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John McKee was born in Virginia, and educated at Liberty Hall Academy in Lexington. He was appointed William Blount, territorial governor of Tennessee, to survey the boundary with the Cherokee nation established in 1791 by Treaty of Holston. In 1797 he was sent by the U.S. government on a special mission to meet with the owners of Panton, Leslie and Company, to discuss the problem of debts owned by the Choctaws to that firm. He later worked as an Indian agent tot he Choctaw nation, and still later as a representative to the same nation for John Forbes & Co (the successor to Panton, Leslie and Company).