Genealogy that rests wholly on tradition is of dubious value, but an exception occurs when the tradition in question repeats itself often, and comes from several widely separated sources. Of this variety is the tradition that four McKee brothers landed in Ireland with Prince Williams army, fought at the Boyne, then settled in North Ireland except the one who returned to England. Repeatedly, McKees resided in Ireland, and others occasionally in America, have written that their family traces its descent to one of these brothers. The closest documentation of this claim (known to RWM) is contained in David McKee and Descendants. Although it scarcely needs documentation, in view of the diffusion of the tradition among so many McKee families, we may benefit from noting just what Professor James Y McKee, author of that volume, a man of considerable erudution and probity, found concerning it.
In his Preface, Professor McKee remarks that twenty-seven years earlier he had discussed his family origins with Joseph G. McKee, and had been surprised at the paucity of his own information concerning his antecedents. This incident seems to have set him on his own course of research. The important point is that he mentions an earlier visit to Ireland by Joseph G. McKee, at which time the latter compiled a family tree that disappeared after his death. The dates work out about thus:
1. The volume David McKee and Descendants was published in 1892.
2. Its author died December 24, 1891.
3. His conversation occured 27 years earlier than when he wrote his Preface, which dates it during the Civil War in 1864.
4. We might conjecture, then, that Joseph G. McKee’s visit to Ireland occurred around 1860, or even earlier.
Professor McKee indicates that information almost at once commenced to flow in, by the following comment: “One and another, however, in Ireland and in America, contributed facts and hints as to where facts might be found, till that which seemed only a stump, a trunk with a few stubby branches, became a well-developed tree whose every branch is spreading vigorously and symmetrically.”.
He then opens his first chapter by asserting, “the first real knowledge we have of McKees dates back from over two hundred years ago, when four brothers bearing the name left Scotland for bonnie England. There they soon joined the army of William, Prince of Orange, and shortly afterwards, in 1690, we find them, with the rest of the army, in the northern part of Ireland”. He did not indicate whether he possessed documentation for this statement.
Professor McKee does not say that they fought at the Battle of the Boyne, but in the first place they would have had no choice about it since the sole reason for Prince William’s landing was to engage King James’s forces, and in the second place several correspondents have written from Ireland to confirm that their ancestor fought at the Boyne, and was one of the four brothers.
Nor does he conjecture the names of the four brothers, but these might almost be deduced by observing and applying the method Scottish Presbyterians and Covenanters employed in naming their progeny. The first son was usually named for the father’s father, and the second for his own father. From the list that Professor McKee supplies, the names of the four brothers might be postulated as follows:
Alexander McKee, who settled in Antrim.
Hugh McKee, who settled in Lisban
David McKee, returned to England with William of Orange
John McKee, who settled in the Ards.
Actually, we need not postulate Alexander McKee, because considerable documentary evidence already attests to his existence, the approximate dates of his birth and demise, and ancestry is proudly claimed by two or three sets of supposed descendants, with flattering obeisance to his undiminished virility, and the truth may be hard to prove.
The genealogies given by Professor McKee that stem from Hugh McKee, who was himself a veteran of the Boyne, make it quite likely that a James McKee was the father of the four brothers, since Hugh named his first son James.
Professor McKee believed that the brother who settled in Antrim emigrated to Pennsylvania a short while later, perhaps during the 1725-38 exodus from Ulster, and that he and his sons became the progenitors of the McKees of Virginia and Kentucky, whose history was ably written by Major George Wilson McKee in the closing years of the nineteenth century, (J.B.Richards, Pittsburgh, Pa. 1891). This would be the Battle of the Boyne veteran Alexander McKee. It is known that Thomas McKee was his son, but although we are aware that he sired other children in Scotland, Ireland, or after he came to America, the scanty records are silent as to both their existence and possible identity. It is of course possible that he was father of the three who went to Virginia, Robert McKee, William McKee and John McKee, since Professor James Y McKee had found evidence to cause him to believe that their father was one of the four brothers who fought at the Boyne. We know that Hugh McKee was one of those brothers, and that Alexander McKee was another. We took a long guess that the other two may have been named David and John. If the three Virginia pioneers were not sons of Alexander senior, then it seems reasonable to assume they were nephews. The Boyne legend is persistent in several genealogies that the author (RWM) has read, a few of which are contained in Book of McKee. and while “family legend” is naturally viewed askance by genealogists, it undeniably has a modicum of evidential value. But for the yclept “family legend” it would have been impossible to have found the trails that led to this volume. The single circumstance which, if stood unopposed, might weigh heavily against Alexander McKee senior having issue of other than one boy, Thomas McKee of McKee’s Half Falls, is that he mentioned only Thomas in his will. The will is dated May 27, 1735; the testator Alexander McKee died early in 1740, as the will was proven May 26, 1740.
