Jane McMichael McAfee

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All of the women in my family are pioneers in one way or another. My paternal grandmother fled Norway during World War II, to escape Hitler's troops. My maternal great-grandmother left Ireland with her mother and siblings to seek a better life in the United States. However, my sixth-great-grandmother, Jane McMichael McAfee, epitomizes the spirit of the pioneer woman. One of the thousands of women who traveled from Ireland to the United States during the colonial period, she joined her husband in seeking a better life for her family.

One of Jane's grandsons, Robert Breckenridge McAfee (son of Robert McAfee and Anne McCoun) wrote "The Life and Times of Robert B. McAfee and His Family and Connections" in April, 1845 (and was later reprinted in the Register of the Kentucky State Historical Society in January, 1927). Much of what is known about the emigration of the McAfees to the U.S. comes from Robert B. McAfee's account.

Jane McMichael was born in 1710 in Co. Armagh, in the province of Ulster in northern Ireland. Her father was Malcolm McMichael, year of birth unknown. Her mother's name is not known. In 1735, in Co. Armagh, she was married to James McAfee (born Oct. 17, 1707 in Co. Armagh), son of John McAfee Jr. and Mary Rodgers. The McAfees and McMichaels were Presbyterians, and probably came from the same area of Scotland as other allied families, including the Campbells, Currys, and McCouns. These families moved to Ireland in the 1670s under threat of persecutions by King James II against sects of Presbyterians. At the time, Northern Ireland was offering generous land grants. These families were loyal to the Protestant William of Orange (later King William III) during the Battle of Boyne in 1690.

The first child of James and Jane, James McAfee Jr., was born in Co. Armagh in 1736. Two more sons followed - John (b. 1737) and Malcolm (b. in late 1738 or early 1739). Around this time, many land-poor Presbyterian families were emigrating to the United States for the promise of ample land and religious freedom. In the spring of 1739, James, Jane and their three young sons sailed from Belfast, Ireland, to the American colonies. In early June, 1739, their son Malcolm died, and was buried at sea, "which was a severe blow to his mother so soon after entering into a strange and new land" (from Robert B. McAfee). It is possible that their first daughter, unnamed, was born and died during the voyage. They landed at New Castle on the Delaware River on June 10, 1739, and soon after James McAfee settled on land along Octorara Creek in Lancaster Co., Pennsylvania. Information sent to me by Bonnie Valko describes this tract: "From the History of Lancaster County is an old deed, copied down by Egle in his 'Notes and Queries': James McAfee, Jan. 26, 1742, 150 acres, improved in 1739; in Little Britain, immediately at Oak Hill, and south and west of it, 221 acres and allowances, now owned by Thomas Furniss, Wilson Hill, and others."

Robert B. McAfee says of their years in Lancaster Co.: "His [James McAfee's] resources being limited his wife and himself were compelled to follow weaving for their support reserving his small stock of money to purchase land which he accomplished that fall in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania on Octorara creek where he purchased one hundred acres of land, and went to work to clear and cultivate it, here by industry and close economy he maintained his family in equal standing with his neighbors, who were very kind to them."

While in Lancaster Co., six more children were born: George (b. April 5, 1740); Mary (b. 1742); Robert (b. July 10, 1745); Margaret (b. 1747), Samuel (b. Oct., 1748) and William (b. 1750). In 1746, Jane's father, Malcolm McMichael, arrived with five other daughters and a son: Anne, Elizabeth, Margaret, Mary, Sarah and Daniel. Malcolm settled near James and Jane, on land which was described as follows: "Malcolm McMichael, on a warrant dated March 29, 1759, for 50 acres, had 180 acres surveyed to the east of Oak Hill and immediately adjoining it, 'situated in the barrens, about a mile northwest of Octorara Creek.' 'This tract is thin land, and scarce of wood and water.' Such are the remarks indorsed on the survey. The land now seems as good as any in the neighborhood, and heavy timber has been out from it. It changed hands early, became the property of William Gibson, who held it many years with little improvement, and at his death it was disposed of in order to settle his estate. It now belongs to David Christie, heirs of Nathan Haines, deceased, heirs of William Hilton, deceased, and others." (Egle's History of Lancaster Co., Little Britain Township, sent via Bonnie Valko).

James McAfee appeared to have wanderlust, as in the early 1750s, he moved his family from Lancaster Co. to Augusta Co., Virginia, settling along Catawba Creek. Robert B. McAfee gives the following reasons for the move: "His children were all born at his residence on Octorara Creek, where having six sons besides Malcolm who died on his way to North America, and three daughters, his little farm was not sufficient to keep them all employed, he began to look around him where he could get more land and more room, about 1752 he sold his land and removed to a place on the Conecocheague in the west of Pennsylvania, where he remained one year, and in 1753 he moved across Virginia into North Carolina, where he did not remain more than two years, when he moved back to Virginia, where he bought land and settled on the Cataba River." I keep thinking about how Jane handled these moves, so soon after being reunited with her father and siblings, and with a large family to look after.

