Judge John McCunn of Burnally, Limavady

Judge John H. McCunn (November 2, 1820 – July 6, 1872) was born Burnally, Myroe, Limavady on 2nd November 1820 son of William McCunn and Martha [Matty] McKinley.

Tamlaght Finlagan (Ballykelly) Church of Ireland baptismal register gives his birth details as follows - 1820 - Nov 2nd John son of Wm & Martha McCunn, Burnally [page 97].

McCunn said he walked into New York in a red flannel shirt and canvas trousers and eventually walked out as a Judge of the Central Criminal Court. He amassed a fortune and bought the large farm at Farmhill, Coleraine, which passed to his brothers and later to the Bullick family. McCunn presented in 1857 two magnificent silver tea services for competition at Keenaught Farming Society's ploughing match (Derry Sentinel 3 July 1857). He died in New York on 6th July 1872 shortly after having been impeached in a political scandal.

He was a self-made man, his life being a somewhat remarkable one. When a child he conceived a fondness for a sailor's life, and at a very early age shipped on board the ship Ironsides, and landed in New-York in 1841, at the age of sixteen years, without money or friends. He could find nothing to do in this City, so proceeded to Philadelphia, and entered himself as an apprentice to the cabinet-making trade. A few years after he came back to New-York, and worked at the business he had partly learned. It did not suit his restless disposition, and as he aimed at something higher, he determined to become a lawyer. He accordingly called upon Mr Charles O'Conor, at that time a member of the firm of Boardman & Benedict, and stated the object of his visit. Mr O'Conor, being impressed by the young man, gave him a situation as a messenger in his office, and afterward took an interest in his advancement.

Having picked up a slight knowledge of law in Mr. O'Conor's office he was admitted to practice at the New-York Bar at the age of twenty-one. When about twenty-three years of age he formed a co-partnership with Mr. James Moncrief, which partnership continued for several years to the satisfaction of both parties, the business of the firm being principally confined to matters connected with commercial and real estate transactions. Mr McCunn about this time became interested in politics, on the Democratic side, with the object of securing the position of Superior Court Judge. The chances of his nomination appearing doubtful, he threw the weight of his influence in favour of his partner, Mr Moncrief, who received the nomination, and was elected. Mr. McCunn then organized a new firm under the title of McCunn, Swartout & Fine, and attached himself to the Tammany Hall party, which subsequently gave him the nomination for City Judge, and he was elected to that office in 1860. He held the position for three years. He was nominated by Tammany Hall in 1863 for Judge of the Superior Court, and was elected, taking his seat Jan. 1, 1864. He was re-elected in 1870. He was a member of the infamous Tweed Ring, which he aided by naturalising new citizens to boost his election rolls. On one day alone, he naturalised over 2,000 new voters. However, when the scandal was uncovered, he was impeached and removed from office (Source New York Times 7th July 1872).

His grandparents are buried Walworth Old Graveyard
McCUNN: Here lieth the body of Elizabeth McCunn who departed this life March 6th 1779 aged 42. Also the body of William McCunn her husband who departed this life June 25th 1796 aged 65 years.



  1. Judge McCunn was a 1st cousin of my great great great grandmother, Jane (McCunn) Ray (1805-1888) who was born in Faughanvale parish and died in Indiana County, Pennsylvania. (Jane's daughter, Eliza Jane Ray 1836-1916) married my great great grandfather John Cochran in Indiana County, Pennsylvania in 1860). Since the Judge had no children, the probate of his considerable estate was lengthy and complicated. Several years ago I visited New York and viewed the Judge's probate papers. I was astounded that so many depositions were taken down -- one of them involved establishing that the Judge's brother (whose children stood to inherit part of the fortune), Mark McCunn. One John McDermott, b. 1799, was questioned by the lawyers:

    Q: Did you ever meet Mark McCunn?

    A: Yes Sir.

    Q: Did you ever meet his family or see his wife?

    A: I never saw her in this country. I saw her when she was a child before she left Ireland when she was about seven or eight years of age.

    Q: You knew his wife in Ireland?

    A: I knew her when she left Ireland as a child. He told me that he was married to the same person.

    Q: When did she leave Ireland?

    A: She left Ireland, I suppose as near as I can tell, about 50 years ago [1822].

    Q: What was her name before marriage?

    A: Her maiden name was Martha Simpson.

    Q: Was she single or married before she left?

    A: She was a little girl, perhaps seven or eight years or nine years old as near as I can recollect.

    Q: Did Mark tell you whom he married?

    A: Yes Sir, he told me whom he married, and his father told me whom he married, too.

    Q: Did they tell you where?

    A: Yes Sir, they told me where they had married.

    Q: Where?

    A: Out in Indiana County, Penn.

    Never overlook the nuggets hidden in a juicy court case transcript!

    Richard M. Cochran
    Big Rapids, Michigan


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Hearth Money Rolls 1660s

The Siege of Derry 1688-1689

Limavady street names from the past