As to the Boyne veteran whom we have conjectured to be named John McKee (previously Mackay) and who settled in the Ards, a northeastern extremity of Ireland also, Professor James Y McKee has only this to say: “where he has numerous descendants until this day”. It seems likely that this McKee brother lived out his years in north Ulster, although this is by no means certain. However, some of this children almost certainly emigrated to America.
Significantly, a John McKee died in August 1777, in Logan Township, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, who could have been the Boyne veteran, although he would have had to be at least 102 years old at the time of his death to have been 15 in 1690. This is remotely possible, of course, as man of those leathery old Scot-Irish made longevity a family characteristic, but highly improbable.
The author of Book of McKee obtained a copy of this John McKees will, which was dated August 3, 1777 and was probated September 1, 1777. It is will number 69, Will Book C, page 51. His wife’s name was Isabella, and two sons and a daughter are mentioned in the will, as well as a grandson Benjamin. James McKee appears to have been the eldest son, as he was named an executor with one Joseph Brady; John was the younger son, and the daughter was Isabella. The grandson Benjamin is denoted as the son of James, and is left 82 acres of land. The author also has a copy of the will of this James McKee, dated December 9, 1794 and probated October 16, 1795, in which he makes reference to the land bequeathed to his son Benjamin by the lad’s grandfather John McKee.
The family consisted of the following, but the author has failed to find the connection between it and the McKees of Virginia or Thomas McKee of McKee’s Half Falls, although it undoubtedly existed in Ireland, and before that in Scotland. It is redundant of course to remind the reader that our family originated in Ireland, spent centuries in Scotland. then returned to the mother country just after, sad to relate, English persecution brought famine and sorrow upon them. The fighting Scot-Irish commenced to emigrate to America by the thousands early in the first half of the eighteenth century. Most of them passed through the port of Philadelphia, then settled somewhere within a hundred or so miles, in Pennsylvannia. It is almost literally true that these men fought and won the American Revolution. Those who doubt this asseveration have only to review the rosters and pension rolls. A short-cut to the same conclusion can be had by noticing the townships: Donegal, Londonderry, Antrim and so forth. They so loved the homeland of their ancestors, to which Scotland’s oppressors forced them to return, that they brought dozens of local Irish topographical names with them. The map of Pennsylvania abounds with these Gaelic denominations, even down to such ancient words as Tyrone, Avondale, Bangor, Ben Avon, Castle Shannon, Duncannon, Antram, and so forth. A bit of the ould sod was veritably transplanted to Pennsylvania in this transportation. John McKees immediate progeny was as follows:
John McKee (Isabella) (Will dated 8.3.1777, Logan Twp, Cumberland Co. Penn. Proven 9.1.77, Will No 69, Will Book C) l I I Isabella McKee I I I I John McKee I I I James McKee (Elizabeth) (Will dated 12.9.1794, Probated 10.16.1795, Franklin Co., Lurgan Twsp. I John McKee Isabella (Youngest Daughter) Robert McKee Benjamin (m. Jane) Joseph McKee Alexander (m. Rachel Kirkpatrick) d. 1807 Jane (m. Miller) Elizabeth (m. Moses Kirkpatrick at Middle Spring Presbyterian Church, Near Shippensburg, Penn.) William McKeeAccording to what the author has been able to learn, the facts and circumstances in these very early years, documented in somewhat more abundant fashion than other material that crossed his desk in the past five years, proclaim the descent of the line of the Rushville, Illinois, McKees, which is the author’s (of Book of McKees) line, thus:
1. Alexander McKee, who fought at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, near Drogheda in East Ireland, was an officer of William, Prince of Orange, according to a genealogical article quoted a few pages hence. There can be little doubt that he and his brothers belonged to the Strathnaver MacKays, because one of them who died in 1706 and was buried at Carncastle in Antrim caused arms containing the three bears’ head of Lord Reay to be carved on his monument. Unfortunately that particular monument has either weathered away or crumbled, for it no longer exists at Carncastle. However, the hiatus is bridged by the act of the Ulster King of Arms, Sir Neville Wilkinson, who confirmed arms in 1912 to a descendant, John Reginald McKee, in Ireland. They were grounded on the arms claimed on the 1706 monument of which either a potograph or a drawing probably existed in 1912. In 1956, the late King of Arms in Ireland, Sir Gerald Wollaston, K.C.B., K.C.V.O., granted arms similarly grounded, and containing the three bears’ heads as their principal charge, to another descendant of one of the four McKee brothers who were Boyne veterans, H. Malcom McKee of Bangor, North Ireland.
