Andrew McKee (c1760-1814), Distiller on the Middle Fork of the Holston River – 52 Ancestors #372

In May of 2006, I journeyed with my wonderful cousin, Daryl, to the Washington Co. Va. Historical Society in historic downtown Abington, VA.

I was delighted to discover that they had computerized a great deal and that they had an amazing records collection. Several databases are online, including a vertical surname file.

I was hot on the trail of Andrew McKee and his wife, Elizabeth, and was fortunate enough to meet a cousin in Washington County who was familiar with both the local terrain and the McKee family.

She said that there were supposedly 3 McKee men who arrived in Pennsylvania. One stayed in Pennsylvania, one came to Washington County, Virginia, and one went elsewhere. The old “three brothers” story. Sometimes those stories are true, sometimes kind of true, and sometimes anything but.

We don’t know where Andrew was born. In addition to the Pennsylvania story, he was reported to have been born to an earlier Andrew McKee, and also to a Hugh McKee, variously in Gloucester, VA, and also in other locations.

Finding a man by the same name doesn’t mean they are father and son, or even related at all. There’s no evidence to connect them, although I don’t think thorough systemic research has been undertaken.

The bottom line is that we don’t know.

The Old Country

Almost all of the earliest recollections of the various McKee lines contain some version of the “brothers” story, and also some variation of what happened in the old country. I’m always skeptical of these stories, because I’ve seen so many of them be proven wrong, but this one might, just might, be somewhat different.

In part, we do know that the family is Presbyterian, which, combined with the surname, location, and time, equates to Scots-Irish. Secondly, regardless of whether or not the specific McKee men identified back in Ireland are accurate, the situation likely is, and reaches back to the legendary Battle of the Boyne, fought near Drogheda, north of Dublin, in 1690.

The armies of James Stuart the II of England and William of Orange faced off, above, with four McKee men, supposedly brothers, fighting for the latter. These four men are not the immigrants, but one is believed to be the father of the immigrant McKee brothers who settled in Pennsylvania.

The best summary I’ve seen is in the McKee Family Matters Newsletter, published by Kevin McKee (1954-2013), here. I encourage all McKee researchers to read what Professor James Y. McKee had to say about the McKee origins in Scotland, England, and Ireland, and the historical information he was able to gather. I’ve compiled the old  McKee Family Matters Links, here, but given the age of these pages, I’d suggest saving the information if it’s relevant to you.

Professor McKee posits, based on naming patterns and other information, that Alexander McKee, who we know exists and settled in Antrim after the famous 1690 battle, was likely the father of the four (or more) brothers who immigrated to Pennsylvania between 1725-1738, and whose descendants scattered across Pennsylvania, into Virginia, North Carolina and Kentucky.

That Irish Alexander was buried under the arms of the Strathnaver and Reay branch of the Clan Mackay.

Of course, there are other potential Scots-Irish progenitors, as well, and it’s probable that multiple families and lines migrated at different times.

Early McKee Immigrants

I found an old typewritten book, titled “The McKees of Virginia and Kentucky” by George Wilson McKee in the Tennessee State Library and Archives. In this book, the author, quoting from a letter written from Samuel McKee to William McKee in 1869, states that “In 1738, 10 or 11 brothers McKee emigrated to America.” He then goes on to say maybe as few as five. Those men, Samuel recounts, were the sons of “one who had borne a part in the defense of Derry and settled near Lancaster, PA. From there, some settled near Wheeling, West Virginia, and some in Pittsburg, PA.”

John and Robert “went almost directly to Virginia, about 1757, and settled on a portion of Borden’s grant on Kerr’s Creek in what is now Rockbridge Co., about 8 miles northwest of Lexington and about the same distance from Timber Ridge, which is north of Lexington on the Staunton Road, and was within a mile or so of the Cyrus McCormick Historical Site. In 1760, William, another brother, also removed to Augusta County.”

  • Robert McKee died in Rockbridge County on June 11, 1774, which I suspect is the date his will was probated or the date of his will. His wife, Agnes, died in 1780, age 84. “All the traditions refer to Robert as a perfect type of Sturdy old Scotch Irishman. He was a strict Presbyterian but by no means an overbearing or aggressive Calvinist. On the contrary, he was a mild-mannered man and attended to his own business in both religious and secular matters. He was a man of the greatest integrity, respected by all who knew him, of sound sense and judgment, and a good citizen.”
  • John McKee settled on Kerr’s Creek where his wife was killed by the Shawnee in 1763. He died October 29, 1791 in Rockbridge County. “I have always heard John spoken of with the greatest respect and admiration by the Kentucky McKees, but he had not, from all accounts, the mild manner which characterized Robert. He was most positive in his language and actions and, in his day, made his full share of enemies.”
  • William McKee initially settled in either Botetourt or Augusta County, but moved to Kentucky about 1788. His descendants live in Montgomery County, KY, but William was said to have died in Virginia at an unknown date.

First cousins Miriam, daughter of John, and William, son of Robert, married each other and kept a Bible recording the deaths of both John and Robert. The dates differ slightly from the dates given above. John’s death is recorded as “March 2, 1792, in the 84th year of his age,” which means he was born about 1708. Robert’s death is recorded as “June 11, 1766, in Rockbridge County, age 82,” which means he was born about 1684.

Another book, “One Who Gave His Life” by James Lucy, states that a group of men, including the McKees, came and settled near the coast.

The Ulster-Scots from County Down left Ireland for America about 1735. They were staunch Presbyterians and descendants of one of the defenders of Londonderry who had “acquitted himself with great gallantry and suffered patiently the horrors of that awful siege.” The McKees established themselves in Lancaster County, PA, and two of the family members took part in the ill-fated Braddock expedition of 1755.

