~ Keen Ancestors ~
“The Keen Migration”
Capt. Elisha Keen, the head of our branch of the Keen Family, migrated south from Fairfax County to the area of Henry County that later became Franklin County sometime during, 1775-1777, during the years of the American Revolution. This time period was a changing point for America and scattered families as they started new lives and settled new frontiers. Capt. Elisha Keen served in the American Revolution and was also compensated for food and boarding that he provided for troops after his discharge. Elisha’s wife, Elizabeth Napier, is the daughter of Ashford Napier who also served in the Revolutionary War. Like many colonist, Elisha took the Oath of Allegiance on September 13, 1777. Many early researchers were sometimes confused because previous to the American Revolution the colonies were British Colonies, however they were born in America and not Great Britain like other sources try to suggest.
Previous to Franklin County, Virginia the Keen Family resided in the Northern Area of Virginia now known as Fairfax, Virginia. Before it became Fairfax County in 1742 the area in which the Keen Family lived was known as Truro Parish. The area is also sometime referred to as “Northern Neck” Virginia. Truro Parish was created by the General Assembly of Virginia on November 1, 1732 when Hamilton Parish was divided along the Occoquan River and Bull Run. It included what is presently, Arlington, Fairfax, and Loudon County, and the independent cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, and Falls Church. The parish was named after Truro Parish in Cornwall, England. John Keen was a very active member in the Parish Church and is on record as taking in an orphan child from the community.
The Keen family migrated west to the neighboring Fairfax County, Virginia from the import community of Port Tobacco, Maryland. Port Tobacco, often referred to as Portobacco, is one of the oldest communities on the East Coast of the United States. It first existed as the Native American settlement of Potopaco. It was colonized by the English in 1634, and became a major port. Its remains today are identified as Port Tobacco Village. Until the end of the Revolutionary War, Port Tobacco was the second largest river port in Maryland. Ships from Europe brought prized goods and immigrants to Port Tobacco and sailed back to England with hogsheads of tobacco. Many Ships docked in Portobaco and often portions of the crew remained when the ships returned to England. The exact details of how and when James Keen came to America is unknown. However, the documents that are available and the traditions and patterns of migration during that time period suggest that it is most likely that James Keen came to America aboard one of the countless ships that brought goods to Port Tobacco. Like so many other inhabitants, the early members of the Keen family of Port Tobacco, were products of the religious turmoil in England, and their deeply felt convictions were to be a powerful determinant in the course of their immigration to the American colonies. Freed from restraints by the Toleration Act of 1649 and feeling a need for spiritual guidance their religion and desire to worship how they wanted led them to America. Often immigrants settled in American Colonies named for the parish in England they were coming from.
Somerset County Maryland is only a County away from Port Tobacco. The Keen family also lived in Somerset, Maryland which was named for the County in England they had previously lived. Today Somerset is a town in Montgomery County, Maryland, near the District of Columbia border. Five early streets in Somerset were arranged and remain to this day: Dorset, Warwick, Surrey, Cumberland, and Essex after the English counties. Surrey in particular is the area in England that the Keen family once lived.
As mentioned above the Keen family lived lastly in England in Street and North Petherton, England. Street is a town in Somerset, England. It is in the historic county also called Somerset. North Petherton is a small town and civil parish also in Somerset, England, situated on the edge of the eastern foothills of the Quantocks, and close to the edge of the Somerset Levels. North Petherton became a town only in the late 20th century, until then claiming to be the largest village in England.
The Keen family lived in the general Petherton and Surrey County area for over a hundred years before coming to America. The Keen family also lived in the villages of Worplesdon and Eashing. The last Keen we can trace our Keens to is John Keen, born 1480 in the Eashing Village, County of Surrey, England. Eashing is a small village in Surrey a couple of miles outside Godalming.
The main foundation for the research of the Keen line is based on the research done by the College of Arms in London, England in 1936. This research traces the Keen family From John Keen born in 1480 to the Keene’s in Maryland which we descend. The research also shows the first Keene’s on record in Surrey County, England are John and William Le Kene who in 1271 are mentioned in land transactions at Mitcham in Surrey, England. The College of Arms is the official repository of the coats of arms and pedigrees of English, Welsh, Northern Irish and Commonwealth families and their descendants. The officers of the College, known as heralds, specialize in genealogical and heraldic work.
The journey the Keene family made bringing them to England from Ireland was most likely not documented and the details of this journey will probably never be known. Fighting and land control between the countries of Ireland, Scotland, and England displaced thousands of people and people often fled to safer areas in the stronghold of England’s boarders.
I hope everyone has enjoyed this history I have put together to help explain the migration of the Keen family. I am very grateful to my ancestors for all the sacrifices they made for us and I hope my work and your interest makes them proud.
~ Michael E. Barbour ~