The Kelsay Family






First of all I will deal with facts, and then perhaps a little conjecture. Rev. Morgan Edwards came from England and wrote a book about the Baptists in New Jersey in the 18th century. It was published in 1793, and I saw a copy in the rare book section of the New York Public Library in 1976. Rev. Edwards had written to all of the Baptist Ministers in New Jersey prior to that time, and asked them send him some background information about themselves. Rev. Robert Kelsay was the Minister at the Cohansey Baptist Church in Cumberland County, New Jersey, and he responded to Rev. Edwards with a letter about himself and his family. He wrote that he had been born in the year 1711 near Drummore, Ireland, and came to the Port in Maryland in 1734. He arrived in Cohansey (south New Jersey) in 1738. The spelling of "Drummore" was an ancient spelling of the present day town of Dromore, which is located in County Down, Northern Ireland. Rev. Robert Kelsay also stated in his letter to Rev. Edwards, that he had thirty-three grandchildren at that time, and his children had married into the families of: Sheppards, Bowens, Dares, Heatons, Reeves, Smiths, and Pagets. The forgoing are indisputable facts that were written by Rev. Robert Kelsay’s own hand.

Now we will have to use a little conjecture. Research in Northern Ireland showed that the Kelsay family had moved from Scotland to Northern Ireland in the 17th century. The Kelsay family was known as Scots/Irish in America, but were called, Ulster/Scots in Ireland. The bulk of the immigrants from Scotland to Northern Ireland were of the Presbyterian religion. The Scots in those days used a "naming pattern" for their children, and this pattern was also adhered to by the Ulster/Scots in Northern Ireland. The pattern went like this: 1st son after father’s father; 2nd son after mother’s father; 3rd son after father; lst daughter after mother’s mother; 2nd daughter after father’s mother; and 3rd daughter after mother. The pattern continued on down, but this is the beginning of it. I don’t know if Rev. Robert followed this pattern faithfully or not in the naming of his children, but feel sure that he named his first born son, William after his father, which would have followed the naming pattern.

The records in Northern Ireland show that William Kellsay was of Ballycross, a portion of the Hamilton Estates in 1711. This is the year that Robert Kelsay was born, and I feel certain that this William Kellsay of Ballycross was his father. Ballycross (city of the cross) is a small town in County Down that is not far from the larger town of Dromore. The "Thrifts Index of Wills" in Northern Ireland show William Kellsay, Ballycross, 1771. I believe this to be one of Robert Kelsay’s older brothers, but could not locate the Will he had left in 1771. It might have been destroyed in the fire of 1922, when the Public Record Office in Dublin was burned down. Wills was supposed to be sent to Dublin prior to the fire, but not everybody sent them. This Will might be helpful if it could be located.

Now, you are probably asking: "Who was William Kellsay’s father?" Again, I must use conjecture, but I think the evidence points strongly to Gawin Kellsay/Kelso of Holywood, County Down, who obtained leases of lands in Coleraine and Londonderry in 1617. Kelsays, Kelseys and Kelsos were among immigrants to New England c 1720, the majority of whom were from the Londonderry area. Even today, these names are still to be found on the Londonderry/Donegal Border. The Assignment, dated December 1617 (T640 Page 14) from Robert MacClelland of Bombie (later Lord Kirdcudbright) is to Gawin Kelso of Holywood, and at that date Holywood was a portion of the estates of Sir James Hamilton, lst Lord Clandeboye, who received the Grant on November 5, 1606.

Lease, December 1617 (T640 P14): Sir Robert MacClelland of Bombie to my well beloved Gawin Kelso of Holywood. Five score of acres of land of the Haberdashers lying upon the water of Roe. Forty acres of land of the Clothworkers proportion . . . to the town of Coleraine.

Dated Edinburgh the (?) day of December 1617.

The lease from Sir Robert MacClelland states Gawin Kelso of Holywood. Does this mean that Gawin was already living in Holywood, County Down, Northern Ireland in 1617, or did he sign the lease in Edinburgh, Scotland and immediately move to Holywood in 1617?