Later, William, Robert, and John removed to the Valley of Virginia, but James stayed in Lancaster County, having sons John and Robert who inherited his lands. One tract was in Lancaster County, but James had also acquired land “in the Tuscarora settlement in western Pennsylvania, and in North Carolina.”

In 1752, James’s widow, adult children, and young son, William, went to North Carolina, where three years later, two miles to the west, Fort Dobbs was built as a border defense against the Indians.

The Scots-Irish passed further and further westward, into North Carolina and beyond, carrying with them their racial strength, religious bent, and their enthusiasm for freedom.

Another author, Rev. A. J. McKellway in 1905 writes in “The North Carolina Booklet,” that:

The migrants from Pennsylvania, including William McKee, were already and speedily establishing cultivation. The versatility of the early settlers, men and women alike, was as remarkable as their thrift and perseverance.

William McKee first served in the campaign under General Rutherford against the Cherokees in the summer of 1776. In the spring of that year, this tribe, incited by the British, descended from the mountains in a succession of murderous forays, and by the 28th of June, 200 western settlers had been slain. General Griffith, 400 men of the militia under his command, by swift movement into the Indian country, surprised the savages and completely destroyed their power to harass the frontier. Rutherford’s forces started on their march for the trackless mountains on July 19, and after the accomplishments of their arduous task, the men were disbanded at Salisbury on October 3. Afterwards, McKee served under General Davidson and Colonel Locke and refused to accept any compensation for his military service. His country needed the money more than he did, he declared. It was his belief that a man should no more accept pay for defending his country than for protecting his family. While Wiliam McKee was soldiering with the North Carolinians, his older brother, Robert, served as a Captain of a Pennsylvania company, and a first cousin, Colonel William McKee of Rockbridge County, Virginia, marched with the Old Dominion troops from Point Pleasant to the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown.

After the war, these men went quietly back to their farms and workshops and turned their energies to improving their own and their children’s circumstances and building up the country.

Early Appalachian Virginia McKees

There were McKee men in the Washington County, Virginia region about the same time as Andrew, based on records I found.

  • There is an Alexander McKee whose will was entered on March 17, 1778 in Washington County. He received 3000 acres in 1774 due to his service during the Revolution.
  • There was a Lt. William McKee who served in the Revolutionary War out of Botetourt County and was the son of Robert, one of the original brothers. This man signed the Virginia Constitution and eventually moved to Kentucky about 1790.
  • An Elias McKey or Mackey served in Washington and Montgomery County. Elias McKee is found on the 1782 Washington County tax list.
  • Then, the local cousin reported, “I have a stickey note that says “Andrew McKee died in W. Chester Co., Pa. July (I think July, J something) 25, 1732.”

It’s quite likely that Andrew McKee descends from this line of men, especially given the names of his sons and the migration route into Washington County, Virginia.

I’m hoping to find a male McKee who descends from Andrew and is willing to do a Y DNA test which will help us connect our McKee line back in time to earlier McKee men. If that is you, or someone you know, I have a Y DNA testing scholarship for you! Just reach out. Y DNA testing is the single most productive thing we can do for our McKee line genealogy.

Based on the first records we do have for Andrew, he was probably born sometime around 1760.

Based on the ages of his proven children, Andrew was probably likely around 1788, so born sometime between 1760 and 1765. The 1810 census tells us that he was over 45 years of age, so we know he was not born in 1765 or after.

Washington County on the Frontier

The lands within Washington County had been contested by the Shawnee and Cherokee tribes. The three branches of the Holston River provided prime hunting grounds.

Early settlers in the region fled due to the French and Indian War (1754-1763). The first permanent settlement began in 1769. Most of the early settlers streamed down the valley from Pennsylvania, a generation or two after the first immigrant in their family line. Many were Scots-Irish, hardy men who knew battle and hard work, and weren’t afraid of either.

In 1779 and 1780, men from Washington County marched with William Campbell to King’s Mountain, where the Tories were resoundingly defeated by these mountain men that the Tory leader had the bad judgment to mock and disparage. HUGE mistake.

The Tories were gone, but not the drama. Nosiree, not for a minute.

In 1782, Arthur Campbell led a movement to establish a new western state, the State of Franklin. Washington County residents were divided in their opinions, but after attempting to run a “parallel” government for some time, the effort collapsed into disarray.

The State of Franklin attempted to push into Cherokee land, and in March of 1788, the Chickamauga and Chickasaw attacked again.

Finally, in February 1789, the failed State of Franklin disappeared altogether.

Andrew McKee was in this area because on October 5, 1789, his land was surveyed.


Land was so often the lure that crooked her come-hither finger and caused young men to set out with nothing more than a horse and dreams.

Andrew McKee may well have been one of those young men. His father and uncles and maybe older brothers would probably have fought in the Revolutionary War, but Andrew was too young.

When that war ended, vast swaths of land opened on the western frontier. Officials back east hoped that frontiersmen, particularly the difficult-to-manage Scots-Irish, would move westward and provide a barrier between the Native tribes that were still somewhat volatile, not fond of treaty-breaking whites that settled on their land, and the cities and towns further east. If anyone got attacked, let it be the Scots-Irish who were experienced and certainly knew how to wage battle.

Washington County, VA, was a mega-county formed in December of 1776, along with Montgomery and Kentucky. Yes, one county would eventually become the entire state of Kentucky.

If Andrew McKee was slightly older when that land bug bit him, he was probably accompanied by a starry-eyed young bride who would pretty much have followed him anyplace – and obviously did.

To the frontier. Land of bears, wolves, bobcats, and danger. Also, the land of opportunity. Land available for the clearing and inhabiting of your own farm.

