (Quaker) to the present, the family is a sampler of American tradition.

The name itself has passed through many forms. According to genealogist David Craine, it is an ancient name in the Isle of Man (thus Manxman or Mansker) and "comes from MacGillowney, the Manx form of the early Gaelic name MacGiolla Dhomhnaigh .... [which was] worn down to MacGillowney, and then to Lowney, Lewney, and Looney." A common torm of the name in American records is Luna.

Craine also reports that in A.D. 1030, "Gilchrist O'Lunigh was Lord of the Conel Moen" in the Isle of Man, and Looney descendant Elsie Stroud cites the name in tax rolls of the Isle of Man in 1050. Craine further reports that "In early times [the name] was found in the Parish of Lonan, and in 1500 a Patrick MacGillony or MacGillewney owned land in a part of the Parish called Amogary," land that was "long known as Ballalooney or Ballalewney" [balla means village]. Craine also says that Patrick was "at the time the only Looney or Lewney owning land in Isle of Man. In 1650, the then Looney owner appears to have sold [the land]."

On the main island of Ireland, in Counties Cork and Clare, the name O'Looney came from the ancient name Loinsighes, meaning mariner: the family was part of the tribe Dal Cais which was founded by Conan Cas, seventh generation in the line of Milesius, King of Spain. The main-island O'Looneys were "chiefs of Muinter Loney, a district known as the Monter Loney Mountains of Tyrone." Miss Mary Elizabeth Looney adds, "One tradition is that we descended from the Kings of Munster or else some of the Looney's did."

During or near 1731, the first forebear of the Missouri-Arkansas border Looneys immigrated to the British colony of Pennsylvania with his wife and seven sons, entering through the port of Philadelphia. Their eighth son was born in 1734; six more sons and probably one daughter would follow. In 1732, Robert settled on a patent of 294 acres on the Cohongoronta River near present Hagerstown, Maryland (Sayre, NAMA). He maintained possession of that original patent until 1766 when, through power of attorney, he sold the land.


In 1739-40, Robert Looney joined some seventy other families of Friends in moving southward through the Shenandoah Valley to settle a 100,000 acre grant of land on the Opeckan River. Robert settled a tract of 250 acres of land on the James River in what was to become part of Augusta County, and later Botetourt County. He donated lands for the county seat and became an influential man in colonial politics. In 1742 he acquired three grants of approximately 1000 acres of land. Sayre says he became "one of the most prosperous farmers in the area, with his own mill, orchards, nursery, cattle and horses and even operated a ferry across .... Looney's Mill Creek." Goodrich Wilson writes in The Roanoke Times that they had a blacksmith shop and, because of the strategic location of their property where James River flowed around the base of the Purgatory Mountain spur of the Alleghenies and the base of the Blue Ridge, their home became, sort of tavern and trading center .... In 1745, John Buchanan was entertained at Looney's both going and coming on his visits to the New River Settlements. In 1753, the Moravian Fathers, on their way to start their settlements around what is now Winston-Salem, stopped at Looney's to have their wagons mended, their horses shod, their food supplies replenished, and....a large batch of bread baked to their order. In 1756, George Washington crossed the river by their ferry on his way to inspect frontier forts, and the year before the Revolution, Hugh McAden stopped there while he watched the Looneys build a stockade fort for defense against the Indians.

Robert's will, dated September 14th, 1769, was recorded in Botetourt County; it was probated November 13th, 1770.

When war with the French and Indians broke out, Robert, Jr., was among the first to be killed in southwest Virginia: Sunday 15, 1756. James Burke brought word that Robert Looney was killed and that he had himself one horse shot and five taken away by the Shawnee Indians.

