He was known as a “Disturber of Governments” and credited with bringing Presbyterianism to America. Although his impact was significant, few people even recognize the name of Francis McKamie (At that time, spelling was often phonetic, so there are many variations of McKamie including Makemie, McCamy, and McKimmey. There was also a tendency among those fleeing from persecution in Scotland to change the spelling of their names).
Francis Makemie was born in Ramelton, County Donegal, Ireland in 1658. His parents, Robert and Ann had immigrated to Ireland from Scotland in order to escape the religious blood feuds raging in Scotland against non-Catholics at that time. He also had three siblings, Robert, John and Ann. Each of the brothers had sons which they named Francis in honor of the work done by their sibling. Even Ireland was only relatively safe. There had been a major massacre of the Protestants in Ulster less than 20 years prior to his birth.
At that time, this part of Ireland was home to many Scots who had fled their homeland due to persecution. It was seen as more of an extension of Scotland, than as a part of Ireland. The Scottish immigrants never assimilated into Irish society. These transplanted Scots were often termed Scots-Irish or “Ulster Scots”. His family came from the McKimmey Clan of Scotland. This clan hailed from the north of Scotland. They were Presbyterians, which carried with it the associated baggage. It was a liberty-loving clan and family. They learned from their struggles to not humble themselves before any human ruler or power. The recent troubles in Scotland went back to their refusal to submit to either political or religious tyranny.
This tendency toward freedom and standing for their beliefs was strong in the members that to the north of Ireland. They loved their freedoms. They sought an untrammeled, free and pure life. They knew that such a life required sacrifice of temporary comfort along with enduring hardships and dangers for its possession.
Francis returned to Scotland for his education, where he graduated from a University of Glascow and was ordained a Presbyterian minister in 1682. His ordination was in 1682 by the Presbytery of Laggan in Ireland. Presbyterianism as a religion was still relatively new, with its rise to prominence occurring in 1637.
Some of the Scottish Presbyterians settled in America at sites of abandoned Indian villages, which had been ravaged by small pox. The early settlers saw a need for missionaries and pastors. There were also many Scots that had been sent as slaves to the colonies as part of the brutal actions undertaken in Scotland. Col. William Stevens from Rehobeth Maryland issued the call to the Presbyterian Church to send a missionary.
Francis answered that call and arrived in America in 1684 by way of Barbados with three other pastors (William Traile, Samuel Davis and Thomas Wilson). Barbados was another area where troublesome Scots and Irish were sent as part of the British solution in those areas (Scotland and Ireland). The British attempte purging those areas of those they considered undesirable. As part of the ethnic cleansing programs, many people deemed ‘undesirable’ by the British authorities were sent to Barbados, where they were often termed ‘red legs’. The term red legs was considered an offensive term at the time. Another term ‘barbadoed’ was used in referring to being sent to Barbados as punishment for offenses committed in England.Those sent to Barbados were the survivors of Royalist campaigns in Scotland, where the English government attempted purging the land of those opposed to their views along with the survivors of the Drogheda massacre in Ireland. Those sent for punishment were often treated worse than African slaves who were also imported to the island. Slaves were viewed as property that was to be cared for. The Scots and Irish were viewed as prisoners sent there as part of their punishment.
Mckamie’s initial journeys included North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, and New England. In 1684, His early work in the colonies included establishing the first Presbyterian congregation in America, located in Snow Hill, Maryland. He continued preaching and establishing churches in the area. Congregations were established along the Manokin, Pocomoke and Wiccomico Rivers. English Congregationalists established a church at the mouth of the Annemessex.
Eventually, in 1687, Francis purchased land in Accomack County, Virginia where he settled for a period of time. He named the plantation/farm where he lived “Matachank”.He began a shipping and trade business in addition to the farm in order to make a living, since the small churches could not afford full-time pastor. A local successful businessman, William Anderson, helped McKamie establish himself. Francis eventually married Anderson’s daughter, Naomi. The Naomi Makemie Presbyterian Church in Onancock is named after her. From that marriage they had two daughters, Anne and Elizabeth (Comfort). Elizabeth died during his lifetime, while Anne outlived Francis.
In 1706, McKamie helped bring together Presbyterians from different backgrounds in establishing the Presbytery of Philadelphia. The formation of that presbytery was the birth of American Presbyterianism. His actions in bringing people together and clear, steadfast preaching led to his reputation spreading throughout the colonies. He often received requests to preach at congregations throughout the colonies and Barbados. He made several journeys to the Barbados Islands on missionary trips. His message was often one of the need for improving morals and lifestyle. He often spoke out against the drunkenness, cursing and general lawlessness that went on in the communities.