Jeffrey La Favre mapped this area of what was originally Augusta County, Virginia, and became Washington County and plotted the various grantees and original landowners on a map, here.

I am incredibly grateful! Thank you, Jeffrey.

We know that Andrew McKee was there by the fall of 1789 when his land was surveyed. It was subsequently granted on July 19, 1790 – just in time for the 1790 census if it existed for Washington County. But alas, it doesn’t.

Page 373 – Andrew McKee, assignee of Zephemah Woolsey, assignee of Joseph Posey – 228 ac – commissioners certificate – on a branch of the middle fork of Holstein River – corner to John Kelly’s land – supposed to be on James Thompson’s line – with a line of Dozers survey – in a valley – corner to Samuel Kithcart’s land – October 5, 1789

Andrew likely bought the patent rights to have this land surveyed from Woolsey.

Andrew was able to snag a nice piece, including a section of the Holston River and probably a crisp, clear spring that drained into the river.

The Washington County Surveyors Record 1781-1797 shows the grants of the neighbors too.

Page 415 – James Thompson – 41 ac – treasury warrant #11963 – on both sides of the middle fork of Holstein River – on the north side of the river a corner to his old patent track – corner to Wilson & John Kelly’s land with Andrew McKee’s line – January 18, 1794

Page 458 – James Robinson, assignee of Moses Edmondson – 100 ac – treasury warrant #8184 dated February 2, 1782 – on a branch of the middle fork of Holstein River – line of Thomas Edmondson, Sr.’s land – corner to David Snodgrass – line of James Robinson’s land – corner to David Martins land – corner to John Kelley’s land – corner to Andrew McKee’s land – June 27, 1796

Page 460 – Jacob Halfacre, assignee of James Thompson – 35 ac – treasury warrant #12173 dated June 4, 1782 – on a Spring Branch of the middle fork of Holstein River – corner to Halfacre’s old survey – in James Thompson’s old survey – corner to McKee’s land – August 23, 1796

If you were to fast-forward in time, you’d recognize a great many of these families purchasing goods at Andrew McKee’s estate sale in the future.

Selecting Land

Andrew would have selected his land with several things in mind. The terrain might have been difficult to view, given that the land wasn’t yet cleared.

Most importantly, it had to have fresh water that was not contaminated upstream.

On this topographical map, I’ve placed the red star where Andrew built his house, on the bluff of the hill. You can see the small stream running right past the house, which is likely why this location was selected.

Well, that and the hill is not AS prone to flooding. I don’t know if Andrew somehow knew about the Holston floods, or if he was just exercising good judgment about rivers in general – but he made an excellent choice.

Of course, it’s also possible that he built a small cabin first and learned the hard way – or there were ruins of someone else’s cabin.

Here’s the little stream that watered and sustained the family, right at the bend in the road leading to Andrew’s house on the right.

But, Andrew’s house wasn’t just any house. It was actually quite remarkable, and, amazingly, still stands.

Driving to Andrew’s Land

My cousin from Washington County was kind enough to drive us to the McKee land, while cousin Daryl recorded our pathway. Thank goodness, or I could never have found this again.

Me, I was busy fighting motion sickness – turning a funny shade of green. I don’t do well in the passenger’s seat on those twisty curvy mountain roads.

I’ve included directions in case you’d like to visit.

From Abington, drive north on 81 to exit 35 (Whitetop Road) – right off the ramp and immediately right on 762, S. River Road, which becomes Friendship Road. A sign says you’re leaving Smyth County and reentering Washington County. The road curves, a 90-degree turn to the left. The house on the right is the old McKee home – up on the hill. My cousin says the house has been recorded in a local book.

I “drove” this route with Google Street View, but unfortunately, the Google car doesn’t drive down some types of roads. The section in front of the McKee house at 12786 Friendship Road is missing, unfortunately.

However, we can see the clump of trees on the right, on the hill. The stream is running on the right side of the road now, where the cattle are watering, and runs directly in front of the house, which is located behind the trees.

Fortunately, Google Earth saved me. We can’t drive by, but we can see the house fairly well.

Someone erected a period split rail fence that, of course, is exactly what Andrew would have had.

You can see the creek path in front, meandering along beside the road.

Fortunately, I took pictures of the house all those years ago.

I told you, this house looks different than other original log cabins.

For the time, this was a HUGE home. At least four times as large as normal log cabins, which were often no larger than a single room – two at most. This house has two fireplaces, one on each end.

Let me share some thoughts with you.

In the photo below, you can see the original cabin logs, at the top, and a very tall field-rock foundation, beneath. Thankfully, the siding was cut away when I was there.

This was a massive, substantial building.

I’d wager that this house was built with the extra tall foundation at least partly due to Holston flooding. That also explains the raised second-story porch, and no porch underneath at ground level. But I think there’s more to this story.

The chimney reaches all the way to the ground, so it’s possible that there are actually two fireplaces on each end – one below and one above, with different flues in the same chimney. I wish this building was on the register of historic places. It should be.

Note those small windows by the fireplace. We’ll talk about those in a few minutes.

Let’s Visit Andrew

I found this home listed at The listing says it was originally built in 1765, which would be right after the end of the French and Indian War, but before the first permanent settlement in the area. I wonder how that year was determined. I can’t help but think a year might have been carved on a beam someplace.

Come on inside.

I want you to take a minute here to relax and close your eyes. When you open them, you’re not in the here and now, but back in the late 1700s. You’ve just ridden up on your horse, or maybe walked a mile or so from a neighboring cabin, and you’re visiting Andrew.