Goodrich Wilson also reports that "Peter, another son [the first born in the colonies], a sergeant at Fort Vause, was captured when the fort fell, and was carried off by the Indians. The winter passed; summer came to the Valley. Peter came back from .... as far north as Detroit." Ed Sayle captures the heart of the family's early American military history:

A third son, Samuel, was killed by Indians in 1760, and the home of a daughter, Lucy Jane, was raided and looted by Indians. Robert Looney, mindful of his responsibilities to his family and followers, erected a fort, Fort Looney, one of the fortifications recorded as resisting the Indian and French depredations until the end of the war in 1763 .... But the end of the Indian Wars was not to spare the Looney family. During the American Revolution, two of Robert Looney's sons, Absolem and David were to see duty--Absolem in patriotic service in support of the military forces under General Washington, and David as a Major in the North Carolina Militia. And three of Absolem's sons, like the offspring of his brothers, were to serve in the Virginia Militia, with one dying of gunshot wounds in both legs after his role in the American victory at the Battle of King's Mountain in North Carolina.

William Clinton Looney and Caldonia Adliza Simmons Looney outside their smoke house at the Elm Store, Arkansas store and post office.


Another son, Captain Joseph, was at Yorktown for the British surrender.

Absalom, fifth son of Robert and Elizabeth, born about 1729 in the Isle of Man, discovered in 1770 what is yet called Abb's Valley while on a hunting and scouting expedition in southwest Virginia, in what is now Tazewell County. Mary Elizabeth Looney notes that "Absolem...led his family and some followers and founded a settlement at least four years before that noted frontier explorer, Daniel Boone, arrived in the same area to build a fort only six miles from Absolem's homestead." Ab, Captain James Moore and his family, and Robert Poage and his family settled in the valley, but during the early part of the Revolution, with Indian attacks continuing and the militia called to the Continental Army, the Poages abandoned the valley; Ab and his family, at his father's insistance, returned to Fort Looney; and the Shawnee raided the valley and killed or carried off the remaining Moore family. The State Historical Society of Virginia has erected a bronze tablet in memory of the tragedy and to mark the location of Abb's Valley. It is on Route 85, five miles southwest of Pocahontas, Virginia.

During the Revolution, Absalom furnished beef for the Continental Army and served in his brother Joseph's company. After the Revolution, he returned to his valley and prospered. He and his wife, Margaret, had twelve children, five sons and seven daughters. He is reported by Elizabeth Looney to have been killed by Indians while going to the well to draw a bucket of water. Ed Sayle places his death at Dunkard's Spring, Virginia. In his will, dated September 28, 1791 and probated at the June 1796 County Court, Absalom left five shillings each to eleven children and the remainder of his estate to his youngest, Benjamin.

In addition to killing or being killed by Indians, some Looney's also married them. Mary Elizabeth Looney reports at least three such marriages, two in the Robert, Jr. line. The third "married a niece of Enoli, Black Fox, chief of the Cherokees. This Enoli lived and died in Alabama. John [son of niece of Enoli and a Looney?] became a Chief and died here in Washington while in D.C. to sign a treaty with the government. He is buried in Congressional Cemetery.'' She goes on to say, "Samuel Looney of Robert, Jr. is said to have married a grandchild of Pocahontas, but we have never, never, never been able to prove this."

Ab's son Michael moved west to Hawkins County, Tennessee, where he and his wife, Temperence Cross, had ten children between 1781 and 1799 and "where the 1,500 acre farm he acquired at a half-shilling an acre is still held by his heirs." Michael and Tempy's youngest son, John, inherited the home place. A family list compiled in 1905 from cemetary records shows that "[John] and wife, Elizabeth Johnson, are buried in the old Looney graveyard there on the south side of Michael. There are about 120 graves and a row of slaves." Two of Michael and Tempy's grandchildren served in Alabama and Tennessee legislatures. One great-grandchild (son of granddaughter Sally whose parents were Michael and Tempy's second child, Margaret, and Dangerfield Rice) served four terms as governor of Georgia, then was elected to the U.S. Senate. Rachael, eighth child of Michael and Tempy, was in Polk County according to the 1840 census and Dallas County, Missouri according to the 1850 and 1860 censuses. The third child, William, moved to Arkansas in 1802.

