William McKenney (1622-1683) The Highlander

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.

Eilean Donan, a McKinney Castle

Eilean Donan, a McKinney Castle

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 controlled by this castle. Of course there were many other fortified McKinney castles including ones close to Eilean Donan and with major strongholds near Inverness.

Scottish Highland Clans

Scottish Highland Clans

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.

85 thoughts on “William McKenney (1622-1683) The Highlander

    • It appears that my McKInneys went through Kentucky probably from Virginia and moved west to Nebraska. Thank you Mark for posting this article. I found it enlightening.

    • Hi Marlin, there was a fort McKinney and later a McKinney Station in Lincoln County, Kentucky. It’s no longer there but that was part of 4,000 acres Archibald Jr. received from the government after his successful run as a war patriot in the revolutionary war. There the descendant he had that I follow was Collin McKinney who was born in fort McKinney and ended up fighting in the war of volunteers in 1812 and later was in President Jackson’s personal body guard when doing work in Florida with the Spanish.

  1. I am Rosemary McKenney Mahan, and I am very interested in talking with you about the early information you have provided. I still live in Westmoreland County, Virginia, and have been doing research on the McKenney line in the Northern Neck for about 18 years. Please feel free to contact me at rosemarymahan74@gmail.com. Looking forward to hearing from you!

  2. Thank you very much for your post!! I too am a McKinney descendant (from this clan specifically)! My McKinney lines are all settled in Colorado at this point! Do you have a family tree that I can look at and add your lines to my tree?
    And the story as to why they left Scotland supposedly states that William (McKean) McKinney was accused along with several other men of murdering Archbishop James Sharpe and then escaping to Londonberry, Ireland!

      • I was going to ask you also, do you know or have you been able to connect, Collin McKinney to your family tree? He was one of the drafters of the Texas Decleration of Independence. His lines also trace back to the same area and to the same castle, but I can’t seem to connect his lines and my lines. McKinney, Texas and Collin County Texas (which McKinney is part of) are named after him!!

  3. Just for clarification, the William that died in 1683 as well as the rest of the ones you listed as being in Richmond were actually in Richmond County (North Farnham Parish to be exact), Virginia – not in Richmond city, Virginia. Many people get those confused. Richmond County is located right next to Westmoreland County, whereas Richmond city (the capital) is about 70 miles away to the south.

  4. This is fascinating – I’m just starting my McKenney line and wonder if I could see your tree to see if mine are connected.

  5. P.S. I lost my line in Orange, Orange, VA with the birth of William in 1750 and his death in 1813, married to Winifred with Traverse the son b. 1776.

  6. I wrote to you before, but if you replied, I missed it. I was wanting to see a family tree, as I have McKenneys in my family line.
    This is fascinating! Thanks, Ruthann

  7. I have been able to trace my branch pack to Jamestown the Mckenney home is still located where the Tie and Tiree rivers meet the second cabin has jut been removed,los where numbered for later reconstruction

  8. Hello! I believe this William you write of is my 10th-great grandfather, although I have always spelled it McKinney in my tree as my more immediate ancestors have it spelled that way. I wonder if I’m barking up the wrong “tree”, so to speak, or if they may have changed the spelling TO McKinney at some point. Any thoughts?

    • Hi Kerry!
      From research I have done, it’s the same McKinney/McKenney lines. My family is also spelled McKinney!

    • McKinney and McKenney are pretty interchangeable. Fun to remember that the Scots who stayed home had their name changed to McKenzie by the Brits in the 18th Century. English speakers couldn’t handle the Gaelic “ey” and renamed the entire clan to something that they could pronounce….McKenzie

      • My family “McKinnie” yDNA traces back to the McKenney’s family tree (VA>WV>KY) also. But my side of family migrated from VA down to GA>AL>LA. Many family names were altered in census and marriage documents, based on phonetic sounds.
        Jon McKinnie

  9. Thank you so much for your reply. All of the dates lined up exactly for me so I thought he was the right one. My concern is that the William that died in 1732, in my tree, married Jane Hutt but I have their William born in 1705 (this was based solely on other people’s trees, however). I guess I just have more research to do. Thanks again for your help.