Maybe someone is ill, and you’re bringing soup. Maybe you’re the midwife delivering another baby. Maybe you’re John Kelly, Andrew’s best friend and neighbor, and you’re going to sit by the fire and discuss crops and a fence.

Or maybe you’re the preacher making rounds, or visiting because that baby that was just delivered, died. The entire family is in tears, especially Elizabeth. You’ll be consoling the family, saying soothing preacherly things, then helping Andrew out in the barn make a small casket. You’ll be preaching that funeral tomorrow.

You rode up the path towards the barn and tied the horse, or maybe the mule, by the water, and you’re walking towards the house. A dog runs up to greet you, and you hear children’s voices.

You dug some potatoes and carrots, and stop to put them in the root cellar. Elizabeth sent some onions over last week, and everyone will need the food during the upcoming winter. Root cellars, built into the ground, keep everything cool. Some even have water running through one side, but this one doesn’t. The Holston river floods too high for that.

The newer log cabins are built with a door, but they only have a string that hangs out through the hole by the latch. Don’t want company, pull the string inside. No one has locks.

Andrew’s home is different though. His doors are barricaded. Bolts, reinforced wood and steel. A veritable fort. You can shoot from the holes above the door if you need to. We still have an Indian scare, here, from time to time. Andrew says he’s never felt entirely safe since John McKee’s wife was tomahawked and scalped by the Shawnee in the Kerr Creek Massacre.

Nope. Never have and never will. This is, after all, the frontier.

No one is getting through these doors, or these walls either. Since peace came to the valley, Andrew’s doors are never bolted after sunup, and generally not even shut during the day. Too hot for that in the summer.

You shout out, “howdy” as you climb those outside stairs and walk across the porch, alerting the family that someone was there, and walk on in.

You’ve never seen another cabin with outside stairs like that.

This house, like all cabins, didn’t exactly have rooms back then, at least not on the main floor. The kitchen was the center of the home where cooking was done in the fireplace, which was also the source of heat for the entire household.

The colder it was, the closer in people gathered by the fire.

The walls were thick. You looked out the window, as one of the older children was tending the bee hives outside. For a minute, you sat in the windowsill which was as thick as the wall was deep, and just watched. There would be honey in the fall to sweeten some of the baked goods at Christmas. What a luxury!

The wooden beams were hewn from the logs that had been cleared to make room on this hillside for Andrew’s home. The ceiling was low in order to contain heat in the winter.

The stones in the fireplace and hearth were dug out of the field, shaped to fit by a master stonemason, and placed so that the chimney flue would draft the smoke up and out. A poor fireplace and stray sparks were responsible for many cabin fires that burned families out entirely, or burned them to death.

Fire and Indians were a frontiersman’s worst fears.

Venison stew with beans was cooking in a pot over the fire, on the pothook, where it would simmer all day. The scent wafted through the house. As the hungry men came in from the fields, everyone was welcome to take a wooden trencher, a carved out wooden item that was a combination of a plate and bowl, from the mantle or cupboard, ladle in some stew, and cut some bread. Sometimes there was freshly churned butter for the bread too.

Them was good eats!

Of course, chairs were a luxury. Those pioneers made their own chairs, lashing them together as best they could. But mostly, people sat on benches by a table of long boards. A generation or so after an area was settled, you might be able to bid on some old pioneer’s chairs at an estate sale after he was gone. Bless his heart and soul.

Of course, the executor of his estate made sure to pass around some of the local whiskey. It helped the bidding and raised the prices.

But in the early days, chairs were scarce, so everyone pulled up a windowsill, sat out on the porch, or on benches at the table.

In the back room, or in Andrew’s house, on the lower level, crocks held cabbage and other brined vegetables that would see the family through the winters and early spring known as the starving time. This was especially important if hunting was too dangerous or the men came home empty-handed. Of course, when the wars broke out, which seemed to be often, the men were gone for long stretches at a time, and everyone had to make do – until, or if, the men returned home.

Andrew’s home was HUGE by pioneer standards, but that was because it was the local station, or fort. Most cabins were a couple hundred square feet, max, with rudimentary ladder-type steps to the “upstairs” where the kids slept. Rain and snow blew in between the boards, and everyone huddled together to keep warm.

At almost 3,000 square feet, with two fireplaces for cooking and heat, Andrew’s home could shelter several families in times of danger. Men could defend the fort using those high windows or shooting through the holes above the doors. Indians would have had to run up the hill, out in the open. Yes, this was the best place for a local defensive fort.

That also meant it literally felt like a community possession, and everyone felt at home here.

Bedrooms weren’t just for sleeping.

Women had to spin thread from cotton or linen that was then used to weave cloth to make clothing. Sheep were sheered, and their wool was spun into yarn that was knitted into socks, capes and such.

Everything had to be grown and then processed. Work was from sunup to sundown, and often later by candlelight.

The women often gathered together, making those communal tasks. Not only did many hands make for light work, but they needed each other’s companionship. The people you depended on were your neighbors, who might have also been your family.

Blankets were woven, and quilts were often made from clothing scraps. Everyone shared.

Young children would have slept in the bedroom with their parents, and older children likely slept in the lofts. Andrew, however, had two additional beds, one for boys and one for girls.

Andrew had quite a large family and would tell you just how lucky he was that 13 of his children lived. That was nearly unheard of. That meant that he had lots of help on the farm, of course, but it also meant he had 15 mouths to feed and needed three beds!

Our visit with Andrew has been lovely, but of course, we have to drift back to the present.

The owners have done an amazing job with modernizing without destroying the historical charm of the McKee home. It would have been so much easier to just cover everything up – and the series of owners from then until now has not done that. I don’t know who you are – but THANK YOU!.

