McKown family origins

gravestone of John McKown
John McKown (1722-1809)

The progenitor of all the McKown family of McKownville, John McKown is known from his original gravestone, found in 1973 making up part of the cellar floor of a house near the Prospect Hill Cemetery. It was said then that the stone was being taken for preservation, but in 1996 it was reported as found broken and abandoned, and at some unknown time after that it and two others were rescued by the Guilderland Water Department; its present whereabouts stored in the facility of the Water Department was (re)discovered and images taken in 2021 by Bill Donato.
Unlike his descendants, John McKown was not given an inscription or replacement stone at Prospect Hill. The original stone had the inscription: "John McKown, who departed this life June 15, 1809, aged 87 years and 25 days". So (if accurate) he was born May 21st, 1722, or about that date.
John McKown is mentioned in a biographical sketch of his great-great-grandson William McKown published in 1897; this says that John McKown came from Scotland, and arrived in North America about 1767. As that William McKown (1842-1924) was alive in 1897, and presumably interviewed for the sketch, we can infer that there was some basis for Scottish origin and this arrival date from family oral history.

Articles in local newspapers published by William Mohr in the 1950's repeat this origin of the McKowns from Scotland, as did Fred Abele in his 1973 article on finding the old McKown gravestones. However, Fred Abele in an article published in 1981 in his column in a local Albany County newspaper made the claim that John McKown was born in Ireland, in (London)Derry, married there, and took his family on a ship to North America from there in 1766 or 1767. Abele's article stated that the wife and some children died during the voyage, with John and five children surviving, but the source of this new information was not given. The last surviving person in the McKownville McKown line died in 1972, so it seems unlikely to have come from that source. Church records in the 1790's to 1820's of baptisms in Albany and New Scotland show that the McKowns were Presbyterians, so an emigration either from Scotland or the northern part of Ireland is possible, but we have found no clear record online that bears on the question of whether their Scottish ancestors went to Ireland shortly before the birth of John Mckown in 1722, or long before, or perhaps after, or not at all*#.
John McKown's son William McKown (1763-1843) at age 14, and his father are mentioned in The Annals of Tryon County as being in Cherry Valley# NY in the summer of 1778 (his father is not identified by name; by inference the other siblings of William were there also). The settlement was abandoned after the massacre of November 11, 1778. Later records show that John and three of his children (James, William, and Barnard) had come to and resettled in the Albany area; two others (Mary, and Robert) did return to Cherry Valley. So these five children of John McKown survived to adult age, and arrived in North America with him in 1767, if that story is accepted. The old gravestone found in 1973 was one of several that were from the McKown family graveyard behind William McKown's hotel on the Great Western Turnpike, and it is likely that John Mckown died and was first buried there.

#Cherry Valley originally was settled in part by people who were persuaded to move in 1741 from New Londonderry in New Hampshire. If the story of arriving in North America in 1767 is wrong, and the McKowns arrived much earlier, perhaps the story of origin in Londonderry is from New Hampshire, rather than Ireland. Specific old records for the McKowns have so far not been found, so this may be difficult to resolve.
*There is one online item that is an intriguing close match to the birth date obtained by calculation from the old gravestone; a Scottish baptism record for John Mckoun that falls only 4 days before the calculated birth date if the 11-day calendar shift of 1752 is added to the lifetime on the stone. Perhaps John McKown actually did have a Scottish origin!

The origin of the name McKown
The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names suggests that it derives from Gaelic Mac Gobhann, "the son of the smith" i.e. the blacksmith.
Plenty of related variants exist, for instance MacKown, Mackern, McGown, MacGowan, McCoun, etc.
These are most common in the area of Glasgow and Lanarkshire in the Scottish Midland Valley in the 1881 census of England, Scotland, and Wales.

return to McKown family tree and gravesites
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