  10. I have the William, son of Jane Hutt and William McKinney born in 1690. My records are from the Virginia, Marriages of Northern Neck. Keeping all the William’s straight is a challenge.

    My files are on ancestry.com and are public. look for La Porte – Bryson tree

    • Thank you! I am going to take a look. My lines are from William and Jane’s son, Thomas. Thomas was my 8th ggrandfather.

      • Hello! My name is Melissa Martin and I am from this McKinney line. My grandmother was Thelma McKinney and we live in Kentucky. Thomas, son of William and Jane was my 8th great grand father. Ashley, it looks like we are cousins!

      • Well hello cousin Melissa! 😉 I have an account on ancestry ashlie_rene and would love to add your lines to it. I love learning about how all the lines descend and “meeting” new family members! 🙂 My email is ashlie_rene@yahoo.com if you would like to know my lines or if you wouldn’t mind sending me yours so that I can add them to the tree! Otherwise, I can send you a request to my tree on ancestry!

      • This appears to be my line also. The info I have, I got from other researchers and if it is true, I descend from Thomas thru his son, (1)John b. 1729, John’s son (2)John b. 1750, (3)Jesse b.1775, Jesse’s dau. (4)Sarah b.1808 NC, m. Wm.McKinney “Kinney” Johnson. Their son (5) Albert O.Johnson b. 1844 was my G grandfather

  11. I believe that this is my line of McKinneys also..
    My GG grandmother was SARAH McKinney b. 1808,NC m. Wm. McKinney “Kinney” JOHNSON b. 1798 NC
    She descended thru the line like this (as I have been told)
    Jesse b.1775 Va.,John b. 1750 Va., John b. 1729 Va.,Thomas b. 1691 Va., Wm III b. 1670 Va. ,Wm. II b. 1650/51 Scotland, Wm. I b. 1622 Scotland
    can anyone confirm or comment on this info?
    I am 76 years old and not in very good health at this time but I have children grandchildren,great grandchildren I would like to leave this info to for them to learn of their ancestry.
    tks for any help

    • Mr. Johnson, are you still active on here? I think we may be related. My McKenney’s, many of whom still live in Westmoreland County, VA, are probably your same McKenneys.

  12. Have you been able to date back to a MacKenzie ancestor? Growing up I was always told that McKinney was decended from MacKenzie, but in looking at others research with William McKinney’s (b. 1650) line, it appears that the last name MacKinnon comes up. I am looking into research that suggests John MacKinnon is his father.

    I was told MacKinnons were decended from MacKenzie from a genealogist, but looking at historical information it appears MacKinnon were their own clan. Have you heard of MacKinnon and MacKenzie being related?

    http://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Fynnoun-1

    Heath McKinney

  13. Hello! First of all I apologize if my english it’s not good enough.

    My wife’s family name is MacKinney, they are a mexican line descending from Alexander K. MacKinney, a doctor. According to his marriage certificate, he was born around 1802 in Pennsylvania, the son of William MacKinney and Elizabeth Alexander. He was married in 1839 in Merida, capital city of Yucatan, Mexico, with Maria Transito Espinosa. They had five children, one son and four daughters: Emilio, Carolina, Celestina, Leonor and Clemencia. Dr. Alexander MacKinney died in Merida in 1867.

    His son, Emilio MacKinney Espinosa (1842-1896), was a botanist, writer and a social activist. He is the ancestor of all MacKinneys in Mexico (two of his grandchildren emmigrated to California in the 1920’s and had descendents there).

    I couldn’t find the birthplace of Alexander MacKinney, and I don’t know if he had brothers and sisters.

    Any help will be appreciated. Thank you.

