McKay Ancestor Themes

There are certain themes that both the Stevens and McKay families share after their immigration to America. (Their common history in Europe is shown here). A detailed history of the earliest immigration and settlement in the New World can be found here.

Military: As early immigrants encroached on Native lands, they formed militias for defense (and offense). Most early ancestors were members of local militias. Later many of these New England forces fought in what were called the French and Indian Wars. As the calls for independence from Britain grew stronger, many citizen militia groups became the nucleus of the Continental Army. Later ancestors served in the War of 1812, the Civil War and 20th century wars. For a history of the early American wars go here.

Religion: Many of the earliest settlers, especially in New England up to 1640, came for religious freedom. Religion continued to be a recurring theme both in immigration and also in internal migration from the East to the West.

Economic Opportunity: Those who were less driven by religious reasons for migration were often drawn by the desire to make a better life for themselves and their children. There are many stories of ancestors staking out new lives for themselves in the New World. Some of the occupations that early American ancestors had can be found here.

Politics: It the broadest sense, politics is "the activities associated with the governance of a country or other area, especially the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power." Using this definition, our ancestors who rebelled against the religious restrictions of 17th century Britain were political actors. Many of them and their descendants became involved with the shaping of the settlements that they founded.

Slavery: Due to the large number of pre-Civil War McKay (and especially Freeman) ancestors, there are many slave owners

McKay/Stevens Shared History

Key to McKay lines: M McKay MD Deary F Freeman FB Barron/Barnes


Many ancestors served in the local colonial militias. George Fawdon [FF] was a major in the local Virginia militia in the early 1600s.

Capt. Ephraim Hill [FB], about 1725, became the first settler of the then wilderness of Douglas, Massachusetts and was captain of the local military company. His son, Col. Caleb Hill [FB], also lived in Douglas, where he was a colonel of the military company. In August, 1757, he and his company were in the expedition for the relief of Fort William Henry that was besieged by French General Montcalm.

Indian Wars

Many wars and battles were fought between the early settlers and the indigenous people of the Northeast. Sergeant Thomas Spencer [MM] served in the 1637 Pequot War. John Plumb [MM] was probably one of the soldiers in Capt. John Mason's army of 77 men that marched, attacked, surprised and totally defeated the Pequots at Pequot Hill in 1637.

Simon Willard [MD] was a Major, and Commander-in-Chief of the expedition against the Naragansett Indians in 1654-55, and against the Ninigret in 1665. He fought in the Battle of Brookfield, and commanded the Middlesex, Massachusetts regiment in King Philip's War at the age of 70.

Lt. Henry Adams [FB] served as Lieutenant of the Medfield Company, which fought against the Indians in 1675-76.

Revolutionary War and War of 1812

The oldest son of Elkenny McKay, Alexander [MM], was a Fife Major in the 1st New York Regiment of the Continental Line under the command of his distant relative Colonel Goose Van Schaick. It is likely he participated in the campaign against the Indian allies of the British in upstate New York in 1779. Earlier Alexander had signed the 1774 Lenox Covenant that boycotted British trade. Meanwhile Elkenny’s daughter, Mehitable married Samuel Buck, who was a Loyalist during the Revolutionary War. With the defeat of the British, they immigrated to Canada in 1778.

Enos Howard [MM] served a total of 15 months in the New York troops, including both battles at Saratoga. Lieut. John McCurdy, Jr. [MD] was in Wilson's battalion Continental Pennsylvania Establishment between 1777 and 1778. Peter Jordan [FB] is said to have been among the old men and boys to guard Burgoyne's men after their surrender in the Battle of Saratoga. Michael Letson [MM] fought as a private in Capt. Wever's Company, Col. Kassan's Regiment, Rhode Island unit.

It is interesting that, with the exception of second generation Americans Alexander McKay, Enos Howard and Michael Letson, all the rest of those ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War were recent immigrants. When the war started enthusiasm ran high and enlistments were impressive. But, as the war dragged on, it became more difficult to field and army. As 1776 progressed, many colonies were compelled to entice soldiers with offers of cash bounties, clothing, blankets and extended furloughs or enlistments shorter than the one-year term of service established by Congress. The following year, when Congress mandated that men who enlisted must sign on for three years or the duration of the conflict, whichever came first, offers of cash and land bounties became an absolute necessity. After 1777, the average Continental soldier was young, single, propertyless, poor and in many cases an outright pauper. In some states, such as Pennsylvania, up to one in four soldiers was an impoverished recent immigrant. Patriotism aside, cash and land bounties offered an unprecedented chance for economic mobility for these men.

