Donnelly, Timothy

Place of Birth: Dallington

Date of enlistment: 21 September 1875

Age given at enlistment: 21 5/12

Rank: Private

Company: F

Location on 25 June 1876: Custer's column



Clearly his place of birth and age on enlistment are incorrect. See full biography below.

Dullington, Dallington or Darlington?

  • Timothy Donnelly is a classic case of too much faith being placed in U.S. Army enlistment records as a reliable primary source of biographical information. It all stems from an 18-year-old new recruit deliberately adding three years to his true age – presumably to join the army without the required parental consent – and the difficult to read handwriting of an army clerk who clearly mistook the pronunciation of the town of Darlington, County Durham, famous as the terminus of the world’s first passenger railway, for Dullington or Dallington, see illustration below.

Detail from the U.S. Army, Register of Enlistments incorrectly showing Timothy Donnelly's place of birth as 'Dullington' or 'Dallington' and his age as '21 5/12'.

  • Military Register (p. 111) assumes the second letter is a ‘u’ and concludes that Donnelly was born in Dullington, whereas Men With Custer [2010] (p. 105) transcribes it as Dallington. While no such place as Dullington exists there are two villages in England called Dallington, one in East Sussex and the other in Northamptonshire, though not County Durham. The fact that the U.S. Army records do not show a specific county makes it even more surprising that the Dallington in East Sussex, just five miles west of the site of the historic Battle of Hastings, should so proudly boast its unfounded association with ‘Custer’s Last Stand,’ but freely admits that “Unfortunately, there is no-one who can put a name to the East Sussex recruit who died at the hands of the Sioux, …”  It would be remarkable if anyone could as no such person ever existed!* The other Dallington, now incorporated into the town of Northampton, wisely avoids making such a fallacious claim.
  • (*): Although ‘Visitor UK’ deems Dallington’s claim to be village ‘folklore’ it has generously added the address of this webpage to its own website.

In 1857, 34 Tubwell Row, Darlington, was a timber structure. It was pulled down in 1880 and replaced by the brick building (the cream-painted corner property) which stands today. Information and photograph courtesy of Patrick Townsend.

  • Immigrants from Ireland, John Donnelly, an agricultural labourer, and Ann Maguire (or McGuire) were married at St. Augustine’s Roman Catholic Church, Coniscliffe Road, Darlington on 14 June 1856. Their first child, Timothy, was born in April the following year in nearby Tubwell Row (most likely No. 34), although the exact day in the month remains something of a mystery. This arises from the date of birth in the Register of Baptisms being given as 10 April (the baptismal service actually took place at St. Augustine’s on 17 April)* whereas the ‘civil’ birth certificate states it was 13 April, based on information provided to the Registrar on 24 April by Ann Donnelly who, not being able to read or write, signed the original document with her ‘mark’ (a cross – ‘X’).

St. Augustine's Roman Catholic Church, Coniscliffe Road, Darlington. Opened 1827, extended 1865.