    Regards

    Omar Soto

    My genealogical website:
    http://gw.geneanet.org/genemex_w?lang=es&pz=omar&nz=soto+rodriguez&ocz=0&p=alexander+k.&n=mackinney

  14. Hello! First of all I apologize if my english it’s not good enough.

    My wife’s family name is MacKinney, they are a mexican line descending from Alexander K. MacKinney, a doctor. According to his marriage certificate, he was born around 1802 in Pennsylvania, the son of William MacKinney and Elizabeth Alexander. He was married in 1839 in Merida, capital city of Yucatan, Mexico, with Maria Transito Espinosa. They had five children, one son and four daughters: Emilio, Carolina, Celestina, Leonor and Clemencia. Dr. Alexander MacKinney died in Merida in 1867.

    His son, Emilio MacKinney Espinosa (1842-1896), was a botanist, writer and a social activist. He is the ancestor of all MacKinneys in Mexico (two of his grandchildren emmigrated to California in the 1920’s and had descendents there).

    I couldn’t find the birthplace of Alexander MacKinney, and I don’t know if he had brothers and sisters.

    Any help will be appreciated. Thank you.

    Regards

    Omar Soto

    My genealogical website:
    http://gw.geneanet.org/genemex_w?lang=es&pz=omar&nz=soto+rodriguez&ocz=0&p=alexander+k.&n=mackinney

  15. Im in search of my family. My grandfathers name is David Earnest Mckinney SR. I dont have much on my family. Im really curious as to where we all started. Im pretty sure he may have been related to William. If you can help in any way please email me.

    Thank you,
    Selena Mckinney

  16. Im in search of my family. My grandfathers name is David Earnest Mckinney SR. I dont have much on my family. Im really curious as to where we all started. Im pretty sure he may have been related to William. If you can help in any way please email me. My family lives in NC.

    Thank you,
    Selena Mckinney

  17. I am a descendant of Joseph Ancil McKinney, born in Evansville, Indiana in 1820. His father, James, was born in Kentucky and was a lawyer. Any possible information on a James McKinney from Kentucky? I’ve tried for a long time through Ancestry, etc., and can find nothing.
    I would very much appreciate any help you may be able to provide. Thank you.

  18. Hello
    I was adopted in 1964 in Canton Ohio. This summer I found a half sister I didn’t know I had, she was also adopted in Canton Ohio in 1965 but we can’t seem to figure out who our father was.
    I also located a 1st cousin who oddly enough was also adopted in Mississippi.
    All three of us share McKinney DNA. My best guess is we are related to Newland McKinney who is the son of Dexter McKinney.
    Any advise on how to make heads or tails of this so I can figure out who my father is would be greatly appreciated.

  19. Thinking about this a little bit more, you may have spoken to my uncle, from Indiana, a few years back.
    Ironically, we have a son named Travis.

  20. All of my McKinney family is from Indiana. The earliest birth I can find in the State is Joseph Ancil McKinney, born in Evansville in 1820. His father’s name was James, an attorney. That’s all I have on James.

  21. If I may make one small correction— the “Richmond” you refer to is actually Richmond County, not the city of Richmond, which are not really near each other. Richmond County is adjacent to Westmoreland County. I am descended from a McKenney of Richmond County/Westmoreland County, Virginia, and therefore probably from William McKenney. Is this blog still active…?

  22. Hi Mark & Peggy…

    I continue to refer back to your pages here; love the info! Has any males on Peggy’s side of the family tried or considered taking the Y-DNA test? I took mine and matched the John McKenney of Scarborough, Black Point, ME line. He was the Scottish Prisoner of War who came over to the colonies from the Isle of Skye in the 1600’s after losing a battle to Cromwell and was subsequentially captured. One of my matches spells his name: McKinney. He and I are both I. The McKinney Project on FamilyTreeDNA.

    Sean

  23. I live in Kentucky and have traced my line to a John W. Mckinney supposedly born in Virginia around 1786. I can find no other information on him though. Lemuel Mckinney who was born in 1813 in Kentucky is my 2x great grandfather. I beleive Lemuel to be John W. Mckinney’s son but have no proof other than Lemuel signing a marriage license in John’s place. Any help would be greatly appreciated !!

