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Historic timeline at Hallowell Elementary School by Justine Musick
Historic timeline at Hallowell Elementary School by Justine Musick

Sir William Keith

Sir William Keith

Governor Sir William Keith / Fountain Low

Sir William Keith (1669-1748) was the deputy governor of the province of Pennsylvania under William Penn's widow, Hannah Callowhill Penn. He had previously had a position as Surveyor-General for the Southern District of the Americas in 1713. The Southern District included Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Carolina, Jamaica, and the Bahamas, but lost this upon the death of Queen Ann. He then learned that the Quakers in Pennsylvania were looking to replace their governor, Charles Gookin, and after several years of much wining and dining of the appropriate British officials he secured the position. On May 31, 1717, William Keith and his family, along with Dr. Thomas Graeme, arrived in Philadelphia.

William Keith was the eldest son of Sir William Keith of Ludquhairn, and was born at the family home of Boddam Castle, near Boddam in the extreme north east of Scotland. He studied at Marischal College, Aberdeen from where he graduated a master of arts in 1687. The Keith family were strongly Jacobite and after the 1689 "Glorious Revolution" William Keith spent much of his time with the exiled Jacobite court of James VII/II, at Saint-Germain-en-Laye near Paris. Upon the death of his father in 1721, he became the 4th Baronet of Nova Scotia, a minor title, but the first and only titled governor of Pennsylvania, outranking even the Penns89 p2.

In 1713, Keith was given the post of Surveyor-General for the Southern District of the Americas, an area covering Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Carolina, Jamaica and the Bahamas. In the aftermath of the 1715 Jacobite uprising, the Government purged many known Jacobite sympathisers form public office, and Keith heard that he was to be amongst them. At about the same time he discovered that the Quaker government of Pennsylvania was seeking to replace its current governor. He used his contacts among the colonists and with the family of the state's founder William Penn, to gain local support for his own candidacy, then returned to London, where he was able to persuade a - presumably suspicious - King George I to confirm his appointment57.


Samuel Carpenter was one of the early land owners in Horsham, purchasing 5000 acres in 1686 from William Penn on the far northern border of Philadelphia County (the deed was not executed until 1702 (1706?16. He was Treasure of the colony in 1709 when then Lt Governor Gooken was able to get the Assembly to allocate a gift of £2000 to Queen Anne during her war against the French in Canada. These funds were either not collected or not delivered but it didn't become an issue until after his death. His estate was forced to give up 1200 acres of land in what is now Horsham, PA to settle the debt.

The executors of Samuel Carpenter, a distinguished merchant of Philadelphia, sold twelve hundred acres of the same, February 3, 1718, to Andrew Hamilton for five hundred pounds. The latter, March 5, 1718, conveyed the same to William Keith, Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania, and this became the original Graeme Park tract16. Keith then purchased another 535 acres directly from the Carpenter estate41 p2.2.

The port of Philadelphia, in 1719, reportedly had a surplus of grain which was going to waste . Governor Keith proposed to the council that the best way to preserve this grain was to manufacture ale and other spirits. Keith became the proprietor of Carpenter's 1200 acres with the intention to build a facility for the malting of grain and the distilling of alcohol40.

Carpenter's 1200 acres lay immediately west north of the present Graeme Park, stretching across Limekiln Pike. By 1721, Keith had acquired the additional 535 acres and named his estate Fountain Low for the numerous natural springs running through it. Fountain Low included what is known today as Graeme Park, the Penrose-Strawbridge Farm, parts of what were until recently the Willow Grove NAS-JRB, and land to the west of Park Creek and across the not yet built Keith Valley Road and south across what is now known as Governor Road.

In 1721 Keith signed a contract with John Kirk of Abington to build a malt house where the grain would be converted into malt, which would then be used in brewing beer, whisky and in certain foods. John Kirk was a skilled mason, and directed the construction of such noteworthy structures as the Kirk Homestead (his family seat), and the Lukens house where Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson spent the final years of her life. (Kirk's great-granddaughter Tacy Kirk - her maternal grandfather was the clockmaker Seneca Lukens - would marry Jarret Penrose. Their great-grandson, Joseph Hallowell "Buck" Penrose, would be a great friend and benefactor to HPHA) By 1722 construction of this building was far enough advanced for Keith to authorize construction of a new road to be built between Philadelphia and his new estate. This was originally known as Keith's Road but is now called Governor Road.

