For starters, you have to know that various spellings appear for the family name, but for the sake of simplicity, I’ll go with MECONKEY, since that’s how it appears on some of the stones found at Oaklands. In the middle of the 1800’s. David Meconkey was one of the more prosperous members of West Chester society, having made his living as a real estate conveyancer. He had married the beautiful Catharine W. Jones in 1839 and they soon had two sons, Elbridge Meconkey and Richard Jones Meconkey. Catharine died in 1843 and eight years later, David married Sarah Brinton, daughter of Joseph Hill Brinton and Sibbilla Kirk.
Both David and his first wife Catherine are noted at the monument as well as having markers on the ground. Sarah, along with her mother, Sibbilla, have markers near the base of the monument, but there is another marker, completely unreadable as the top portion has crumbled away between Sarah’s marker and that of her mother. Sarah and David had no children together, Sarah’s father is buried at Birmingham-Lafayette and Elbridge is buried in Harrisburg, so the damaged stone may well belong to David’s son Richard.
There’s a hint of mystery involved with both of David’s sons. Elbridge, the older son, though possessed of a successful career and lovely family, shot himself to death in his office in May1887:
Death of Major Meconkey
A Useful Life Ended in an Unexpected Manner
Harrisburg Patriot of Tuesday.
The saddest event of recent years in this city was the death yesterday morning of Major Meconkey, by his own hand, in the office of the Pennsylvania Agricultural Society about 11 o’clock. For some time, the Major has been despondent, the result of protracted ill health, and recently evidences have disclosed the fact that his reason was unseated. But no one who knew him apprehended such an issue of his troubles and the entire community was shocked when the news of the sad occurrence spread as it did with lightning rapidity throughout the city.
Major Meconkey was in every respect one of the most estimable citizens of the Commonwealth. Endowed by nature with a wonderfully strong physical and mental system, his education added to his acquirements and marked him as a man of remarkable parts. He was born in Chester county forty-nine years ago and enjoyed all the advantages of wealth and position. He was a student of Yale College and afterwards graduated from the law school of Harvard University. At the breaking out of the war he entered the army and became an officer on the staff of General McCall who commanded the Pennsylvania Reserves. His military record is radiant with brilliant services and his civil life is marked by a devotion to every duty that devolved upon him and a faithful performance of every work.
At the close of the war, Major Meconkey, having been previously admitted to the bar of Chester County, married Miss Berghaus and located here for the practice of his profession,. Subsequently he removed to Quincy, Illinois but soon returned to Harrisburg. He served as one of the reading clerks of the House of Representatives in Congress with marked success and during the session of 1875-76 and ’83 was resident clerk of the House of Representatives of the Pennsylvania Legislature. In this important office he manifested a zeal and ability in the discharge of his duties that won the respect and the admiration of the entire state.
Since abandoning the practice of his profession Major Meconkey has devoted himself to business pursuits. He was for some years the Secretary of the Harrisburg Gas Company and the Corresponding Secretary of the Pennsylvania Agricultural Society. I the latter office he exhibited a knowledge and versatility that made him an invaluable member of the society. His work was as much a labor of love as a duty to the society, and he was early and late in the harness.
Few men were blessed with the amiable characteristics that made Major Meconkey universally popular. He had a phenomenally strong and accurate memory, and his store of reminiscences was wonderfully large and well-filled. Gifted with the faculty of entertaining narrative, he was always a genial and pleasant companion, Devoted to his friends, generous, manly and correct, his attachments were sincere, honest and constant. In the whole course of his life he never willfully wronged a man and if by inadvertence harm had come from his actions to any living being he never rested until full reparation had been made.
The deceased leaves a wife and four children, two sons and two daughters, to mourn his untimely death: The oldest of the children, John, a manly and estimable young fellow, is employed in the machine department of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company at Altoona. He arrived home last evening. The second son, Charles, is a pupil at Yale College and is expected home this evening. The daughters, accomplished young ladies are in the city. The funeral, which will be private, will occur tomorrow (Wednesday) evening at 5 o’clock.
David’s son Richard is a bit more of a mystery to solve as there is very little information about him to be found. He attended Philips Exeter Academy as a teen, where he became friends with Robert Todd Lincoln, the President’s son, and they went on to become classmates at Harvard. It is his Harvard class of 1864 Secretary’s Report, published in 1874 that tells a bit more of Richard’s story:
*RICHARD JONES MECONKEY. He remained at home on his father’s farm (West Chester, Penn.), his health slowly but gradually improving, until towards the close of the year 1872, when a change for the worse took place in his condition. It soon became manifest that he would again have to be removed to an asylum, in which he had been placed soon after leaving Cambridge in 1864. He begged to be allowed his liberty a little longer, promising not to injure himself or others. On the afternoon of February 5, 1873, however, he managed to escape from his attendant, and was soon found alone in the reservoir, into which he had thrown himself. All efforts to resuscitate him proved fruitless.
Five years earlier, David Meconkey had passed away at age 68, four years after Richard’s troubles began when he left Harvard. With Elbridge’s suicide in 1887, only Sarah remained of the original family. A little more than a year later, she was gone as well, a wealthy woman living alone in the mansion on West Chester. Said to be rather eccentric, her estate was valued at over $800,000, a sizable amount to be sure for 1888. Perhaps it is not surprising then that a would-be claimant stepped forward:
He Wants The Widow’s Estate
[by telegraph to the Herald]
West Chester, Pa, July 13, 1888 . Some time ago, Mrs. Sarah Brinley McConkey, an aged lady, died here, leaving a fortune estimated at $900,000. which she willed to her nephews. Now Emmanuel Johnson, of Meyersdale, Somerset county, Pa., lays claim to the estate, asserting that he is Mrs. McConkey’s adopted son. Today Johnson came here and was shown the will in the Register’s office. He looked it over carefully and then said:
“She left me everything. I will investigate this thing. They are trying to keep this away from me, but I’ll show them. I have served on the farm she left me in Somerset.”
“When did she leave it to you?” asked the Deputy Register.
“The very night she died. It was by secret communication.”
“Then you are a Spiritualist, are you?” asked the Deputy Register. Johnson left the office without making answer and has not been seen since.
Source: New York Herald, 7/14/1888
David’s sister Mary was my great-great-great-grandmother, and very little is known about her either, so it must go with the territory. Sigh…