The McKenney family history is clearly charted from the arrival of William McKenney in the 1660s to the current generation that lives in our house. The Scottish background is a bit more obscure. This is not only a matter of time but also of the nature of Scottish genealogy. The clans of highland Scotland were numerous and the surviving records are incomplete. There are at least 13 clan families bearing the name McKenney in the 1600s. Each one contains at least one William that is born in the same time frame as our William. The Edinburgh records office advised us be prepared for several weeks of work to decipher the linage of our William, if the records still exist. But what does seem clear is that William and his son, William both immigrated from the region near the Isle of Skye.
The McKenney (sometimes spelled McKinney) clan was one of the most important Scottish Highland clans. Their ancestral castle, Eilean Donan provides countless tourists an opportunity to see a romanticized recreation of the castle. The original was largely blown up by the English in the 18th Century. What is there today is the effort of a Scottish industrialist who made the place his own. What has not changed is the dramatic setting on the bay across from the Isle of Skye. In 2012, Peggy and I visited the castle as well as the Isle of Skye and managed to obtain some great pictures of this most photographed place.
The McKenney clan is probably better known to most Americans as the MacKenzie clan. The Gaelic McKenney was unpronounceable to English speakers. When the Highland clans were suppressed by the English after the Battle of Culloden in 1745, the English changed the McKenneys to MacKenzie in order to ease their pronunciation problems. Our McKenney ancestors had been living in the colonies for almost one hundred years before this travesty and escaped the name change.
The McKinney clan traditionally dominated the Argyll Peninsula at the top of Scotland and were the hereditary lords of Kintail. Kintail lies to the east and south of Eilean Donan and whose access was controled by this castle. Of course there were many other fortified McKinney castles including ones close to Eilean Donan and with major strongholds near Inverness.
While the regions controlled by the McKenneys (or Mackenzie for the Anglophiles) was vast, it was also sparsely populated. Conditions were difficult for farming and most Highlanders were livestock farmers. Our travels on the Isle of Skye found a 2012 population of around 8000 that relies on tourism, whiskey distilling, salmon fishing and sheep farming to survive. During most of its history, the Isle of Skye was dominated by the chief rivals of the McKenneys, the McDonalds. Our William’s family probably gave the Isle of Skye as a place of origin since it was well known and in immediate proximity to the land around Eilean Donan.
The reasons for William and his sons departure are a conjecture but historical circumstances provide good probabilities. First, the emigration of the entire family (father and eldest son) to Virginia preclude the usual problem of primogeniture – the eldest son gets it all. They evidently took whatever portable wealth with them to the new world since they were able to quickly establish themselves on the Northern Neck in Virginia. Their holdings in Westmoreland County were shared with neighbors like the Washingtons and Lees. In the 1650s, this area was not the Alexandria of today, but by the 17th Century the locals were petitioning the House of Burgesses for some land to set aside for families of quality to socialize – a country club.
The timing of their departure is significant. They depart from Scotland shortly after the end of the English Civil War in 1648. As a Scottish family of long standing, they certainly would have been on the side of the Stuart kings. Remember, Charles I’s dad was James I in England and James VI of Scotland. As losers they may have determined that Virginia would have been a good place to join the other Cavalier losers already there like the Greshams. They certainly made quick friends with their fellow political refugees.
Religious issues get a bit tougher since Calvinist (Presbyterians) of the Scottish Kirk were not usually welcome in Anglican Virginia. The Calvinists had New England all to themselves and were encouraged to stay there. Many Scots of high birth retained their allegiance to the Catholic faith and they would have been accepted by the Anglicans and the many Catholics of Maryland. The marriage of William the elder to Martha Boice who gives her birthplace as Londonderry in Ireland provides some support for this Catholic theory. The rampages of Cromwell in Ireland at the end of the Civil War provide a fitting scenario for a refugee from religious persecution, Martha, quickly marrying a political pariah and producing the next generation of McKenneys. This guess is highly speculative and imaginative but intriguing. I need to find more extant church records.
William dies in nearby Richmond in 1683 while his son and several more generations give their residence as Westmoreland county. His Scottish born son, Williams dies in Westmoreland in 1729, age 79. His son, another William is born in 1670 and dies in Cople Parish, Westmoreland County in 1732. Cople Parish is Anglican and consists of three churches including Nomini where they were members. It is quite possible for the McKinneys to have made the transition from Catholic to Anglican in a couple of generations surrounded as they were by members of the established Anglican church.
The William McKenney is also baptized in the Cople Parish of Westmoreland in 1690. He has another son with name of William who is born 1715 but who leaves Westmoreland for Richmond and marries Winifred Gathings in 1733 and has a son, Travis in 1734 before dying at age 31 in Richmond. It is Travis who will marry Anne Gresham in 1765, a probable descendent of the Maryland Greshams. His son, William will marry Jane Gresham, descendant of Edward, in Georgia.
It is also Travis who will move his family to Georgia prior to 1765. It is also the same time that the Greshams are moving Georgia from Virginia. I assume they were moving to the “frontier” of Georgia which was founded in 1732 and became a royal colony in 1752. Land must have been attractive to these long time Virginians. Cotton and slavery soon became the basis of the Georgian economy. I will save that part of the story for later.
The Scottish McKenney’s and English Greshams are now joined.