There is speculation that what is now known as the Keith House was originally built to be the malt house. The house originally had only a winder staircase between floors, no walls to separate or create rooms, and no paint on the woodwork , essentially an industrial building. This theory is not given much credence and archaeologists have discovered the foundations of another building tentatively identified as the malt house north of the Keith House (on the opposite side as the Strawbridge House)

In addition to the Malt House, he constructed three buildings on the property. A long two-storey structure was built to the north of the malt house, possibly to house workers. Later this building was used as servants’ quarters. A small narrow structure was erected near the bank of the Park Creek, and a large barn was built on approximately the site of the present barn (Graeme Park Visitor Center). The ruins of another barn still exist along Governor Road. This barn was reportedly used as an ice house by the Strawbridges and possibly the Penroses.

HPHA dates the original part of the Penrose Strawbridge House to this period as well, as early as c1721 and we believe that this one room cabin may have been used as a distillery. Our research also shows that Governor’s Road terminates in front of what is now the Penrose Strawbridge House and not at the Keith Mansion, indicating that this cabin may have been the 1st building on the site.

There is evidence that the center part of the Penrose-Strawbridge House plus the basement beneath it, and the basements under the 1810 addition all date back to approximately 1722, indicating that this building may have been not only the first - or among the first - on the site, but that this building may have been larger than just a single cabin41 p2.6-2.10.

Keith was known as a lavish entertainer, not much is known of how much time he actually spent here, but Beans describes it:

"Keith had it as a hunting park, and grand fetes of hunting-parties of lords and gentlemen assembled at the house, and from there started out for deer, pheasants and other game. "16 .

These accounts are probably greatly exaggerated, the hunting park was developed later by Dr Graeme and we believe that the interior of the mansion was in a fairly unfinished state until Dr Graeme developed the property probably starting in the 1740s. It is likely that Keith did little entertaining at the estate and may have spent very little time there at all.

His large expenses and some other business failures, however, prevented him from ever beginning production at the malt house

Hannah Callowhill Penn, the wife of William Penn, became the administrator of Pennsylvania after her husband had a series of strokes beginning in 1712. She appointed Keith as Lt Governor of Pennsylvania in 1718.

He was described:

"Keith had a smooth, flattering manner, with clear business ideas, and did his best to be friendly with everybody. His politeness paid, for the Assembly at once voted him four hundred and fifty pounds and afterwards gave him an ample salary....In his dealings with the Indians Governor Keith was very successful, disputes that seemed likely to end in bloodshed were settled by him quietly, and when an Indian was killed by one of the whites in a brutal way Keith so softened the anger of the tribe that the chief asked him not to put the murderer to death, saying: "One life is enough to be lost; there should not two die."106

One of Keith's accomplishments, in 1723, was the issuance of paper money. Business at that time was done mostly in trade of goods, the Penn's received their payments in wheat. Many opposed the idea of paper money, but it proved to be invaluable to the colony.

" Any owner of gold or silver plate or of real estate clear of debt could obtain these notes, paying five per cent, per annum for their use. Their property was given as security, the loans on plate being for one year only, those on real estate for eight years, one-eighth of the sum borrowed to be repaid yearly. All bills paid in were to be destroyed. So useful to the people was this new form of money that thirty thousand pounds were issued the next year. These later bills, when paid in, were not to be burned, but loaned out again, so as to keep the full sum of paper money afloat. This system was kept up until the Revolution. And while the paper money of some other colonies sank in value by bad management, that of Pennsylvania had such good security in plate and real estate that it kept up to par with gold. Nothing could have been done more useful to the province than this issue of paper money."106

Keith also, however, broadened the use of the death penalty in Pennsylvania.

