THE EARLY HISTORY
By Walter L. Riggs
“As we intended to take horses here, and it required some time to find them, I went about three miles to the mouth of the Youghiogheny to visit Queen Alliquippa, who had expressed great concern that we passed her in going to the fort.I made her a present of a match-coat and a bottom of the rum, which later was thought much the best present of the two,” wrote George Washington in his journal on December 31st, 1753 and, and incidentally he thereby made the first definite authentic record of a visit of a white man to the present site of the City of McKeesport, Washington, of course, was accompanied by Christopher Gist on this occasion and Gist also made a record of the visit in his journal.
Many another traveler on his way to the Forks of the Ohio over Nemacolin’s Path or Trail had visited the home of the trader Frazier at the mouth of Turtle Creek, but, as Nemacolin’s Path gave the mouth of the Youghiogheny a wide berth, and as the incentive that prompted Washington to leave the beaten path was a stranger to the mind of the average traveler, it is not surprising that the section now known as McKeesport was little visited.
As Queen Alliquippa was the first permanent resident at the mouth of the Youghiogheny, - if the residence of an Indian may be termed permanent-it may be fitting to consider for a moment this regal personage.
Queen Alliquippa was what might be called an anomaly among Indian rulers, in that she was one of the very few women who became the leader of a band of Indians; in fact this, no doubt, accounts for her prominence in history.
In the year 1701, she, with her husband and infant son visited William Penn at Newcastle, Delaware; in 1706 Thomas Chalkley found her ruling her tribe in Chester County, Pa., in 1748 Conrad Weiser dined with her at her town on the Allegheny River, near the mouth of the Monongahela River; in 1749 Celeron found her at Shannopin’s Town on the Allegheny River, although he did not see her, for she fled to the hills at the approach of the French and did not return until after they had departed; in 1752 MESSRS. PATTEN, FRY and LOMAX, commissioners of Virginia, presented her with gifts at her town on the Ohio River below the mouth of Chartier’s Creek; and finally Washington found her at the mouth of the Youghiogheny in 1753.When the French drove the English from the Forks of the Ohio, Queen Alliquippa fled from the mouth of Youghiogheny and joined Washington’s camp at Fort Necessity in 1754, and upon the surrender of that fort, she was sent to Aughwick, Pa., where a few months later she died.“Alcqueapy, ye old quine, is dead, and left several children” tersely reported George Croghan, charge of Indian affairs at Aughwick, to the Colonial authorities under date of December 23rd, 1754.
Local historians delight to surround Queen Alliquippa with a halo of glory, but she was just a wrinkled old Indian squaw, possibly 75 years of age when she lived at McKeesport.She was a Seneca, and her one virtue seems to have been that she ever remained the firm friend of the English.
Subsequent to the visit of Washington there is no definite record of the presence of any white man at or near the mouth of the Youghiogheny until Braddock and his army passed that place on July 9th, 1755.Entering the present limits of the City of McKeesport, Braddock’s army passed down the valley now known as Hartman Street, and forded the Monongahela at the present site of the new McKeesport Duquesne Bridge.
The history of McKeesport during the period from 1755 to 1768 is shadowed in doubt and there is no authentic record of the events occurring during that interim.However, notwithstanding the want of information on the subject, practically every history of Allegheny County and of McKeesport relates that DAVID McKEE settled at the mouth of the Youghiogheny in 1755 “under the protection” of (pg. 5) Queen Alliquippa.As that dusky sovereign was chasing the deer in the “Happy Hunting Ground” during that particular year, and as it is definitely known that all the English had been driven from the Monongahela by the French prior to 1755, little credence need be placed in these assertions.DAVID McKEE may have made a visit to the mouth of the Youghiogheny as early as 1755, but even that is extremely doubtful, and if the story is not purely a myth, it at least lacks historical confirmation.
It will be remembered that on February 3rd, 1768, the Assembly of Pennsylvania solemnly passed that most terrifying law declaring that all settlers occupying lands not yet purchased from the Indians should remove from the same at once or “suffer death without benefit of clergy”, and that a commission was appointed to visit the various settlements and explain the law to the settlers.In the report of that commission dated April 2nd, 1768, is a list of the settlements visited and the names of the settlers, but the name of McKEE does not appear therein.”While that report does not pretend to give the name of the settler, yet the absence of the name of McKEE therefrom is at least significant.
