Help is needed. Virginia Hill Mimms escaped. Do you know where she is?
The front page of the Santa Cruz Sentinel in Santa Cruz, California reported Virginia’s child burglary ring on June 20, 1940:
“Burglary Ring Arrest of two young women, one the mother of two children, arrest of a third juvenile boy and ‘cracking’ of four additional theft cases, were reported yesterday by the police department as they believed a local theft ring had been broken. Ten burglaries and petty theft cases were marked ‘solved’ as the prisoners confessed their activities… Mrs. Virginia Mimms, 21, of 131 Sycamore Street, was formally charged with first-degree burglary.”
Virginia Hill Mimms was identified as the mother of two children. The two juveniles in the gang implicated the second woman as Betty Sages, age 16, who then was arrested. A total of five juveniles were identified in the gang.
A week later, the Sentinel reported:
“Woman Burglar Asks Probation pleading guilty to burglary. Mrs. Virginia Mimms, a 21-year-old mother of two children yesterday asked Superior Judge James L. Atteridge for probation. The court referred her case to the probation officer who will report his findings July 17.”
After June 28, 1940, Virginia Hill Mimms disappeared. Her two children disappeared with her. Since then, nothing more is known of Virginia Hill Mimms.
Virginia Hill Mimms Dropped Out of Sight
Virginia Hill Mimms is the second of the several wives of Wyatt Leon Mimms. Mimms and Hill were married in August of 1938 in the neighborhood of Naglee Park in San Jose, California.
Wyatt Mimms is a third cousin of Frank and Jesse James. Virginia Hill also is a half 15th cousin of Frank & Jesse James herself. The common ancestor shared by the distant-cousin couple reaches back numerous generations into the royalty period with Edward I, King of England. Very likely, this remote fact of distant kinship went entirely unrecognized by Wyatt and Virginia at the time.
Virginia’s full maiden name is Virginia Helen Hill. She was born to Richard Taylor Hill 1882-1934 of Kansas and Mary “Mae” Freeman, born in California in 1880. While much has been learned about her parents and her only brother, the research does not reveal anything new about Virginia.
The brief marriage of Wyatt and Virginia produced two children. Wanda Mimms was born in 1939. Another child was born in 1940. Both children still may be living.
Virginia apparently formed the burglary gang with neighborhood children of other parents. Her own children were too young to act on their own. Wyatt abandoned Virginia. She and her children were left penniless and desperate.
A Relative in Syria Won’t Let Virginia Flee
Lilly Martin Sahiounie has lived in Syria for forty years since she married her Syrian husband. Her son, Steve Sahiounie, is a writer and political analyst. Lilly is the granddaughter of Henrietta Keller, the second wife of Eddie Bernard Mimms, the father of Wyatt Leon Mimms by a prior marriage.
For almost a generation, Lilly has sought her Mimms relatives. Her research has produced a large amount of information. At the heart of her research, Lilly wants to learn more about the missing Virginia Helen Hill Mimms.
Researching deeply into the Mimms genealogy, Lilly has assembled the following Mimms history. Information about this Mimms line never has been compiled before.
The Trail Takes Off with Drury Shadrach Woodson Mimms
Lilly’s research begins in Goochland County, Virginia, the seedbed of the Mimms family. Lilly’s focus is Drury Shadrach Woodson Mimms, the son of Robert Mimms and Lucy Poor, both migrants to Logan County, Kentucky from Goochland.
This family is well known to the Jesse James family. Drury S.W. Mimms, as he was called, is a brother of Rev. John Wilson Mimms who married Mary James, the eldest of the orphans of John M. James and Mary “Polly” Poor, the grandparents of Frank and Jesse James. The marriage was arranged by Drury Woodson Poor.
Drury S.W. Mimms operated a mill on Whippoorwill Creek. He did so with the help of two slaves. One was 53 years old. The second was only 17. Drury also farmed 112 acres on the Logan County border with Robertson County, Tennessee.
In 1857 when Drury S.W. Mimms died, his widow Elizabeth M. Rose Mimms asked her brother James B. Rose, the executor of Drury’s estate, to sell Drury’s mill. With no immediate prospects of a second marriage in sight, the widowed mother was desperate to receive the income from the sale to provide for her children Gideon M. and Virginia R. Mimms, as well as for herself.
Gideon Mason Mimms in Logan County, Ky.
Gideon Mason Mimms was only a year and a half when his father died. For almost a decade, his mother struggled to provide for Gideon and his sister. When Gideon was eleven, his mother married John Joseph Pope of Robertson County, Tennessee. Gideon acquired an instant family of six step-brothers and sisters. He also gained some family stability. Unlike his distressful early childhood that followed his father’s passing, the few years left in his childhood were relatively comfortable.
