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John Gay (abt. 1665 - abt. 1734)

John Gay
Born about in Monreagh, Tauboyne Parish, county Donegal, Ireland ??map [uncertain]
Son of [father unknown] and [mother unknown]
[sibling(s) unknown]
Husband of — married 1702 in Irelandmap
Descendants descendants
Died about in Sadsbury Township, Lancaster Co., PAmap
Profile last modified | Created 19 Jul 2011
This page has been accessed 970 times.



John was born about 1675. John Gay ... He passed away about 1702. [1]

No more info is currently available for John Gay. Can you add to his biography?


  1. Entered by Danielle Whitehead, Jul 18, 2011 The Scotch-Irish GAYs of the Pennsylvania & Virginia Frontiers: 1720-40

Several families of GAYs arrived in western Pennsylvania in the 1720s to 1730s amidst the waves of Scotch-Irish displaced from northern Ireland by economic, political, and religious discrimination. The yDNA evidence accumulating in the FTDNA Gay DNA surname project (Lineage 3), is showing that all or most of these Gays were related, albeit some distantly.

The first family of that name was headed by John Gay, who was in Pennsylvania by 1719, and settled in Sadsbury, ChesterCoPA by 1721. Although Sadsbury was only some 30 miles west of the town of Philadelphia, it was then the western frontier, and in 1721, John of Sadsbury’s family was one of only 19 families situated there. John & his wife Isabella had sons Robert, Henry, William, Thomas, Samuel, and Archibald, and several of his sons and grandsons followed members of the other families of Gays south, down the Great Road, to the Valley of Virginia (the Shenandoah Valley).

The second family of Scotch-Irish Gays, and the first to settle in the Valley of Virginia was headed by Samuel Gay (not the son of John of Sadsbury), who in 1738 surveyed land in the newly created western VA frontier county of Augusta. In an OrangeCo county court record (Orange was the parent of Augusta), Samuel alleged that he himself paid for the transportation of his wife and two sons from Ireland to Philadelphia, and so to Virginia; thus Samuel came over independently of the other Gays, yet the yDNA of a probable descendant (G-16 in the Gay DNA project) places him in the same broad lineage as John of Sadsbury..

Samuel’s land was astride the Great Road from PA, and the south fork of the Shenandoah River, a few miles due north of present day Waynesboro, and in the morning shadow of the Blue Ridge—a prime spot. He was one of AugustaCo’s first captains of militia, and one of itos first county justices, but he was sued successfully several times, at least once for non-payment of debt, and he removed east over the Blue Ridge Mountains to the adjacent county of Albemarle, about ten years after his first coming.

The first record for a member of the third family, was probably the appointment, in 1742, of one John Gay as a constable of Orange County, which at the time was still handling the administrative affairs of the new AugustaCo, beyond the mountains. There is every reason to believe that this was the same John Gay who settled by 1747, but probably several years before, on some 400 acres of prime bottom land along the Big Calfpasture River down to the mouth of the Little Calfpasture. Across the Big River from him, and astride the Little River, was his brother, James, and continuing up Litte River, their brothers, Samuel, and William. A fifth brother, Robert, also shows up in the early records of the Calfpasture, though he was never a landholder there. And there is solid evidence that these brothers also had a sister, or a half-sister, Eleanor, who married William Kinkhead of the Calfpasture.

Finally, considering the “onomastic” (child-naming) patterns in the families of these siblings GAY, and putting it together with other evidence, one is able to infer that they came to PA in the 1730s with their parents, who were named John & Agnes, and that they came from the vicinity of Londonderry, in northern Ireland. According to a grandson of Eleanor, who heard it from her in his childhood, Eleanor’s grandfather participated in the defense of Londonderry during the famous siege of 1688, and her ancestors of that generation had come shortly before that to Ireland from Scotland, after the Battle of Bothwell Bridge in 1679. There was, as it happens, a John Gay who was a ruling elder of the Letterkenny Presbytery, located in County Donegal (in the present Irish Republic) about 20 miles east of Londonderry; this John Gay may, therefore, have been the American immigrant or the father of the immigrant.

There are known living descendants of this family of Gays. I am a descendant of John, while Mr. Alan Denison of the DENNISON DNA project (also hosted on this site) is a descendant of brother William, and there are many descendants of brother James, who lived in between these two on the Big and Little Calfpasture Rivers. At least three of James’s descendants, males surnamed Gay, are members of the Gay DNA project (numbers G-19, -21, and -24) although their full lines back to James haven’t yet been posted. Brother Robert of this family left no sons, and brother Samuel appears to have gone to the Carolinas, where his male line may, or may not, have died out. Sister Eleanor (Gay) Kinkhead had a colorful life. She was captured by Indians and had two children murdered by them, but was freed by a party of militia that included her husband, and she lived to have many more, including a number of sons.

Most of the members of this family of GAYs, and their children, lived in the Calfpasture, and most engaged in cattle ranching for a generation or two, but all had moved on to greener pastures by 1820. My own ancestor, John, prospered sufficiently to have owned nine slaves when he died, and one or two of these probably worked for him as cowboys; John’s only son, John Gay, manumitted at least one of the slaves he inherited from his father. Son John was a justice of newly created RockbridgeCo from the age of 21, and was later high sheriff of the county, yet he removed to the Indiana frontier when he was almost 60. Three of brother James Gay’s children were among the first several hundred settlers of Kentucky, and his daughter Jane was apparently the first wife and mother to have braved the Indians and settled in the blue grass country of the Lexington area, in the year 1779. Jane’s husband and brothers are credited with introducing the first improved cattle into the region.

