stone building front lit with dark sky, tree to left
stone building front lit with dark sky, tree to left
Sir William Keith House at Graeme Park with flag display July 4, 2019

Sir William Keith

Read about other people linked to Graeme Park and the Penrose Strawbridge Farm:
Sir William Keith | Dr Thomas Graeme | Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson | Samuel & Sarah Penrose | William & Hannah Penrose.| Abel & Sarah Penrose | Morris Penrose | Welsh & Margaret Strawbridge

Governor Sir William Keith

Sir William Keith (1680-1748) was the deputy governor of the province of Pennsylvania under William Penn's widow, Hannah Callowhill Penn.

"Keith was descended from that great feudal family of that name, the head of which, for about six hundred years, was Marischal to the King of Scotland, in ancient times sitting with the Constable at the monarch's right hand in Parliament"89p3
photo of portrait of Sir Wiliam Keith

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 Penns3p2. He later returned to England, served in Parliament but died in poverty in 1749, never returning to America.

John Logan described as:

"An ingenious man with many failings"89p14

Early Career

William Keith was baptized on February 16, 1680 at Peterhead in Scotland. His father died sometime after 1694 and left the family in debt, thus starting Sir William's lifelong struggle to live as an aristocrat with limited funds.89p4 As mentioned above he spent much of his youth in the court of the exiled Pretender in France. He was apparently on close terms with James and expected to be name under-secretary for Scotland when James retook the throne.89p4

Keith was offered a post in Aberdeenshire as Commissioner of Supply. In 1702.147. He was also caught up in the Simon Fraser affair and arrested on possible charges of treason. Fraser had visited the Scottish nobility in an effort to raise an army to replace Queen Ann with the young King James but then double-crossed the Scots by telling the queen's representative of the possible insurrection. Keith finally confessed that he was aware of Fraser's visit to the Scots but was eventually let go. Sometime after this he married the widow Anne Diggs. Diggs' daughter from her first marriage would later marry Dr Thomas Graeme, He may have studied law after this but it is not believed he ever practiced.

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 sympathizers from public office. Keith, despite having been very successful by all accounts was replaced. One story reported by Jame Logan was that Keith's relative, the Earl of Marischal, had hidden at Thomas Graeme's family seat at Balgowan after the Battle of Sherriff Muir which was won by the new King, George I. The loss of his position may have been a form of retribution. This may also have indebted Sir William to Dr Graeme who later accompanied Keith to Philadelphia. 89p7 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 gaan89p10> in local support for his own candidacy, then returned to London, where he was able to persuade a group of Penn's creditors known as the Mortgagees with what he later described as "a reasonable time spent in good eating and drinking, (after the manner of the city), at Sir William's proper cost and charge, he found means to sooth the Gentlemen into a unanimous compliance with his design"89p8 It took several months of lobbying various officials and waiting for the Board of Trade to meet but on December 17, 1716 his appointment was approved. He had to borrow £s;100 to transport his wife, three sons and step-daughter to his new post. A fourth son was born on the voyage89<10. On May 31, 1717, William Keith and his family, along with Dr. Thomas Graeme, arrived in Philadelphia.

Fountain Low ~ Horsham

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?) 16p874. He was Treasurer 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 105 These funds were either not collected or not delivered but it didn't become an issue until after his death. Governor Keith called for Carpenter's estate to settle the debt and shortly after "a large sum was paid to him, and, as the equivalent of £500 there were conveyed to him by deed of March 5, 1718 from Andrew Hamilton who had just taken title from the executors, 1200 acres of land in Philadelphia County" 89p15. Carpenter's debt, in this fashion, was paid to Keith. His payment back to the colony was in the form of outfitting two sloops against the pirates and installing a battery of cannon.89p16

Keith then purchased another 535 acres directly from the Carpenter estate. The current Graeme Park and Penrose Strawbridge Park are located on this second tract of 535 acres41p2-2a. The indenture in which Carpenter willed his 5,000 acre estate to his wife and children is currently in HPHA's collection.

photo of Boddam Castle ruins

Keith's purpose for Fountain Low was laid out in a speech to the Assembly:

My mind is so fully bent upon doing this Province some effectual service that I have lately formed the Design of a considerable Settlement amongst you, in order to manufacture and consume the grain, for which at this Time, there is no profitable Market Abroad. And although this Project will, doubtless, at first prove very chargeable and expensive to me, yet it meets with your Approbation, and the Goodwill of the People, I am well assured it cannot fail of answering my Purpose, to do a real Service to the Country; and every interest of Concern of mine shall ever be built on that bottom."89p19

Carpenter's 1200 acres lay immediately west and north of the present Graeme Park, stretching across the present 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 143>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 Penrose16p906. 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.

picture of Graeme Park showing Keith House in distance, several out buldings, 2 cows and 2 people working fields in foreground

In addition to Keith's attempt at Fountain Low, he also invested in a copper mine near the Susquehanna River 89p16 and in an iron works on the Christiana River in Delaware 89p20 but none of these were successful.

