Sunday, 4 May 2008

The Remarkable 1718 McKeens

In the summer of 1718 some 700 Ulster folk, mostly Presbyterians, arrived in Boston Harbour on five small ships from Coleraine and Londonderry. One extended family that came in the fleet was the McKeens of Ballymoney, County Antrim. The expedition was organised by James McKeen, his brother John McKeen and their in-law Rev James McGregor and these men were the motivating force behind the fleet of ships that came into Boston harbour in late summer of 1718. Many historians site the event as the actual ‘beginning’ of the Great Ulster Migration to the New World. This McKeen family established a migration paradigm, of many families coming together in a small fleet of ships and this pattern established the large Ulster presence in the New World.

James McKeen went on to become the first magistrate and leader of the Londonderry, New Hampshire Colony. His brother John passed away shortly before the ships left Ulster, but widow and children did also come with the fleet and they too become prominent and successful in Colonial America and Canada.

The descendants of John and James McKeen are still found in New England and Nova Scotia to this day. One of the McKeen men, Jack McKeen, of Massachusetts, participated in the McCain DNA Project which was one of the first and most successful Ulster family DNA Projects. The DNA test revealed that the New England and Nova Scotia McKeens were the same family and closely related to the McCains of Mississippi and New Brunswick. The family in Ireland had two branches, one in northwest Antrim and the other in east Donegal, in the Finn Valley.

left, is John Cargill “Jack” MacKeen who is a direct lineal descendant of settlers from the 1718 migration from Antrim to America, including both McKeen and Cargill lines. His immigrant ancestor, John McKeen, born 1700 in Ballymoney, Co. Antrim, and son of the John McKeen above, arrived as a young man with his mother and siblings in Boston in August of 1718.

The picture left is the gravestone of John McKeen, immigrant ancestor and his wife, Martha Cargill, in the Robie Street Cemetery in Truro, Nova Scotia. Both died on the same day, December 30, 1767.

Barry R McCain © 2008

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