A monument bearing the date of 1756 also stodd in the churchyard at Carncastle, bearing the name of a boy Robert McKee and the same Mackay arms. The author discovered a drawing of these arms in the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, Vol VI, No. 1, p. 240, January 1900. They are reproduced in Book of McKee. Thus, we possess sound proof that the four McKee brothers who fought at the Boyne considered themselves part of the Strathnaver and Reay branch of the Clan Mackay, and moreover believed themselves entitled to adopt the clan’s armoral bearings. Lord Reay has been the title borne by the head of this branch of the Mackays since 1628. The proof is already probably as complete as it will ever be that the four McKee brothers were younger sons of that branch.
If Alexander McKee and his son Thomas came to America as early as 1707 which one account indicates, then it is reasonable to suppose that Thomas was the eldest son and fourteen to eighteen years of age at the time. We do find persuasive evidence that they arrived sometime between 1707 and 1734, and we know that Alexander, the Boyne veteran, died in 1740. The 1707 date is suggested from an article in American Biography (1928), The American Historical Society, Inc., Vol 31, p. 181, which is quoted further on in this chapter.
On the other hand, according to information supplied by the Genealogical Section of the State Library of Harrisburgh, Pennsylvania:
Alexander McKee, born about 1665, died 1740. lived in County Antrim, Ireland. Came to America and settled in Donegal, Lancaster County, prior to 1735. His son Thomas McKee was born in Ireland about 1695, and came to America with his father; and with them was Alexander, young son of Thomas. Thomas was a farmer and Indian trader. He died in Harrisburg in 1770 (actually 1769 as his son Alexander was his administrator when he appreared in Orphans Court, Dec 6, 1769) He married first in Ireland with issue. He married next an Indian woman, with issue. (As will appear elsewhere, James McKee was one of the children of this marriage, and since Mrs Fredrick in her American Revolutionary soldiers of Franklin County, Pennsylvania, opined that James McKee was in some way related to Hugh McKee, the latter and the son of the former, James McKee, Junior, having married Nesbitt sisters, it is the authors conclusion that Hugh McKee and James McKee, Sr were probably brothers, and sons of Thomas McKee of McKee’s Half Falls. Their half-brother (Colonel) Alexander McKee may have been from an Irish or Scot mother, one account having him born in Ireland circa 1720, although two other accounts say or imply Alexander was born in America. However, James McKee and Hugh McKee would have been borne by Thomas McKee’s second wife, a Shawnee girl; of course they could have been brothers of Thomas, as Alexander McKee Sr.’s will shows he had other children) Children of his Irish wife: Alexander, born in Ireland about 1720, died 1799. Alexander married an Indian woman with issue. Children by (Thomas McKees) second marriage: Catherine, married Greydon, issue: Elizabeth; Nancy; James born 1755, died 1834; married first an Indian woman, with issue; married second, Elizabeth Verner (1769-1809) with issue”.
In the above mentioned biographical sketch in American Biography - the statement is made that Thomas McKee’s father, who although unnamed in that particular sketch is named in the Eleanor Guthrie Reed papers reposing in the State Library at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, as Alexander McKee (a) died after engaging for 35 years in the fur-trading business with his son Thomas McKee ; and, (b) that Thomas McKee thereafter “continued the business at McKees half Falls, in what is now Snyder County Pennsylvania, where he established a trading store. He had his business at this place in 1742, although it is believed that he had established a branch of his father’s business there six years before his death”.