Note – Sir Robert MacClelland was created Lord Kirkcudbright in 1633.

The Haberdashers and the Clothworkers were two of the London Companies granted land in Coleraine and Londonderry.

History of Holywood by McNamee: Grant, dated November 5, 1606 to Sir James Hamilton, lst Lord Clandeboye of Holywood etc.

The following is a note from Mrs. Joan L. Petticrew of Northern Ireland: "I noticed Gawen (also Gawin, Gawn, and Gowan, variant spelling) in the records. I would like to advise you that when the "Planters" (Scots/Irish to you and Ulster/Scots to us) first came to County Down, they came in by the Ards Peninsula where Holywood Parish is situated. The great landlord who came with the "Planters", and who built the wealthy town of Newtownards, was Sir Montgomery from Scotland. The original grant to Sir Montgomery was in 1606. This area to the present day is a very wealthy farming area specializing in potatoes and vegetables, which are famous in Europe. The Comber "spud" is known throughout the British Isles.

With them, the Scots Planters brought the Christian names, Gawn and Hans, which are usually found in the Ards Peninsula area. These two names died out about one hundred years ago.

From the Ards Peninsula, many families who came with the Planters fanned out to areas in County Down. . . ."

The "Plantation" of Ulster in Northern Ireland was started about 1607, and continued for many years. Gawn Kellsay/Kelso was reportedly born in Ayr, Scotland and leased land in Holywood, Northern Ireland in 1617 or before. The "Rent Roll, Antrim County, Northern Ireland, page 8 & 9", shows Gowen Kellsay leasing land in 1641. The Kelso family was an old family in Ayr, Scotland, and Gawn Kelso would have been born there about 1595 or before, as he was an adult farmer when he leased land in 1617. The Irish population was in an almost constant state of rebellion between 1610 and 1650, and some researchers believe that Gawn/Gowen Kellsay/Kelso was killed in battle in Antrim County about 1641 or shortly after.

Most Kelsay researchers of today, seem to think that Gawn Kellsay/Kelso was the father of William Kellsay, who was living near Ballycross, County Down in 1711, and was leasing land that was a portion of the Sir James Hamilton Estates. We know for a fact that Gawn Kellsay/Kelso moved from Scotland to Northern Ireland, but we don’t know who might have came with him. Families were usually large in those days, and Gawn probably had many brothers and sisters. The "Prerogative Will Index, 1536-1810" in Northern Ireland, shows a George Kelsaie, native of Scotland. The Will was dated 1640. A George Kelsay migrated to New Jersey, and was living in Cumberland County when Rev. Robert Kelsay was there. George was a name that was used in the Kelsay family in New Jersey and Ohio, so it is very likely that Gawn and George Kellsay in Northern Ireland were related in some manner, very possibly they were brothers, as they appeared to be close in their ages.

The Index to Irish Wills, Volume IV (Dromore, Newry, Mourne) by Thomas M Blagg, F.S.A., shows, Kellsay, William, Ballycross, County Down (Northern Ireland) on page 69. The Will was probated in 1771, but I have not been able to locate it. This William Kellsay was very likely the son of the William Kellsay that was living there in 1711, and an older brother to Robert Kelsay of New Jersey.

Without a Will, we may never know for sure how many children William Kellsay Sr. had. We are sure of William Kellsay Jr., John Kelsay and Robert Kelsay, but would have to speculate on other names. I think, Edward, Samuel, Joseph, Daniel, David and George would be some names that would likely be bestowed on brothers to William, John and Robert Kelsay. There is no way at present to ascertain the size of William Kellsay Sr.’s family. However, the families were usually large in those days. The only birth control back then, was when a woman either reached menopause or died . . . which ever came first!

