Men of the River, The Other Clermont County McClains



So much has been written about the McClains of Clermont County that it literally filled the book called The Washington Ancestry of the McClains, Johnsons and forty other Colonial Families.  The family of that John McClain’s , a reverend of Clermont’s Monroe County was well known by most of the area’s historians. The book, written in the 1930’s chronicles the lives and the complete family tree of this family of McClains. However, the story of Captain John McClain, who is buried in the Forest Ave cemetery in the village of Neville, would not be so easily told.


Census research shows that his story would begin with that of his father, Hugh McClain who moved with his new wife from Pennsylvania to Virginia, now West Virginia. This area was between Wheeling and Parkersburg on the Ohio River.  Hugh, who was born in Londonderry Ireland, would make the journey down the Ohio River to Washington Township in Clermont County between 1820 and 1830. Hugh McClain was a widower as listed in the 1830 census and had five younger children. In 1833, he would marry Anna Higbee Fletcher of Clermont County Ohio . His two older sons, John and Alexander would be listed as heads of their own households nearby. It is well documented that all eight of Hugh’s sons would become river men.


As reported in the Southern Ohio History of the Underground Railroad by Beverly J. Gray, the younger brother of Captain John McClain, Captain William McClain was a known conductor on the Underground Railroad ferrying people to safe houses in Sciota County along the Ohio.   It was through Rachel’s own words that we learned of her parents’ hatred for the evils of slavery.  Although there has never been a confirmation of the involvement of her grandfather, Captain John McClain, in the Underground Railroad we are still searching for evidence to corroborate what some feel to be true. As Rachel writes, “Mother often took trips with my father’s boat, then running from Pittsburg to New Orleans and many is the story she use to tell of slavery and its horrors.”  More of the McClain legacy is found here in excerpts from the autobiography of Rachel Smith Wheeler born 1852, died 1934. It was written in the late 1920’s.”One day father was invited to the home of Captain John McClain who owned several boats and had been Captain of a keel boat before steamers were invented.  Grandfather McClain has seven brother and they were all steamboat Captains, pilots or engineers, so you wonder that I am fond of the water. …..Grandfather lived in a beautiful old colonial house with an avenue of cedar trees leading to the landing. It was situated about twenty-eight miles above Cincinnati, Ohio. Here my father (Alexander Smith) met my mother (Rachel McClain, daughter of John) and fell in love with the bright witty girl, ten years his junior. They were married October 12th 1842 when Mother was twenty-one years old. They lived at her father’s house (Captain McClain’s)until they could build their house on property father (Alexander Smith) had bought ten miles above the McClain homestead.”


His wife, Isabel and his daughter, Rachel through his gravesite in the village of Neville, would remember Captain John McClain fondly. Rachel McClain would marry Alexander Smith and Smith would be chosen by Isabel to oversee the Captain’s monument.  The Smith’s Landing was a documented landing on early river charts and is signed as such on the Ohio River Pike (now U.S. Route 52’s Ohio Scenic River Byway). It is located just west of Utopia. It is through the words of the Captain’s granddaughter, Rachel Ann that we have learned the most about his life and time. It is through her recollections that we were able to estimate the location of McClain’s landing, just a few miles outside the village of Neville. The 1870 / 1891 county property maps helped to confirm it.


Both Rachel and Alexander would continue to own property less than a mile outside the village of Neville as noted in the 1891 atlas for Washington Township. The map also confirms the presence of the McClain’s school which was built along the Ohio River Pike. The school was recently raised with the building of the new water treatment plant. The 1830’s home of the Captain was recently discovered and still stands on the land once owned by the McClains. The house 2.3 miles west of Neville was vividly described by granddaughter Rachel's memoirs and that description helped lead to the discovery of this wonderful home.  All of this has just recently been uncovered thanks to the hard work of a few of the McClain family’s researchers. After they discovered Isabel’s will they learned that she would leave clear orders and funds to assure that the monument to Captain McClain would be erected on the land he owned in Neville. Despite some minor vandalism, this remembrance of the Captain and his wife would stand strong through the ages. It would be this very monument that would stir up his story once again. 


