The Tracy Family History
Cyrus McCormick


Cyrus McCormick
(An old 1849 daguerreotype
when he was around 40 years old.)


    I am pretty sure our families are intermarried. Because...

    He is born in Rockbridge County, Virginia, in 1809. His family goes back in the area to the colonial times. They were Scotch-Irish, strict Presbyterians, and the grandfather fought in the Revolutionary War-- I assume in the Rockbridge militia.    
    Also, there are McCormick’s buried in the old McDowell cemetery at Fairfield. (This is the cemetery I have written about previously, chapter 36.)



This is the famous (first issued about 1883) lithograph that depicts
Cyrus McCormick’s first public reaper test, near Steels Tavern, Virginia, 1831.

    However, Ruth Petracek tells us that “family tradition says the first test (not public) of the reaper was done on the Wallace-Ruff Farm.” (Martha Wallace married Judge John Ruff. This is the farm of the ancestry of “Big Foot Wallace," chapter 58.)
    The very young Cyrus McCormick has a mentor, our Colonel James McDowell, who encourages the young man’s dreams, finances his invention, and even buys his first reaper... which didn’t work.
    Incredibly, the 22-year-old invents, builds, and tests his reaper in a period of just six weeks. But that is not what is incredible. The reaper, with almost all of its technology, had previously been invented by others in Europe. So remote was   Rockbridge County from the rest of the world that Cyrus McCormick had no knowledge of what others had done before, and worked from scratch. The difference is that McCormick took out the patent.
    Anyone want to do some genealogical research and see if you can find the connection? It might be tough. The Wisconsin Historical Society, in Madison, holds the family tree records. They provided me with his immediate descendants, but they only go back to the1850's. So if there is a connection you will have to go further back.
    If you are successful in finding a connection and tying the family into our illustrious line... then you might get a discount on a harvester.
    You should be able to find books in the library on this man.

Cyrus McCormick Farm Museum, McCormick’s Farm Circle, Steels Tavern, Virginia.
A few miles north of Lexington, VA.
Open daily 8:30 am - 5:00 pm
free admission
Directions: From Lexington take US 11 North to State Route 606
to Interstate 81 to Exit 205

Shenandoah Valley Agricultural Research and Extension Center  
128  McCormick Farm Road, Walnut Grove
Center Office: (540) 377-2255

UPDATED, September 2007, from Eric Ruff, Gainesville, FL –
    “Martha (Wallace) married John Milschleggel Ruff who was Chief Judge of Rockbridge County. Judge Ruff is probably most famous for hindering the development of the McCormick Reaper. Just like our family to stand in the way of progress!”
    “Rev. Thomas B. Ruff’s genealogical study reports ‘It was on his [Judge Ruff’s] land his not too distant relative tried out his new reaper. It was not perfected then and much grain was knocked down. So he forbad Cyrus McCormick to continue his efforts.”’

The Encyclopedia Britannica, computer version, states:
“In 1831 Cyrus, age 22, tried his hand at building a reaper. Resembling a two-wheeled, horse-drawn chariot, the machine consisted of a vibrating cutting blade, a reel to bring the grain within its reach, and a platform to receive the falling grain. The reaper embodied the principles essential to all subsequent grain-cutting machines. For farmers in the early 19th century, harvesting required a large number of labourers, and, if they could be found, the cost of hiring them was high. When McCormick’s reaper was tested on a neighbor’s farm in 1831, it offered the hope that the yield of the farmer’s fields would not be limited to the amount of labour available. The machine had defects, not the least of which was a clatter so loud that slaves were required to walk alongside to calm the frightened horses.”

“The year was 1831....We also know the judge had slaves. Finally, the report of the failed attempt is very close to Thomas Ruff’s verison. Frightened horses could easily “knock down” much grain. The Britannica may or may not know who the neighbor was, but I think we do...” 

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