By Richard Gwynallen

Major Barnaby Kearney
1650 – 1700
Relationship to Fawn: 7th great grandfather

Captain Barnaby Kearney
1690 – 1737
Relationship to Fawn: 6th great grandfather

Shemuel Kearney
1734 – 1808
Relationship to Fawn: 5th great grandfather

Leah Kearney
1795 – 1869
Relationship to Fawn: 4th great grandmother

This is believed to be a portrait of Shemuel Kearney painted in the 1760s

Shemuel Kearney

The Kearney family enters our family line when Leah Kearney married Howell Clairbourne Cooke some time before 1832 in Franklin County, North Carolina.  Their granddaughter, Mary “Mollie” Cooke, married Alonzo Allen, my paternal great grandfather in 1881.

Our Kearney family emigrated from Ireland in the second half of the 17th century.  I have not found any evidence of the date of emigration, or the cause. When Barnaby Kearney would have emigrated, in the late 1660s or the early 1670s, the country was still in the aftermath of the defeat of the Irish rebellion that started in 1641.  Cromwell’s New Model Army rolled back the rebellion from 1649 – 1653.  Afterwards considerable native Irish property was given to English and Scottish settlers, and many families, Irish and Scottish settlers, Catholic and Protestant, were dislocated by the wars.  Many Irish were looking to the colonies for a new start.  Could our Kearney family have been among them?

We also do not at present know when Barnaby’s initial land grant might have been.  However, by 1674 he was established in Isle of Wight County, Virginia.  In that year, Barnaby Kearney was summoned for jury duty. He was fined 200 pounds of tobacco for not appearing. (Seventeeth Century Isle of Wight County, Virginia; Boddie, 1938, p. 448)

The Kearney family line caught my attention when I stumbled across this picture of the house built by Barnaby’s grandson, Shemuel Kearney, in 1759.  This was the house where Leah Kearney was born.

Shemuel Kearney House - 1

At the time of this photograph in 2007, the house was on its original site.  It was in poor Kearney Housecondition and the owner did not have the resources to renovate the building.

The original site was near Franklinton, Franklin County, North Carolina, at 2555 U.S. Highway 1 south of town.  In 2009, the house was dismantled and moved to nearby Louisburg for restoration as the original property became zoned by Franklin County for commercial use. The Kearney House is now located next to another historic residence, the Cooke House, at 1447 Peach Orchard Road on a property of just over five acres.  It has been reassembled and stabilized but needs considerable further work. THe picture below is the house in its current location.

Kearney House - new site - 1

The Kearney House is the second oldest residence in Franklin County, North Carolina, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. The home is a 1 1/2-story, three bay, gambrel roofed main block with a later one-story, gable roofed rear wing. It is described as a simple, robust Georgian style finish.

Bacon’s Rebellion

Bacon’s Rebellion was a major event that Barnaby, Sr. lived through and that would have affected our Kearney family of the time.

The rebellion led by Nathaniel Bacon is a confusing aspect of Virginia’s colonial history.  Historians have altered their views on the conflict over the years, moving from the perception that it represented an early flaring up of a spirit of independence, to viewing it as a power struggle between two leading figures in the colony fueled by the economic problems besetting the colony at the time.  Bacon’s forces scapegoated local Native American tribes for many of the colonies problems and attacked many of their villages, sometimes for as little as unfounded accusations of stealing corn.  The action that ignited it all seems to have been a raid in July 1675 by the Doeg Indians on the plantation of Thomas Mathews over the nonpayment of some items Mathews had apparently obtained from the tribe.  Some colonists retaliated, but attacked the wrong tribe, thus kicking off a series of large scale Indian raids.

The government, represented by Governor Berkeley, responded with outstanding incompetence, managing to make matters worse in the perspective of both Indians and Bacon’s rebels.  The best that could be said is that Berkeley attempted to keep a peace that would protect the Indian villages and frustrated Bacon’s goal of assuming command of the militia, which would then be used to support his campaign against Native tribes.

