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McKEE, ALEXANDER, Indian agent, furtrader, and local official; b. c. 1735 in western Pennsylvania, son of Irish trader Thomas McKee and a Shawnee woman (or possibly a white captive of the Indians); d. 15 Jan. 1799 on the Thames River, Upper Canada.

As a young man Alexander McKee was a lieutenant in the Pennsylvania forces during the early part of the Seven Years’ War. He entered the Indian department in 1760 as an assistant to George Croghan and until the outbreak of the American revolution he served the department and traded, achieving considerable importance among the tribes north of the Ohio River. He was married to a Shawnee woman and in the early 1770s had a home in one of the Shawnee villages on the Scioto River (Ohio).

As McKee was sympathetic to the British cause at the beginning of the revolution, he was kept under surveillance. In March 1778, with Matthew Elliott*, Simon Girty*, and others, he fled from the Fort Pitt (Pittsburgh, Pa) region into the Ohio country. Later in the year he joined the British at Detroit. The Americans considered his departure a major blow because McKee had extensive influence among the Indians. At Detroit he became a captain and interpreter in the Indian department and for the rest of the revolution helped direct operations among the Indians in the Ohio valley against the Americans. He participated in many of the main actions in that region, including Henry Hamilton’s capture of Vincennes (Ind.) in 1778, Henry Bird’s expedition against Kentucky in 1780, and the attack on Bryant’s Station (near Lexington, Ky) in August 1782.

After the revolution McKee obtained land on the Canadian side of the Detroit River, but he served at Detroit as deputy agent in the Indian department, which used his influence among the tribes in present Ohio and Indiana to encourage Indian resistance to American settlement beyond the Ohio River. He also traded along the Miamis (Maumee) River and was a prominent leader in the Detroit River region. He became lieutenant-colonel of the local militia in the late 1780s, justice of the Court of Common Pleas for the District of Hesse in 1788, member of the district land board in 1789, and lieutenant for the county of Essex in 1792.

When in the early 1790s full-scale hostilities broke out between the Americans and the Indian tribes, McKee and his assistants helped to gather and supply the Indians who resisted American expeditions [see Egushwa]. With John Graves Simcoe*, lieutenant governor of Upper Canada, he tried to devise a workable plan for an Indian buffer state between American and British possessions. McKee played a major role in organizing the Indians to meet Major-General Anthony Wayne’s advances in 1793 and 1794 and was present at the battle of Fallen Timbers (near Waterville, Ohio) in August 1794, but only as an observer. Wayne’s victory and the failure of the British regulars to support the Indians diminished British influence among the tribes. McKee was given formal command of Indian affairs in Upper Canada at the end of 1794 when he was appointed deputy superintendent and deputy inspector general of Indian affairs.

After the British withdrew from Detroit in 1796, McKee made his home on the Canadian side of the river. At his death three years later he was living on the Thames River. In the tumultuous years of the 1790s he had been the most important official organizing Indian resistance to the American advance across the Ohio River. To him, the British policy was not merely official, it was the culmination of a lifetime spent with the Indians of the Ohio valley. His son Thomas* also served in the Indian department, becoming agent at Amherstburg in 1801.

Reginald Horsman

BL, Add. mss 21661–892 (transcripts at PAC). PAC, MG 19, F1; RG 8, I (C series); RG 10, A1, 1–4; A2, 8–12. Correspondence of LieutGovernor Simcoe (Cruikshank). Frontier defense on the upper Ohio, 1777–1778 . . . , ed. R. G. Thwaites and L. P. Kellogg (Madison, Wis., 1912; repr. Millwood, N.Y., 1973). Johnson papers (Sullivan et al.), III, VIII, X, XII. Michigan Pioneer Coll., IX (1886), X (1886), XIII (1888), XIX (1891), XX (1892). PAO Report, 1905, 1928–29, 1931. The Windsor border region, Canadas southernmost frontier . . . , ed. E. J. Lajeunesse (Toronto, 1960). R. C. Downes, Council fires on the upper Ohio: a narrative of Indian affairs in the upper Ohio valley until 1795 (Pittsburgh, Pa., 1940). Reginald Horsman, Matthew Elliott, British Indian agent (Detroit, 1964). N. B. Wainwright, George Croghan, wilderness diplomat (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1959). Frederick Wulff, “Colonel Alexander McKee and British Indian policy, 1735-1799” (unpublished ma thesis, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wis., 1969). W. R. Hoberg, “Early history of Colonel Alexander McKee,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography (Philadelphia), LVIII (1934), 26–36; “A Tory in the northwest,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography (Philadelphia), LIX (1935), 32–41.

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Cite This Article

Reginald Horsman, “McKEE, ALEXANDER,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 18, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mckee_alexander_4E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mckee_alexander_4E.html
Author of Article: Reginald Horsman
Title of Article: McKEE, ALEXANDER
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1979
Year of revision: 1979
Access Date: September 18, 2014