165 JUBILEE - Official Publication Commerating
McKEESPORT’S OLD HOME WEEK
165th jubilee : official publication commemorating McKeesport's old home week celebration, 1795-1960.
McKeesport, Pa.: Wivagg Printing, 1960.
Bruice A. Yount, Editor
THE EARLY HISTORY of McKEESPORT by Walter L. Riggs
In the report of that commission (Assembly of Pennsylvania) dated April 2, 1768, is a list of the settlements visited and the names of settlers, but the name of McKEE does not appear therein.If DAVID McKEE was not in southwestern Pa. 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 Courts Reports, officially designated as “1 Yeastes,” at page 288 is 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 ground cleared on the farm, that his father had sent to Philadelphia applications for several tracts of land for his sons, and amongst them 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 mistake to the wrong surveyor, the survey had been actually made for the said JAMES McKEE, his son, and JOHN McKEE, his brother, had paid 5 (Written L with a cross in the middle) 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 city of Duquesne.It recites that JAMES McKEE claimed the land under a permission granted to Alexander Ross by Captain Charles Edmundstone, 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 35 (written L with a cross in the middle of it).
Therefore, in lieu of any authentic information of the subject other than the commissioners’ report before mentioned and the Supreme Court record, DAVID McKEE and his family must have arrived at the mouth of the Youghiogheny some time 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.
Pg. 8 DAVID McKEE
DAVID McKEE was born in Scotland in the year 1710.His parents were strict Presbyterians, serious minded and deeply religious, and for that reason they were persecuted, as was the custom of the day.In the year 1715, while DAVID was a mere child, his family was forced to flee from Scotland to northern Ireland.But religious persecution followed the family into Ireland, and possibly in the year 1750, DAVID and several of his brothers, with their families, came to America in search of a “church without a bishop and a state without a king.”
The McKEE brothers, and their families, located near Philadelphia, and there is no authentic record of the families until the building of the cabin at the site of the present city of Duquesne, as before stated.
DAVID’S brothers are presumed to have located in Virginia, Kentucky, and other states.
When the Proprietor’s Land Office opened on April 3rd, 1769 in Philadelphia to receive applications for the purchase of 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 his father’s purchase on the south, and the latter for 285 acres adjoining his father’s purchase on the east.To specify more particularly the boundaries of the three tracts, using present day streets,
DAVID McKEE’S tract extended from the Youghiogheny River to Huey St., and from the Monongahela River to approximately Eleventh St., and eastwardly between Versailles Avenue on the north and Jenny Lind St. to the south to the neighborhood of Soles Street.
ROBERT McKEE’S land extended from the Monongahela River on the north to Versailles Avenue on the south, and from Huey St. on the west to Riverton St., extended, on the east.
THOMAS McKEE’S land extended from the Monongahela River eastwardly along the southerly border of DAVID McKEE’S land.
The McKEES were not the only pioneers procuring lands at the mouth of the Youghiogheny.
Later young HUGH GOBEN arrived in the community, and took up the land lying west of Grandview Avenue and south of Versailles Avenue.
PETER KEYSER applied for the same land for which prior application had been filed by THOMAS McKEE, and upon ascertaining his error, KEYSER purchased the ZEINNETT tract.
SAMUEL SINCLAIR became the owner of land across the Youghiogheny from DAVID McKEE’S property, later known as the “Forks of the Youghiogheny,” and at the present time the Tenth Ward of the City of McKeesport.
JACOB ZEINNETT made application for land on the Monongahela River east of the ROBERT McKEE.
Thus, it will be seen that the greater part of the land now included within the present part of the land now included within the present city limits of McKeesport was originally owned by six men: DAVID McKEE, THOMAS McKEE, ROBERT McKEE, PETER KEYSER, HUGH GOBEN and SAMUEL SINCLAIR.
Very early two of these men were taken from the field of activity by death.THOMAS McKEE was a victim of disease, but PETER KEYSER met a more tragic end.While MR. KEYSER and his two sons, aged 18 and 20 years respectively, were in the field sowing wheat, a band of Indians suddenly appeared at the cabin, and killed MRS. KEYSER and her four small children.After setting fire to the cabin, they went into the fields in search of MR. KEYSER and the two older boys.KEYSER was killed, but the two boys fled (9) to the Monongahela 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 sole survivor of 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 in his behalf 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 PEEPLES, some times spelled PEOPLES.However, instead of making application for a new tract of land, he promptly married MARY McKEE, daughter of DAVID McKEE and sister of the deceased THOMAS McKEE, and together they took possession of the THOMAS McKEE tract of land.Later, on Feb. 19, 1779, the brothers and sisters of THOMAS McKEE conveyed all their interest in said land to JAMES PEEBLES, and received therefore the sum of 400 lbs.The deed conveys a “tract of land on the east side of the Youghiogheny River about one mile from the mouth of said river and adjoining DAVID McKEE’S land on the north and JOHN WHITTICOR’S land on the south, and is located in THOMAS McKEE’S name.”The deed is recorded in Deed Book Vol. B-16/
The original cabin of DAVID McKEE and his family was located near the northeasterly corner of Second Avenue and Water Street, and with the aid of his sons, he cleared the land, planted a large orchard and raised various kinds of grain.The excess grain was turned into whiskey, as was the custom of the day.MR. McKEE’S stillhouse was located near the southwesterly corner of Shaw Avenue and Huey St.He also had a small brewery, which was located near the corner of Locust St. and Spring St.
Living at the junction of two rivers, it was long before DAVID McKEE was operating ferries over both the Monongahela and the Youghiogheny.However, it is certain that such ferries existed, for the minutes of the Virginia Court for Augusta Co. 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.”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 Feb. 24th, 1775, made application to the Virginia Court for Augusta Co. 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.”
Thus it will be seen that Certificates of Public Convenience as granted by the present Public Utilities Commission 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 Feb. 5th, 1784, the Assembly of Pa. passed an Act granting to JOHN McKEE, son of DAVID McKEE, the right to operated ferries over both of the aforesaid rivers.