John Mc Donald


John Mc Donald probably was born sometime after 1750. Because so many same-named individuals were alive at the time in greater Albany, we must be extremely cautious with the assignment of qualitative information to this Presbyterian minister's biography.

IN March 1779, the first ward assessment roll valued the real property of John Mc Donald Sr. and the personal property of John Mc Donald in the part of the city above the settled area.

In 1788, the assessment roll taxed his personal property as he was living in a second ward house. Two years later, the household of John Mc Donald was configured on the Watervliet census. In 1799, a John Mc Donald owned a modestly valued house and lot in the first ward. By 1810, the households of two John Mc Donalds were enumerated in the Albany census.

He was ordained in November 1785 and licensed by the "church of Scotland." At that time, he seems to have begun his tenure as minister of the Albany Presbyterian church although his first official communion was in April 1787 for more than a hundred communicants. During his tenure, church membership increased to the point that a new brick building was needed. However, it opened in 1796 after Mc Donald had moved on.

In 1791, he was one of the origional trustees of the Albany library. At various times, the scholarly and studious Mc Donald served as a private tutor and teacher. Over the years, he was a trustee and director of a number of Albany-based organizations and also of the State Board of Regents.

John Mc Donald served at First Presbyterian until 1795. Reportedly in serious debt, he was forced from his Albany pulpit and for a time incarcerated in the Otsego County jail. Apparently, his troubles in Cooperstown were not entirely economic.

Perhaps he was the John Mc Donald who first published the short-lived Albany Chronicle in 1796. In November, the Albany paper reported that "The house of John McDonald, printer and bookseller in State street, took fire and was burnt to the ground, by which he lost a complete set of printing materials, two presses, a large quantity of paper, and books, bound and in sheets."

In 1801, he had been called and became the first minister of the United Presbyterian Church that first met in members homes and other buildings and then at the meeting house stood on the corner of Fox and Chapel Streets. He preached there until he retired in 1819.

In 1808 he was among those whose names appeared on a list of those invited to the funeral of Henry J. Bleecker.

Beginning in 1813, the house of John Mc Donald, the "pastor of the United Presbyterian Church," was listed in the directory at 41 North Pearl Street.

In November 1816, he was appointed one of four chaplains of the New York State legislature.

Over a career that spanned four decades, a number of his sermons and translations were published by Albany's printers - many of whom were his parishioners. The Albany Presbyterian history called him "a man of great power and popularity, and lived and died with the esteem and affection of a large circle of friends."

The Reverend John Mc Donald died at his residence at 41 North Pearl Street on September 1, 1821. His will passed probate in December.

biography in-progress


the people of colonial Albany Sources: The life of John Mc Donald has not been assigned a CAP biography number. This sketch is derived chiefly from family and community-based resources. We are somewhat puzzled by the apparent paucity of information on his background, training, and family life.

Alan Taylor's award-winning William Cooper's Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic devotes considerable energy to Mc Donald's exploits but in a context largely beyond the scope of our concern.

Online genealogical information.

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first posted: 7/10/09