From the records
gathered at our National Archives, there can be no doubt that a William Denis
Kelly was an officer with the 4th Virginia Regiment during our
Revolutionary War. Harold Ernest
O'Kelley in his book "Four
Families through Georgia" concludes that Lt William Denis
Kelly was the son named William D O'Kelley who appears in
Alethea Jane Macon's book.
Alethea Jane Macon
makes only one mention of William D telling her readers that he was the third son
born to Thomas O'Kelley and Elizabeth Dean and
Harold makes no mention as to how to came to his conclusion that
Lt William Denis O'Kelley was William D, the third son but I think
he was in error because
military officers in the time of Lt William
Denis Kelly most often receive their appointments because of their
gentry status, their wealth and influence either of themselves or
their family or from their previous actions such as the French and
Indian War. One must also wonder why William D would be
the only son from his family to be an officer in our revolution, all
the rest were privates and one must wonder why William D would be the only one that appears to be able to read and write.
revolutionary war record is dated August 1777;
Harold Ernst O'Kelley states in his book
that William was commissioned as an ensign the lower commission
officer's rank on July 10 1777. In time William was
promoted to Lieutenant and most of his records bear Wm. D.
which is how it appears on his
signature card where he signed a report as Wm D Kelly.
Only a handful of his records reflect O Kelley. O'Kelly or Kelley
and those are mostly completed by his commanding officers
clear indication that William was an O'Kelley.
Towards the end of the war Lt William D O'Kelly served under Major
William Crogran who was the Captain commanding the 10th Company 8
Virginia Regiment years earlier when
Here is a letter that mentions Williams service in the 8th.
It seems certain that
Lt William Denis O'Kelley like Rev James O'Kelly had some education
yet every early American born member of my family signed his name
with an X. They may have been able to read, as it was required that
parents teach their children how to read, but it seems none could
write their name. Writing was considered a separate skill and wasn't
But what if Lt William Dennis O'Kelley who
Harold has concluded was the son was a man of more
than 50 years old when he received his commission and he was the husband of Elizabeth Dean and the father
of Thomas, George, William, Charles, Benjamin, and Francis?
Receiving a commission in 1777, William Dennis O'Kelley makes a late
appearance in a war that had been going on for a full year and that
seems odd for a young man to have been born in 1754.
How did such a young man of common birth avoid service for a full
year and when he
did sign up how did he manage to obtain a commission as an officer? Lt William
D O'Kelley appears to have been promoted very slowly and he was
from the very beginning assigned to a task less fitting for a young well fit officer and more fitting for a
man who was over 50 as William was an adjutant and never appears to
have commanded troops in battle. If William Dennis Kelly was born
about 1723 he would have been 54 in 1777 and this was in a time when states began to draft
men up to the age of 60 so the husband of Elizabeth Dean was still young enough to serve,
young enough to be drafted but
might be consider too
old to fight and I suspect that his age and position in his
community as well as likely prior service in the French and Indian Wars
could have been the justification for his commission as an Ensign. This possibility seems
supported by an early
1936 Family Pedigree for Rev James O'Kelly created by his
descendant John Daniel McCurry in which it
is claimed that Rev James
O'Kelly had three brothers, William D, Thomas D, and
William D and Thomas D are claimed by
John Daniel McCurry to have served in
the war and John is claimed to have been a wealthy tobacco merchant
I suspect he is likely the John Kelly who appears often as a land
owner in the Albemarle Parish Vestry Records for Surry Co Virginia.
Harold Ernest O'Kelley states in his
book that William D and Thomas D are both Lt William Denis
O'Kelley and Thomas D is just an error in the records. The possibility that Lt William
Denis O'Kelley was Elizabeth Dean's husband also seems supported by a Georgia Land Lottery
winning of an Elizabeth O'Kelley who is given as a widow of a
Revolutionary War Soldier and by the fact that Lt William Dennis
O'Kelley disappears from all the records after the war. If he
had been a young man we should see more records including a pension
application but he just disappears as if he died soon after the war
ended. Your military officers are often remembered but old
officers who live our their natural life are often forgotten which
is what likely happened with Lt William Denis O'Kelley.
William Dennis O. Kelley as he sometimes
appears does have many Revolutionary War Records. They are
contained in two folders below on this page and that is because they
are actually stored under two different names.