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Sir William Keith lived from 1669 to 18 November 1749. A native of Aberdeenshire, he became Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania and what is now Delaware. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
William Keith was the eldest son of Sir William Keith of Ludquhairn, and was born at the family home of Boddam Castle, near Boddam in north east Aberdeenshire. He studied at Marischal College, Aberdeen from where he graduated a master of arts in 1687. The Keith family were strongly Jacobite and after the 1689 "Glorious Revolution" William Keith spent much of his time with the exiled Jacobite court of James VII/II, at Saint-Germain-en-Laye near Paris.
Keith returned to Britain in 1702 after the accession of Queen Anne, accepting a Government post in Aberdeenshire as Commissioner of Supply. In 1704 Keith was arrested on suspicion of involvement with a Jacobite plot, but released through lack of evidence. Also in 1704 he took up the study of law in London, later marrying a widow, Anne Diggs.
In 1713, Keith was given the post of Surveyor-General for the Southern District of the Americas, an area covering Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Carolina, Jamaica and the Bahamas. In the aftermath of the 1715 Jacobite uprising, the Government purged many known Jacobite sympathisers form public office, and Keith heard that he was to be amongst them. At about the same time he discovered that the Quaker government of Pennsylvania was seeking to replace its current governor. He used his contacts among the colonists and with the state's founder William Penn, to gain local support for his own candidacy, then returned to London, where he was able to persuade a - presumably suspicious - King George I to confirm his appointment.
As Lieutenant Governor, Keith became highly popular. He organised a militia, opened peace talks with native Indians, and established a number of state institutions. After William Penn's death, Keith argued with Penn's influential widow about the future direction of the colony, with the result that she actively campaigned for his replacement. Keith was able to gain election to the colony's assembly. By now Keith, having inherited his father's accumulated debts as well as his baronetcy, was in financial difficulties. He fled to London, where he died in poverty in 1749.