Luck of the Irish – 52 Ancestors Theme

St Pat's Day

For this blog, I wanted to go with the theme of ‘Luck of the Irish’ to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. I was planning to write about my two pair of ancestors, the McKee’s and the McKay’s, who both arrived in the United States from Ireland on the same ship. Their children married and, thus started the American branch of the McKee’s. Sounds romantic, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, that is not what my research proves.

Apparently, someone kissed the blarney stone one too many times.

The McKay side of my family is actually from Scotland. Blogs about them will be at a later date.

At least the McKee’s did come from Ireland. In researching this branch, I have not found a lot of information on them, but here’s what I have found on my 5th great-grandparents.

William and Jane McKee were both born in Ireland. From their departure port, it is assumed they were from Northern Ireland, however, some have questioned this and stated that just because they sailed from there does not mean they lived in the area. There are McKee’s in other areas and it is possible they could have been from one of those areas. We may never know exactly where in Ireland they are from.

They came to the Colonies in the Brigantine Free Mason. The Free Mason (Freemason) sailed from Newry, Ireland on 27 Oct 1772, and arrived in Charleston, SC, on 22 Dec 1772. It was the last of the five ships in the emigration led by Rev. William Martin, all of which sailed in 1772. The first two sailed from Larne, the next two from Belfast, and the last one from Newry. The emigrants settled throughout western South Carolina, many in the Abbeville area. Most of the passengers left their homes because of escalating rents and the rising costs of living at home. The governor wanted to populate South Carolina, so they offered free land and a bounty to anyone willing to settle in the colony. Many responded to this offer. The bounty was discontinued in 1768, but the land grants were still in force in 1772 when this group set sail.

William McKee is listed as the head of the family and received a grant for 250 acres on 6 Jan 1773, according to the Council Journals of South Carolina. This represents 100 acres for him, and 50 each for a wife and a child, so it appears that he and Jane brought two children with them. Although the land was free, there were fees associated with the filing, surveying, recording, receiving copies of the results, and several others. These fees were quite extensive, and many of the people could not afford the fees for several years. They had to work for others during that time, to earn money to live and save for the fees. Once the fees were paid, they were awarded the tract of land, however, it was usually far from the town area, and not likely to be near other settlers. The goal of the governor of the colony of South Carolina was to get the entire area settled and having people living close together wasn’t working to that end.

I am looking for information as to whether William may have served in the Revolutionary War. So far, I have found none.

William’s birth date is unknown, but according to his grandson’s Bible, he died on 15 May 1813, SC. Jane died 23 April 1835, at age 76 years and 4 months.

Their daughter, Martha, my 4th great-grandmother, was born Feb 1798. She is listed on the 1870 Clay Co, AL census as 71, born SC and her father and mother were both of foreign birth.

1870 Martha McKay

Martha McKee McKay on the 1870 Lineville, Clay Co, AL Census

Many questions remain about this family. More research is needed to pull out details of this emigration, and the family of William and Jane McKee. No matter where they originally lived, I am grateful they made the arduous trip across the wide-open seas to the colonies.


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