  • Ann’s maiden name is spelt ‘McGuire’ on the certificate.  Martin McKeon and Catherine Donnelly were Timothy’s godparents. ‘Donnelly’ is spelt ‘Donelly’ in the Register of Baptisms and ‘Donnally’ on the birth certificate, which adds to the confusion.
  • A daughter, Mary Jane, who was born and died in the third quarter of-1858 (both registers show her surname as ‘Donnell), is buried in an unmarked grave with several other children in the West Cemetery, Darlington, which was opened in June 1858, just a few weeks before her death. A third child, John, was born in 1859.
  • By 7 April 1861  the family had moved to 2 Skerne Place in the same town.
  • One source gives Patrick Donnelly, from Kiltoom, Roscommon, Ireland, as the elder John’s father, but has not been verified by this writer.
  • Note (*): Information from Patrick Townsend, Darlington.
  • The 1861 census for 2 Skerne Place, Darlington, provides the following information:
  • John Donnelly, Head, 32, Provision Dealer, born Ireland; Ann [Maguire] Donnelly, Wife, 28, born Ireland; Timothy Donnelly, Son, 4, Scholar, born Darlington; John Donnelly, Son, 2, born Darlington; Bridget Maguire, General Servant, 46, born Ireland.
  • Unfortunately John Donnelly’s business venture came to an abrupt end as is evidenced by the following entry in The London Gazette, 24 October 1865 –
  • John Donnelly, of Darlington, in the county of Durham, Provision Dealer and Potatoe (sic) Merchant, having been adjudged bankrupt under a Petition for adjudication of Bankruptcy, filed in the County Court of Durham, holden at Darlington, on the 27th day of September, 1865, a public sitting,- for the said bankrupt to pass his Last Examination, and make application for his Discharge, will be held at the said Court, at Darlington, on the 15th day of November next, at eleven o’clock in the forenoon precisely, the day last aforesaid being the day limited for the said bankrupt to surrender. The Registrar of the said Court is the Official Assignee, and Mr. Francis Thomas Steavenson, of Darlington, is the Solicitor acting in the bankruptcy.
  • At some previous unknown date, prior to the summer of 1869, John Donnelly left England to seek a better life for himself and family in America, though the details of his emigration have not been found. We do know that the 2,057-ton Cunard Line steamship Tripoli* arrived in Boston from Liverpool on 30 August 1869 and among her passengers were:
  • Ann Donnelly, age 32, and her six children – Timothy 11 [actually 12], John 9, Michael 7, Pat[rick] 5, Eliza 3, Peter 5 months.
  • Note (*): On 17 May 1872 the Tripoli, bound from Liverpool to Boston, via Queenstown, ran aground on the South Rock near Tuskar Lighthouse, County Wexford, Ireland, and was wrecked, without loss of life.

Detail from the manifest of the sailing ship 'Tripoli' - 30 August 1869.

  • They were reunited with Timothy’s father in the town of Spencer, Worcester County, situated about 59 miles west of Boston, which was famous for making shoes and its numerous mills for “drawing” wire.
  • Federal Census – Spencer, Worcester County, Massachusetts (28 August 1870), lists the family as:
  • John Donnelly, Head, 40, Works in Wire Mill; Ann Donnelly, Wife, 30; both in born Ireland: Children – Timothy, 12 (actually 13), at School; John, 10, at School; Michael, 8, at School; Patrick, 5; Elizabeth, 4: Peter, 2 – all born in [Darlington] England.
  • Timothy Donnelly was enlisted on 21 September 1875, in Boston, Massachusetts, by Lieutenant Henry Lawton, and described as having blue eyes, dark hair, a fair complexion, standing 5′ 6″ tall. He stated he was aged 21 years 5 months (not 18 years and 5 months) and previously employed as a labourer.
  • From Boston he was sent to Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis, Missouri, and was in the detachment of 150 recruits that left the Depot on 14 October in charge of Captain Thompson, 7th Cavalry. Apparently they were joined by five others1 en route to Fort Lincoln, Dakota Territory, which they reached seven days later. Donnelly was one of four recruits listed as ‘unassigned’ in the 7th Cavalry’s Monthly Return for October 1875. A Detachment muster roll for February 1876, signed by Lieutenant William W. Cooke, as opposed to a Company muster roll, shows that he was on detached duty with the regimental band but his whereabouts before this month, until he was assigned to Company F on 2 March, remains unknown.

Private Timothy Donnelly, Company E (on left) and Private George Walker (real name George P. Weldon) Company E. An O.S. Goff photograph.