Finally, besides these three families of Scotch-Irish GAYs, there were two other men surnamed GAY who settled in the Calfpasture at about the same time as the siblings of family three, but who weren’t brothers, or even, probably, first cousins of any of the other AugustaCo GAYs. Although the records show these two, named Robert and William, associating with each other, but not with any of the other GAYs of Augusta, it nonetheless seems almost certain to me that they must of the same broad patrilineage as all the others, but we have yet to discover any descendants who might be DNA tested as confirmation. In the meantime, I nurture the theory that Robert and William were sons, or possibly brothers, of the James Guy who died about 1743 in LancasterCoPA—the same county where John of Sadsbury, head of the first family (which also sent offshoots to the Calfpasture), lived.

John Gay, the immigrant (say 1685 - say 1745)

This person whom I call John Gay, the immigrant, the supposed father of John and the other Gays of the Calfpasture, is a wholly hypothetical person. The fact that a number of mostly grown-up sons appear and take up land at the same place and time on the remote Virginia frontier, at least suggests that they all immigrated together, with their parents, to Pennyslyvania, but, despite exhaustive research, no records have been found that support this presumption. However, there is another kind of evidence, coupled with a 19th century published family memoir, which justifies consideration of John Gay, the immigrant, as a real person.

Scots have for many centuries, and to the present day, followed a characteristic “onomastic” pattern in naming their children, one which first memorializes the children’s grandparents, then their parents, and finally, their aunts and uncles. And the Scotch-Irish (Scots who emigrated first to Ireland, and then to America) brought this pattern with them to the New World. Although I know of no published studies regarding the prevalence of this pattern amongst the first several generations of American Scotch-Irish, my considerable experience in researching these people has convinced me that the pattern was followed, at least for the first few children of each sex, by the overwhelming majority; indeed I would estimate that this may reasonably be said of at least 80% of Scotch-Irish families of the first two generations.

And if this is so, and if we can reconstruct the families of these Gay brothers of the Calfpasture sufficiently to be reasonably sure of the names of their children, and of their birth order, a very strong probabilistic case may be made that they did follow the pattern, and from this the given names of their parents may be inferred with confidence.

I haven’t the space here to adequately present the extensive research and argument required to support the application of the Scotch-Irish onomastic pattern in this case. I here simply assert that I am convinced, beyond reasonable doubt, that the parents of these Gay siblings (William, James, John, Samuel, Robert, and Eleanor) were named John & Agnes. Reference is made here, instead, to my paper on Scotch-Irish onomastics for the methodology, and to my research paper on William Gay of the Calfpasture (the brother of John) for its application to this family.

The family memoir bearing on the Old World origins of this family was written by William Bury Kinkead, a grandson of Eleanor (Gay) Kinkead, and a judge by profession. Here is what he wrote:

The ancestors of my grandparents were Scotch people. They left Scotland after the battle of Bothwell Bridge, and went to Ireland, settling in the northern part of that country; my grandmother's people, about four miles out from Derry. They were devoted Presbyterians, but did not side with either of the extreme parties of that day. King William represented their ideas, and they held him in highest admiration.

I can well remember, a little boy of ten years of age, standing by my grandmother, and being delighted to listen to her give this history of that memorable siege, which she had heard from the lips of her mother, whose father was in the siege.

. . .

Not a great while after this the ancestors of my grandfather and grandmother emigrated to the United States. They first came to Pennsylvania, and soon after moved to Virginia, to the county of Augusta. My grandfather, William Kinkead, was born in 1736. My grandmother, Eleanor Guy, was four years younger than he was.

John & Agnes probably came to Pennsylvania in the mid-1730s and settled initially in Lancaster County, for which the records before 1750 are few to scant, and moved on quite early (by 1740 or so) to the newly opened Valley of Virginia frontier. There, the first appearance of a Gay who likely belongs to this family is the appointment of John Gay as an Orange County constable on 24Jun1742. Although Augusta County was created on paper in 1738 to cover the whole of Virginia’s west from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Mississippi River, and although perhaps as many as 100 families had settled there by 1742, Augusta didn’t really get going until 1745, and in the meantime, we have only the records of the parent county, Orange, whose courthouse was separated by a major mountain range from these early settlers.

Since the next appearance of a member of this family in the records wasn’t until Feb1746/7, when John Gay was appointed to make an estate inventory of a deceased Calfpasturite, and next after that, in the ensuing May, when William Gay was appointed constable, it is entirely possible that the John Gay who was appointed constable in 1742 was John, the father.

Unfortunately, while the probate and land records for both LancasterCoPA and Orange/AugustaCoVA survive, they are less than complete for the frontier areas, owing to remoteness from a functioning county court (some of LancasterCo’s affairs were handled in ChesterCo during the early days). Under the circumstances, settlers often squatted, deferring formal land transactions, and if they died during that period, lacking substantial (real) property, left no trace in the probate records either. At any rate, we find no trace of John, the immigrant (or of his widow, Agnes) in the records, and he may have died in either place.

Finally, there is reason to suppose that Eleanor was only a half-sister of the brothers Gay, the child of a different mother, whose name was, perhaps, Isabella, but I would not want to lean too heavily on that hypothesis, which is really little more than a conjecture.


John was born in 1675. John Gay ... He passed away in 1734. [2]

No more info is currently available for John Gay. Can you add to his biography?


  • Wesley Doughman, firsthand knowledge. Click the Changes tab for the details of edits by Wesley and others.
  1. Entered by Danielle Whitehead, Jul 18, 2011
  2. Entered by Wesley Doughman, Jul 5, 2012

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