This would date the arrival of Alexander McKee and his son Thomas McKee in America circa 1707 (in the year 1707 three McKee brothers landed at Boston from Ireland. The descendants of one of them, Andrew McKee, who settled near Hartford, Connecticut, are detailed in the chapter McKee Septs and their Brief Genealogy herein. What is known of their arrival was written by a decendant Julius C. McKee, as follows:
“ My pedigree, as near as I know it, according to the traditions in our family, four generations back, as I have been informed by my father and Uncle Jason McKee. There were three brothers as my father says; two as Uncle Jason thinks. I think father is correct, as he was 16 or 17 years older and his memory very good. They came to America and landed at Boston.
The youngest, 16 years old, named Andrew McKee, or MacKee as it used to be written, settled in East Hartford, east of old Hartford City, in the state of Connecticut, about five miles from the city, and became a farmer, in 1707. It is supposed that the other brothers settled one in Virginia, the other in Kentucky. Andrew was born in the North of Ireland in 1691. His father was Scotch, a chief among them, my father says: his mother Irish. He live in America 58 years. He died September 24, 1765, aged 74 years, and was interred at Manchaster Center, Connecticut. Andrew had a first wife and a second wife and had children by both. I can only speak of three, Nathaniel and Joseph by first wife, John second wife.”) However, other accounts merely say the came before 1735, but one of them definitely states that Thomas McKee married in Ireland, and by his Irish wife had his first son Alexander, who was said to have been born in Ireland circa 1720. Thus it will be seenthat there is an uncertain gap of from 14 to 27 years between the two suggested dates of their arrival in this country, that is to say between te year 1707 amd say 1734, the latter to meet the condition “before 1735”.
2. Alexander McKee, the younger, who by one account was born in Ireland of an Irish mother, whom Thomas McKee is suppose to have married there, but who by another source of tradition is attributed to a Shawnee Indian mother whom Thomas married in America, rose to be a commanding figure in the frontier country. The following brief sketch of him came in a letter dated January 23, 1957, from Douglas Thurston Kee, Q.C., of Chatham, Ontario, Canada:
“At Blenheim, Ontario, not far from Chatham, there is a memorial cairn known as the McKee Treaty Cairn. This commemorated the signing of a treaty with the Indians at Detroit in 1790 under which this part of the country was open for settlement. The Indian agent at Detroit, which was of course then still in British hands, was Colonel Alexander McKee, wand he was instrumental in arranging the treaty. This Colonel Alexander McKee was a very important man in his day, in this part of the country. For example, in 1788 when the District of Hesse was set up he was named one of the Judges of the Court of Common Pleas, and in the list of names suggested for first Executive Council for Upper Canada his name appears. He appears to have died in 1799 in Windsor, Canada. He had a son (and probably other children as well), who was Colonel Thomas McKee, who was also very prominent in the early history of this district.
This Colonel Thomas McKee was member of parlimant for Kent in 1796 and for Essex in 1801, they being counties in present Province of Ontario. One of his descendants, W.J. McKee, was long member of parliment for Essex , and the family generally played a very important part in Windsor’s early history for three or four generations. While at the moment I cannot put my finger on my authority, I am fairly certain that the original Colonel Alexander McKee came from Pennsylvania and was probably connected to your (RWM) family.
The first time I am in Toronto with a few minutes to spend, I’ll see if I can find anything out as to these McKees, in case you do not have a record of them. Strangely enough, when Chatham was laid out in 1795, town lots were granted to Colonel McKee and to Lieutenant Thomas McKee, his son, probably a case of land speculation, as they certainly lived in Windsor.”
As we gradually assemble what little is actually known of this extraordinary person Colonel Alexander McKee, we come slowly to realize that he was just what Douglas Thurston Kee described him as being, a very important man of his day. In good fortune and bad he seems to have held stedfast to his persuasions, and having commited no dishonorable acts he deserves our admiration as a thoroughly able and honorable man.
(The previous from Book of McKee from Chapter entitled McKees of Rushville, Illinois. This story continues to cover more of this line, which is the authors line)