Lawrence Dalton writes that William Looney settled the site of Elm Store, Arkansas, near Pocahontas, the first white man to settle on the Eleven Points, as he came here as early as 1802, and entered !,500 acres of land. He brought three negroes with him, and for a number of years was obliged to go to Cape Girardeau, Missouri, 135 miles distant, and be gone for about two weeks, to buy groceries and other necessary articles. Their meat was .... bears, deer, turkeys, etc'. He could not raise hogs on account of bears. Very little farming was done in those days, as from six to ten acres was considered a good crop, and the horses and cattle lived on the cane. A number of years elapsed before there were any settlers besides himself and two brothers named Stubblefield, on this stream, and it was fifteen to twenty miles to the nearest neighbor. He had afl'ne orchard, and made brandy in great quantities, about 1,500 gallons per year.

He married Rhoda Stubblefield, and they had ten children. William, "being an educated man, taught his children at home and thus they became fairly educated." His will is dated March 10th, 1846 and "proved" April 25, 1846. Rhoda died a year later, on April 18, 1847.


Since I wrote this essay, another Southwest Missouri branch of the Looney family has been discovered, without anyone's knowing it had been lost. Evidence points to this branch's being descended from Absalom, son of Robert and Elizabeth the Manskers and founder of Ab's Valley in Botetourt County, Virginia. With Miss Mary Elizabeth Looney's assistance, Judith McClung Richardson, Evelyn Looney, and Berrie Hickman have compiled and written The History of The Looney Family of Greene County, Missouri, containing an excellent biography of John Looney, Sr., a fine collection of photographs, and valuable incidental information pertinent to early Missouri history, western settlement, and the Civil War.

Of this Looney branch, much could be written. However, space and publishing time permit only a few points and anecdotes.

John Looney, Sr., born September 10, 1774 in Botetourt or Washington County, Virginia to Benjamin and Mary Johnson Looney and reared in Hawkins County, Tennessee where his parents moved in 1782, settled in 1832 between Willard and Cave Springs, Missouri, paying $200 for 160 acres of land under the preemption act of 1820. His prosperity is marked by his holding ten slaves, five of whom were male, and his burial in an underground crypt constructed of imported stone, with headstone and footstone extending from the bottom of the grave to above ground. After his death in 1839, his personal property--grain, livestock, tools--sold at auction for $1,052 and his slaves for $4,696. John's estate was administered by his son Isaac, who with two of his brothers had followed their father from Monroe County, Missouri to settle just east of Walnut Grove, Missouri in 1832 and 1833.

During late winter and spring of 1862, while serving with the Confederate Fifth Missouri Infantry, Company D, one of John's grandsons, William D. Ruyle, wrote a journal in which he records the days leading up to a battle at Corinth, Mississippi and several days following. His cousins Isaac, Jr. and David R. were in the same company. Beginning a retreat on March 4th from Corinth (where cousin Isaac was shot) with three days' rations the company marched through cold winter rains and snow and waded the White River and War Eagle several times, fought the Battle of Elk Horn Tavem, and continued their march to near Van Buren, Arkansas, where they found their first real provisions in thirteen days, and where Isaac died of his wounds and deprivation.

Arthur Looney, grandson of John Looney and eighth child of Isaac and Sarah Matthews Looney, in 1853 at age 15 accompanied a company of men from Greene and Polk Counties through the gold rush of the Wichita Mountains. They found no gold; Arthur's most abiding memory of the events was the death of William Killingsworth who stood up to go stand his turn at watching the livestock; when he pulled his rifle after him by the muzzle, the lock caught on a quilt, the rifle discharged, and William was killed.

One of John's great-granddaughters (via Isaac and Benjamin) Ida Belle married John E. Fite and moved to Idaho. After a visit in 1909 by Ida's sister Mary and brother Jake (Thomas J. ?), John Fite wrote back to Ida's brother John Murphy Looney:

Well Jake and wife came out here last summer...but did not stay long. His wife was very much dissatisfied. It seames that she did not like the country ore the people and I pity the one that liked her. She is so blame ugly she makes the cold chilles run up a fellows back every time he looks at her! Poor Jake. I feel sory for him.

John Murphy and Nora Robinson Looney's two oldest daughters, Amy, born in 1906, and Henrietta, born in 1909, became musicians and teachers. Amy received a master of arts degree in music from Northwestern University and taught vocal music in Springfield public schools and at Southwest Missouri State University. Henrietta became a teacher of both vocal music and piano. She served as pianist for many years for both the First Baptist Church of Springfield and the Jewish Temple---demonstrating no less religious tolerance than had Robert Looney, that old Quaker from the Isle of Man.



