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History notes: John McKee 1821-1902

History notes: John McKee 1821-1902

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Welcome to History Notes, our weekly feature that looks at Egg Harbor Township history. Each week we get a chance to learn or reminisce courtesy of Lynn Wood of the Greate Egg Harbour Township Historical Society, who shares early photos of places in Egg Harbor Township with our readers.

In recognition of Black History month, let’s re-acquaint ourselves with Col. John McKee:

McKee was influential in the development of areas in Egg Harbor Township. He was born in Alexandria, Virginia in 1821, moved to Philadelphia in his early twenties and married Emeline Prosser, whose parents owned a successful restaurant there. When her father retired, McKee took over the business for a few years. There are some accounts of his enlisting in the Colored Infantry during the Civil War and being promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. In 1866 he became involved in real estate and helped many slaves who had been given their freedom find homes to lease for farming. He owned many acres in Atlantic County and more in Philadelphia, along the Delaware River, and thousands of acres of coal, oil and farm lands in several other states. Many considered him to be the wealthiest man of color in the nation at this time. His land in Atlantic County was mostly in Hamilton Township and Egg Harbor Township. He laid out streets and had salt box style homes built. His lease stipulations were detailed in that he had his tenants clear a certain amount of land each year (except for the cedar trees which were to remain standing), grow certain crops and keep the fences painted. If the tenants obeyed these rules for five years, he allowed them to re-lease their farm for another ten years at a cost of $50 per year. Col. McKee would travel every two weeks by horse and buggy from his home in Philadelphia down to these farms to inspect them. In 1896, he developed typhoid fever, and was nicely cared for by Catholic nuns while other care givers would not attend to him. Because of this, he set aside 10 acres of land in Egg Harbor Township for a Catholic Church (St. Katherine Drexel in McKee City), although he was himself a Presbyterian. McKee died April 6, 1902. His legacy continues to fund scholarships for fatherless boys in Philadelphia.

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