John Kelsay was older then Robert and migrated to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania sometime in the 1720’s. John resided there with his wife, Margaret, and they had many children together. Robert stated in his letter to Rev. Edwards, that he landed at the Port in Maryland in 1734, and went to Cohansey, New Jersey in 1738. We don’t know where Robert spent that four years before he showed up in New Jersey, but a good guess would be with his brother John in Pennsylvania. There were probably other family members that came over with John and Robert, and there may have been some more brothers with them. However, all of the "say" spelling of the Kelsay name in America today trace back to either John in Pennsylvania, or Robert in New Jersey. If there was any other Kelsay brothers that came over with John and Robert, their line must have died out, because we have not found any of their descendants living today. At least, not yet anyway.

The early immigrates were often involved with the naming of new Townships in the Counties they inhabited. Reportedly, John Kelso/Kelsay was an early settler in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and very well might have had influence with new names. You don’t suppose Drumore Township in Lancaster County could have been named after the present day, Dromore, Northern, Ireland, do you? It was a common practice in those days to use names from former places of residence.

In 1977, I sent a fee to the ULSTER HISTORICAL FOUNDATION in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and asked them to conduct a search of the Kelsay family there. On May 24, 1977, the Secretary of UHF, Mrs. Kathreen Neill mailed me the results of their search. She stated "that records for the 17th and 18th centuries are very few and far between here in Ireland." Mrs. Neill also said, "We realise that you asked us to concentrate on Kelsay/Kelsey and disregard Kelso. However, this was not easy as the names keep cropping up together as you will see from our report."

The report was five or six pages long, and the information concerning Gawin Kelso/Kellsay of Holywood and William Kellsay of Ballycross, was included in it. I discussed some of that earlier. The UHF researcher discussed the surname: "I know from my personal experience that spelling of names even within the same generation varied considerably in the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries so I have worked on the presumption that KELSO – KELSOE – KELSAY – KELLSAY and KELSEY are of the same family. I believe this to be borne out by the entries in the Black Book of the Rebellion of 1798 (DOD272) where in the tiny area of Drumbridge we find both JOHN KELSOE and JAMES KELSEY (Drumbridge is in the area of Drumbeg and lies on the edge of the River Lagan). It will also be noted that in some cases the spelling is varied within one document."

The UHF researcher continued, "In 1797/98 John Kelso and James Kelsey were in "Drumbridge which according to the Chancery Bill of 1680 (T808/14559) was also the property of Sir James Hamilton, lst Lord Clandeboye and had been leased to James Maxwell prior to 1677 – probably James Maxwell of Drumbeg who died c 1681/2 (T808/9913).

It appears that the Kelsay/Kelso family leased land from the estate of Sir James Hamilton for many years in County Down. As late as 1804, a William Kelsey married Jane Jennings in Dromore, County Down, Northern Ireland. She was the widow of the late Mr. McMullen at remarriage.

As you can see by the several variant spellings of the Kelsay surname above, the name has had many spellings through the centuries. It was most certainly derived from the surname of "Kelso" in Scotland. George Robertson’s account of the Principal Families in Ayrshire, Scotland (1824); "wherein it is stated that the family of Kelso of Kelsoland is said to have originally come from Normandy into England in 1066 with William the Conqueror. Robertson adds that this tradition derives some weight from the circumstances that QUELSOE was still, in his day, a surname to be met with in that province of France." Very few of the names of the companions of William the Conqueror are known, and it would be impossible to establish if Robertson was correct in speculating on the family coming from Normandy in 1066. I noticed that all of the early Kelso’s of Kelsoland had a "de" in their name though. Such as "Hugo de Kelso, son of John, Dominus de Kelsoland, signed fealty to Edward I of England in July of 1296. Hugo’s name appears in the "Ragman Roll" in 1296. The genealogy of Kelsoland states: "Hugo de Kelso’s name appears among those of the Baroness Majors slain at the battle of Falkirke. He married Aleanore, daughter of Patric, Earl of March." The surname was spelled with several variants prior to Hugo de Kelso – such as John de Kelsou, 1289; Peter de Kelsou, 1263; Richard de Kelchou, 1233; and on back to Vinget de Chalchou in 1094. The "de" was used in the name up to John de Kelcho in 1403, and then was not used anymore. The webster’s dictionary states that "de" indicates place of origin in French family names. So, in other words, Hugo de Kelso means "Hugo from Kelso."

