John Donihoo was a Pennsylvanian, born in 1775. Nothing is known about his early life, including the names of his parents and their places of origin. A family legend relates an enticing story of a priest named O’Donihoo who fell in love with a handmaiden of Mary Queen of Scots and who became the progenitor of the family name. It may be that John had been indentured in his youth. Before 1809 he made his way south from Pennsylvania, to Rockbridge County, Virginia, where he oversaw a group of men including slaves, in the vicinity of Buffalo Creek (likely Union Forge). John was a member of Falling Spring Presbyterian Church. He married Martha “Patsie” Walker in 1811, a women of Scots-Irish descent. Due to his deepening convictions of the immorality of slavery, in April 1835, the couple and their ten children left Virginia and settled in St. Clair County, Michigan, where John farmed and participated in the underground railroad by assisting escaped slaves over the St. Clair River into Canada. Sons of this family choose different variants of the last name – Donihoo, Donihue, and Donahue.

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