The Family of John Steel

In the History of Passaic and its Environs there is an account of the Steel family deriving from Dr. David Steele (1826-1906), son of James Steel (1798-1863). Born at Altaghaderry, he was encouraged by his uncle, Rev. David Steel (1803-1887) to emigrate to America, where he and his son Rev. James D. Steel became prominent leaders of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America.

Rev. James D. Steele, A.B., A.M., B.D.

The heroic, patriotic and daring Scotch Covenanters, whose movements in behalf of freedom for religious opinion led to the disastrous Revolution in Scotland that banished the covenanters, illuminated the pages of its history by their acts of unswerving devotion, even at the cost of martyrdom, to a spirit of independence that had been smouldering for generations.

This movement had among its noble advocates the clan of Steel, having its home in Lesmahagow, only seventeen miles from the seat of the ancient University of Glasgow, founded in 1451 by Bishop Turnbull, that had kept alive and been unobservedly the foster-mother of the movement for many years. In 1580 the first of the name in Lanarkshire that attracted attention appears to have been Robert Steel and his two sons, David and John Steel. "Waterhead," a beautiful and fertile farm near Lesmahagow, was owned by John, and like his father and his brother David, he was a prosperous landowner, David living at Skellyhill Farm, which estate remained in the possession of the family for over 300 consecutive years.

David Steel had the proud distinction of meeting the death of a martyr, and the incident is recorded in "Traditions of the Covenanters," written by Rev. Robert Simpson, as follows: "The Steels of Lesmahagow were men of renown and faithful witnesses to Jesus Christ. The death of David Steel, who was shot at Skellyhill in 1686, in the thirty-third year of his age, is in all its circumstances equally affecting with the death of John Brown at Priesthill. He was, after a promise of quarter, murdered before his own door, and Mary Weir, his youthful and truly Christian wife, who it is said cherished an uncommon attachment for her husband, having bound up his shattered head with a napkin and closed down his eyelids with her own hand, looked upon the manly and honest countenance that was now pale in death, and said with a sweet and heavenly composure: 'The archers have shot at the husband, but they cannot reach the soul ; it has escaped like a dove, far away and is at rest'." David Steel was shot by one Creichton. an officer under the command of Viscount Dundee, known in history as the "Bloody Claverhouse," who devastated Scotland as a follower and supporter of the exiled Stuarts. David Steel was buried at Lesmahagow, in the same "God's Acre" in which repose the others of the family name, and at Skellyhill, a monument commemorating his martyrdom was erected.

Sir Walter Scott, Scotland's greatest novelist, gives an account of the event in "Chronicles of the Canongate," where he speaks of the victim, David Steel, as the "famous Covenanter," and Jonathan Swift, "Dean Swift," the celebrated English author and satirist, designates him as "Steel the Covenanter."

Captain John Steel fought in the famous battles between the Covenanters and James, the Duke of Monmouth, at Drumclog and at Bothwell Bridge, June 1st and June 22nd, 1679, and with the other defeated Covenanters received the kind treatment accorded his foes by the "Protestant Duke" immediately after the defeat at Bothwell Bridge, and his sword is preserved among the historic relics treasured by his descendants at Skellyhill.

The Covenanters could not, however, overcome the mistake made by the Stuarts, and the Presbyterians themselves could not overcome disputes and dissensions in their own ranks, and finally, the union between the Scottish and English Puritans was dissolved by the ascendency of the Independents, and then came the opportunity for Cromwell to keep Scotland under subjection to the English army, and when Sharp, Archbishop of St. Andrews, their great dependence, changed from Presbyterianism, this movement being followed by his assassination, May 3, 1679, by a band of fanatical Covenanters, the Revolution was in full force and was followed by the Covenanters seeking more peaceful homes in the north of Ireland. Here, by intermarriage with the Irish, they built up that industrious and useful citizenship, commonly known as the Scotch-Irish people.

