The Life of James O'Kelly

by MacClenny (Published 1910)

For comment purposes I have only listed references from MacClenny's book that attempt to identify James O'Kelly's family.

On Pages 14, and 15 MacClenny says the following about Rev James O'Kelly's family:

"William O'Kelly of Athlone, was chief of Hy Many and after King Edward's accession to the Crown, his Majesty, by letter to L. D. St Ledger, dated at Greenwich, 7th April, 1547, directed that "in respect of his faithful and diligent service, done to his father and himself, he would be one of the Privy Council...

From the above it is evident that the subject of our sketch was a man of high birth on his paternal side, the family having been identified with the vicinity of Gallagh for ages."

"On his maternal side it was equally as good, and several members of the family took Holy Orders.  In Betham's Baronetage of England With General Tables, Vol. 3 page 124, mention is made of William O'Kelly of the Chetewode family, and on page 126 under twenty-one of the family line we find 'James, who went to Virginia.' "

Webmaster's comment - Google has the above book on line MacClenny doesn't tell his reader how he determined Rev James descended from William O'Kelly of Athlone but he does give references for his maternal ancestry and on page 124 of his reference we find that it is not about a William O'Kelly an Irishman but to William de Okeley an English Baron who lived hundreds of years before Rev James O'Kelley was born and on page 126 under the family line twenty-one we find "James, who went to Virginia".  This James is not Rev James O'Kelly but James Chetwode and he was born almost 90 years before Rev James O'Kelly and is the son of Henry Chetwode, the brother of English born John Chetwode.  It seems that MacClenny got his documentation wrong but this does not disprove his conclusion that James O'Kelley was born in Ireland. It is possible MacClenny presented correct information but used faulty references in his attempt to prove his conclusions.

Also on Page 15

"John Chetewode, James O'Kelly's maternal grandfather, took Holy Orders and was a Doctor of Divinity, and one of his descendants was later a minister and stationed near Cork, Ireland, while another was a Captain in the Thirty-third regiment, in recent years."

Webmaster's comment MacClenny makes a factual statment as Irish born Rev John Chetwode lived in a time, place, and cercumstants that fits MacClenny's claims but Rev John Chetwode reportedly only had a single son named John Knightley Chetwode and no daughters.  John Knightley Chetwode had two daughters, Elizabeth born about 1709 and Anne born about 1713 who could have married a William Kelley. but because of the high born status of the Irish Chetwodes, if one of the Chetwode daughters were permitted to marry a native Irish Kelley, he would have been high born and of considerable importance.  Ireland was a very troubled land during this time  and it could be that Rev John Chetwode had a daughter and she married William O'Kelley as MacClenny claims, an Irish Gentry O'Kelley and her records were destroyed during the Jacobite War and she became lost in time to her family.   Churches on both sides were burned and records destroyed and daughters were not tracked with the same zeal as the male children.  Irish born Rev John Chetwode maternal grandfather was Sir Valentine Knightley and he held a large tobacco plantation in Virginia (land grant) in the mid 1600s which was many decades before Rev James was born.  It should be noted that Rev James O'Kelley didn't began to preach until he was about 40 years of age and he preached an opposing gospel from that Rev John Chetwode practiced about 75 years earlier.  Google Books has The Line of Chetwodes living in Cork Ireland.  See bottom of page for more. 

Also on Page 15

"In the view of the above facts, and the early traditions of Christians, we come to this conclusion: James O'Kelly was born and educated in Ireland, came to American in early life, seems to have settled near Moring's Post-office, in Surry County, Virginia, and lived there for some time before he moved to North Carolina."

Webmaster's comment  I can find no evidence that James O'Kelly was born or educated in Ireland.  I find no ship records of his arrival and no known records in Ireland of his birth or education.  They could have been destroyed as even at the time of Rev James birth great strife continued between the Irish Catholics and the English Protestants. 

Page 17 and 18

"As to the date of his marriage to Elizabeth Meeks, who through his long and checkered life shared his joys and divided his sorrows, we have no definite information. Tradition is dumb, except that they knew each other long before marriage. Certain it is they were married not very late in life; Mr. O'Kelly being under twenty-five and she under twenty. This would put the date of their marriage about 1760."

