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The Early Greenlees

Long before they lived in the hinterlands of America, the Greenlee family lived in another backwood, the remote region of England called Northumberland. Ours is an old family. The earliest mention of Greenlees is when two knights, Harold and Athel Greenlee of the Green Chase, Northumberland, were given manor and land by King Alfred the Great [reigned 870-899 AD] for "heroic gallantry in the Norfolk Campaign against the Danes" (Greenlee 11). The English at this time referred to all Vikings as Danes, regardless of their country of origin. The manor and grounds given to the Greenlees was in Balsal Heath, Warwickshire.

Military events are one of the most commonly recorded during these early times, and evidently the Greenlees lived there without seeing much action until Henry V's reign [1413-22]. At this time, the French were ruled by an insane king, and seeing the shambles France was falling into, Henry V did not resist invading. During the attack of the walled city of Harfleur,

The Knight of the Royal Guard, "Guilliaume Greenlee," who, while leading a storming party to the breach at Harfleur, seeing his Standard Bearer killed and the Standard lost, plucked up a young Oak plant, called upon his troops to follow a Greenlee and that plant to victory. Whence his soldiers cheered forward to the breach [in the wall] which was gallantly captured, but within the bastion sorrowfully found their brave commander dying of his wounds, with his last words begging his men to bury him on the Fortress Glacis with the sprig of Oak, which had served for their standard, to be planted over his grave; which command the soldiers piously obeyed. On the return of King Henry at the close of the campaign, his Majesty seeing the young oak flourishing over the green mound, where lay the valorous Greenlee, ordered the mound to be carefully turfed and fenced, and a slab built thereon bearing the name Greenlee. (Greenlee, 11-12)

The Irish Greenlees, as well as the Greenlees of Edgebastion, Warwickshire, were then entitled by King Henry V to have their Coat of Arms be topped by a green mound and plant of Oak as "a glorious memorial" to Guilliaume Greenlee.

The Greenlees continued to live at Warwickshire "in opulence and high respect" up to the time of Queen Elizabeth [reigned 1558-1603], when "...they were granted estates near the city of Limerick, Ireland, thereon to establish an Armory and Fabricque for small arms and Culverin Cannon" (Greenlee 11). Here the Greenlee family split into three branches: those remaining in Warwickshire, those living in Ireland, and another branch which moved to Scotland.

It should be noted that the Greenlees were dissenters, meaning they did not belong to the Church of England. This is one of the reasons the Queen moved them to Ireland. The Crown was following two policies at once, of trying to colonize Catholic Ireland with protestants, and of booting dissenting protestants out of England. According to O'Lauhlin's Irish Family Names, the area of Ireland settled by the Greenlee family is Armagh-Down, Union of Newry, District of Poyntzpass, although there were certainly other areas.

Once removed from England, the Greenlees were soon finding reason to emigrate again. As soon the Colonists in Ireland (Ulstermen) began to be successful enough to compete with the Home Isle, Parliament began to be very unsympathetic with them. Between 1655 and 1699 Parliament passed a series of acts prohibiting the Ulstermen from exporting their products to England and Scotland. Then, at the same time it tithed them for support of the Church of England, the government put these Presbyterians under severe disabilities. The Act of 1704 imposed final indignities: Presbyterians were forbidden to hold any civil or military office, keep schools, and their clergymen were forbidden to celebrate marriages. These actions taught many of the Ulstermen a deep dislike for the English Government.

Things turned from bad to worse. King James II came to the throne, a Catholic despot [1685-88]. He was so intolerable to the Protestant English, that Parliament finally invited a foreign prince, William of Orange, to invade England. There was no battle, for no one stood by the king. James II fled to Catholic France. In 1690, however, with the aid of Louis XIV of France, James attempted to take back the crown. The Catholic Irish sided with them, and the worst of the war was in Ireland. Although King William and the English won the war, the Irish sacked and burned the Greenlees' hall and armory works. "Being greatly reduced in fortune, James Greenlee and family embarked at the port of Waterford, Ireland, [and landed at] Marlboro Port, Maryland" (Greenlee, 11).

The following chart shows the early immigration of Irish Greenlees, as Records on this side of the Atlantic show. It is impossible to know for certain which, if any, of these is our direct ancestor, possibly our 6 or 5 times great-grandfather. Let us look briefly at each of the families generated by these Greenlees.


Early Greenlee Immigrants


Possible Birthdates

Settlement area and

date of immigration



1 James Greenlee

after 1690, arriving at Marlboro Port MD

From Ireland

From R.L & R.S. Greenlee's Greenlees in America, England, Ireland and Scotland, p.11-12 & 27-28

2&3 Michael and John Greenlee brothers b about 1700

Kent, Delaware1714

From Ireland

Dates of Michael's immigration, from Compendium of American Genealogy, pg. 306.