Nine of William and Rhoda's ten children married and had children. Families in north Arkansas and south Missouri connected to the Looneys through these marriages are Pittman, Wells, Stubblefield, Ferrell, Fine, White, Garrett, Canard (or Cinard or Kinknard), Bailey, and Davis, names common throughout the Missouri-Arkansas Ozarks.

The fortunes of their children varied. William Stubblefield (W.S.), Epps, and Michael apparently did better than the rest. W.S., who along with most members of the family continued to farm, evidently prospered as had his fathers in Arkansas, Tennessee, and Virginia. He left to his widow his "two horse wagon, also four negroes to-wit: Hyram, aged about forty seven years, a girl called Temmer, aged seventeen years, and her child now an infant, Mary Elizabeth, and a woman called Charity, aged about sixty years...and his "homestead place, known as the William Looney Old Farm and Homestead" (presumably his father's). To his only son, Erasmus D., he left "two feather beds and clothing to furnish them, one bedstead and one large ox wagon and my library" as well as "all my real estate except my homestead" and "three negroes to-wit: Frank aged about twenty eight years, Jane aged about thirty years and Issac aged about thirteen years." W.S.'s will is dated and signed two years, three months, and nineteen days after The Emancipation Proclamation was signed.

Michael, listed in the 1860 census as a merchant, evidently also prospered. On New Year Day, 1855, he sold to W.S. Looney a thirty-nine year old male slave for $1,000 (the same slave W.S. left to his wife in 1865) and a twenty-three year old female slave and one girl aged five, one boy aged about five, and one boy aged two for $2,000. Although he died intestate "on or about the 24 day of February, 1858," W.S. Looney as principal and Solomon Davis and Absalom Looney as sureties bonded themselves for $7,000 "for making inventory, paying debts, and making settlement of the estate."

Randolph County Record of Deeds through book five in 1858 show brother Epps Looney's occasional acquisition of property, such as 888.63 acres in Randolph and Clay Counties in March, 1857. Those records show brother W.S.'s constant acquisition of property and brother Absalom's constant sale or loss of it.

To William and Rhoda Stubblefield Looney's nine married children, numerous children were born, and to their children, and to their children. If Robert the Manxman little knew that his descendants would be recorded as frontiersmen and patriots, even less could he have known that they would be recorded, and recorded, and recorded--as one line descended from William and Rhoda will illustrate. One of William and Rhoda's children, Michael, married first Nancy Canard; they had two children--William Clinton and Alexander Hamilton (Bud). Widowed, Michael married Artie Bailey; they had five children--John C., Arlena, Laura, Jack, and Ky. Michael and Nancy's son William Clinton married Caldonia Adliza Simmons. They had eight children--Robert, Carli (Carley), Mima, Charley Clinton, Laura, Virginia, Ella, and Elgan. Of that generation, Mima married Charles Naylor Drane. To that union were born nine children, who had thirty-seven children, who have sixty-eight (give or take one or two) children.

If the children of Robert the Manx Friend exercised their liberty to multiply and people the continent, so did they exercise their freedom to believe. Robert's Quaker heritage was either lost or cast aside somewhere between Virginia and Arkansas, if William's bringing slaves to Arkansas or his annual production of 1500 gallons of brandy per year in Arkansas is any indication. From Tennessee to Arkansas and Missouri, the Looneys have belonged to religious orders almost without generational pat-tern--Baptist, Freewill Baptist, World Wide Church of God, Methodist, Presbyterian, Church of God in Prophecy, Southern Baptist.

The Looneys have continued also to give men in defense of their country. Of the descendants of William Clinton and Caldonia Adliza Simmons Looney, almost every male has served at least one term in some branch of the American military. The last who fell, a great-, great-, great-, great-, great-, great-grandson of Robert the Manxman, was Jerry Wayne Looney, a native of Hanford, California, who according to the Department of Defense died in action, June 11, 1966, in South Viet Nam. He was survived by, among others, one brother, U. S. Army, Fort Ord.


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