"To this union two sons were born, John and William. As John's name is mentioned first in the will of his father we presume that he was the older. Again as only two sons were mentioned in the will we presume that these were all the children he had. William O'Kelly was born April 29th, 1763. To the influence of his son, his father perhaps owes his prominence today. He was named William O'Kelly, after his grandfather O'Kelly."  Webmaster's comment:  I suspect the reason John is mentioned first in Rev James's will is because William was deceased.  The reference about William in the will is not about William, it is used to identify William's living children so a living son would be listed before grandchildren. The fact that only two sons are mentioned indicates that John is the only surviving son and William has the only surviving grandchildren, there could have been other children who died without issue long before this will and thus were not be mentioned in the will.  Author Alethea Jane Macon makes a claim that there were two other sons, James Jr and Thomas and I find that to be possible.

Webmaster Rick O'Kelley's comments:   I have created the website to display my research. 

Webmaster's comment :  Google Books has some very good documentation on the Chetwodes living in Ireland at or near the time Rev James O'Kelley's father and mother would have lived.  Anglican Rev John Chetwode died in 1703 and was buried in St Peter's in Dublin Ireland and he had a DD from Trinity College in Dublin Ireland and was the Chaplin to James Butler 1(610-1688), Lord of Ormond and Chief Lieutenant of  Ireland.  This Rev John Chetwode also had a brother named Benjamin who was the Solicitor for the Revenue of Ireland.  I find no record of a daughter but he did have a son named John Knightley Chetwode who had two daughters born  between 1703 and 1713 in Martry County Meath Ireland and it might be possible one of these woman may have married William O'Kelley and was the mother of Rev James O'Kelley.

Wilbur E MacClenny's pages are available for research at the University of Virginia Library, Special Collections and it might be worth while to review his notes to learn what he may have known that didn't make it into his book.


As a child raised in a rural southern Freewill Baptist Church, a law enforcement officer with the duties of a criminal investigator and a professional photographer who over an eleven year period recorded near 300 weddings I have come in contact with many ministers of all different beliefs.  I have met ministers who I believe were good in their heart and I have met ministers who I judge to be pure evil, that they were nothing more than con men not unlike those I often arrested and were convicted and sentenced to confinement.  All of the ministers that I met had one think in common, they all embraced a bible never questioning why it should be the center of their faith after all there is no evidence of any kind that Jesus wrote a single word or authorized his followers to create such and for an thinking person that should be the first question they should ask before risking their eternal soul.  Ministers follow what they are taught and Rev James O'Kelly was no exception, he began his ministry we are told as a lay minister in the Church of England and it was only after the Church of England was forced to withdraw from America that he joined other lay ministers of the Church of England in forming the first Methodist Society in America.  Most of us have heard all our lives the claims that our nation was founded by those seeking religious freedom but that was entirely true.  Until the British was driven from our shores established religion was just as much the way of life in America as it was in England.  It wasn't until the Church of England lost all authority in America which came as a by product of the founding of our nation that men such as Rev James O'Kelly had no choice but found an independent society, they didn't choose to do it before, they had no other choice so to say that Rev James O'Kelly sought religious freedom in the same terms as our founding fathers sought independence is false, it just wasn't that way.  Having said that, these ministers could have just tossed in the towel and ended their ministry but they didn't do that, most decided they had to continue and the only model they had to aid them was the King James Bible which is likely the reason so many today have such loyalties to the King James Bible.

I am not a fan of any Bible, I believe that if God could communicate to Adam and Eve, to their descendants, to Noah, to Abram, to Moses, to King David, to Jesus and all those who claim to be of God then God isn't handicapped, he can communicate to you and I without the aid of a blood soaked book written by men claiming special knowledge.  If God can cause our hearts to beat, our bones to grow, and our children to be born I think it is ignorant to believe that God is incapable to make our brains aware of his desires for how we should live our lives and treat each other and maybe if mankind would stop reading these so called "Word of God" books and stop listening to ministers and pay attention to the God given good sense that some of us seem to be blessed with, our world would be far better off.