Donnelly, Timothy

Place of Birth: Dallington or Dullington

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?

Darlington Town Centre.

  • 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 'Dallington' or 'Dullington' 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 F (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 F 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 was one of the youngest U.S. soldier’s 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.
  • Worcester Telegram & Gazette, 1 July 2018
  • Cavalry trooper, 19, from Spencer set out on ‘big adventure’ but fell at Custer’s Last Stand
  • By Mark Sullivan
  • Telegram & Gazette Staff
  • SPENCER – Pvt. Timothy Donnelly of Spencer was just 19 when the armed might of the Sioux Nation descended upon him 142 years ago at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
  • Pvt. Donnelly had lied about his age on his enlistment papers the year before, and may have been the youngest member of the 7th U.S. Cavalry to fall alongside Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer in the epic battle June 25-26, 1876.
  • He was one of two cavalrymen from Worcester County to die at Custer’s Last Stand.
  • “This kid along with so many other people died – for what?” says Patricia Glennon-Wiener, of Worcester, an amateur historian and genealogist who has researched Pvt. Donnelly’s story.
  • “I’m not a fan of Custer’s, she said. “I think he was very arrogant and got all of these people killed.
  • “This was a kid who left home having hopes and dreams. He thought he was going on some big adventure. And he did – it just wasn’t the one he thought.”
  • On July 4, 1876, the United States, a brash, growing young nation a decade removed from civil war, was marking its 100th birthday.
  • News of the massacre in the Montana Territory, reaching the East two weeks after the event, cast a pall over the grand Centennial Exposition that had opened on Independence Day in Philadelphia.
  • “Custer has met with a fearful disaster,” reported the dispatch from a Helena, Mont., correspondent carried on the front page of the Worcester Evening Gazette on July 6, 1876.

Patricia Glennon-Wiener, Worcester County, Massachusetts, holding a photograph of privates Timothy Donnelly, Company F (left), and George Walker (real name Weldon), Company E, 7th U.S. Cavalry. Both were killed at Little Bighorn (see Note 2). Photograph courtesy 'Telegram & Gazette' Staff/Allan Jung.


  • Ms. Glennon-Weiner and a fellow history buff from England, Patrick Townsend, have partnered on a novel about Pvt. Donnelly, “I Ride with the 7th,” currently in the editing stages.
  • A shared interest in Custer’s Last Stand led to their serendipitous meeting on the internet. Mr. Townsend, a military re-enactor, is from Darlington in County Durham, England, where Timothy Donnelly was born.
  • They have done their research in collaboration with a website, Men With Custer UK, created by historian Peter Russell as a biographical resource on the men born in the British Isles who fought at the Little Bighorn.
  • One of those men was Tim Donnelly.
  • He was born in 1857 in Darlington, England, the first of 11 children born to John and Ann (McGuire) Donnelly, Irish Catholics who moved first to England in the years following the Great Famine, and then to the United States, settling in Spencer, where John Donnelly was a supervisor in a wire mill.
  • At 18, apparently looking to avoid the need for parental permission, Tim Donnelly added three years to his age when he signed his cavalry enlistment papers in Boston in 1875, Ms. Glennon-Weiner said.
  • She said she imagines him responding to a Pony Express-style recruiting poster seeking men who could ride for cavalry service out West.
  • In a photograph taken not long before the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876, a moustachioed Pvt. Donnelly strikes a cocky, devil-may-care pose, his kepi tipped back, a cheroot in his mouth
  • He was one of 268 officers, men and scouts of Custer’s 7th Cavalry killed 25-26 June in the brutal engagement by the Little Bighorn River in the Montana Territory with Lakota (Sioux), Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors led by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.
  • “Two from Worcester County died at the Little Bighorn,” she said. The other was Cpl Samuel F. Staples of Worcester.
  • Ms. Glennon-Wiener explained how she came to be interested in Timothy Donnelly’s story.
  • She said her late father, Leo Glennon, a Worcester school teacher, became good friends with a teaching colleague, Mary Donnelly, at the old Elizabeth Street School. Miss Donnelly was a mentor of his and became almost like a member of the family.
  • After Miss Donnelly passed away, Mr. Glennon would bring flowers to the Donnelly family grave at Holy Rosary Cemetery in Spencer (see below).
  • Ms. Glennon-Wiener would accompany her father on his visits to the cemetery, and noted with interest an inscription on the back of the Donnelly family stone, commemorating Miss Donnelly’s uncle.
  • The inscription reads: “1857 TIMOTHY U.S. ARMY, DIED IN CUSTER’S MASSACRE, 1876, BURIED IN S. DAKOTA (sic).”
  • In later years, before her father passed away in 2007 at the age of 93, she said, they regularly would find on their spring visits something unusual left at the Donnelly family grave: a black crow’s feather inside a rifle shell casing, tucked under the lip of the stone.
  • Who left the crow feather and shell casing remains a mystery. “Obviously there was a connection” to Little Bighorn, Ms. Glennon-Wiener said, as the Crow Indians were scouts for the 7th Cavalry, and the shell was the type the cavalry would have used. The Custer Battlefield is located on what is now the Crow reservation in Montana.
  • She said she left a note wrapped in plastic for whom ever was leaving the feathers. “I never heard back,” she said. “None have been left in the past six or seven years,” she added.