In the summer of 1778, during the Revolutionary War, a band of British sympathizers and their Indian allies marched up the Wyoming Valley in what is today Luzerne Valley, Pennsylvania. The settlers retreated to the fort near present day Wilkes-Barre. In the ensuing battle, two-thirds of the settler combatants were killed. Many more died in the flight from the valley after the defeat. The Alexander McKay family was living in the valley at the time. Dr. James McKay in his family history relates the involvement of Alexander’s family in the events in his McKay family history as related by two family members that were there. The book describes a harrowing escape after the battle and fourteen days of imprisonment afterwards.

On a less glorious note, 36 years later Joel (Joseph) McKay [MM] served in Capt. James J. Stener's Company, of Col. Wm. Warren's Regt., N.Y. militia, from Aug. 16, 1814 to the time of his desertion Sept. 11, 1814.


Role of religion

Religion was a large factor for many early colonists. Catholics, Methodists, Separatists of all stripes, Congregationalists from Northern Ireland, Anabaptists from Switzerland, Sabbatarians , Quakers, Moravians, Antinomians, French Huguenots, and Scottish Presbyterians are all represented in the family tree, and the right to follow their religion was the reason that many ancestors came to America in the first place.


Fleeing from religious persecution did not mean that you would then give that same freedom to others. Many followed their Puritan leaders to newfound freedom for themselves in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the Plymouth colony, but they repressed those of differing beliefs. Freedom of religion in the Massachusetts Bay Colony was only observed if one followed the Puritan doctrine. Between 1636 and 1641 discontent built in the Massachusetts Puritan communities. Dissenters left for Connecticut and opened new settlements in places like Wethersfield, New Haven, Hartford and Stamford. By 1641, the Pequot Indian tribe had been annihilated. With the region now safe, eight hundred dissenting Massachusetts Bay Colonists left and settled in the former Pequot land in Connecticut.

Puritan dissenter Anne (Marbury) Hutchinson [MD] denied the Puritan credo that good works and faith together were necessary for personal salvation, claiming that faith alone was enough. For this belief and her insistence that divine inspiration could come directly from God and not through scripture alone, Hutchinson was branded a heretic and banished from the colony. She and her followers relocated from Massachusetts Bay Colony to Portsmouth, Rhode Island in 1638. Her full story can be found here.

Not everyone measured up to the early Puritan church standards. Joseph Kingsbury [MD] became one of my favorite relatives when, in 1638, he was not admitted to the Dedham Church because he was "too much addicted to the world."

Stephen Bachiler [MD] was another nonconformist minister who emigrated from England after running afoul of the church and government there. He went back to England late in life after running into similar problems in Massachusetts. His full story can be found here.

The McKay ancestors include many other religious leaders with loftier reputations. Rev. Thomas Hooker [MD] is considered the “Father of Connecticut”, in that he led many followers in 1636 to the Connecticut River country. His full story is here. Rev. Bygod Eggleston [MD]x2 founded Windsor, Connecticut. Settlements in Hartford and Wethersfield and Springfield united with Windsor under a new government (Colony of Connecticut). Rev. Peter Prudden [MM] was pastor of the First Church 1639 at Milford, Connecticut until his death in 1656. Persecuted in England under Charles I, Peter immigrated to Boston in 1637 aboard the Martin. A former Anglican priest, he became the first pastor of Milford.

The religious differences and political infighting didn’t stop when congregations moved from Massachusetts. A schism had arisen in the church at Hartford and Wethersfield, and the dissenters from the views entertained by the majority, concluded to break away from their homes and find settlement where their views would prevail. Thomas Graves [FB], and others, left their houses and lands in Hartford and Wethersfield unsold and settled approximately 50 miles to the north in Hatfield, Mass. in 1661.

Not all stayed true to the faith of their neighbors. And if Puritans were hard on those with whom they had minor differences, they were vicious with those they considered apostates. Zoeth Howland [MD], son of Henry Howland, was born in Duxbury, Mass. He moved, with his wife Abigail, to Dartmouth, and there embraced the Quaker religion, his father and wife also being members of that church. Zoeth and Abigail were tried and fined for their religious faith, it being proven that meetings were held at their home. Katherine Chatham [MD] was a Quaker who came to Boston in 1660 dressed in sackcloth as a sign of belief, and was so persecuted that they stripped her naked in the middle of winter and drove her out of the colony into the woods to die. She survived.


A surprisingly large number of McKay ancestors were involved either directly or indirectly with the witch hysteria of late 17th century New England.

Rebekah (Blake) Eames

At about age 53 direct McKay ancestor Rebekah was among the spectators for Rev. George Burroughs' hanging on Gallows Hill, Salem, on Aug. 19, 1692. She was in a house near the scene of the execution; and while there "the woman of the house" felt a pin stuck into her foot, as she said. Rebekah was pointed out as the one who did it; and two warrants were issued for her arrest. The real cause for the accusation may have been that Rebecca was "outspoken and unashamedly contemptuous of public authority, and (had) a degree of impertinance not in keeping of her station."