Among these refugees was a son of Captain John Steel, who became the pioneer of the family of Steels in Ireland, and his son, John Steel, named for his valiant grandfather, was the first of the name to claim Ireland as his birthplace. They settled in Fanet, County Donegal, on the shores of Mulroy bay. This John Steel was born in Fanet in 1735, and after his marriage, removed to Creevaugh in the same county, where he died in 1804. Members of the family thus settled in Ireland found newer and more favorable homes in America before and during the period of the American Revolution and immediately after that event. Among them was the famous fighting Presbyterian patriot, the Rev. Captain John Steel, who reached the shores of America in 1752 and settled in Cumberland county, Pennsylvania. John Steel's own son, Alexander, established an iron foundry in Huntingdon county, Pennsylvania, and another son, William, became a merchant and politician in the same county and also went as a soldier in the American Revolution.

After leaving Scotland, the Steel family may be classed as immigrants, and the immigrant to Ireland to be of the third generation from Robert Steel, born before 1580, who had two sons, David, born 1654, died 1686, a martyr, and Captain John Steel, whose son, name unknown, settled in the North of Ireland and became the father of John Steel, who, as being born outside of Scotland, we place as the immigrant ancestor of the Steels of Ireland and America, but in the fourth generation, placing Robert Steel as (I) ; Captain John Steel as (II); and an unknown name as (III).

(IV) John Steel, grandson of Captain John Steel, for whom he was named, and grandnephew of David, the martyr, and Mary (Weir) Steel, was born in Fanet, County Donegal, Ireland, in 1735, died in Creevaugh, County Donegal, Ireland, in 1804. He married Sarah Stewart and they had five children, born in Ireland, as follows: John, Alexander, Samuel, William, and David, of whom further.

(V) David Steel, youngest son of John and Sarah (Stewart) Steel, was born in Creevaugh, County Donegal, Ireland, in 1764, died in 1807. He married Sarah Gailey McKinley (1775-1836), and they had seven children, all born in Ireland, as follows: 1. Andrew, 1794. 2. Samuel, 1796, died 1836; married Mary Boggs. 3. James, died in infancy. 4. James, of further mention. 5. Stewart (1800-1861); married (first) M. Murray, and (second) Myrtella Irvine. 6. David (1803-1887); removed to America and settled in Adams county, Ohio, where he was one of the foremost exponents of the Covenanters' faith in the United States. 7. Sarah (1804-1895) ; married at Stevenson.

(VI) James Steel, fourth son of David and Sarah Gailey (McKinley) Steel, was born in the North of Ireland in 1798, died in 1863. He married (first) Eleanor Fulton, of Gortanleave, County Donegal, and they lived at Altaghaderry, near Londonderry, Ireland, where their only son, David (2), was born. He married as his second wife, Jane Osborn. He was a farmer and a respected elder in the Covenanters' church at Waterside, Londonderry.

(VII) David (2) Steele (as the name is now spelled), only child of James and Eleanor (Fulton) Steel, was born in Altaghaderry, near Londonderry, Ireland, October 20, 1826. His mother, who was a relative of Robert Fulton, the inventor and builder of the steamboat, "Claremont," which made the first voyage of any vessel propelled by steam between New York and Albany on the Hudson river, in 1807, died in 1828, and his father married as his second wife, Jane Osborn.

David (2) Steel was brought up by his step-mother on his father's farm, and he was fortunate in having so Godly a woman to care for him, and a bond of affection bound the two together, which was of great benefit to the lad. His early education was under the direction of his step-mother and from her he passed to the Classical Academy at Londonderry, where he learned rapidly and where the history of his place of nativity was taught on the playgrounds of the school, the walls of which had been the defense of the Covenanters against the siege of 1688. The atmosphere of his boyhood days was thoroughly impregnated with the spirit of piety, filial affection, devotion to church and home worship, strict observance of the holy Sabbath and of the days of thanksgiving and fasting....

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