In January 1707 his preaching was interrupted. At that time, he was arrested by order of save Lord Cornbury (aka Edward Hyde), the first royal governor of New Jersey and New Jersey. The charge was for preaching without a license. Anglicanism (Church of England) was the official religion and the others were persecuted in that colony. Despite the threats, there were many dissenters in New York, who preached different doctrines, including Puritans, Quakers, and Presbyterians. McKamie had been invited into a private home where he began to preach.
Lord Cornbury assigned the sheriff to arrest Francis and another minister traveling with him as soon as they entered Queens County. Although Cornbury claimed that he was championing the cause of the Anglican Church, he had a reputation for moral profligacy.
He was originally sent to the colony in order to keep him away form his creditors in England, since he was a cousin to Queen Anne. While serving as royal governor, he developed a reputation for bribery and outlandishness. He opened the 1702 New York Assembly dressed in a hoop skirt. He was also known to have pounced on others while wearing the skirt and then shrieking loudly. When questioned about his unusual attire he replied with a disdainful tone, “You are all very stupid people not to see the propriety of it all. In this place and occasion, I represent a woman (the Queen), and in all respects I ought to represent her as faithfully as I can.”
Cornbury issued the warrant to arrest McKamie personally. Even though McKamie had been invited by some New York based congregations to preach before them in private, the governor was a relative of the royal house in England and reacted strongly to McKamie just being present in his colony. He referred to McKamie as a “Jack of all Trades: he is a preacher, a Doctor of Physick, a Merchant, an Attorney, or Counselor at law, and, which is worst of all, a Disturber of Governments“. It was as if the conflicts which had ripped Scotland apart were coming to America as well.
On his arrest, McKamie was brought to the Governor for a face to face meeting. Cornbury was outraged that McKamie would dare to preach in “his” government without a license. McKamie had preached in a home belonging to a member of the Dutch Reformed Church, which Cornbury wanted to punish him for.
Cornbury wanted everyone to address him as “His Mightiness”. The Governor demanded that McKamie post a bond in order to insure his compliance with the Governors decree. Besides being charged preaching to more than five people without a license, McKamie was thrown in jail.
McKamie was licensed to preach as one of those dissenters in Virginia and Maryland. Although allowed to preach in those colonies, his freedoms did not extend to New York. Some viewed the dissenters as ‘problematic’ since they viewed the Bible and God as their authority rather than the authority of kings or their appointed cronies. It was common to hear “No King but Jesus” in Presbyterian circles.
McKamie responded to his arrest by making an appeal to the Supreme Court of New York by means of the writ of habeas corpus. The court then released the minister on bail with the understanding that he would return to New York for the trial scheduled for 18 months later. While awaiting trial, Lord Cornbury’s wife died. He attended her funeral attired once again in a hooped skirt. Cornbury’s supporters attempted passing of his outlandish behavior as his being drunk, yet according to one account, he spent half of his time attired in women’s clothing.
McKamie returned to New York. During the course of the trial, three of the ablest lawyers in the colony defended him. When the defense finished their arguments, Makemie spoke in his own defense. As with his preaching, he spoke with force and clarity. He knew the Bible so well that he often quoted it from memory. His defense was based on the English Toleration Act. His position was that the Anglican message was not superior to the message that he brought as a Presbyterian. McKamie did not apologize for his views or his preaching. He also knew that preaching in a home was not grounds for such a lawsuit.
The court vindicated him from every charge. Even though the court vindicated him, the chief magistrate took a parting shot at the minister, by requiring him to pay the court costs of the trial which found him ‘not guilty’.
The decision roused the people of New York, who considered the action by Cornbury unreasonable. Their influence led to a law being passed in New York forbidding such an outrageous practice from happening in New York in the future. The court case where McKamie defended himself is considered a landmark case of religious freedom in America. Although the McKamie case ended with dismissal, the repression of religious thought continued in some of the colonies, with ministers at times being rounded up at bayonet point when preachers presented ideas that were not in keeping with established viewpoints. The heavy handed way in which the McKamie situation was handled led to Cornbury being recalled from office. Shortly after being recalled, Cornbury himself was thrown into prison for a period of time.
McKamie continued preaching and farming. Eventually he became one of the largest landholders in the area in which he lived. He is known as the father of American Presbyterianism. Francis died in the summer of 1708. He was buried on his farm on the Eastern shore. There is a monument erected in his memory in Only Virginia on the Eastern Shore in Accomack County. Francis died in the summer of 1708. He was buried on his farm on the Eastern shore. Nearly 200 years later a monument was erected in his memory in Temperanceville, Virginia on the Eastern Shore in Accomack County. The monument consists of a bronze statue atop a granite base. The base has an accompanying inscription. The statue, by Alexander Stirling Calder, marks the spot where McKamie is believed to be buried. It was erected in 1906, to celebrate the bicentennial of Presbyterianism in America.