Robert Keayne

  (Redirected from Captain Robert Keayne)

Robert Keayne (1595 – March 23, 1656) was a prominent public figure in 17th-century Boston, Massachusetts. He co-founded the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts and served as speaker of the House of the Massachusetts General Court. Keayne was a prosperous London merchant who joined his fellow Puritans in Boston where he built a fortune. He was accused of unfair business practices, and brought before the legislature, the Massachusetts General Court. It found Keayne guilty, fined him, and compelled him to confess his "sins." He proclaimed his innocence, and justified his actions in elaborate detail in his will. It bequeathed £2500 to Boston, to upgrade the infrastructure with an aqueduct, relieve the city's poor, and fund the First Town-House, a grand public meeting place. He attached a condition to the effect that the bequest would become void if there were any legal actions against his estate; there were none.[1]

First Town-House, Boston.
Boston plaque honoring Robert Keanye
Plaque on burial vault in Kings Chapel Burying Ground, Boston


Keayne was born in Windsor, England in 1595. His father, John Keayne, worked as a butcher. While living in London, Keayne held membership in the Honourable Artillery Company[2] and the Merchant Taylor's Company.[3][4] He also kept notes in his private journal of sermons preached 1627-1628 by John Cotton, John Wilson, Hugh Peters, and John Davenport.[5]

In 1617 Keayne married Anne Mansfield;[3] they had a son, Benjamin Keayne, in 1619.[6]

Keayne and his family arrived in Boston from London in 1635 on the ship Defence.[3] In Boston, he worked as a tailor, and kept a shop on State Street, "living in apartments overhead, as was the custom in those times."[7]

He belonged to the First Church congregation, and kept notes in his private journal of sermons preached by John Wilson, Thomas Cobbet, and John Cotton, who had moved to Boston in 1633.[8]

In 1637, he was found guilty and fined 200 pounds by a Puritan court for overcharging customers. By today's capitalistic standards he would have been judged shrewd and successful. At the time, he penitently bewailed "his covetous and corrupt heart," but justified himself at length in his will.[4][9]

In 1638, he helped to establish the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts, serving as first captain.

He served as town Selectman for several years; and as a representative to the Massachusetts General Court,[3] being appointed House Speaker in 1646.

Keayne left a 37-page will, covering a range of topics, which notably left several hundred pounds to establish the First Town-House, a building to "be used by the town and county government and be shared by the military company, with convenience for a market and conduit near by."[10] Remarking on the need for a covered market, he wrote:

I having long thought and considered the want of some necessary things of public concernment which may not be only comodious, but very profitable and useful for the Town of Boston, as a market place ... useful for the country people that come with their provisions for the supply of the towne, that they may have a place to sett dry in and warme, both in cold raine and durty weather, and may have a place to leave their corne or any other things safe that they cannot sell, till they come again, which would be both an encouragement to come in and a great means to increase trading in the Towne also.[11]

Keayne died in 1656 and is buried in the King's Chapel Burying Ground where a plaque has been affixed to his brick burial vault. Another memorial plaque, placed in 1925, honors Keayne in downtown Boston, on the corner of State and Washington Streets.[12] Each year on the first Monday in June the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company leads a procession to the gravesite, laying a wreath in Keayne's memory.[13]


  1. ^ Robert F. Dalzell, Jr. The Good Rich and What They Cost Us (2013)
  2. ^ "Notable men on rolls of ancients; Old Method of Beating Up the Troop Still Observed On Anniversary Morning", Boston Daily Globe, p. 7, Sep 26, 1903
  3. ^ a b c d Bernard Bailyn (Oct 1950), "The Apologia of Robert Keayne", William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd series, 7 (4): 568–587, doi:10.2307/1917047, JSTOR 1917047
  4. ^ a b "Captain Commanding Robert Keayne". Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts. Archived from the original on November 21, 2008. Retrieved July 11, 2009.
  5. ^ Robert Keayne (March 1917), "Notes of Sermons, 1627-1628", Massachusetts Historical Society Proceedings, 50, pp. 204–207, hdl:2027/uva.x000365962
  6. ^ Annual Record of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company Massachusetts, 1909
  7. ^ "Highwaye to Roxberry; Washington Street as it Was in ye Olden Time. Business Places that Once Lined Boston's Principal Thoroughfare. Peculiar Will of Robert Keayne, Founder of the Ancient Artillery Corps", Boston Daily Globe, p. 5, January 9, 1888
  8. ^ Robert Keayne (1889), "Sermon notes, 1639-1642", Massachusetts Historical Society Proceedings, 2nd series, 4, pp. 313–16
  9. ^ "John Cotton on the Just Price, 1639". Constitution Society.
  10. ^ Keayne's will, quoted in: "Old State House restored to its appearance in colonial days", Boston Daily Globe, p. 36, October 10, 1909
  11. ^ Keayne's will, quoted in: Abram English Brown (September 4, 1898), "Early Boston markets; ...Robert Keayne of Ancient and Honorable Fame and His Share in the Market's Establishment", Boston Daily Globe, p. 32
  12. ^ "To place table to Capt Robert Keayne; Ancients Plan to Honor First Commander", Boston Daily Globe, p. 11, May 30, 1925
  13. ^ "Parades (Summary)". Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts. Retrieved July 11, 2009.

Further readingEdit

  • Bailyn, Bernard. "The Apologia of Robert Keayne." William and Mary Quarterly (1950): 568-587. in JSTOR
  • Dalzell, Jr. Robert F. The Good Rich and What They Cost Us (Yale University Press, 2013)
  • "Our Ancients: Sketch of Their Birth and Growth. Captain Keayne, First Commander", Boston Daily Globe, p. 9, June 3, 1888
  • Kytö , Merja (2000), "Robert Keayne's 'Notebooks': A verbatim record of spoken English in early Boston?", Textual Parameters in Older Languages
  • Rugg, Arthur Prentice (October 1920), "A famous colonial litigation; the case between Richard Sherman and Capt. Robert Keayne, 1642" (PDF), Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, 30, pp. 217–250
  • Shera, Jesse Hauk (1949), Foundations of the public library; the origins of the public library movement in New England, 1629-1855, Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press

External linksEdit