If DAVID McKEE was not in southwestern Pennsylvania at the time of that report, there is positive assurance that he was there on December 25th, of the same year.In a volume of the early Supreme Court Reports, officially designated as “1 YATES”, at page 288 is reported a case known as RICHARD SMITH vs GEORGE CRAWFORD, et al., and from that report the following is a quotation.
“It was proved by several witnesses, that the said JAMES McKEE first seated himself on the land and began to build a cabin about Christmas 1768, which was finished in 1769, after the office opened, and originally held it by what he falsely called an improvement, which he had continued by himself or his tenants up to the present period, and that at the time of commencing the ejectment he had a good house, barn, stables, some meadow ground and about sixty acres of land cleared on the farm, that his father had sent to Philadelphia applications for several tracts of land for his sons, and amongst others one for the tract in question, to be entered in the office, which had miscarried, but which under an impression that the locations had been sent by (pg. 6) mistake to a wrong surveyor, the survey had been actually made for the said JAMES McKEE, his son, and JOHN MCKEE his brother had paid 51, for the surveying fees. “
This case, decided in 1793, was an action of ejectment for “300 acres at Braddock’s upper crossing on the west side of the Monongahela about 14 miles from Fort Pitt,” the present site of the City of Duquesne.It recites that JAMES McKEE claimed the land under a permission granted to Alexander Ross by Captain Charles Edmonstone, commanding officer at Fort Pitt, under date of September 29th, 1768.Upon the attainder of Ross for high treason, the estate was declared forfeited and sold at public sale to JAMES McKEE for 35L.
Therefore, in lieu of any authentic information on the subject other than the report before mentioned and the Supreme Court record, DAVID McKEE and his family must have arrived at the mouth of the Youghiogheny sometime between April 2nd, 1768, and December 25th, of the same year.With DAVID McKEE came his wife, MARGARET, his five sons, ROBERT, JAMES, THOMAS, DAVID and JOHN, and his two daughters, MARY and MARGARET.
When the Proprietors’ Land Office was opened on April 3rd, 1769, to receive applications for land in the “New Purchase,” which included southwestern Pennsylvania, DAVID McKEE was present on the opening day and filed his application for 306 acres of land at the junction of the Monongahela and Youghiogheny Rivers.Two days later his two sons, THOMAS and ROBERT, filed their applications, the former for 253 acres adjoining DAVID McKEE’S land on the south, and the latter for 285 acres adjoining DAVID McKEE’S land on the east.
The prompt action of DAVID McKEE and his two sons in taking up all the level land between the two rivers, and some not so level, at least gives us a hint as to the purpose they had in view when they journeyed westward to the frontier of Pennsylvania.
The McKEES were not the only pioneers interested in procuring lands at the mouth of the Youghiogheny, SAMUEL SINCLAIR, JACOB ZEINNETT and PETER KEYSER followed the McKEES, and the first named made application for the land across the Youghiogheny from the DAVID McKEE property, later known as the “Forks of the Youghiogheny.”Jacob (pg. 7) Zeinnett procured the land along the Monongahela east of theROBERT McKEE tract beginning at Braddock’s Upper Crossing, while Peter Keyser made application for the same land for which the application of THOMAS McKEE had already been filed.However, upon ascertaining his error, Keyser later purchased the Zeinnett property.A year elapsed and then young Hugh Goben arrived in the community and took up the land south of the Zeinnett tract and east of the DAVID and THOMAS McKEE properties.
Thus it will be seen that practically all the property now included within the present city limits of the City of McKeesport was originally owned by six men, DAVID McKEE, THOMAS McKEE, ROBERT McKEE, Peter Keyser, Hugh Goben and Samuel Sinclair.They were all primarily farmers and at once began to clear the land and to till the soil.
