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Tall ships bring McKeens to Boston
Or, How We Got Here from There ...
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According to events as described in the MacIain Chiefs book we are descended from William MacKean. He left Scotland sometime in the middle to late 17th century, settling in Ballymoney in the Bann River valley of County Antrim, Northern Ireland. A comment made by the other John MacKeen at his remarks last night at the MacKeen Reunion dinner indicates the family split while in Ireland, with one branch moving to Londonderry, where they became shipbuilders.

We also know that William's descendants emigrated to America, arriving in Boston Harbor on August 4, 1718. That date seems to be confirmed by all sources of information about the family. What is not as clear is how they got to Boston, but certainly it would have been in what are now referred to as "tall ships".

Here we see a coincidence around the number of ships being involved as five. I say coincidence because one version of our history (Parker's "History of Londonderry") implies the family shipyard built 5 ships to bring themselves and members of their congregation to the New World. In Boston, it has been documented that there were 5 ships from Ireland at anchor in the harbor at the same time during the late summer of 1718. What is not documented is any connection between the two events.

Credibility in historical or genealogical work is based on being able to document sources. Said another way, be skeptical of anything that is not documented.

Charles Knowles Bolton's book "Scotch Irish Pioneers in Ulster and America," originally published in 1910, is often thought of as the definitive work on the emigration of Ulster Scots to America.

It records the five ships in Boston harbor as the "William and Mary," the "Robert," the "William," the "Mary Anne," and a fifth ship of unknown name. Only one newspaper, the "Boston News-Letter," was being issued in North America in 1718, and it, plus the letters of Thomas Lechmere and the diaries of Cotton Mather are the sources documenting the arrival of ships in Boston in that period.

The "William and Mary" James Montgomery, Master, arrived during the week of July 21, 1718. Its departure port is unrecorded, but it is supposed to have carried the Rev. William Boyd of Macosquin, a town near Coleraine in Northern Ireland. The Rev. Boyd was widely seen as a leader in the emigration movement of families from Northern Ireland to the U.S. However, a letter of Thomas Lechmere's written on Aug 4th indicates there were no Scots emigrants traveling with him.

The ship whose name is not known, John Wilson, Master, is thought to have arrived on the 28th from Londonderry. The "Robert", James Ferguson, Master arrived from Glasgow by way of Belfast on August 4th, as did the "William" from Coleraine, Archibald Hunter, Master. The "Mary Anne", Andrew Watt, Master, arrived from Dublin.

Some time later two additional ships from Ireland arrived, the "Dolphin", from Dublin, John MacKay, Master, and from Londonderry, the "Maccallum", James Law, Master. By this time, some of the previous arrivals had departed, but it was clear to the people of Boston that a major emigration was underway from the north of Ireland to America.