"William Penn has been justly praised for limiting the death penalty to cases of murder and treason, at a time when in Europe criminals were hanged for robbery, burglary, conspiracy, forgery and many other crimes, some of them of little importance. Governor Keith was in favor of extending the laws of England to the colonies, and through his influence an act was passed by the Assembly making a large number of offenses subject to the death penalty. Thus, the humane law made by Penn expired in the year of his death and was not restored until the end of the Revolutionary War."106

James Logan had sailed to the new colony in 1699 as William Penn's secretary, in 1701 Penn names him Clerk of the Council of Pennsylvania and Secretary of the Province and over the next 20 years holds numerous leadership positions. Logan had often advocated for the proprietor's rights, which made him unpopular at times, and also advocated to keep legislative powers in the hands of the appointed council rather than in the hands of the elected Assembly.107

Keith disagreed with Logan regarding the Council and claimed that this body had nothing to do with making the laws, and in 1722 he removed James Logan, the friend and agent of the Penn family, from his posts as Secretary of the Province and Member of the Council.106 Logan sailed to England to appeal this to Hannah Penn and returned with orders for Keith to restore him to his positions. Keith refused, with the support of the Assembly and the Chief Justice, but by 1726 Hannah Penn ordered him replaced as Lt Governor.

Keith remained in Pennsylvania for 2 more years, was elected to the Assembly twice, and tried to make trouble for his successor.106 He returned to England in 1728, supposedly under cloak of darkness escaping creditors. He never returned to America, leaving his wife, Lady Anne Keith behind.

In 1742 he proposed a stamp tax on the colonies

precisely because he thought it would establish among the Americans "a more just and favourable opinion of their dependency on a British Parliament, than what they generally have at present"108 p64

A tax enacted in 1742 may have been received better by the colonists that the subsequent Stamp Act in 1765. Had Parliament listed to Keith they may have avoided the war.

Keith had always lived beyond his means, had acquired debts in his pursuit of the governorship and had inherited others from his father. He died in poverty and possibly in prison at the Old Bailey. in London in 1749 at nearly eighty years of age. (His name does not appear in the on-line records of the Old Bailey).




Keith was a popular politician (although his lavish lifestyle made him unpopular with the Quakers16) and led Pennsylvania and the Provincial Assembly out of internal, financial, and cultural conflicts, to a time of relative stability by the end of his stay in office.


Ben Franklin met Keith through Franklin's brother-in-law, Captain Holmes when Franklin was only 18 . For some reason, Keith took a liking to the young man and encouraged him to start a printing business in Philadelphia, promising him - as governor - the colony's printing business. Keith suggested that Franklin travel to London where he could pick out the equipment he needed and make contacts, promising letters of introduction and a letter of credit.

"The governor, seeming to like my company, had me frequently to his house, and his setting me up was always mention'd as a fixed thing. I was to take with me letters recommendatory to a number of his friends besides the letter of credit to furnish me the necessary money to purchase the press and types paper, etc."109 p30

Franklin sailed, having been told that his documents were in a package with the rest of the governor's dispatches and were in the captain's care. Upon arrival in England, however, Franklin found nothing that had been promised. He stayed about 18 months in London, working for about a year at Palmer's printing house and as a clerk for a Mr Denham who brought him back to Philadelphia. Franklin later saw the now ex-Governor Keith "He seemed a little asham'd at seeing me but passed by without saying anthing"109 p39

"He wish'd to please everybody; and, having little to give, he gave Expectations. He was otherwise an ingenious sensible Man, a pretty good writer, and a good Governor for the People...Several of our best laws were of his Planning, and pass'd during his Administration."109 p32

Lady Ann Keith remained in America and was given power of attorney for the Horsham property, and she may have lived there, although not in very high style. She gradually sold parcels of the estate to satisfy Sir William's debts and eventually the remaining 834 acre of Fountain Low was sold to her son-in-law, Dr. Thomas Graemee. (via Joseph Turner Graeme Park Timeline ).

"As in the old country, Lady Keith lived in seclusion at Horsham and in Philadelphia, and died July 31, 1740, aged sixty-five years." 16
"...unnoticed and almost forgotten" she lived and died in a small wooden house, Third Street above Market, where, " much pinched for subsistence, she eked out her existence with an old female; and declining all intercourse with society, or with her neighbours."89 p32

For a much more detailed biography of Governor Keith, please visit Sir William Keith at the Friends of Graeme Park website




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Horsham Preservation and Historical Association (HPHA)
900 Governor Road
Horsham, PA 19044 USA
© 2000- Horsham Preservation and Historical Association
A Community Benefit Organization

Horsham Preservation and Historical Association (HPHA)
900 Governor Road
Horsham, PA 19044 USA
© 2000- Horsham Preservation and Historical Association
We are A Community Benefit Organization
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