The .45/70 cartridge that for a period of several years was left at the headstone of the Donnelly Family's gravesite. Courtesy Patricia Glennon-Wiener.

  • When her research partner Mr. Townsend came out for a visit last year, they left an American flag marker for veterans of the Indian Wars, and a couple of small memory stones, as in Jewish tradition, markers of their visit.
  • Tim Donnelly has become like a member of her family, said Ms. Glennon-Wiener, a mother of two who is a retired substitute teacher and truant officer in the Worcester Public Schools.
  • “He definitely has come to life,” she said. “This is somebody you feel you know. I know more about (his family) in some ways than I know my own family that far back.
  • “Every one of these guys left behind people that loved them,” she said. “His mother, his father were devastated. He had how many brothers and sisters? He never lived to get married and to do any of the things that he might have hoped to have done. It was tragic.”
  • She shared a poem written by Pvt. Donnelly’s father, John, on his son’s death in 1876, but unpublished until the elder Donnelly’s passing in 1893. The grieving father wrote:
  • “Now, if I were a poet, sure something I might say
  • “About his valiant comrades in the Custer massacre.
  • “But as I am not a scholar and doomed to toil always,
  • “Though well-inclined I am not fit to sing those heroes’ praise.
  • “Yet while I live, I’ll sing in grief the memory of my boy;
  • “I know he did his duty well, and that’s my only joy.
  • “I pray, good friend, my grief excuse, when you are blithe and coy;
  • “Just draw this picture to yourself — but you never lost a boy.”
  • Notes added by Peter Russell
  • 1. The youngest soldier to be killed at Little Big Horn was almost certainly Private Willis Wright, Company C, born Oskaloosa, Mahaska County, Iowa, on 7 June 1859, i.e. age 17. (Information brought to my attention by Gil Graham.)  Timothy Donnelly was most likely the youngest foreign-born trooper to die in the battle and Private Theodore Goldin, Company G, born 25 July 1858, Avon, Rock County, Wisconsin, the youngest soldier to survive.   Private Edward Pigford, Company M, born 11 June 1856, West Elizabeth, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, of English parents, was actually discharged on 15 October 1876 for “a concealed minority enlistment.”
  • 2. Weldon’s mother, Margaret, a widow, received an army pension until her death in Flushing, Long Island, New York on 21 November 1904.  An application for a pension from Donnelly’s mother, Ann, which was either abandoned or rejected.
  • 3. Strictly speaking only 263 U.S. personnel, which included at least three civilians, were killed on 25-26 June 1876.  Five others were to later die of their wounds, the last of which was Private Frank Braun (or Brown), Company M, from Switzerland, who died at Fort Abraham Lincoln 0n 4 October 1876.  His name, nor any of the other four, does not appear on the battle monument.
  • 4. Corporal Samuel Frederick Staples, born Worcester, was in Company I.  His wife, Annie lived in New York and was granted a pension of $8 a month.
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