It appears there is a strong French connection, and it’s possible that George Robertson was correct in his assessment that the family came from Normandy, France in 1066 with William the Conqueror.

We do know that Kelso was a "place name", and appears in King David’s foundation charter as such. According to Morton "(Monastic Annals of Teviotdale) the name is evidently derived from Chalkheugh, a remarkable cliff overhanging the Tweed, on the summit of which part of the town is built. Chalkheugh is locally pronounced Cawkheuch. Calc, in the ancient British language, and cealc in the Anglo-Saxon, like the Latin calx, signify chalk. How, in Anglo-Saxon and Scots, and Heugh in modern Scots, a hill or height (Chalmer’s Caledonia). This etymology may be distinctly traced in the various forms in which the name appears in ancient records, where it is written KALKOW, KELQUEU, CALCO, CALCHEU, CALCHOOWE and KELLESEWE. The earliest mention of it is stated by Morton to be at the time of the founding of the Monastery in 1128, when it appears from the Charter of its royal founder, David I, that there was a church called "the church of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the banks of the river Tuede in the place which is called Calkou".

I think what Morton was trying to say, is that "Kelso" was named after a remarkable chalk hill overhanging the river Tweed.

In October 1938, Mrs. Utterson Kelso died at her home at Gilling west, near Richmond, Yorkshire. Among various documents referring to the Kelso family that were in her possession at the time of her death was the following note on paper watermarked 1827:

"All Antiquarians agree that the most ancient surnames are local

with a "de" before them and have been assumed by the proprietors

when fixed appellations became hereditary. Thus the earliest

possessors of the lands of Kelsoland in the Bailiary of Cunningham

and Sheriffdom of Ayr, took a surname from their own lands accord-

ing to the common custom of others amongst us, etc. etc.."

An old pedigree dated 1758, records that the lands of Kelsoland in Ayrshire were erected into a free Barony by charter in 1256. The pedigree starts out with Vinget Calso in 1022, and Vinget de Chalchou in 1094 and continues on to Hugh Andrew Kelso in 1917. However, George Robertson ignores the early pedigree and gives Hugo de Kelso (who appears in Ragman Roll in 1296) as the first of the name to appear in any public record in Scotland and he thinks to be the ancestor of the Kelsos of Kelsoland. Kelsoland remained in the hands of the family until about 1624 or 32, when it was sold to one Patrick Shaw, either by Robert Kelso (according to Robertson) of by his father David (according to both Burke and James Patterson’s History of the county of Ayrshire, 1852). Some fifteen or twenty years later the estates were re-purchased by Robert Kelso of Halrig, but in 1688, his son John Kelso finally disposed of Kelsoland to John Brisbane of Bishoptoun, who changed the name of the house to "Brisbane House", by which name it was known until it was destroyed by Commandos in a training exercise during World War II – in the 1940’s.

The following story was recorded in the "Account of the Family of Kelso of Kelsoland", which the Ulster Historical Foundation in Belfast has a copy of:

"Brisbane has its ghosts. In the house itself a winding stone staircase that leads to the attics has never been finished, the workmen employed upon it being too scared to complete the work. Strange tales are told about it. A friend of the Brisbane family who knew the place intimately – Miss Fairlie of fairlie in Ayrshire – has recorded a curious experience of her own at Brisbane House that happened during a Christmas party in the last Mrs. Brisbane’s time. In her own words – "suddenly there was an electric current as if bells were being rung, and a sharp whining sound – after which a dead silence. No one spoke until Miss Low said quietly, ‘I must have leaned on the bell push’. Afterwards I spoke to Mrs. Brisbane (a very saintly woman) who said smiling, ‘There are no bells in the house’ . . " Another lady, a Miss Dyer, who was looking over the house with her sister and brother-in-law, suddenly found herself quietly sliding down the staircase. She said that she felt as though some one had got hold of her ankles and pulled her down. The Kelso Glen – still so called – that adjoins the property is said to be haunted by a Kelso ghost; and there is a legend to the effect that when a Kelso shall again sleep in Brisbane House, the estates will return to the Kelso family. The late Lieut. Colonel Archibald Kelso was once given a general invitation to shoot at Brisbane and mentioned this to his cousin, Capt. Barrington Kelso, R.N. the latter at once replied, "I bet that you will never go – Brisbane will put you off". Sure enough, though the invitation was not canceled, it was never renewed."