Of course, as modernizing occurred, the ever-present threat of flooding was kept in mind, and it appears that the wiring is concentrated in the rafters. The old, original beams seem to have been reinforced. Andrew’s house may stand forever, a testament to those men who built it with nothing more than hand tools! If it was built in 1765, we’re now at 257 years. This may be one of the oldest remaining structures in western Virginia.

Click to enlarge any image.

In this satellite view, you can see Andrew’s section of the Holston River that I’ve labeled “Holston.” You can also still see the field lines that follow his property lines in the survey. And of course, his house.

I’m sure when the Holston floods, everything in this area is covered in water. The good news is that flooding makes the fields fertile, another important aspect of selecting land.

However, this makes the fact that this home still stands even more incredible! It must be built like a battleship.

Early Forts

I want to call your attention to those small windows near the crest of the roof.

The style, size and fortification of this home, in addition to these windows, suggest that this might have been a local station house. A fort, of sorts.

In the early deeds of many East Tennessee and Virginia counties, we find references to places with names such as “Carter’s Station” and “Martin’s Station.” For example, in what would become Hawkins County, Tennessee, on another branch of the Holston River, we find Carter’s Station established in 1787, and Martin’s Station in Lee County, VA. Stations were often the earliest homes, established along Native American pathways, which were often the same pathways settlers used when settling an area.

Stations were early “forts” where settlers rushed when any sort of attack was expected. Families gathered together inside for protection, and the men fought from, hopefully, an advantageous position.

Hence, the high windows of a building and a more elevated position would both confer an advantage. Was this McKee’s Station? I don’t know. We might find mention of that in the deeds of the neighbors or court notes. I don’t have access to the deed books without another trip either to Washington County, the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, or the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Hmmm….

Let’s continue with a tour of Andrew’s neighborhood.

The McKee Cemetery  

If you continue to the end of the road and turn left on to route 736 – Kelly’s Chapel Road, you’ll have arrived at the McKee cemetery – or where it used to be. Behind the 1st fence on the left, the old cemetery is near the trees, but nothing remains now. It was destroyed by cattle, according to the local cousin.

Google Street View doesn’t travel down this road either, but you can see the area from the satellite view.

It’s worth noting that this cemetery is not on Andrew’s original land grant, and I doubt it’s on the second piece he apparently purchased because his second “plantation” was adjacent his first. I think this location was beyond that and just the other side of John Kelly’s land based on the La Favre drawing.

My cousin didn’t know who, exactly, was buried here, just that it was the McKee Cemetery of long ago.

Andrew’s descendants probably rest among those trees, but it’s unlikely that Andrew himself is there.

According to the local cousin, on this same stretch of road, there’s also a newer, but still quite old McKee home that has been sided, shown above. This might have been the “second” plantation owned by Andrew that eventually was inherited by his sons, or maybe land purchased later by his descendants.

The McKee family still owns land across the road from the original homestead.

The Original Land

I was trying to gain perspective on Andrew’s original land.

This flat strip of the river that Andrew owned is about one-fifth mile long.

Andrew’s house was located about that far from the Holston River.

These are roughly his property lines, with the house in the red square and the McKee Cemetery in the red circle.

The Neighborhood

Going on past the cemetery intersection, you come to the fork of River Road and Loves Mill, which is Edmondson land. Down that road is Mt. Olivet United Methodist church and cemetery.

The Mt. Olivet cemetery is across from the church on Love’s Mill Road, below

The cemetery overlooks the beautiful mountains in the background

In the other direction, near the McKee Cemetery, we find Kelly’s Chapel Church.

According to my cousin, the McKees lived in the Kelly’s Chapel church area, which used to be called McKee’s Store, and was changed to Kelly’s Chapel to keep peace in the family and not to upset someone.

Kelly’s Chapel church, above, with its old foundation.

Many later McKee family members are buried here.

Ebbing Springs Presbyterian Church

The oldest church in the area was Ebbing Springs Presbyterian Church, 5 or 6 miles from Andrew McKee’s home and assuredly where he attended church. He would have loaded the kids on the wagon and set off for church in good weather. Not sure what they did in bad weather.

I’ve noted the locations we’ve visited so far.

In 1773, Ebbing Springs and Sinking Springs Presbyterian Church, in Abingdon joined forces to obtain the Reverend Charles Cummings who preached in both churches from 1773 to 1780. Men, including the good Reverend himself, came to church with their rifles at their sides.

Today, the old church and cemetery are long gone, replaced by the “new” church nearby, above, but the Glade Springs Congregation erected a memorial stone to commemorate the early settlers buried there. You can view some early photos, here.

The location of Ebbing Spring, shown above, which apparently actually does ebb and flow, isn’t actually at the present-day church. From the church intersection above, head down 736, Debusk Mill Road near the old mill on the banks of the North Fork of the Holston where the original church and cemetery were located. I was told that the old gravestones stones were actually pushed into the Holston River.

I would bet that Andrew McKee, his wife, and children are found resting here, along the river, in now-unmarked graves. We know that when Andrew’s neighbor and friend, John Kelly, died in 1834, his will specified that he be buried by his wife’s side in the Ebbing Spring graveyard.

Andrew’s son, William McKee is reportedly buried in the Cemetery beside the Sinking Springs Presbyterian Church in Abingdon. A memorial marker for the McKee family is located there.

Update: I subsequently proved that this William McKee, a merchant in Abingdon, is NOT the son of William McKee, who appears to have died about 1811. Please see the article, here, about Andrew McKee’s wife, Elizabeth, and their children.

The fact that the first church in the area was Presbyterian is a clue, as is the surname McKee itself, that Andrew was indeed Scots-Irish. Apparently, Andrew’s neighbor, John Kelly, who was also the executor of his estate, was Presbyterian and Scots-Irish too.

