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Today in Graeme Park History – Sir William’s Death

On November 17 or 18, 1749 Sir William Keith, for whom the Keith House at Graeme Park was built, died in London. Death notices ran in the London Magazine (vol. 18, 1749, pg. 529) and the Gentleman’s Magazine (vol. 19, 1749, pg. 524).

London Magazine reports his death as occurring on November 17, 1749 and reads as follows:

Sir William Keith, bart. aged near 80, well known to the projecting part of the world, formerly surveyor general of the customs in America, and many years governor of Pennsylvania. The title descends to his only son Robert, now with the veldt-marshal of that name, and a lieutenant-colonial of the Prussian service.

Keith Obituary - London Magazine 2

The title referenced is that of “baronet,” which Sir William had inherited from his father and which passed to Robert and later Robert’s son Frederick William Henry Ferdinand, who was the sixth and last baronet in this line of the Keith clan. Robert was actually Keith’s third son but his older brothers, William and Alexander Henry had died in 1727 and 1741. His younger brother James seems to have been deceased by this time too. The “veldt-marshal of that name” was Robert’s kinsman, Field Marshal James Keith whom he’d served under in the Russian army and followed into service in the Prussian army.

The notice that ran in Gentleman’s Magazine lists his death as occurring on November 18 and reads:

Sir Wm Keith, Kt, in the Old Bailey formerly surveyor general of the customs in America, and long governor of Pennsylvania.

Keith Obituary 2 - Gentlemans Magazine

The “Kt” stands for Knight and there was a notice in London Magazine in June 1732 that referenced him being elected Knight of the Shire for Aberdeen – a Knight of the Shire being a Member of Parliament. Evidently when he left Pennsylvania in 1728 to seek another political position in London, he was successful, but not in managing his finances, as the Old Bailey was a debtors’ prison. Money problems seemed to have plagued him for some time — there is an entry in the Fleet Street Prison discharge books (available on Ancestry via subscription) indicating he was imprisoned in 1735, but secured his release via a promissory note for 30 pounds payable in twelve months or on demand. Whether he eventually paid that debt and incurred more, or simply failed to pay on the promissory note and ended up back in prison at the end of his life we do not know.

Sir Wm Keith, Barr’t
30 Dec, 1735

Rec’ed this third day of July 1735 from Sir William Keith, Barron’t a note of this date payable in twelve months for thirty pounds to Mr. John McDuff or order in full for my demand on the said Sir William Keith for an action of debt and charges (unclear) suit for which the said Sir Wm stands charged now in execution in the Fleet prison as witness my hand day and date above.

John Mackubin 
Witness David Scott

Fleet Prison Release 2