What Remains from the Keith Era

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 that is shown on a map from 1735 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 the center one room cabin may have been used as a distillery. Research by architectural historian Herb Levy showed that Governor’s Road terminated 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.

photo of stone mile marker on Governor Road saying 18 m to P (18 Miles to Philadelphia

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 cabin4 p2.6-2.10.

Keith was known as a lavish entertainer, but not much is known of how much time he actually spent here. Sarah Penrose reported that "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. "16p907 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.

"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. "8016 .

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

latge hearth in 1721 room with ladles


Hannah Callowhill Penn, the wife of William Penn, became the administrator of Pennsylvania after her husband had a series of strokes beginning in 1712. As proprietor of Pennsylvania, she was the titular Governor and had the final word on administration of the province, but the Penns appointed Deputy Governors to actually manage the colony. Deputy Governor Charles Gookin had been appointed by William Penn in 1709 but by 1714 his actions became more and more aggressive and eccentric - such as removing all the chief justices of New Castle County for ruling against his brother-in-law. 144 (New Castle County was one of the three 'lower' counties of Pennsylvania that now make up the state of Delaware). The Assembly asked for a replacement. Keith had gained a good reputation for his work as surveyor and gained the Assembly's support in applying for the position. After 2 years of lobbying for the position in England, he was finally appointed by Hannah Penn as Deputy Governor in 1718.

"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.106.

" 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 (and in Massachusetts) 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 (they voted him a salary of £1,000 and the Chief Justice, but by 1726 Hannah Penn ordered him replaced as Deputy Governor and his support vanished.106

Keith was a popular politician (although his lavish lifestyle may have made him less popular with the Quakers16p907) 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. He remained in Pennsylvania for 2 more years, was elected to the Assembly twice 89p23>, 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 where Sarah Penrose reported tha she lived in poverty.16p907 although others report that Dr Graeme "never allowed Lady Ann to starve." 89pp32-32

Keith's legacy may have been forgotten except for the fame he gained through his acquaintance with young Ben Franklin (see below) but biographer Charles Keith (not sure if any relation) praises him as:

He was the greatest of the Lieutenant-Governors under the Penns. His administration, too, after witnessing the depression of the colony, inaugaurated a prosperity which in time made Philadelphia the largest city in America 89p2

Ben Franklin

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."
portrait of Ben Franklin

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"109p39

"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."

Lady Anne

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 acres of Fountain Low was sold to her son-in-law, Dr. Thomas Graeme (via Joseph Turner Graeme Park Timeline ).

It sounds a bit sad and unbelievable, with a son-in-law as prominent as Dr Graeme, that Lady Anne would live in poverty but that's reportedly how she lived her final years.

"As in the old country, Lady Keith lived in seclusion at Horsham and in Philadelphia, and died July 31, 1740, aged sixty-five years." 16p907
"...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."89p32

Charles Keith, however, doubted that Dr Graeme would ever let Dame Anne starve.89p33

Later Life

Keith returned to England in 1728 he presented his " A Short Discourse on the Present State of the Colonies" in which he advocated a more centralized administration of the colonies.and a stamp act on the colonies to establish among the Americans "a more just and favourable opinion of their dependency on a British Parliament, than what they generally have at present". This idea was not adapted and probably not made public. The 'Discourse' was published in 1740 along with a number of other articles by Keith89p31 but the final section concerning the stamp act was removed. 145 He was mentioned as a replacement MP from Aberdeenshire in 1732 but was not elected.In January 1734 he was jailed for debts until the following December.89p30

In 1738 he published the first of what was to be a multi-volume history called "The History of the British Plantations in America:With a Chronological Account of the most remarkable Things, which happen'd to the first Adventurers in their several Discoveries of the New World". The first volume did not sell and was a financial failure and Keith did not publish any more.

" There is no man long or much conversant in this over grown city who hath not often found himself in company with the shades of departed Governors, doom'd to wander out the residue of their lives, full of the agonizing remembrance of their passed eminence, and the severe sensation of present neglect. Sir William Keith, upon his return was added to this unfortunate list; concerning whom the least that can be said is that either none but men of fortune should be appointed to serve in such dignified offices ; or, otherwise, that for the honour of Government itself such as are recalled without any notorious imputation on their conduct, should be preserved from that wretchedness and contempt which they have been but too frequently permitted to fall into, for want even of a proper subsistence."
"Historical Review of the Constitution and Government of Pennsylvania," -Richard Jackson, Benjamin Franklin 175989p29

Keith had always lived beyond his means, had acquired debts in his pursuit of the governorship, made poor investments and had inherited others from his father. The failure of his 'History" made his siituation worse. He died in poverty at at the Old Bailey in London in 1749 at nearly seventy years of age. It is not known whether he had been imprisoned again or whether the prison was just a cheap place for him to live 89p33 (We were unable to find Sir William listed in the proceedings of the Old Bailey so he may have just been living there or this report that he died there may be incorrect)

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