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Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1887-1889 and 1999. Virtualology.com warns that these 19th Century biographies contain errors and bias. We rely on volunteers to edit the historic biographies on a continual basis. If you would like to edit this biography please submit a rewritten biography in text form . If acceptable, the new biography will be published above the 19th Century Appleton's Cyclopedia Biography citing the volunteer editor



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Sir William Keith

KEITH, Sir William, bart., lieutenant-governor of Pennsylvania and Delaware, born near Peter-head, England, in 1680; died in London, 18 November, 1749. He was the son of Sir William Keith, of Ludquhairn in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, the third baronet of the line, and was baptized, 16 February, 1680 The son was sent in his youth to the court of the exiled Stuarts at St. Germains, where he remained for several years, and, being treated with favor by the Pretender and his mother, he expected, if the former should succeed Queen Anne, to be appointed undersecretary for Scotland He returned to the British isles about the time of Simon Fraser's intrigue, and was arrested, and narrowly escaped being tried for treason. Before the close of Queen Anne's reign, the Tories coming into power, he was appointed surveyor-general of the customs for the southern district of North America, and in this capacity he resided in Virginia, but after the accession of the Whigs under George I. he was removed. His deportment had been agreeable to the colonists, and as Pennsylvania and the three lower counties (now Delaware), of which William Penn was titular governor, had long suffered under lieutenant-governors who were persons of neither character nor ability, the principal inhabitants were delighted at Keith's applying for the position. For this purpose he went to England, and while there presented the address of the assembly of Pennsylvania to George I., expressing joy at his access{on and the suppression of the rebellion. After nearly two years' negotiation. Keith returned duly commissioned, arriving in Philadelphia, 31 May, 1'717. For a long time he had the good-will and admiration of all classes. The assembly granted him a fair salary, which he spent in keeping up a style that had not been attempted by his predecessors. His country house in Horsham, Montgomery County, is still standing. He accomplished the organization of a militia in the Quaker colony, and the establishment of a high court of chancery, in which he sat as chancellor ex officio, and which is the only court of that kind that ever has existed in Pennsylvania. The court was abolished in 1735. Keith held several conciliatory conferences with the Indians, and under his administration, and to a certain extent at his suggestion, several useful laws were passed which are still in force, notably that by which the wives of persons away at, sea can become femme sole traders. He early showed himself independent of his council. As time went on, he followed the wishes of the people as opposed to the widow Penn's, as an instance of which he issued the first paper money of the province. He is said to have built the first iron-furnace in Delaware. On his father's death, at the close of the year 1720, he succeeded to the baronetcy. His father had died insolvent, and he too sank into debt. His circumstances now led Mm into dishonorable conduct. He played desperately for popularity, but he was unfaithful to the proprietary family in matters where he could not allege the public interest as the excuse. Yet he had devoted partisan s, being the only lieutenant-governor before the Revolution that espoused the cause of the common people. The legal complications following the death of the founder of the province, and the order of the lords justices that the lieutenant-governor continue to act until further order, rendered him independent of any one part of the Penn family, and enabled him to act as if directly under the crown. The widow wrote him a letter of instructions which she intended to be confidential, requiring him to submit to the council in legislation, and all other matters of importance; but Keith, refusing to be so bound, laid this before the assembly, and so stirred up the populace as to threaten the destruction of the proprietary authority. Finally, the widow and the heir-at-law of Penn united in the nomination of a new lieutenant-governor, who obtained the royal confirmation. Thus superseded, Keith published a vindication, and undertook to lead an opposition party. He was chosen a member of the assembly at the first election following, but failed to obtain the speakership, at which he had aimed. He was re-elected to the house the next year, but in March, 1728, left the province, embarking surreptitiously at New Castle to avoid his creditors. In November, 1728, he presented to the king a " Short Discourse on the Present State of the Colonies in America with respect to the Interest of Great Britain." He is said to have first suggested to the British crown the taxation of the American colonies. He finally became very poor passed some time in prison for debt, and died in the Old Bailey, London. Sir William was the author of various essays, several of which were published in one volume (London, 1740). He projected writing a series of colonial histories, but only one appeared, that of Virginia, which was published by the Society for the encouragement of learning (1'738).

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