All indications are that James Kielle was the first one in his line to step on the shores of the New England colonies. Everett Stackpole's "History of Durham NH" - which may have derived most if not all its information from the family of James' grandson Benjamin Kelley (a city leader in Durham and Madbury, with a gr-granddau marrying into the Stackpole family) - indicates that James was a tailor. |
There is a biography in the 'Stiles Family' genealogy which, relying in part on information from a later Stiles descendant, states "[James Kielle] is said to have emigrated from Ireland; was a Protestant. He was by occupation a tanner and shoemaker, and at first owned but one acre of land, although what is now known as the old Kelly farm (at this time  in possession of Mr. John Ham Kelly, a gr. great-grandson of the emigrant), consists of 200 acres (statement made by Mr. I[vory]. H[am]. Kelly, a cousin of the present proprietor). James Kielle was deputy sheriff of Strafford Co., N.H., as was also his son James." Unfortunately this biography is wrong about several items, including the 1st James' occupation. Dover and Strafford county probate court records show that James Kielle often acted as a bonded surety for wills in the Dover area, and was always identified in those records as both 'tailor' and 'of Dover'. The property transfer records of James - as well as of his son William - also describe James as a tailor. It was instead James' son John who was the Kielle elsewhere identified as a tanner. The Stiles genealogy also offers this not quite correct comment about the Kielle surname : "The descendants of James Kielle have for 50 to 75 years [i.e. starting in 1820 to 1845] spelled their surname Kelly." While that information may mirror the spelling used by the descendants noted above, it overlooks the more frequent Kelley spelling used by others and is no doubt unaware of the alternate 'Kielley' spelling.
Given that we do not presently know a specific place in 'Ireland' from which James came nor the names of his parents by which we might hope to trace him, there seem two most likely explanations of his origins. The first one - which is preferred because of his clear Protestant beliefs - is that he was among the Scots-Irish settlers who were then leaving the Ulster area in search of religious freedom. There is a notable group of 5 ships that arrived in 1717, most of whose inhabitants settled in Londonderry NH, but whose passengers also appear in Portsmouth and MA. James was also not the only Scot among the members of First Church in Dover, as both the Montgomerys and the Hayes were also members (each of whom can be indentified as a grandparent of the Abra Elizabeth Huckins who m. Samuel Kielle). Church associations by Kielle/Kelley/Kielley family members have proven to be an important source and clue in tracing this family's history, and may well hold further secrets awaiting discovery.
But James might also reached America by working on an English fishing boat, which would also explain why no record has yet been located of his being a passenger on a ship. This was a frequent method of celtic Irish migration, as the English fishing fleets recruited often untrained seamen in Ireland prior to sailing west to the outstanding fishing areas offshore Canada and New England (Irish crews being preferred because they accepted lower wages than British crews). Such ships would later stop in New England ports for return voyage supplies, at which time fishermen might permanently disembark - usually with the blessing of the captain - since once the fishing was done the 50 fishermen aboard became extra weight and expense for the return journey.
James is mentioned in Ezra Stearn's "Genealogical and Family History of the State of New Hampshire" on page 953, where Stearn discusses the Stiles family; "Deborah, born March 1706, married, in 1730, James Kielle, emigrant from Ireland born April 15, 1708, from whom comes the name Kelly". (As here, Stearns was not always entirely correct or complete - the name became Kelley as well as Kelly, and we would wish to know whether Stearns was guessing about 'from Ireland' or, if he had a good source, whether James Kielle came from the Scots-Irish Ulster area or from elsewhere in Ireland.)
Stearn states that James' name first appears on a document in the will of Joseph Hanson, Esq., who was an innholder in Dover, and was the Dover Town Clerk from 27 June 1743 until his death in 1758. Administration of Hanson's estate was granted to Hanson's son, Ephraim Hanson, of Dover, on 12 Sept. 1758, "with Dependence Bickford and James Kielle, both of Dover, as sureties". But here Stearn is again incomplete, as six sons of James Kielle were baptized 8 Jan 1744 in the First Church of Dover (an obviously prior record), and there is a prior 1748 court record identifying James as a deputy sheriff. It is quite possible that James was in Dover prior to coming of age about 1729, since he himself is never listed as joining First Church (the record-keeping of new adult memberships is said to have begun in 1718, when James would have been 10), and thus he may have joined as a youth before he came of age in 1729. This would be consistent with one of the above suggestions that he arrived here with the Scots Irish colonists as early as 1717, at which point he would have been a minor and very likely apprenticed to a tailor, since that was the way one learned a skilled trade at that time.
Several of James Kielle's descendants achieved early clear identification among the New Hampshire Kelly/Kelleys by being the only family that did not change their surname spelling to Kelley or Kelly prior to 1800. As far as can now be documented (i.e. by relying on LDS records directly extracted from town records), the last birth record of a New Hampshire child named Kielle dates to 1804 and the birth of Benjamin Kielle's son Ivory (Benjamin being the grandson of James). Thereafter the unique spelling essentially disappears from the record until resurrected (with a variant spelling) by the Samuel Kielley family - a great-grandson of James Kielle - in 1842 in an Ohio land deed.
While the James Kielle line may have started in Dover, Stafford Co., NH, several sons are known to have moved to Madbury (near Barbados Springs where grandson Benjamin died) and elsewhere in NH. By the third generation there were Kielle's living in Durham (also known as the Oyster River Plantation area), the Barrington/Strafford area and no doubt further west as sons moved inland in search of their own plot of land and daughters followed their husbands. By the early 1800's they had - along with many of their neighbors - begun the western migration to places in New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio, where it becomes more difficult to identify the Kielle descendants once the surname - at least in the census records - changed to Kelley or even Kelly.