The 1810 Census

We find Andrew in the 1810 census, which was taken on August 6th.

  • 1 free white male 0-9
  • 2 free white males 10-15
  • 2 free white males 16-25
  • 1 free white male over 45 (Andrew)
  • 5 free white females 0-9
  • 2 free white females 10-15
  • 1 free white female 16-25
  • 1 free white female 26-45 (Elizabeth)
  • 10 total household members under 16
  • 2 household members over 25
  • Total number of household members 15

Andrew and his wife had 13 children living at home in 1810.

Thankfully, this census also tells us that Andrew did not own slaves, which I find hugely relieving. It also means that his family supplied all the labor themselves. Good thing he had 13 children.

The census is quite interesting because it ties in with Andrew’s will in a strange sort of way.

You see, Andrew wrote his will in 1805, but didn’t die until 1814. Andrew’s will names his children, and the census confirms them by age…and…tells us something more.

Two additional daughters and a son were born after Andrew’s will was written in 1805 and before the 1810 census. Otherwise, we might never have known – or more specifically, never understood what “strange” records 29 years later were telling us.

Andrew’s Will

I sure would like to know what happened in 1805.

Did Andrew get hurt? Was he so gravely injured that it was believed that his death was imminent?

Men at that time didn’t write a will in preparation for an uncertain future. They didn’t write a will until they believed they were going to need one. Andrew must have been gravely ill, calling his neighbors to his bedside to witness him writing and signing his will.

There’s no sign that any of his children died, so it likely wasn’t something like Cholera, Smallpox, or Dysentery that would have been shared by family members. The area wasn’t swampy, so no “swamp” fevers.

In 1805, Andrew would have been about 40 – in the prime of his life.

Yet, he was obviously thinking about his demise, shortly, and put his wishes on paper. You can tell this was spontaneous and not a “form” because it doesn’t contain the typical introductory paragraph. He got right down to business.

I have transcribed his will with the original spelling.

I, Andrew McKee of Washington County, Virginia do make and publish this my last will and testament. After my executors pay all espence (sic) of clothing and buriel my desire is that all my perishable property shall be sold and the money arising on it shall to go pay all my just debts and the balance shall be disposed of as will be hereafter directed.

First, I gave to my wife Elizabeth one third of all the money in possession or due and arising on the sale of the property after all by debts is paid to her untill she marry then it shall return to all my daughters but if she never married she shall have it during her life then to return to them all equally likewise she shall have the dwelling house untill she marryes but if she never marries then she shall have it during her life. Also she shall have her maintenance and as many of the children as she will keep until she marryes if not she shall have it during her life. The money to be paid her after the property is sold and the money collected and must be paid by the executors.

Second I gave to my four sons James, William, Edward and Andrew my two plantations the one on which I live the other joining to be equally divided between them when the youngest comes of age to be divided by the executors provided they can’t egree themselves. If any of them dye before the come of age or marry then their part shall go to the rest all equally but still Elizabeth my wife shall have her maintenance as was provided for her before. My will and desire is that the executors rent out both my plantations untill my four sons all come of age and the rents shall go to the seport of Elizabeth my wife or so much as is reasonable for her seport the balance shall be left for my four sons when the come to the age of inheritance.

Third. I gave to my six daughters Sally, Mary, Ann, Charity, Jain and Elizabeth all the money that is left after all my debts is paid and the one third that my wife is to receive and likewise my four sons shall pay my six daughters two hundred dollars in money when the girls comes of age. If any of my daughters shall dye before the come of age or marry their part shall go to the rest all equally

All the money goods or chattles which I have devised shall go to them and their heirs forever escept otherwise provided.

And further I desire my executors to bind out all my children escept such of them as my wife shall choose to keep with her to some good trade or calling.

And lastly I appoint my friends Samuel Kelly and John Kelly Jr. of this my last will…no security required…revoking all former wills.

Signed March 24, 1805 in the presence of:
Andrew Edmiston
John Todd
Andrew E. Kelly

At a court held for Washington County the 21st day of June 1814 the last will and testament of Andrew McKee decd was eschibited into court proved by the oaths of Andrew Edmiston and Andrew E. Kelly two of the subscribing witnesses and ordered recorded. On the motion of Samuel Kelly and John Kelly Jr. the executors therein named…took the oath of an escecutor.

Andrew was by no means an old man when he wrote his will, nor when he died 9 years later. Based on that 1760 estimated birth year, he would have been 54. Some researchers put his birth year closer to 1765, which means he would have been about 50.

I can’t help but wonder if whatever was wrong back in 1805 resurfaced in 1814. Although the 1814 fatal event may have been sudden, because Andrew never updated his will with his three youngest children.

Estate Sale

Andrew’s estate sale took place in August. That’s actually quite speedy, which makes me wonder if the sale was actually 14 months later, not two. I can’t read the year clearly, but it doesn’t actually matter.

Two of Andrew’s sons were purchasers, as was his wife, who was noted as both “The Widow” and “Elizabeth McKee.”

Based on how his will was written, Andrew’s wife would have had to purchase anything she wanted. She would receive one-third of the estate value, and some of that value she would have wanted in the form of household goods and furniture. Put another way, she had to allow two-thirds of her household goods to be sold. Ouch!