    • HI John, I am descended from McKenneys of Westmoreland County, Virginia of the 1700s, so that is probably my ancestor. However, it seems there are not many sources for the information, and not sure how exactly my ancestors descended from that William. Have you taken a DNA test? Perhaps we can compare.

  24. Richard B McKinney Jr from east Texas my dad is Richard B McKinney in ft worth and my son James Auston Barry McKinney of east Texas and my oldest son micheal mckiney

  25. Hi Mark & Peggy,

    Thanks for sharing your information on here, it is appreciated. I was wondering what information you found to show that William the Elder married Martha Boice. I can’t find any information on that. I’m not sure if you are still a member on Ancestry.com since I couldn’t find your tree and when I put in your username it said you didn’t exist as a member. Who do you believe is William McKenney (the elder’s son who died 1729)? Many people on Ancestry.com think he married Jane Mills, but I can’t find any proof of that. Thanks for sharing your information. Enjoy your travels.

  26. Hi Stephanie I would love to know that too. I am descended from the original Virginia McKenneys myself, somehow. The records and evidence– court records, etc, are so lacking about the McKenneys of the early 1700s that it’s difficult to learn much.

    • I am stumped on my line. I have John W. McKinney born circa 1786 in Virginia. I cant get past him. He was living in Lebanon Kentucky in 1810 and Anderson County Kentucky in 1830 and Hart County Kentucky in 1850. Any help would be greatly appreciated !!!

      • Hi Brian, maybe I can help, I am descended from McKenney’s (slightly different spelling) from Virginia myself. Where in Virginia was he from, do you know? You can contact me at fairmontscv@gmail.com if you wish.

      • There was once a fort McKinney founded by Achibald Sr after he received land from fighting in the revolutionary war. I believe he had a couple brothers come with him too. It was in Lincoln County, hopefully helps. good luck!

  27. Thanks Mark and Peggy! I was proof checking some of my previous research and your information has helped me eliminate some goose chases and land some real credible details and direction. I don’t have an ancestry account but I traced the McKinney’s from me on my end here in Oregon, all the way back through Uvalde, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, all the way to John Mordecai McKinney in New Jersey, who I thought was the first McKinney but I was wrong! his poor father Farquhar never got to come to America but at least he probably saw his Uncle and grandpa who did, those Williams… Great stuff, let me know if there’s anything on my end you want to know or if there’s ANY pictures of these guys?

    BR,

    Kenny

    • Hello Kenaka, I know this is a really late reply to your post but I only discovered this blog today. Fantastic info btw to Mark & Peggy! Anyhow I would really love to learn more about your family line. I am from WA but my family is from Oregon and my ancestor is Clyde McKinney. I have tracked her back William McKinney and his wife Barbara Culp. From there things get weird. I find records of Williams father John either being born in New Jersey or Virginia. If you are related to that line can you sheds some light on that for me? It would be greatly appreciated. Thank you! 🙂

  28. I really hit the jackpot in finding this article for all of the McKenney’s mentioned are in my direct line, beginning with William McKinney, Sr. (1622-1692). I had always wondered where in Scotland they had originated- the Isle of Skye is quite beautiful! I have lots of ancestors in the Cobb County, Kennesaw, GA area- it seems that many families who were close friends in Lincoln, Ga moved together to Cobb County- the McKinney, Gresham, Paschal, McCord, and Hammock families- and they all apparently intermarried as each name listed is in my direct paternal line :-). Feel free to contact me at JFBEHR@GMAIL.COM with any info you’d like to share. Thanks!

  29. My name is Brian Mckinney. I am having trouble getting past John W. Mckinney. Born circa 1786 in Virginia. His son Lemuel who was born in Anderson County Ky. around 1813 is my 2x great grandpa. John W. Mckinney was living in Hart County Ky. in 1850 and thats the last i have on him. Any help would be greatly appreciated !!

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