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James Kenney


REV. JAMES KENNEY is probably the oldest resident of East Bethlehem township at the present writing. He is a grandson of William Kenney, a native of Ireland, who, coming to America in an early day, located on Brandywine river, in eastern Pennsylvania, when that locality was an unbroken wilderness. He married a native of Ireland, and reared a family of children, one of whom joined the British army, and the little home, which had been won by years of privation, toil and danger, was confiscated, leaving the parents penniless in their old age. The father died at an advanced age, and was laid to rest beside the scenes of his labor.

Benjamin Kenney, son of William, was born on the farm in eastern Pennsylvania, and there passed his early boyhood, being left a destitute orphan when very young. He was then bound out, and while serving his apprenticeship learned the trade of stone mason, which he followed almost all his life. He was married in Cumberland, Md., to Elizabeth, daughter of John and Amelia Blair, who were pioneers of Tennessee, whither they removed soon after the marriage of their daughter. Mr. and Mrs. Kenney resided in Cumberland about six years, during which time two daughters were born to them, Margaret and Mary, both of whom are long since deceased. Some years after their marriage Mr. and Mrs. Kenney came to Fayette county by way of the old "Braddock road;" the journey was long and perilous, but the family finally arrived in safety at their new home, where they resided six years. Here other children were born to them, of whom John was the only one who lived beyond infancy, and he died at the age of fourteen years. In 1802 the parents packed their worldly possessions in a cart drawn by one horse, and moved to Washington county, Penn. The father was then about forty years of age, and had saved a small sum of money, which he invested in a tract of land in East Bethlehem township, and continued to follow his trade in connection with managing the farm. Slowly but surely the little hoard of savings increased, and the farm was finally given into the hands of James. After settling in Washington county, four children were added to the family circle, namely; James, Wesley (a brilliant clergyman and renowned theological scholar), William and Rebecca, the latter three being now deceased. The father was a Republican in politics, and served as one of the first constables of Washington county. In religion he was a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church. He died in March, 1843, followed by the widow January, 12, 1852; both were very old.

James Kenney was born January 11, 1806, in East Bethlehem township, Washington Co., Penn., and attended the usual log cabin, puncheon-floored and slab-seated schoolhouse of the period. He has a vivid recollection of the severe old master who ruled with the rod to a degree which would not now be tolerated, Mr. Kenney having seen one young lady flogged until the blood trickled to the floor. As may be supposed, the literary advantages of such an academy of learning were of the most meager character, but these early obstacles were overcome by young Kenney. He eagerly improved each opportunity, for his eyes were upon a noble goal he wished to be a clergyman and with this aim in view the lad carried his Bible to the field, perusing its pages while the horses fed. In 1827 he was united in marriage with Ann, daughter of William Sproat, and she bore him four children, viz.: William, a prominent farmer of Ford county, Ill., Elizabeth (Mrs. Greenfield), deceased; Cyrus, a fruit grower of lower California; and John Fletcher, of Ford county, Ill. The mother of this family died in 1838, and on February 5, 1839, the father was married to Patience, daughter of Jonathan More, who was a soldier in the war of 1812, and died soon after his return, from disease contracted in the army. To Mr. Kenney's second marriage were born: Benjamin, Anna (Mrs. Freeman, of Florida, now deceased), Margaret (wife of Wilson Ward), one who died in infancy, James (living on the homestead), Sarah and Josephine (twins, living with their parents), and Mary Manilla (wife of L. M. Cleaver). In 1841 Mr. Kenney obtained a license to preach, and filled his first pulpit at Liberty Chapel, near Washington borough; he had eight appointments in his first circuit. He was never a member of a Conference, preferring to remain at home, that he might superintend the rearing of his children. For the past five years Rev. James Kenney has been preaching in the Centreville M. E. Church; he is now eighty-seven years of age, his wife being in her eighty-fourth year. He has erected all of the buildings upon his farm. In politics he votes with the Republican party.

Commemorative Biographical Record of Washington County, PA, 1893, page 1453


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