Sheriff John McCanna – (1882-1885)


John McCanna, Sheriff of Schoolcraft County (1882-1885).
Photo Courtesy of Sue Cucchiarella.

        The early history of law enforcement in Schoolcraft County is closely tied to the McCanna family. The family patriarch, Henry McCanna was born in 1822 in county Donegal, Ireland. McCanna immigrated first to Canada before settling in the Vermont/New York area in the mid 1840s.  Henry married Nancy (Anna) O’Kane in 1845 in Sandy Hill, New York. Ten children were born to this union, eight of whom survived into adulthood.

          Pioneer Schoolcraft County Sheriff John McCanna, was born on April 27, 1847 in Swanton, Vermont. The family moved to Glen Falls, New York in 1850 and then on to Painted Post, New York where Henry was employed in the lumber industry.

          With the outbreak of the American Civil War in April of 1961, Henry McCanna volunteered with the 23rd New York Infantry in May of 1861.  Henry’s son, 14 year old John McCanna had his own plans for service, coming to Washington D.C. with the 107th New York—intending to join the regiment as a drum major. These plans came to naught after a visit with his father in a Washington army camp. Young McCanna was ordered home by his father to help care for his mother and five younger siblings including 11 year old Henry Jr., 10 year old Charles, 6 year old Alexander, 4 year old William and 1 year old Mary.

          In September of 1864, 17 year old John McCanna added a year to his age and enlisted in the 107th New York Infantry, joining his father who had reenlisted into the same regiment in January of 1864. Father and son shared a tent, serving in General William T. Sherman’s army during the famous march from Atlanta to the sea.  With the close of the war, father and son returned home to Painted Post, New York. John McCanna moved west to Harrisville, Michigan, in 1867 where he remained for 12 years. He married Anna Hogue on October 21, 1869.

          John’s parents, Henry and Nancy McCanna, moved to the lumbering settlement of Manistique in 1878, and were joined a year later by John McCanna and his family. John and his father were both employed in the lumber industry—John working as a saw filer in the mill. Other members of the McCanna family who resided for a time in Manistique included Charles, Henry, William, Alexander, Mary, Elizabeth and George.

          With the total destruction of the town of Onota by fire in 1879, the county seat of Schoolcraft County was moved to Manistique. John Costello was the first person to hold the office of Sheriff in the new county seat of Manistique, serving from 1879 through 1881.  

          John McCanna was elected as Schoolcraft County Sheriff with his term beginning in 1882. The county’s first jail was a one story wooden structure, 25 feet by 45 feet. It was heated by a wood furnace with ventilating flues in each cell. There were five cells made from wood plank, with a separate room to accommodate a bath tub and privy. This jail was totally destroyed by fire on January 25, 1884. Without a building to incarcerate prisoners, Sheriff McCanna was required to transport offenders to St. Ignace until a new jail could be erected.

A circa 1885 photo of the new Schoolcraft County Jail and sheriff’s residence. A portion of the original courthouse built in 1883 can be seen on the far right.

          In the fall of 1884 voters approved the construction of a new jail which opened in 1885. The new lockup was a two-story structure measuring 18 feet by 24 feet. There were six jail cells on the first floor. The 6 foot square cells were constructed with iron bars and were heated in the winter by a wood stove in the corridor. Toilet facilities consisted of a bucket in each cell. Five small rooms on the second story housed female prisoners and boys. These were also used for the mentally ill while awaiting transport to the Northern Michigan Asylum in Traverse City. This jail served the citizens of Schoolcraft County until 1958 when it was replaced by our current jail building.

The Schoolcraft County Jail and sheriff’s residence as it appeared in the 1950’s.


          John McCanna was followed in the sheriff’s office by his brother Henry beginning in 1886. Their younger brother, William McCanna, held the office of Under Sheriff. Dennis Heffron ended the McCanna’s hold on the sheriff’s office, winning election in 1888.

Henry McCanna Jr., Schoolcraft Co. Sheriff
1886-1888. Photo Courtesy Sue Cucchiarella.

          With his term of office over, John McCanna returned to work in the lumber industry. He remained in Manistique until 1897 before moving with his family to Green Bay, Wisconsin. In 1904 McCanna moved to Ontonagon, Michigan where he remained until his death in August of 1930 at age 83.

          Henry McCanna Jr. remained in Manistique through at least 1930 when he was 81 years old.  He died in San Diego, California in April of 1936 at age 87.

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