The Brisbane family acquired some other lands in Ayr besides Kelsoland, and extended the estate to upwards of 8500 acres. It was erected into the Barony of Brisbane by Charter in 1695.

Apparently the Brisbane family died out in the late 1920’s or early 1930’s. The last laird left the estate to his widow and from her it descended to her niece, a Miss St. Aubyn.

From the "—Account of Kelsoland . . .": "On this subject a certain Mr. Fullarton-James – I presume to be connected with the family of Fullarton of Rosemount, Symington – was in correspondence with Colonel Archibald Kelso’s widow about the year 1935. On the 27th of May of that year he wrote as follows:

"Brisbane, as now called, was my grandfather’s tenancy and my mother

was brought up there in the thirties. The Brisbane’s were relatives of his.

The story of Miss St. Aubyn is quite correct. She was working in the east

end of London when her relative, the last Brisbane, died and left her the property,

which was little more than the empty, but very lovely house. She came and lived

there – I imagine without any servants; for when I went to call and asked to be

allowed to see over the place because of my mother’s childhood spent there, I could

not get in or get any attention, even from a dog! I wrote that night but had no

acknowledgment. This was perhaps ten or fifteen years ago. She died in 1932."

Again on the 12th of January 1936, Mr. Fullarton-James wrote:

"I visited Brisbane a few months ago and found it quite empty, with

much charm of tree and burn and bird, but new buildings to within

quite a short distance. All that quarter of Largs is now built up . . "

I exchanged several letters with Rev. H. Kelso, who resided in County Down, Northern Ireland, in the 1970’s. On May 10, 1976, Rev. Kelso sent me several pages of information about the Kelso family and also enclosed a Xerox copy of a photograph of Brisbane House. It was reportedly one of the last photographs taken of the estate before being demolished during training by the Commandos in the 1940’s. The main house was quite large, and was four stories tall. I could not tell what the house was constructed from, but it appeared to be some sort of stone. There was a smaller building to the left of the main house, and two buildings to the right. There was many trees and shrubbery showing in the picture.

So, it appears that Miss St. Aubyn was the last inhabitant of Brisbane House, and it set empty after her death in 1932, until being demolished by commandos in the 1940’s. It is not known for certain what year the Kelso family acquired Kelsoland. An old pedigree dated 1758 records that the lands were erected into a free Barony by charter in 1256. George Robertson gives Hugo de Kelso as the ancestor of the Kelso’s of Kelsoland in 1296. We know that Kelsoland was owned by the Kelso family for about four hundred years anyway, before selling it to John Brisbane, and they may have owned it much farther back then the 1200 time period. We just don’t know for sure because of the shortage of records. It appears the Brisbane family owned Kelsoland for about 250 years before it was abandoned and demolished in the 1940’s.

In 1693, the home and lands of Dankeith were acquired by William Kelso. Dankeith is situated in the parish of Symington, Ayrshire. The estate remained in Kelso hands until 1865, when on the death of Miss Eleanora Kelso, it passed to the Utterson family and was afterwards sold. Dankeith was destroyed by fire and then completely rebuilt.

Theories from other Kelsay researchers: A book entitled "The Origin of English Surnames" by Reaney, mentions de Kelesey, Kellesey and de Keleseie as names encountered in London in the period between 1147 and 1375. Reaney observes that by the end of the 1300’s, the prevalent spelling in Lincolnshire, along the East Coast north of London, was Kelsey. A village called South Kelsey in that county still appears on today’s maps.

