MACLAY, William.--It is not generally known that one of the first senators of the United States from Pennsylvania was of Chester County birth. These senators were Robert Morris and William Maclay. The father of the latter was Charles Maclay, who was born in county Antrim,. Ireland, in 1703, married Eleanor Query, and emigrated to America in 1734, and settled in Chester Co., Pa., where their son, William Maclay, was born July 20, 1737.
The family, in 1740, removed to Lurgan township, in (now) Franklin County. William Maclay's early education was acquired under Rev. John Blair, at one time pastor of the Fagg's Manor Church, in this county, and an eminent educator. He read law, and was admitted to the York County bar April 28, 1760, but never practiced his profession, entering the service of the proprietaries as deputy surveyor of Berks County, then embracing the northwestern part of the State. In 1772, upon the organization of Northumberland County, he was appointed prothonotary and clerk of the courts. After holding these offices six years he was, in 1781, elected to the Assembly, and from that time forward, as member of Assembly and of the Supreme Executive Council, Indian commissioner, etc., he was a controlling factor in moulding the legislation and settling the land titles of Pennsylvania. He served in the Senate of the United States two years, on the first organization of that body, where he did much to develop those ideas which led to the formation of the Democratic party, and in this he, in fact, preceded Jefferson, although historians give the credit to the latter. He had, however, assumed an independent position and opposed the tendency of Federal principles and ideas before Jefferson's return from Europe.
In connection with the surveyor-general, Mr. Maclay laid out the town of
Sunbury for the Penns in 1772, where he built a stone mansion, still
standing. He married Mary Harris, daughter of John Harris, subsequently
proprietor of Harrisburg, on Sept. 15, 1774. He afterwards removed to his
farm, now within the limits of Harrisburg, where he died, April 16, 1804,
in the sixty-seventh year of his age, and being at the time a member of
Assembly from Dauphin County. His descendants have been prominent in
society, business, and the professions, in this and other States.