  • Nineteen-year-old Donnelly was a member of Custer’s column at the Battle of the Little Big Horn on 25 June 1876 and killed with several other members of Company F in Deep Ravine. His body was identified (one of the few) by Dennis Lynch, a private in the same company.
  • Note 1. Per S.O. 114, MRS, St. Louis, Oct. 5, 1875. The five are Blacksmith John King, Company C; Trumpeter James McElroy, Company D; Trumpeter John Quinn (Gorham), Company D; Trumpeter Charles Fis[c]her (Hanke), Company M; and Trumpeter Henry Weaver; also Company M. The Post Returns of Jefferson Barracks 1872-77 are missing (Ancestry site).
  • Second Lieutenant James Garland Sturgis, son of Samuel Davis Sturgis, the Seventh’s commanding officer, also accompanied the group of 150 new recruits from St. Louis to Fort Lincoln, and joined Company M at Fort Rice, Dakota Territory on 29 October. The 22 year old was killed with Custer’s column on the first day of the Battle of the Little Big Horn, but his body not identified. 
  • Company E left Fort Lincoln for Fort Totten several days before Donnelly and the other 154 recruits arrived at the post on 21 October 1875, which means the photograph must have been taken in Goff’s Bismarck studio shortly before the regiment set out as part of General Alfred Terry’s Dakota Column on 17 May 1876, not October 1875 as I’ve seen quoted.
  • Weldon’s brother, Thomas, 187 Bowery Street, New York City, on 20 April 1877, requested his brother’s personal effects be sent to him. Lt. De Rudio replied that the box was the only one remaining unsold, and that it would probably be necessary to prepay the expressage as its contents were unknown to the express company. RG 391. Entry 869 (Military Register p. 317, n. 39).
  • My thanks to Roger Williams, author of Military Register of Custer’s Last Command (2009), for so generously sharing the findings of his own research into the short, ill-fated military career of  the trooper from Darlington.

A wayside marker at Deep Ravine, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. A Graham Berry photograph.

  • Listed as TIMOTHY DONNELLY on the battle monument. At age 19 years 2 months and 12 or 15 days he may have been the youngest U.S. soldier to be killed in this iconic battle.
  • Final Statement of Timothy Donnely (sic) signed Captain James M. Bell, Commanding Company, at Fort Abercrombie, 17 December 1876.
  •  For retained pay under act of May 15, 1872 … $16.84
  •  For clothing not drawn in kind … $21.25
  •  Proceeds of sale of effects [May 2, 1877] … $2.08
  • For tobacco … $1.71
  • This statement does not take into account basic pay due for the period May 1 to June 25, 1876.
  • Note: States that Donnelly was born in ‘Dallington,’ England.
  • His mother applied for a pension on 17 March 1877 (230468) but it was abandoned (Military Register, p. 111).
  • Federal Census – Spencer, Worcester County, Massachusetts (1 June 1880)
  • John Donnelly, 53, Works on Wire, b. Ireland; Ann Donnelly, 48, his Wife, b. Ireland.  Children: John, 19, Works on Wire, b. England; Michael, 17, Works of Wire, b. England; Patrick, 15, Works on Wire, b. England; Elizabeth, 13, b. England; Peter, 11, b. England; Margaret, 9, b. Massachusetts; Thomas, 7, b. Massachusetts;  Mary, 5, b. Massachusetts; Kate, 3, b. Massachusetts.
  • Federal Census – Wire Village Road, Spencer, Worcester County, Massachusetts (1 June 1900)
  • Ann Donnelly, 63 (b. January 1837) Widow: Children: Patrick, 36, Foreman in Wire Works, b. England; Peter, 32, Drawer in Wire Works, b. England; Margaret, 29, b. Massachusetts; Thomas, 27, Farmer, b. Massachusetts; Kate, 23, Compositor, b. Massachusetts.  Eight of John and Ann Donnelly’s eleven children were living at the time of the census.
  • As can be seen on the impressive headstone in the Catholic Cemetery, Spencer (see below) John Donnelly, Sr., (son of Patrick Donnelly & Mary Connolly) died of cancer on 22 April 1893; Mary Jane died in 1858; Timothy was killed 25 June 1876; and Michael died of renal tuberculosis on 30 March 1900.  Ann Donnelly died in 1902 (no record found).
  • Donnelly Road, off Main Street, Spencer, is named in honour of this Anglo-Irish-American family.