Very early two of these men were taken from the field of activity of death.THOMAS McKEE was a victim of disease, but Peter Keyser met a violent end.As Keyser’s passing was extremely tragic, the details have a historic interest.
The home of Peter Keyser was located on the Monongahela River very near the spot where Braddock’s army crossed that stream.One day in the year 1777 or 1778, while Keyser and his two sons, aged 18 and 20 years respectively, were in the fields sowing wheat, a band of Indians suddenly appeared at the cabin and sank their tomahawks into the skulls of Mrs. Keyser and her four small children.Then after setting fire to the house they went to the field in search of Keyser and the two elder sons, Keyser was killed but the two boys fled to the river, where the younger was shot just as he was plunging into the water.The elder son, Jacob by name, swam the river and escaped -the only survivor in the family of eight.
The next record of Jacob Keyser is found in a power of attorney executed in Lexington, Kentucky, under date of February 13th, 1798, authorizing John Walker to enter suit for all property claimed by him in the State of Pennsylvania, and reciting that a similar power of attorney had been given to Ephraim Blain in the year 1788 but Blain had neglected to act thereunder.
The place of THOMAS McKEE in the community was soon taken by James Peebles.However, instead of making (pg. 8) an application for a new tract of land, Peebles promptly married DAVID McKEE’S daughter, MARY, and together they took possession of the THOMAS McKEE tract of land.Later, in 1779 Peebles purchased the interests of his wife’s brothers and sister in the property and procured a patent for the land.The deed to THOMAS McKEE will be found among the records in Westmoreland County.”
While the early settlers were clearing their land and filling their fields, DAVID McKEE decided that a ferry across the Youghiogheny and Monongahela Rivers would be profitable, and two ferries were promptly placed in operation.Early histories relate that the right to operate these ferries were given to McKEE by the Colonial authorities, but the Colonial Records are silent in this regard.However, it is certain that such ferries existed, for the minutes of the Virginia Court for Augusta County under date of February 21st, 1775, record the appointment of viewers for a proposed road “from the mouth of the Youghiogheny River at McKEE’S ferry.”
It may be that ferries were operated without any express legal authority from the Colony of Pennsylvania, and it is certain that he did not have such authority from Virginia, which claimed jurisdiction at that time, and the lack of such permission from Virginia caused the temporary suspension of the operation of McKEE’s ferries during the year 1775.Samuel Sinclair, who resided across the Youghiogheny, taking advantage of McKEE’s omission in this regard, on this regard, on the 24th day of February 1775, made application to the Virginia Court for Augusta County sitting at Fort Dunmore for permission to operate ferries across both rivers.The minutes of the court on that date provide as follows:
“On motion of Samuel Sinclair, who lives at the forks of the rivers Monongahela and Youghagano leave is granted him to keep a ferry over each of the rivers, and that he keep boats.”
A few months later, DAVID McKEE, realizing his error in not having procured such permission from the Virginia Courts, appealed to that body, but with less success.The minutes of the court on May 16th, 1775 are as follows:
“On the motion of DAVID McKEE for leave to keep a ferry over the Monongahala and Youghagano, which motion being opposed, on hearing the parties it is considered that the ferry is unnecessary (pg. 9) ; it is therefore ordered that the said motion be rejected.”
Thus it will be seen that Certificates of Public Convenience as granted by the present Public Service Commission of Pennsylvania are not particularly new, the old Virginia Courts having exercised the same jurisdiction in a somewhat limited form.
It is not known just how long DAVID McKEE’S ferry remained inactive, but on February 5th, 1784, the Assembly of Pennsylvania, passed an Act granting to JOHN McKEE, son of DAVID McKEE, the right to operate a ferry over the aforesaid rivers.” In the preamble of the Act it is recited that the said ferry had been operated by JOHN McKEE for many years past and that the purpose of the Act was to establish by law his right to operate the same.
Before introducing the principle character of the early history of McKeesport, JOHN McKEE, his brothers and sisters will be disposed of briefly.