Barnaby Kearny, Sr. played a role in Bacon’s Rebellion on the side of the Governor. In Seventeenth Century Isle of Wight County, Virginia: A History of the County, John Bennett Boddie relates how Kearney was sent by Robert Morris, the commander of the ship, “The Young Prince,” from its position on the James River at the mouth of the tidal estuary, the Elizabeth River, to speak with Captain Gatlin near Nansemond on 16 November, 1676.  The fleet was intending to hinder rebel advances at Nansemond.  Kearney went up the Nansemond River on a yawl, a smaller ship similar to a sloop. He returned on 21 November and requested that the ship’s commander not assault Nansemond. (p. 147) Based on Kearney’s advice, on 4 December the fleet divided, sending six to Nansemond to remain there if needed, while rest continued up the James River and anchored at Warascoyak Bay.

Crozier’s Colonial Militia notes that Barnaby was a Major in the Nansemond County Colonial Militia in 1680 (p.103). It’s not clear if he held rank in 1676 in the above incident in Bacon’s Rebellion.

After Bacon’s Rebellion, Barnaby appears in 1678 as a justice in Nansemond County, and then in 1684 as a Burgess of Nansemond County.

Planters in Franklin County

Major Barnaby Kearney’s son, also named Barnaby, seems to have been a Captain in the Nanesemond County Colonial Militia, but I have found no details at present regarding his service.  The Kearneys seem to have remained a significant planter family for several generations.

The Isle of Wight County, Virginia Deed Book 4, 1729-1736 (Page 165) records an October 1732 transaction by Captain Barnaby Kearney:

Barnaby Kearney of Suffolk Parish in Nansemond County to ____ Godwin of the same, 60 acres being part of a patent for 300 acres granted to Thomas Best and Christopher Ashley who sold it to my father Barnaby Kearney and the land was reconveyed at his death by Henry Best son and heir of Thomas Best adjoining John Butler, John Turner, and Benjamin Jordan.

On 3 May 1712, Captain Barnaby’s wife, Elizabeth Godwin, was given 200 acres through her father’s will to add to the Kearney holdings.

The Southampton County Book of Deeds records that in 1737 440 acres  “descended to sd. Shumael as heir-at-law of sd. Barnaby.”  The land was formerly owned by Barnaby Mckinnie who conveyed it to Barnaby Kearney.  The document was signed by Shumael Kearney and Elizabeth (“X”) Kearney.

Shemuel Kearney’s grandson, also named Shemuel, donated some of the family land to allow the railroad to go through the property. He then created the Franklin Depot in 1839, which later became the town of Franklinton.

Irish Origins of the Kearneys

We do not know from what part of Ireland Barnaby Kearney emigrated.  The Kearney name is widespread in Ireland and has at least four different family origins.

The Kearneys of Portglenone have a good review of the origins of the name and the geographic areas of origin for the family, but the following is a summary.

Two different personal names are anglicised as “Kearney.”  One is Cearnach, meaning “victorious,” and the other is Caithearnach or Catharnaigh, meaning “warlike.”  In Gaelic, the family name would be rendered Uí (Ó)  Cearnaigh or Uí (Ó) Catharnaigh.

One group of Uí Cearnaigh, associated with the South of Ireland, takes its name from a Cearnach who was a 5th-great-grandson of a Munster chieftain named Cas. This branch was part of an alliance of clans referred to as the Dalcassians.  Pressure from the Anglo-Norman invasion of 1171 forced them to migrate eastward from Munster to Cashel in County Tipperary.

Another Kearney, Michael Kearney, born in 1588, is described as the ‘Chieftain of Fethard,’ in County Tipperary.

Another Kearney sept was known as Ó Catharnaigh. They trace their ancestry back to Niall of the Nine Hostages, high king of Ireland from about 379 to 405 A.D. They were chiefs of Teffia and Ballymacarney, County Meath.

A branch of the Meath clan had an early 11th century chief, Tadhg Ó Catharnaigh, who was known in Gaelic as “Sionnach” or “The Fox.”  Some say families bearing the name Fox in the area derive it from this chief.

In North Ulster the name is generally derived from the surname Mac Cearnaigh, which was held by a branch of the O’Neills.

There is yet another Ui Cearnaigh clan based in Donegal, described as “an ecclesiastical family who were former erenaghs of Derry.” (An Erenagh is a custodian of church lands.) These Ui Cearnaighs were said to be related to the O’Hagan family, and to trace their ancestry back to Fergus, son of King Niall.  This branch gave their name to the village of Kearney on the Upper Ards peninsula.

In addition, there are concentrations of Kearney families in County Clare and elsewhere.

In other words, the name Kearney is found throughout Ireland.  Much more research would be needed to determine where our Kearney ancestors flourished in Ireland.