In The New Dictionary of American Family Names by Elsdon C. Smith, Kelsey or Kelsie is given as an English name that can usually be traced back to the Lincolnshire village of Kelsey. Kelso is mentioned as being strictly Scottish. Smith associates the meaning of the name with words describing "chalk heights."

All of these theories concerning the origin’s of the surname of Kelsay, are probably beginning to confuse you by now. Here is my theory: I believe the family originated in Normandy, France, and went to England with William the Conqueror in 1066. After the Battle of Hastings, some of the family stayed in England, and some went to Scotland and settled in Ayrshire. By 1296, Hugo de Kelso was spelling the surname as "Kelso", and the Scottish Kelso’s would use that spelling until the Plantation of Ulster began in the1600’s in Northern Ireland. At some point in time, and I don’t know if it was Gowan Kelso/Kellsay, or his son, William Kellsay, a decision was made to always use the "a" in our surname to distinguish us from the other branches of the family, e.g. Kelso, Kelsey, Kelsoe, etc. William Kellsay in County Down, Northern Ireland used the "say" spelling, and Rev. Robert Kelsay, my 5th great grandfather, signed his own Will in 1789 in Cumberland County, New Jersey with the "say" spelling, and his grave stone was spelled "Kelsay" on it. I will admit, it has been a constant battle through-out my life, in trying to make people spell my name with "say" instead of "sey". We "say" Kelsay’s have used that spelling since the 18th century, and are proud of our branch and will continue to prevail over the misspelling of our surname! My grandfather, Thomas D. Kelsay, was seriously ill with prostate cancer in the Marion General Hospital in Marion, Indiana, when the nurse came in with his chart to record his name. Even though it was a struggle, he raised up on one elbow and instructed the nurse in a firm voice, "That is Kelsay with an ‘a’!" So kinsmen keep the faith, the battle of the "say" spelling can be won! Don’t give up!

You may wonder what behooved our Kelsay ancestors to move from Northern Ireland in the early 18th century to the colonies in North America. I believe it was mostly due to two reasons. First there was the "Test Act" of 1704, which required office holders to take all three Sacraments of the Church of Ireland (Anglican or ‘state church’). Presbyterians and others could not join the army, the militia, educate their children or pass on land, worship within five miles of a town or own a horse over 5 dollars, if they did not obey the three sacraments of the state church i.e. baptism, marriage and burial. Then a long and severe drought set in during the "teen" years of the 1700’s, and was the last straw for these yeoman farmers. Ruined crops, which included flax, meant that farmers, weavers and townspeople had their lifestyle ruined! Then, in 1716, if matters were not already bad enough for the farmers, the sheep were infected with "sheep rot", (a disease of the feet) and wiped out all of the flocks of sheep. On top of all of this, the Absentee English landlords, who lived in England kept increasing the rents on the land!

What had began as a trickle in 1702, turned into a torrent in 1717 of Ulster Planters to the Colonies of North America. The bulk of these immigrants were Presbyterians, and this is probably the religion that the Kelsay family was associated with in Northern Ireland. John Kelsay probably made the move to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania between 1717 and 1720, and Robert Kelsay went over in 1734. There, was of course, many other Kelsay’s that also joined the migration. As they had learned in Scotland and Ireland, the Kelsay’s continued to be mostly farmers in the New World. Robert became a Baptist minister, but he owned farmland in New Jersey and lived on the Cohansey Church’s farm. I am sure he worked in the fields with his sons and taught them the farming trade, as they continued to farm for many generations. I, myself, would probably have stayed on the farm in Indiana, if my father, Dale Kelsay, had not died from a corn picker accident in 1945. All of my ancestors before me were farmers.

I hope the above information gives you a better understanding of the origins of the Kelsay family.

Fred D. Kelsay, Hot Springs, Arkansas, August 16, 1999.