New Jersey Biographical and Genealogical Notes from the Volumes of the New Jersey
The Rev. Robert McKean was b. July 13, 1732, the son of William McCain and Letitia
Finney, his wife. William McCain was b. in Ireland in 1707, and coming to America in
early life with his mother, Susan McCain, settled with her at Chatham, New London,
Chester county, Penn., where he kept tavern until 1741, thereafter for four years at
Londongrove, and later at Londonderry, in the same region. He d. Nov. 18, 1769.
[Documents Relating to the Colonial History of New Jersey Vol VI]
Oct. 22. We hear, the worthy Rev. Mr. M'Kean, Missionary for Amboy, departed this Life
on Saturday last, at the Seat of his Father-in-Law Edward Antill, Esq; at Rariton
Landing.1--The Pennsylvania Chronicle, No. 40, October 26, 1767.
The Rev. Robert McKean was b. July 13, 1732, the son of William
McCain and Letitia Finney, his wife. William McCain was b. in Ireland
in 1707, and coming to America in early life with his mother,
Susan McCain, settled with her at Chatham, New London, Chester
county, Penn., where he kept tavern until 1741, thereafter for four
years at Londongrove, and later at Londonderry, in the same region.
He d. Nov. 18, 1769.
Robert McKean (as he wrote his name) studied for the ministry,
probably under the Rev. Francis Allison, D. D., and having been ordained
in England, in 1757 was appointed by the Society for the
Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts to be a missionery of the
Church of England, at New Brunswick, his labors, however, often
extending so far afield as Piscataway, Spotswood, Woodbridge, and
more distant settlements in Central New Jersey. On taking charge
of his mission he wrote home to the Society, January 8, 1758, that he
"arrived at New Brunswick on the 16th of Dec., and was kindly received
by his congregation, and had officiated regularly to them from
Writing again from New Brunswick, Feb. 5, 1758, to the
Rev. Dr. Peter Bearcroft, Secretary of the Society, he says: "Since
my arrival here I have wrote to you by two different Conveyances,
one by the Pacquet, and another by means of a friend via Ireland. In
them I have troubled you with a particular account of my Voyage and
other proper occurrences, as also the kind reception I have met with
and the happy prospect I have as yet in my mission."
Young as he
was, his indefatigable zeal and marked ability were speedily recognized.
The College in Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania)
conferred upon him the honorary degree of A. M., in 1760.
When Gov. Thomas Boone arrived in New Jersey, in July, 1760, the
clergy of the Church of England waited upon him with an address,
presented by a committee of three, of whom Mr. McKean was one.
He served on a similar committee to address Gov. Josiah Hardy in
He was regular and faithful in his attendance upon
the convention of clergy which met in Philadelphia, April 30-May 5,
1760, to discuss the affairs of the church in Pennsylvania and the
Lower Counties; he and Mr. Samuel Cook, "two of the Society's
worthy Missionaries of New Jersey, [attending] with the kind intention
of giving their best advice and assistance in promoting the designs
of the Convention."
When the pulpit of St. Peter's church at
Perth Amboy became vacant, in 1761, the people of that congregation
"had so much their hearts set on Mr. McKean" that they were "utterly
averse" to the Society's selection, and were correspondingly
glad when the appointee declined to leave Litchfield, Conn., and in
the course of a year Mr. McKean was transferred to Perth Amboy,
where he arrived in February, 1763, with a notification of his appointment
as Missionary, his services being restricted to that parish exclusively,
at the request of the vestry.
In 1764 Woodbridge was placed
in his care, he visiting it once every three weeks. In these charges
he labored with indefatigable zeal and assiduity, and manifestly had
the confidence of the older clergy. His own experience of the hardship
laid upon young Americans who were obliged to go to England
for ordination made him an ardent and perhaps intemperate advocate
of the plan of appointing American Bishops--a cause so ably urged
by Dr. Chandler.
Mr. McKean studied medicine, and was a successful
practitioner in that profession, and so much esteemed among his fellow
medical men that he was one of the seventeen who organized the
New Jersey Medical Society, in July, 1766, and was elected its first
President. His parishioners did not object to his practicing, but they--at
least some of them--did find fault when he sent in his bills. He
also seems to have taught school at Perth Amboy.
Mr. McKean m. Isabel Graham Antill, Feb. 19, 1766, at Christ
church, Shrewsbury. She was a dau. of Edward Antill, 2d, of New
Brunswick, and Anne Morris, his wife, dau. of Gov. Lewis Morris.
She is said to have been "a young lady of very gay and independent
spirit, not calculated to enhance the domestic happiness of the missionary."
In his will, dated Sept. 13, 1767, he describes himself as
"Clerk, Missionary from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel
in Foreign Parts, at Perth Amboy." He mentions his wife, but no
children. He died at Raritan Landing, near New Brunswick, at the
residence of his father-in-law, Edward Antill, 2d, October 17, 1767,
after a long and wasting illness.
Writing to the Society, October 12,
1767, the Rev. Dr. Thomas Bradbury Chandler, of Elizabethtown, says:
"Wasted away with a tedious disorder, the worthy, the eminently
useful and amiable Mr. McKean is judged by his physicians to be at
present at the point of death." He adds: "A better man was never
in the Society's service." The lamented young clergyman was buried
in St. Peter's churchyard, Perth Amboy, where a monument erected
by his brother, Thomas McKean--a Signer of the Declaration of Independence,
Chief Justice and afterwards Governor of Pennsylvania--bears
this inscription: "In Memory of The Rev. Robert McKean,
M. A., Practitioner in Physic, &c., and Missionary from the Society
for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, to the City of
Perth Amboy:--who was born July 13th, 1732, N. S., and died Oct.
17th, 1767, An unshaken Friend, an agreeable Companion, a rational
Divine, a skillful Physician, and in every relation in life a truly benevolent
and honest man, Fraternal love hath erected this monument."
of the McKean Family, by Roberdeau Buchanan, Lancaster,
Pa., 1890, 8-9, 13
A Record of Christ Church, New Brunswick, by the
Rev. Alfred Stubbs, New York, 1850, 9
Historical Collections relating
to the American Colonial Church, edited by William Stevens Perry, D. D.,
Volume II., Pennsylvania, 1871, 270-273, 295-305, 380, 381, 410
of St. John's Church, Elizabeth Town, by Samuel A. Clark, Philadelphia,
1857, 85, 96, 110, 118-119
Contributions to the Early History of Perth
Amboy, by William A. Whitehead, New York, 1856, 225, 228-9, 291, 391,
N. J. Archives, 1st Series, IX., 338, 340; XX., 262, 434, 468,
636; XXIV., 457; XXV., 472-3
N. Y. Coionial Documents, VI., 610; VII.,
Woodbridge and Vicinity, by Rev. Joseph W. Dally, New Brunswick,
A Collection of American Epitaphs, by Rev. Timothy
Alden. A. M., New York, 1814, No. 1045
Historical Collections of the
State of New Jersey, by John W. Barber and Henry Howe, Newark
Edward Antill and His Descendants, by William Nelson, 1899,
History of Medicine in New Jersey, and of Its Medical Men, by
Stephen Wickes, A. M., M. D., Newark, 1879, 329-330
the New Jersey Medical Society, 1766-1800, Newark, 1866. passim.