As stated in the Captain’s will, the Ohio River McClains’ were major stockholders in the Cincinnati, Maysville and Portsmouth Packet Company and were actively involved in the local river commerce for over 70 years. Although only the remnants of what once was remains on the property, the impact that John McClain’s family had on the development of this Ohio River region will continued to be measured as each of their stories are uncovered. Unfortunately, what the river once brought to this valley, the river would take away. The strength of the emerging railroads and the increased dangers of steamboat fires would have a major impact on the decline of the great riverboat saga. However, the great floods of the Ohio River in 1883 and again in 1884 would literally wipe out much of the early history of many of the small river villages. Some families would try to rebuild but in 1913 and again in 1937 the river would win again.  This is why telling the stories of pioneer river families, like the McClains is such an important part of telling Neville’s history. 


Listed below are the names of all of Hugh McClain’s children and their spouses. Thanks to the information gathered and saved by the those who treasure our history, the local historical and genealogical societies of Clermont County and the members of the McClain family we are able to include this story in Neville’s bicentennial booklet. We applaud the great, great, great, great granddaughter, Tara Musselwhite of Humble Texas, her first cousin Rachel Farley of Tacoma Washington and Donna Stinson of Los Angeles California for sharing all of this. Donna is a relative of John’s brother, Alexander McClain and the Fletcher family of Moscow. The sources for the information included were the 1810, 1820, 1830, 1860 censuses, granddaughter Rachel’s partial autobiography circa 1920, the wills of John and Isabel McClain, Clermont County atlases from 1870 and 1891 and the family bible of John McClain. Photos show the gravesite on Forest Ave in Neville and the Captain and Isabell who are buried there. You can also connect to the 1830's home built by the Captain for his wife, Isabell. The house is now owned by Bill and Mary Thompson who graciously planned an Open House for the Captain's family during the Neville Bicentennial. The Friends of Jennie Wade hope to tell more stories of Pioneer river families in the seasons to come.   

1830's Home of the Captain










Father:   Hugh McClain



    Married: October 31,1833       in Clermont Co Ohio

Spouse:         Anna Higbee Fletcher


Born:    Abt. 1765                   in: Londonderry Ireland

Died 1: Aft.  1833                   in: Clermont Co Ohio

Died 2:                                     in: Moscow Clermont Co Ohio

Father: McClain

Mother: Stuart



1               Name: John McClain

 Born: 20 Mar 1798                   in: Pennsylvania

 Died: 07 Oct. 1853                    in: Franklin Twp Clermont Co Ohio


                    Second Spouse:  Isabell Massey


                     First Spouse:  Sarah


  1.       Name: Alexander McClain

               Born: 1800                                    in: Wood Co Virginia

               Died:  1869                               in Washington Twp Clermont Co Ohio


                Spouse: Lettia Lewis

            Married:  Dec 1824                    in: Tyler Co Virginia

                Spouse: Mahala Massey


3              Name: Allen McClain

                Born: abt 1804                         in: Wood Co Virginia


4              Name: Elizabeth McClain

                 Born: 1807                                  in: Pennsylvania

                  Died:                                         in: Washington Twp Clermont Co Ohio


5.                 Name: William McClain

                Born:  1807                                    in: Virginia

                Died:   10 Sept 1867                 in: Portsmouth, Sciota Co Ohio

              Married: 09 Oct. 1831                in: Wheeling, Ohio Co Virginia

                 Spouse: Sarah Ann Thompson


6              Name: Mary McClain

                 Born: 1810                      in: Virginia

                 Died:  1848                                      in: Shawneetown, Gallatin Co Ill


           Spouse: William Fletcher 


7               Name:  Levi McClain

                   Born: Abt. 1816                       in: Virginia


8.           Name:  Jesse McClain

                    Born: 1819                               in : Virginia         

                 Died: 28 Mar 1891                  in: Washington Twp Clermont Co Ohio


           Spouse:  Eleanor Sargent