Purchasers were:

  • James McKee purchased a good deal of farming equipment, plus a saddle and bridle, a bull, heifer, 2 steers, black mare, grindstone
  • Andrew McKee – saddle and bridle, farming equipment, black horse, sorrel colt
  • “The widow” purchased a large kettle, 2 churns, 1 small pot, 1 pot, 1 oven, pail and wash tub, 2 pot racks, 4 cows, grey mare, 6 sheep, 2 pair cards and flat iron
  • Elizabeth McKee – 1 bedstead, bed and furniture, 1 small and large bedstead and bed, 1 chest of drawers, 2 spinning wheels, 1 table, 6 old chairs, cupboard and furniture, 1 bed, 1 counting reel, 3 old keggs, 1 bag 2 baskets, 2 lines, 1 loom, 1 hackle
  • Henry Bois (Boys)
  • Daniel Boyd
  • Moses Brooks
  • David Buchanan
  • John Casey
  • James Cleghorn
  • John Cole
  • Robert Crow
  • William Deen
  • John Evans
  • Andrew Gibson
  • Thomas Gill
  • James Grimes
  • Thomas James
  • Samuel Kelly
  • John Larrymore
  • Robert Larrymore
  • Siberius Main
  • John Main
  • James McGill
  • Robert Murdock
  • Arthur Orr
  • David Roberson
  • John Roe
  • Daniel Troscel

Estate sale Aug. 19

The sale document was filed with the court on February 20, 1816

Andrew was not a poor man, not even in 1805. At that point, he had two plantations. Of course, plantations then meant something a bit different than we think of today. Still, he had two nice farms, one that was 228 acres, and quite a bit of equipment and livestock

In total, Andrew had the following property, in addition to the farms:

Item Number Comment – Money in $
Plows 3 5.29
Harrow 1 2.50
Pitchfork 1 .67
Axes 3 1.58
Hoes 3 1.00
Pair stretchers and clives 1 1.72
Stock lock 1 1.39
Riddle or ribble (can’t read) and old iron 1 2.05
Wheel 1 .30
Saddle and bridle 2 The set that James purchased was $15, the one that Andrew purchased was $1
Large kettle 1 1.00
Churns 2 .60
Small pot 1 .25
Pot 1 .75
Oven 2 .50
Skillet 1 .62
Kettle 1 3.25
Pail and washtub 1 1.00
Pot rack 2 .30
Catting box and knife 1 1.58
Shovel 1 .88
Pair gears 2 4.30
Bridle 4 2.30
Beehive 3 4.86
Sickle 3 2.46
Still and tubs 1 75.00
Heifer/cow 11 100.07
Calves 3 7.00
Steer 7 41.47
Ball 1 5.25
Wagon and hind gears 1 74.00
Geese 17 6.05
Mare 3 57.25
Sorrel horse 1 50.00
Bay mare and colt 1 50.00
Sorrel colt 1 50.00
Gun, moles, and wipers 1 5.80
Sheep 22 29.69
Kegs 5 2.50
2 pair cards and flat iron 1 2.0
Hogs 15 19.05
Bedstead, bed, and furniture 1 8.00
Small bedstead & bed 1 3.00
Large bedstead & bed 1 9.00
Spinning wheel 2 1.50
Table 1 1.00
Old chairs 6 1.00
Cupboard & furniture 1 5.00
Bed 1 3.00
Counting reel 1 .50
1 bag, 2 baskets 1 .39
Lines 2 .30
Chairs 3 1.05
Arm chair 1 .72
Grindstone 1 .95
Loom 1 3.00
Hackle 1 1.00

All of the family possessions, less the real estate which went to Andrew’s sons, amounted to $671.69, of which $85.56 was sold to Elizabeth, his widow.

Andrew had obviously continued to farm after whatever happened in 1805. Two of his sons were purchasing farming equipment.

Andrew had four mares, a horse, and two colts, but only two saddles and bridles. Two of his sons purchased one set each.

It’s interesting what’s NOT listed in his estate. None of Andrew’s clothes, no guns, no butchering equipment, no knives, no crops or produce, no plates or silverware, and no quilts, bedcoverings, or blankets. You know beyond a doubt that Andrew’s household had all of these things.

Almost every farmer had a secondary skill, but there were no shoemaker tools, no candlemaking tools, no blacksmith tools, and no carpentry tools in Andrew’s estate.

I’d also bet Andrew owned a Bible, but that’s open to speculation. He did not sign his will with a mark, so he clearly could read and write. There were also no other books listed either.

We know one thing that Andrew McKee did, positively, He distilled whiskey in a fine Irish tradition. His still and tubs were the single most valuable item of his possessions. Sure enough, Andrew was a distiller. McKee’s finest!

Andrew’s sons didn’t purchase his still, either. There was quite a good market for whiskey, which was used medically and for another form of “medicine” as well.

Andrew’s widow, Elizabeth, still had every single child at home, all 13 of them, ranging in age from 4 to about 25 or 26, so she clearly needed all of the beds and furniture they had. If you look at the list, four beds for a married couple and 13 children isn’t much at all.

Maybe they had a boy’s bed and two girl’s beds.

Those upper windows – you know who was sleeping up there. I suspect some of those children were probably sleeping on straw on the floor – maybe by choice rather than sleep in a bed full of squirming siblings.


When children are listed in a will, we presume that ALL of the children are listed – but that wasn’t the case. Well, let me restate. It was at the time the will was written.

Andrew and Elizabeth had three more children after Andrew made his will; Eliza, Rebecca, and Alexander, who was born about 1810. This suggests that Andrew’s wife, Elizabeth was probably 42ish in 1810, putting her birth about 1768 and her marriage to Andrew about 1788ish – just before or around the time he had that land surveyed.

Andrew didn’t die for another nine years after he wrote his will – which means he was still relatively young – someplace around 50.

Let’s correlate our data using the 1810 census, Andrew’s will, and what we know about Andrew’s children based on birth or marriage dates.

