Early McConnells in America
There was some settlement of these persecuted Scots in Pennsylvania as early as 1700, but those who first entered this region on the invitation of the first Proprietor came in 1715. They pushed past the Quaker, Menonite, and Huguenot settlements and located on Chikis Creek, Donegal Township, along the Octorara in Sadsburry and Drumore Townships, and in Colerain Township in what was then Chester County, but which on May 10, 1729, became part of Lancaster County. In 1720 they established in Sadsburry Township what later became known as Upper Octorara Presbyterian Church which served Drumore Township as well.
These Scots and so called Scotch-Irish who were mostly of the same race, were encouraged by the authorities to settle so near to the disputed boundary line between Maryland and Pennsylvania, because it was believed they would be more disposed and better able to defend the settlement against the aggressions of Catholic Marylanders than the Friends, Huguenots or Menonites. These people brought with them decided religious and political opinions and their intelligent character fostered in their children the sentiment which led to the Revolutionary War. Thes early settlers were all Presbyterians and today the old stone Upper Octorara Church built in 1769 is maintained as a shrine for the descendants of these early parishioners.
The McConnells were among the very earliest settlers along the Octorara. In Volume XIX of the Second Series of the Pennsylvania Archives, page 720, where is reprinted the Minute Book of Property I., there appears the following entry: "2/2 mo/1723 Abraham Emmit recommends Alex'r Miller, Alex'r McConnell and John Scot as sober, industrious Persons who request about 3 or 400 acres for Settlement near Octorara Creek adjoining Tho. Reid." This is the first mention of the founder of the branch of the McConnell family we are interested in, that we find in any public records in America. We do not know when he came to this country. Tradition has it that he came from the vicinity of Dumfries, Scotland, and that the branch of the McConnells he came from had merged with the Gordons. Galloway, which is near Dumfries is where we find McConnells merged with Gordons, and it is likely he came from Galloway.
He did not live long after the entry of the minute in the Book of Property and, unfortunately for the historian, he died intestate. Among the Chester County Orphans' Court Records in Administration Docket I, page 104, we find it noted that on May 19, 1729 in the estate of Alexander McConnell, letters of administration were granted to Elizabeth McConnell, who was probably his wife, upon entering bond in the sum of 100 pounds with Adam McConnell, probably the son, and Houlden McGee as sureties. Having left no will we have no record of evidence of the names of his children. Tradition, however, tells us that among them were Alexander, John, James, William, Adam and probably Thomas.Tradition is supported by the fact that we find people so named owning real estate in the vicinity shortly after the death of Alexander.
Alexander, son of Alexander McConnell, died in Drumore Township. His will, dated August 16, 1752 was probated in Lancaster County April 2, 1754 in Will Book "B" page 42. In it he names his wife Mary and his children John, William, Samuel, Martha, Fenwell, and Mary Hartness.
The said John, son of Alexander, settled in Colerain Township, Lancaster County, and from him have descended numerous progeny. His will probated November 6, 1754 in Beill Book B-1-81 indicates his children were Alexander, John, Daniel, Margaret Allison, and Martha Barclay. The earlier generations settled mostly in Washington, Westmoreland, and Beaver Counties. Among the descendants are prominent doctors, lawyers and businessmen too numerous to mention. The mother of Agnes Slight Turnbull, author of "The Rolling Years" a recent [1930s] bestseller was Lucinda McConnell of this line. This book, although fiction, gives a splendid picture of the early live of the McConnells in Westmoreland County. The principal characters named McDowells in the book were in fact named McConnell.
To return to Alexander, James, William and Adam McConnell, sons of the original settler, Alexander McConnell-- they sought new homes to the west of the original settlement on the Octorara, but they and their descendants generally located in the lower tier Counties along the Maryland line or Counties immediately north of them. As we investigate these Counties northward we find numerous patents for land at early dates to those named McConnell in what is now Cumberland, Franklin, Fulton, Huntingdon, Bedford, Westmoreland, Washington and Allegheny Counties. Many are the descendants of Alexander McConnell, the original settler on the Octorara.