Over the centuries there has been significant confusion about the spelling of the family surname, even among family members. Notwithstanding that the first 50 years of births, marriages etc - as they appear in the records of the First Church of Dover - are most always spelled as 'Kielle', the Durham NH history mispells the earliest of the first 3 generations of 'Kelleys' by using 'Keille'. Most notably - and impressively - is the spelling which James' son Ebenezer used when he signed Barrington NH's Association Test in 1776. This important document, which indicated the signer would financially and otherwise support the War for Independence, bears a signature which the transcriber carefully noted to be 'Ebenezer Kiellie'.
If one accepts the tradition that James emigrated from Ireland - as surely seems probable - several different origins of the name itself are possible. That is, in addition to a possible 'Scotch Irish' origin which his religion suggests (i.e. Scottish ancestors who immigrated to the Ulster area of northern Ireland early in the 17th century to escape religious persecution in Scotland), there are also Celtic Irish familes who also use the Kielle/Kielley/Kelley name.
If James had Scottish ancesttry, there is the possibility the name had a geographic origin associated with the River Kyle in Ayrshire, Scotland. According to the online Wikipedia, "Kyle (or Coila, poetically) . . today forms part of East Ayrshire and South Ayrshire. It is said to be named after 'Old King Cole,' a king of the Britons, who was reputedly killed in battle in this area.". There was also a significant migration of Scotch Irish first to Boston, and then up to Maine, the winter of 1719. Among the immigrants were several Montgomerys, one of whom settled in Portsmouth, NH and was an ancestor of the Abra Montgomery Huckins who m. Samuel Kielle. But the majority of the passengers settled in Londonderry, NH, including a 'John Kile' Given the multiple early spellings of the family surname, it is quite possible that he may have been the immigrant Kielle and even perhaps the father of James of Dover. That identification is certainly be consistent with the family's naming patterns, since James' and his wife named their first (or possibly second since he was a twin) son John, with the twin being named James. This 1719 group of Scotch Irish immigrants were heavily Presbyterian - variously known as Scottish Covenanters or Ulster Scots - who had been persecuted under the reigns of Oliver Cromwell (ruled 1649-1658), James II (reigned 1685-1688) and others, and were later never greatly tolerated by a series of Catholic leaning English monarchs. John Hayes, an early Dover immigrant (cir 1680) who was known as 'the Scotsman and Covenanter' amongst his friends, was a member of the First Church of Dover which James Kielle's family also attended, and his grand-daughter Abra was grandmother to Abra Montgomery Huckins. (Some of the history of the Ulster Covenanters is found in Brian J. Orr's book "As God is My Witness" (Heritage Books, Inc.; Maryland; 2002) which lists in its Appendix 7 a John and Katherine Kellie as having been imprisoned (along with 122 other men and 45 other women Covenanters) in Dunnottar Castle (a bleak lonely place 15 miles south of Aberdeen). Both John and Katherine (she apparently from the Dumfries area) d. there 20 May 1685. Perhaps further research may shed more light on this possible association, or on the John and Katherine Kellie who were sent, as prisoners, aboard the 'Henry & Frances' ro Perth Amboy, NJ in Dec 1685 (she dying at sea).)
But it is also possible that James was Celtic Irish, since a 'google search' will show that there are a great many families in Newfoundland who still spell their surname 'Kielley'. These folk are unmistakeably Celtic Irish, since for a great many years their Newfoundland towns were limited to seacoast locations, and every job in town was tied to fishing. Many of those families claim to be direct descendants of the fishing crews which the British fleet owners once annually recruited in Ireland to fish the outer banks before returning home when the weather grew cold. Many of those early fishing crews - instead of returning home - came ashore and learned how to brave the harsh Canadian winters. The creation of permanent coastal colonies with their own local fishing fleets ultimately changed the economics of the British fishing industry, since permanent colonies were far cheaper than an annual 6 month migration of fleets from England to Canada and back. Some Newfoundland communities even note a similarity between the local accents and those of Waterford, Ireland.
If the Kielles were Celtic and not Scots Irish, consider this commentary from the www.irishsurnames.com website (which also displays a Kiely family crest). "[The name Kiely] is derived from the native Gaelic Sept O'Cadhla, taken from a Gaelic word meaning 'graceful'. This Sept was located in Counties Waterford and Limerick and it is here that the majority of descendants can still be found.' Other sources note that the surname Kiely is 'the anglicised version of the Irish O Cadhla, from cadhla, meaning 'beautiful'. It was popular as a personal name among the tribal grouping the Dal gCais, who acquired the high-kingship of Ireland under Brian Boru in the eleventh century. Their base was in the Clare/Limerick area [just inland from Waterford], and this is the part of the country in which the surname is still most numerous."
Given the close association of the James Kielle family with known Scots Irish and Scottish Covenanters in the Dover area, and knowing that James Kielle and his family were long-time members of the same First Church of Dover which other families with Ulster Plantation origins also chose, it is most likely that James also came from the Ulster Plantation area of northern Ireland. That is, had they been from the Waterford or Limerick areas associated with the Celtic Kielleys, it is far more likely they would have favored the Catholic Church than the very protestant First Church of Dover.
While the burial place of James and Deborah Kielle is not known, many early Dover families were buried in the Pine Hill Cemetery. It is also known that there is a William Kelly Lot there, in which is buried Samuel Demerit (whose daughter m. Capt. William Kielle). Perhaps there are stories still to be found in Dover which may shed more light on this family and its origins.