She was imprisoned for witchcraft; stood trial, confessed and was sentenced to death. She was reprieved July 22,1693 after seven months in jail. The death of her husband, Robert, coincided closely with date of the reprieve, so the fact that there wouldn't be any one to care for her seven children probably factored into her reprieve.

Rebekah applied for, and had her name cleared, and restitution paid in 1710. She died in 1721 at age 81.

Susannah (North) Martin, the widow of George Burneham Martyn was hanged as a witch in Salem in 1692.

William Stoughton

William Stoughton was a colonial magistrate and administrator in the Province of Massachusetts Bay. He was in charge of what have come to be known as the Salem Witch Trials, first as the Chief Justice of the Special Court of Oyer and Terminer in 1692, and then as the Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Judicature in 1693. In these trials he controversially accepted spectral evidence (based on supposed demonic visions). Unlike some of the other magistrates, he never admitted to the possibility that his acceptance of such evidence was in error.

In 1653 Elizabeth Knapp was accused and convicted of witchcraft and executed by hanging in Try’s field outside the village of Fairfield, Connecticut. Rev. John Jones and his wife participated in attempts to convince Goody Knapp to confess to her witchcraft.

Another ancestor, Mary (Fitch) Sherwood was associated with the witch trial in New Haven, Connecticut, of Good Dame Knapp. Mary was a witness at the trial and walked to the gallows with the condemned woman, where she prevented the desecration of the body.

One of the first American witch hunts took place in Hartford, Connecticut in 1662-63. Four were convicted and hanged, but Elizabeth (Moody) Seger fought the charges and was acquitted.

Reverend Thomas Barnard was instrumental in spreading the witchcraft hysteria in Andover in 1692. Barnard conducted what was known as a "Touch Test" in the Andover Church. In this ludicrous exercise, those who were accused of witchcraft were blindfolded and forced to touch the "afflicted" girls, which could identify them as a witch.

Ironically, Ephraim Foster was the Town Constable during the Salem Witch Trials where his mother-in-law, Rebecca (Blake) Eames was one of the accused, as well as his brother-in-law, and a nephew.

John Putnam was one of the chief accusers of George Burroughs, executed on Witches Hill, Salem, on August 19, 1692, the only minister who suffered this extreme fate. He had been charged, among other offenses, with extraordinary weight lifting (lifted a musket with a finger in the barrel), and such feats of strength as could not be done without diabolical assistance.

In 1692, John Perkins’ daughter Mary Perkins Bradbury was placed on trial for witchcraft in Salisbury, Massachusetts. She was convicted of witchcraft on September 9, 1692 and sentenced to be executed. Her husband and friends broke her out of the Ipswich jail, and she fled to Amesbury, where she died two years later.

Distant McKay ancestor Robert Pease’s wife Sarah was accused on Monday, May 23, 1692, of "sundry acts of Witchcraft committed on the bodys of Mary Warren, Abigaile Williams and Eliz Hubbard." A warrant for her arrest was issued and she was arrested that day and was sent to the Salem jail. Although testimony was brought against her again on August 5th, Sarah Pease escaped the condemnation of the judges, who sentenced 15 people to the gallows in September. By the late fall of that year the tide of hysteria had abated, and sympathy was turning from the "victims" to the accused. Sarah survived the winter and was released in May of 1693, after suffering a year in jail.

Samuel Wardwell, the grandson of McKay ancestor John Wardwell was executed by hanging on September 22, 1692 during the infamous Salem Witch Trials.


New World, New Opportunity


Shaping the New World


Not all slave holders in the family were in the South. In Rhode Island in 1720 Jeremiah Smith left at least three negro females to his family in his will.

Richard Sackett's household in New York in 1703 included four negro slaves (three male and one female).

Stephen Ratliff was a slave holder. In his will he left "the old negro woman, Easter, boy George Henry, and girl Martha Jane, to sell, or dispose of as she may think proper." He further left to his son, James, "the remainder of my slaves."

James and Elizabeth Mize sold 400 acres in Lawnes Creek Parish and the labor of one Negro Woman named Mary to Daniel Turner for 5 pounds on 19 July 1721.

The 1850 Slave Schedule for Barren County shows a John Freeman as the owner of seven slaves. There is further evidence in the law suit contesting the will of John Freeman that describes "an estate consisting of the land, slaves and personalty."

Samuel Robertson shows up on the tax rolls in 1789 in Washington County, Kentucky with a household that includes one slave.