Child – in will order 1805 Will 1810 Census Birth Marriage Other
James Yes 1785-1794 Jan 12, 1791 Jan 1816 Sarah Roe Died July 18, 1855
William Yes 1785-1794 1788-1794 Died abt 1811 Not the William McKee who lived in Abingdon.
Edward Yes 1795-1800 Abt 1798 Dec 1818 Mary Hand Died 1832
Andrew Yes 1795-1800 Abt 1796 Mar 1816 Nancy Roe
Sally Yes 1785-1794 Abt 1790 Dec 1810 Robert Larimer
Mary Yes 1795-1800 Abt 1799 Jan 1820 John Larimer
Ann Yes 1800-1810 1804-1805 Feb 1823 Charles Speak
Charity Yes 1800-1810 Aft 1800 May 1823 William Griever Minor in June 1818
Jain (Jane, Jenny) Yes 1800-1810 Abt 1803 Abt 1823 Richard Jones Minor in Jan 1822, died before May 1839
Elizabeth Yes 1795-1800 Abt 1795 Wallace
Rebecca No 1800-1810 1805-1809 William Jamison Will probated April 22, 1839
Eliza No 1800-1810 1805-1806 Jan 1823 Eleazer Rouse Minor in Jan 1822
Alexander No 1801-1810 1810 Never married Will May 20, 1839, named sisters in will

Perhaps on my next trip to Sale Lake City, I’ll have the opportunity to search through the Washington County deeds and court records for more information about Andrew’s life. Maybe Andrew has a few secrets yet to reveal.

Au Revoir for Now

It’s time to leave Andrew after one last look at the beautiful McKee land on the Middle Fork of the Holston River.

It sure looks a lot different today. When Andrew staked his claim, that was just the first step. The land had to be cleared before it could be farmed. Tree by tree. Felled and the stump removed.

Andrew would be proud to see his manicured land today, his beautiful home still standing. How I wish he could tell us stories.

Some of his family members, now several generations removed, still live on surrounding land and nearby, two and a half centuries later.

Like the details of Andrew’s life, most of his descendants have scattered hither and yon. It’s only in the last few years, through genealogy, then genetic genealogy, that we have discovered and reconnected with Andrew.


Our DNA is reuniting us as Andrew’s descendants, confirming Andrew and Elizabeth as our common ancestors.

Andrew lives on in me on chromosomes 4 and 10, where I match other cousins.

Many of Andrew’s descendants carry a bit of his DNA, a gift that we can map on the palette of our chromosomes, like his land is mapped upon the earth. A wink and a nod from the past.

Now, like Andrew’s DNA, perhaps Andrew’s story will be carried forward as well so that Andrew’s life, as best we can resurrect, will never be forgotten.

Much like the three deaths.

The first death is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.

The final death is to be forgotten, to disappear entirely into oblivion, forever.

Andrew gave me life. I’m just returning the favor.


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15 thoughts on “Andrew McKee (c1760-1814), Distiller on the Middle Fork of the Holston River – 52 Ancestors #372

  1. Another great one, Roberta! Of course, I have Washington County ancestors, as well, but none of the names from your story. I have a few McKees in my tree, but no one that far back. William Summerville McKee (1849-1936) m. Sallie Virginia Rogers, a Claiborne County Rogers 2C 4xR.

    • I need to look at this. It would be wonderful to finally find a common ancestor. Where is he in the 1850 census?

      • According to his obit, he was b. 5 Jul 1849 at Bloomery Gap, Virginia, son of Robinson Joseph McKee and Maria Sommerville. When he was six, the family moved to Missouri, then Illinois. In 1868, to Clinton County, Missouri. He was married 25 May 1876 in Clinton County to Sallie Virginia Rogers. All their children were b. in Clinton County. My connection is through his wife, who is a Claiborne County Rogers descendant.

  2. Pingback: The Dead Speak: Unraveling and Understanding Patterns Found in Death Records | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

  3. Hello – this was a wonderful article! I’m wondering how positive you are that Andrew’s daughter Charity married William Griever? I’m a a complete standstill on Charity McKee that married Hays Brooks in Cumberland, PA on March 17, 1817. Witnesses were Edward and Alexander McKee, and Hays Brooks witnessed Rachel McKee’s marriage to a Ferguson. My McKees weren’t in Cumberland until 1812, and seem to have dropped out of the sky. Yours is the only other Charity McKee I’ve run across.

    • I’m positive based on the marriage record. But, I can’t help but wonder if there is a connection between the families. I’m getting ready to publish another article in the next day or so.

      • If you’re interested, I can send you the research I had done a few years ago by a local geneologist. My niece took a DNA test a few years back, too, so I’ll send her your site information. My original guess (based on unreliable family stories) is that Charity was a Native gal given the McKee name so she could be married. No support for that, but haven’t found anything contrary either. So many McKees!!

        • Find someone who descends from her through all females and test their mitochondrial DNA. That will tell you conclusively whether she is Native or not.

      • Hi Roberta, I am Valeska’s niece. I just had my fathers DNA done. He is matching people who are also part of this Andrew Mckee family. I have yet to dig further into the connection but it is interesting that through DNA matches and having Charity McKee as a ancestor that there is a link. I am suspicious as to where we fit in. It could possibly be farther back but doubtful because of the percentage of DNA shared with the matching descendants of this family.

  4. Pingback: Elizabeth (c1767-1838), Andrew McKee’s Incredible Widow – 52 Ancestors #373 | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

  5. Thanks, my family of McKee links to John McKee died Athens ohio 1827.. Irish birth.. son Thomas McKee b Feb 1801 McKeesport, See his family Bio ,,Athens ohio and Auglaize Ohio . Brick wall?My DNA on Heritage and Ancestry..MJ McKee Crawford co illinois

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