As has before been stated, MARY McKEE married JAMES PEEBLES and settled on the THOMAS McKEE tract after THOMAS had died, and JAMES McKEE built his cabin at the present site of the City of Duquesne.ROBERT McKEE erected a large stone mansion on his tract of land at a point now known as Fifth Avenue, McKeesport, which in the memory of some of our older residents has ever been spoken of as the “Haunted House”.His daughter, ELIZABETH McKEE, married SAMUEL SINCLAIR, JR., son of SAMUEL SINCLAIR from across the Youghiogheny, and their descendants appear prominently in the history of McKeesport.DAVID McKEE, JR., settled across the Monongahela in Mifflin Township, and one of his daughters, SARAH, married THOMAS WHIGHAM.To this DAVID McKEE, the present mayor of McKeesport and many other more or less prominent citizens trace their lineage.MARGARET McKEE married a man by the same name, ROBERT McKEE, but little is known of their children, if any.
JOHN McKEE, the founder of McKeesport, was born in 1746 in northern Ireland of Scotch ancestry and was therefore about 22 years of age when the family arrived at the present site of McKeesport....(pg. 10) The father and brothers, however, secured their land for the permanent use and occupation of themselves and their families, while JOHN McKEE, when his interest in land was awakened, became a trader in real estate for profit.He bought and sold land in Pittsburgh, in Beaver County, along the Allegheny and in Versailles Township, and through his real estate operations and other business transactions became one of he wealthiest men in western Pennsylvania...(pg. 11) JOHN McKEE was twice married, his first wife being SARAH GOBEN, a sister of HUGH GOBEN, and his second, SARAH REDICK, popularly known as “SALLY.”By reason of the fact that both wives bore the same first name, historians seem to have overlooked the first wife entirely and no mention of her has been made in any published history.
In Deed Book Vol. 2, at page 311 is recorded a deed signed by JOHN and SARAH McKEE, and dated May 20, 1789.In the acknowledgement of this deed under date of June 23, 1790 it is set forth that the acknowledgement of the deed is made by JOHN McKEE alone, his wife having died since signing the deed.There is also a case reported in Vol. 1 Addison’s Reports at page 272, wherein it is recited that HUGH GOBEN and JOHN McKEE were brothers-in-law.
At least two children were born to JOHN McKEE and his first wife, one of whom, answering to the name of MARGERY, grew into woman’s estate and married young WILLIAM THOMPSON, “lately arrived from Kentucky.”McKEE then purchased the HUGH GOBEN farm, which had been the home of his wife, and turned it over to his son-in-law, WILLIAM THOMPSON.The THOMPSONS lived on the farm for many years, and reared two daughters.
JOHN McKEE’S first wife died sometime between May 20th, 1788 and June 23rd, 1790, but he did not long remain single. One July day in the year 1791 a man on horseback and leading a second horse on which was a lady’s side-saddle, stopped at the home of JOHN McKEE.The rider was the handsome HUGH McCOY of Fort Pitt.He was quickly joined (pg. 12) by JOHN McKEE, also on horseback and leading a second horse on which was a lady’s side saddle, and together they rode away.They followed Braddock’s Road into the Cumberland Valley, and finally stopped at the home of JOHN REDICK, a wealthy and aristocratic land owner.That evening, July 21, 1791, a double wedding took place, and the next morning when the riders started homeward, the beautiful SALLY REDICK rode by the side of JOHN McKEE, and her sister, RACHEL REDICK, rode by the side of HUGH McCOY.The comely SALLY was duly installed as mistress of the McKEE plantation, and the blue blood of the REDICK family joined the wealth of the McKEES, and the first aristocracy of McKeesport was formed.
Although this wedding was a May and December affair, SALLY being 25 years of age, and JOHN 20 years her senior, the union was a happy one.The vivacious SALLY attracted to her home the society of the surrounding country, for SALLY was a born aristocrat, and the prominence of her brothers, JOHN REDICK of Beaver County, and DAVID REDICK of Washington County, extended her social reign into both of those counties.JOHN REDICK was an associate judge of Beaver County and DAVID REDICK was one of the most prominent men in Western Pennsylvania...Four children were born to JOHN McKEE by his second wife, DAVID, who died in infancy, and JOHN, SALLY and REDICK all to whom lived to maturity...ends pg. 20”