Remembering Hugh O’Barr’s legacy

By Roger Stanley
Posted 12/2/19

Michael O’Barr was born in County Cork, Ireland, came to America around 1770 and lived in North Carolina. He had three sons, all of whom fought in the American Revolution, and his youngest son, …

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Remembering Hugh O’Barr’s legacy


Michael O’Barr was born in County Cork, Ireland, came to America around 1770 and lived in North Carolina. He had three sons, all of whom fought in the American Revolution, and his youngest son, Hugh O’Barr, enlisted in 1780.

Hugh O’Barr was born in Ireland in 1758 and when he joined the Army his last name was changed to Barr. He first was a drummer under Captain William Dix but found that not of his liking and was allowed to turn in his drum for a musket and became a private.

He eventually fought under the leadership of General Gates in the battle of Camden, S.C. While serving his country, Hugh Barr was known for his wrestling ability by the Virginia and North Carolina troops. Later he fought under General Green at the battle of Guilford Court House in North Carolina and at one point he was taken prisoner, but the details of that adventure are unknown.

When Cornwallis surrendered, he was serving under Colonel Kidd and driving cattle for the Army. Barr was finally discharged Oct. 30, 1781, and moved to the home of his uncle in Pennsylvania where he lived for five years.

He married Priscilla James, who was born in Wales in 1783, and moved to Kentucky where they had six children. Barr’s son Robert moved to Indiana, but the Indian problems sent them packing to return to Kentucky.

Robert Barr returned to Indiana in 1811 along with his brother, Michael, and his parents. Hugh Barr was now in Indiana Territory in the early 1800s and where he lived became Barr Township, in Davies County. The Barr Township name came about to honor him for being a Revolutionary soldier.

Hugh Barr’s youngest son Michael Barr moved to Big Creek, in Edgar County in 1829 and finally convinced his father, after Priscilla Barr’s death in 1832, to join him.

Hugh O’Barr (Barr) died on April 24, 1842, and is buried in Barr-Johnson Cemetery. The Johnson name comes from the wife of Michael Barr, who was Nancy Jane Johnson. They parented 17 children in 27 years.

Michael Barr’s son, Hugh, was born in 1837 and married Matilda Fleming. They had a daughter born in 1866 by the name of Hannah.

Tragedy struck the family when 17-year-old Hannah married John “Peachy” Swiger. She did not come home from visiting her father’s home after leaving the house at 4 p.m. The search began and lasted all that night until her little brother found her the next morning. It was not along the road that stretched from her house to her father’s house, but along a small streambed.

The coroner ruled she had not fallen and hit her head or had drowned, but that she was strangled and dragged to the hiding place. Her husband was accused of the crime.

claimed Peachy Swiger was still jealous of another suitor, Jack Reed, who had just left the county. Swiger was sentenced to prison for many years.

Hannah Barr is buried close to her grandfather’s gravesite in Barr-Johnson Cemetery with her married name withheld. This took place in February 1883 when she had only been married for five months, and it was believed she had no known enemies.

So many stories could be told about the names and dates we find on those old markers in the 171 cemeteries of Edgar County. Many of the answers can be found at the Edgar County Genealogical Library, which helped with this story.

The Daughters of the American Revolution marked Hugh Barr’s grave Nov. 10, 1957, as the burial site of one of the Revolutionary soldiers buried in Edgar County. The ladies of the DAR committee who presented the marker that day were Mrs. Cliff Winans, Mrs. L. A. Obannin, Mrs. Frank Fishback, Mrs. William Rittenhouse and Martha Logan.

Patti McHenry of Edgar County helped with information about the Barr family. She became a DAR member through her Barr lineage. Monica Brunelle also helped with information, and a special thanks goes to Betty Burgess Brooks Swanson for suggesting this story.