4 James Greenlee, b 1707

Rockbridge, Virginia about 1727


From R.L & R.S. Greenlee's Greenlees in America, England, Ireland and Scotland, p.11-12 & 27-28

5 James Greenlee, b 1718

Lancaster, Pennsylvania before 1738

died in Lancaster

From R.L & R.S. Greenlee's Greenlees in America, England, Ireland and Scotland, p.11-12 & 27-28

6 James Greenlee

Northeast Tennessee before 1775

From Ireland

From R.L & R.S. Greenlee's Greenlees in America, England, Ireland and Scotland, p.11-12 & 27-28

7 William Greenlee

Mason, (W) Virginia 1766

From Ireland Probably brother to below

From R.L & R.S. Greenlee's Greenlees in America, England, Ireland and Scotland, p.11-12 & 27-28

8 Edward Greenlee

Mason, WV after 1771

Probably brother to above

From R.L & R.S. Greenlee's Greenlees in America, England, Ireland and Scotland, p.11-12 & 27-28

Peter & Martha Greenlee


1 James Greenlee who after 1690 arrived at Marlboro Port MD (page 11, RS&RL's). He was the owner of the arms factory in Northern Ireland, whose story has just been related. Little is known of him on these shores.

2 & 3 Michael and John Greenlee, brothers, immigrated to Kent County, Delaware. John had a son in Delaware about 1745. (See also RS&RL's unclassified # 271). Michael was born about 1700 and came to this country about 1714. He was married twice, and the record of the children is not altogether clear*. On his second marriage he was sixty years old and his bride was 19. At this age he was said to have lifted with one hand a 200 pound dressed hog by the bristles. His last child is about seventy years younger than himself. He had at least twelve children by the two wives, but which were by which is uncertain. It appears that some of the children from the second marriage may have had the same names as children from the first. See Appendix A. Children from both marriages seem to have moved to Anderson County, also called the Pendleton District, in South Carolina. This is where Manual and Happy lived and were married.

*See RS&RL's page 29"30, but see also unclassified #315.

4 James and Mary E. Greenlee of Virginia: He was born in 1707. After arriving on this shore with Mary's father and brother, the McDougalls, they opened up new territory in Virginia along the James River. While in the wilderness, they found a man incapable of finding his large grant, and he paid them in land to guide them to it. They then settled in to Rockbridge, Virginia about 1737, ten years after arriving in North America. Mary E. Greenlee was held captive by the local Indians. She escaped and returned to the settlement only to find that a girl was still being held in a cave. Mary Greenlee left the safety of the settlement alone and returned with the girl in a few hours. Mary E. Greenlee lived to be at least 95, riding horseback erectly until her death. She retained such physical and mental sharpness that ignorant neighbors whispered of witchcraft.

5 James Greenlee of Pennsylvania. Born 1718 in Northern Ireland, son of Alexander. Immigrated to Pennsylvania before 1738, died in Lancaster. The descendants of sons James, Alexander, Robert (and perhaps one other son) are unknown.

6 James Greenlee of Tennessee After James Greenlee came from Ireland, he spent a little time in Pennsylvania, but by 1729 Pennsylvania had seen six thousand immigrants; rising land prices and sterile soils to the west drove many families southward and he settled for a while in Virginia on the Potomac River.

This is the land where our ancestors came from. Up the Shenandoah Valley, with the Blue Ridge to the East and the Alleghenies and Cumberlands to the West, was an old Indian trail leading to the mountains. "Here, among natural meadows dotted with herds of bison, elk and deer, where the valuable beaver and otter lived in the streams, the Overhill Cherokee had their towns, their rich farms, and happy hunting grounds" (Peattie 39). James and his wife Nancy entered the valley and climbed into what is now northeastern Tennessee, the beginning of a great migration, which included Daniel Boone, Sam Houston, and Jack Sevier (Peattie 43). While the date they moved is unknown, their first child was born there in 1775, only six years after William Bean had become Tennessee's first settler. The Cumberland Gap, through which Daniel Boone explored Kentucky, was only discovered here in 1750. He may be the James Greenlee whose farms on the Catawba River were raided by Ferguson in the Revolutionary War, (A.C.A.).

An English officer described the European immigrants of this area as follows:

Their whole dress is very singular, and not very different from that of the Indians; being a hunting shirt, somewhat resembling a waggoner's frock, ornamented with a great many fringes, tied round the middle with a brad belt, much decorated also, in which is fastened a tomahawk, an instrument that serves every purpose of defense and convenience; being a hammer at one side and a sharp hatchet at the other; the shot bag and powderhorn, carved with a variety of whimsical figures and devices, hang from their necks over one shoulder...On their legs they have Indian boots, or leggings, made of coarse woollen [sic] cloth, that either are wrapped round loosely and tied with garters, or laced upon the outside, and always come better than half"way up the thigh...on their feet generally moccossons [sic], of their own construction...the women wore linsey [flax] petticoats, and `bedgowns' and often went without shoes in the summer. Some of them had bonnets and bedgowns made of calico, but generally of linsey; and some of them wore men's hats. (Peattie 46-7)

Anyone wishing to learn more about these people should read The Foxfire Books and Roosevelt's Winning of the West.

7 & 8 William & Edward Greenlee Settled in Mason, Virginia, and were probably brothers. William arrived in 1766; Edward had his second son in 1771. Only one of Edward's sons has a recorded genealogy, the unknowns being Eastham "Esom", James, Robert, Franklin and Nathan. William had a son Frank whose descendants are unknown.

The Scottish Greenlees (Coming Soon)

Most of the Scottish Greenlees did not arrive in America until later, although Robert Greenlee of Pennsylvania was living in Allegheny County in 1797, and Archibald was in Washington County, Pennsylvania, before 1780, probably as early as 1755.