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A Half Century Among the Siamese and the Lāo: An Autobiography

188 pages
Library of Alexandria
Heredity and early environment exercise such a determining influence in forming a man’s character and shaping his destiny that, without some knowledge of these as a clew, his after-life would often be unintelligible. And beyond these there is doubtless a current of events, directing the course of every man’s life, which no one else can see so clearly as the man himself. In the following review of my early life, I have confined myself, therefore, to those events which seem to have led me to my life-work, or to have prepared me for it. By race I am a Scotsman of Scotsmen. My father, Malcom McGilvary, was a Highland lad, born in the Isle of Skye, and inheriting the marked characteristics of his race. In 1789, when Malcom was eleven years old, my grandfather brought his family to the United States, and established himself in Moore County, North Carolina, on the headwaters of the Cape Fear River. The McGilvarys had but followed in the wake of an earlier immigration of Scottish Highlanders, whose descendants to this day form a large proportion of the population of Moore, Cumberland, Richmond, Robeson, and other counties of North Carolina. My father’s brothers gradually scattered, one going to the southwestern, and two to the northwestern frontier. My father, being the youngest of the family, remained with his parents on the homestead. The country was then sparsely settled; communication was slow and uncertain. The scattered members of the family gradually lost sight of one another and of the home. My mother belonged to the McIver clan—from the same region of the Scottish Highlands, and as numerous in North Carolina as the McGilvarys were scarce. She was born in this country not long after the arrival of her parents. I was born May 16th, 1828, being the youngest of seven children. As soon after my birth as my mother could endure the removal, she was taken to Fayetteville, thirty-five miles distant, to undergo a dangerous surgical operation. The journey was a trying one. Anæsthetics were as yet unknown. My poor mother did not long survive the shock. She died on the 23d of November of that year. Since feeding-bottles were not then in use, the motherless infant was passed around to the care of aunts and cousins, who had children of like age. Two aunts in particular, Catharine McIver and Margaret McNeill, and a cousin, Effie McIver, always claimed a share in me for their motherly ministrations till, at last, I could be turned over to my sister Mary. She, though but six years my senior, was old beyond her years; and the motherly care with which she watched over her little charge was long remembered and spoken of in the family.