The McAfee sons seem to have inherited their father's fondness for wide-open land. Between 1773 and 1776, four of the sons - James, Robert, George and Samuel, as well as kinsmen from the Adams and McCoun families, formed the McAfee company. Their mission is described here:

Source: Rice, Otis K. Frontier Kentucky. Lexington: the University Press of Kentucky. 1975.

"On July 7 [1773], the McAfee brothers, James McCoun, and Samuel Adams, accompanied by Hancock Taylor and two of his assistants, left the base at Big Bone Lick and for nearly four weeks selected and surveyed tracts in central Kentucky, apparently in the hope of acquiring them under legal provisions for settlement rights. During their explorations they followed the Kentucky River to the salt lick at Drennon's Creek, made surveys near Frankfort in the vicinity of the first Kentucky state capitol, and examined much of the region between present Lawrenceburg and Harrodsburg. By July 31 they had laid off twenty-three separate tracts, mostly in the canelands on Slat River, and in some cases had made small improvements in the form of crude cabins, lean-tos, or simple brush clearings.

"On July 31 McAfee's men left Taylor near Harrodsburg and started homeward. Traveling by way of the Kentucky River, they crossed the Pine and Cumberland Mountains (p.51) and on August 15 reached the settlements on the Clinch River. There they visited William Russell at 'Castlewood', where they found Russell laying plans to lead an immigrant party to Kentucky, with Daniel Boone as guide." (p. 48-49).

"Although most of the men in Kentucky in the spring and summer of 1775 were evidently members of surveying groups, permanent settlers also made their appearance. The first of the latter to reach central Kentucky in that year were led by James and Robert McAfee. Leaving the Holston county with their brothers, Samuel and William, David Adams, Samuel McGee, and their servants, Sever Poulson and John Higgins, they reached Boiling Spring on Salt River on March 11 and began to make improvements on lands surveyed by James and Robert in 1773. The claims of the McAfees were less than a mile from Harrodsburg, where log houses built in 1774 by James Harrod and his companions were still standing.

"Harrod, too, was among those who returned to Kentucky. Traveling down the Ohio with forty-two men, many of whom had been with him the proceeding summer, he again ascended the Kentucky River and reached Harrodsburg about the middle of March. He and his associates had hardly set foot on the soil of their town before they were met by the McAfee brothers, who angrily charged Harrod with failure to respect the surveys made by the McAfees in 1773. Fortunately, the two parties resolved their differences without undue difficulty." (p. 72-73).

In 1778-1779, the McAfee brothers returned to Virginia to pack up their families and head back to central Kentucky. James McAfee Sr. chose not to make the trip to Kentucky. This decision was understandable, as he was about 72 years old at the time. He moved into the home of his granddaughter Mary (McAfee) Woods, eldest daughter of James McAfee Jr., who had stayed behind with her husband, David Woods. Here, in Botetourt Co., Virginia, James McAfee Sr. died in 1785.

What is remarkable is that Jane McMichael McAfee chose to follow her children to Kentucky, instead of remaining in Virginia with her husband. It is not known why she made this decision, but it was a courageous one, given her age and the harsh conditions of the first winter spent in McAfee Station. She lived in the home of her eldest son, James McAfee Jr. (which home still stands outside Harrodsburg, Kentucky) until her death in 1783.

Robert B. McAfee described his grandmother as follows: "My grandmother, Jane McMichael, was a woman about middle size, tall, mild and dignified, with a remarkably fine face and open prominent forehead, indicative of great goodness of heart sensitive feelings, with dark gray eyes and black hair. Her mild, decided and conciliatory looks could always silence the old man when in a passion." [It should be noted that Robert B. McAfee never met his grandmother - he was born in Feb., 1784, nearly a year after her death.]

In her 73 years, Jane McMichael McAfee traveled thousands of miles, both by land and sea. She gave birth to nine children, losing one in infancy, and another to the Indian Wars. She made a home for her family wherever her husband settled them, and then left her husband to make a home with her children and grandchildren. It seems fitting that the Harrodsburg Chapter of the D.A.R. is named for her.

At New Providence Presbyterian Church Cemetery (which was established by James and Jane's son, Samuel), a monument was erected for Jane McMichael McAfee:

"In memory of Jane McAfee, the mother of pioneer men of Kentucky, who by the side of her five sons was among the first to cross the Cumberlands in 1779. This stone erected by her descendants and the Jane McAfee Chapter of the D.A.R." (See a photo of the monument taken by Pete McAfee.)

To learn more about the descendants of James and Jane (McMichael) McAfee, please visit my website at: http://jtenlen.drizzlehosting.com/Register/RR_TOC.HTML.

Jane McMichael McAfee is listed under "Pioneers and Emigrants" of the "Notable Women Ancestors" page! Click on the icon to learn more about other noted women ancestors!