Detail from the Donnelly family headstone in the Catholic Cemetery, Spencer, Worcester County, Massachusetts. Note: The inscription reads 'BURIED IN S. DAKOTA', when, of course, it should say 'Montana'. Photograph courtesy of Patricia Glennon Wiener.

Donnelly family headstone, Catholic Cemetery, Spencer, Worcester County, Massachusetts. Photograph courtesy of Patricia Glennon-Wiener.

The reverse side of the Donnelly family headstone. Photograph courtesy of Patricia Glennon Wiener.

  • Peter Russell gratefully acknowledges the invaluable contribution made to this biography of Timothy Donnelly by Patrick Townsend, Patricia Glennon Wiener and Roger Williams.
  • Note: Patricia Glennon (Wiener) writing on the Dallington, East Sussex, website, says: “My father, Leo Glennon, was in 1935, a young teacher in Worcester [Massachusetts]. He was mentored and became very close friends with Mary Theresa ‘Molly’ Donnelly, who was Timothy’s niece. I remember her very clearly – she was a kind, lovely, cultured lady who often came to visit and have dinner with my parents. I became aware of Timothy, because I would drive my father to the cemetery. He always planted flowers on Molly’s (and Timothy’s) grave, from the time of her death (around 1962), until he passed away in 2007. I have since been doing this for him. Each year, when I visit the grave, someone has placed a very large feather, inside of a rifle casing, up against the headstone. My guess is, that it’s of some significance to what happened at the Little Big Horn. I may leave a note there this year, to see if I get a response. There are probably still family members in the area, but several generations removed from Molly and her sister Florence, whom we were also close to.”
  • Patricia did leave a note but, to date, no one has contacted her.


The grave of Frederick Dickens, the eldest of Charles Dickens' three younger brothers, West Cemetery, Darlington.,

  • Frederick “Fred” Dickens (1820-68), the wayward brother of Charles Dickens, is buried the West Cemetery, Darlington (grave C(2)-20-7). He only lived in the town for a year, while working as a journalist. He had lodgings in Elton Parade with a friend, Jonathon Ross Feetum (grave C-13-26) who was formerly the landlord of the White Horse Tavern in London’s Regent Street which Frederick had frequented. Over many years he had run up debts by trading on his brother’s name. He was the inspiration for Fred Trent, the dissolute brother of Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop. People who knew him at the end of his life said that his only sustenance was a penny bun a day, with a little ginger beer with gin added. Charles was unable to attend the funeral, though his eldest son was present, and he contributed to its cost.

Major Marcus A. Reno and Mrs Captain James M. Bell (nee Emily Mary Hones).

  • It is interesting to note that Major Marcus A. Reno arrived at Fort Abercrombie in the afternoon of Sunday, 17 December 1876 and was at once the senior officer present for duty.  Apparently, later the same day, Captain Bell left the fort for his home in Altoona, Pennsylvania, where his father was seriously ill. It was during his absence that Reno became involved with the captain’s wife, (the English-born femme fatal Emily Mary Hones) for which he duly faced a court martial. Having found him guilty of “conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman,” the court passed the sentence that was mandatory under the 61st Article of War: “To be dismissed the service.” However a benevolent President Rutherford Hayes spared Reno and commuted the sentence to suspension from rank and pay for two years from 1 May 1877.
  • Sadly, the major appears not to have learned his lesson as soon after returning to duty at Fort Meade, South Dakota, he was, together with other things, accused of taking an unhealthy interest in Miss Ella Sturgis, daughter of Colonel Samuel Sturgis, the regiment’s Commanding Officer. Again, Reno was found guilty by a court martial, but the second time round President Hayes did not come to his aid and, on April Fools’ Day 1880, he would “cease to be an officer of the Army.”  [Information taken from “Case of MARCUS A. RENO,” by Barry C. Johnson, The English Westerners’ Society Special Publication No. 3, London, 1969.]
  • A short biography of Emily Mary Hones, a fishmonger’s daughter, from the fashionable King’s Road, Chelsea, London, will be posted on this website at some future date.
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