When Gideon was twenty-two in 1876, he married Lou Ella Riley of Lickskillet. Gideon’s new father-in-law, James Albert Riley, had a harsh reputation for extreme cruelty and frugality that was downright stingy.
On the eve of the Civil War, a slave woman who had acquired her freedom through the Freedman’s Bureau escaped with a child slave who James Riley claimed to still own. Riley overtook the woman, beat her senseless with a club, and took the child back to Lickskillet. When searched for, Riley disappeared. He did so, he later stated, “to put the child out of reach of the damned Yankees.” Shortly afterward, Riley shot a Negro soldier. Once more, Riley disappeared to escape arrest. In due time, Riley was apprehended in Tennessee. He was tried for having “maltreated” Catherine Riley and found guilty. He was fined $100, almost half of which went to the freedwoman Catherine.
In time, James Albert Riley returned to Lickskillet to operate his mill. When the Bethany Church sought him out to acquire land for their house of worship, Riley sold the church one acre plus precisely an additional twenty-nine hundredths of an acre. Riley attached a caveat to the transfer that should the church convert the building to some other purpose or relocate, the land would revert to Riley.
Lou Ella Riley-Mimms Returns to Logan County
A pregnant Lou Ella was visiting her brother in Kansas Territory in Crawford County in the town of Girard. Although Lou Ella suspected she would give birth to twins, she was pregnant in fact with triplets. Around midnight between September 9 and 10 in 1892, Lou Ella gave birth to three children. The last of the three to be born was named Eddie Bernard Mimms.
The first and second-born of Lou Ella and Gideon’s triplets were two females named Addie and Ettie Belle Mimms. As a child, Eddie Bernard Mimms chose to call himself Bill, so there would be no confusion among the three siblings Addie, Ettie, and Eddie Mimms. The name Bill Mimms stuck with Eddie Bernard Mimms for the rest of his life.
Eddie Bernard “Bill” Mimms Hightails to California
Events in Girard, Crawford County, Kansas, where his uncle lived, eventually impacted the life of Bill Mimms.
The strip mines of Carbon Creek offered the only employment around Girard. The need for miners was so great, word was sent to Eastern Europe to recruit young immigrant men to come to Kansas. Girard was flooded by a wave of immigration from Balkan countries.
Ambitious Bill Mimms associated with the Brotherhood of Local Fireman and the American Railway Union founded by Eugene V. Debs. Bill got a job with a railroad as a fireman. Working on trains, Bill hightailed from Logan County, Kentucky to the fields of the California Gold Rush. Bill was too late, though, to strike any gold. Instead, Bill found steady work on the trains pulling logs out of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
In his late teens, Bill found himself a wife, too. He married Pearl Myone Rogers. Within a year, Wyatt Leon Mimms was born to the couple. For whatever misfortune, the marriage did not last long. Young Wyatt soon was living with his mother in San Luis Obispo, California, not too far from the town of Paso Robles, founded by Drury Woodson James. Later, Wyatt and his mother relocated to Santa Cruz, where his mother remarried.
“I know that Grandpa Bill did not like Jesse James, because of the outlaw reputation. My grandpa did have a Rebel flag always hanging in the house, and he identified with that.” – Lilly Martin Sahiounie
Six years of single life had passed before Bill met and married Henrietta Keller. Like Bill, Etta also had been married before. She brought a one-year-old child to their marriage. The child’s name was Billy Joe Martin.
The couple moved to Sultana, California. There, Bill bought a new home for Etta, paying $1,000 with his cash savings. In this house, Etta bore Bill two children of his own. The couple raised their combined three children as one family.
Bill worked as an equipment operator, maintaining the county roads of Tulare County. For 32 years, Etta worked in tandem with the fruit pickers of the field worker’s movement. Etta was a fruit packer around Dinuba. With their joint income, Bill and Etta visited Kentucky in the ‘30s and later in the ‘50s, to maintain ties with Bill’s relatives among the Mimms.
Bill died in 1967. Etta followed in 1985. Etta occupied their home for all of 51 years. Today, Bill and Etta’s two children who lived in Fresno, California are deceased now. One daughter survives. She lives in Montgomery County, Alabama. Lilly Martin Sahiounie maintains contact with her on a daily basis.
Etta’s first child Billy Joe Martin also grew up and married. The couple gave birth to Lilly Martin who is now Lilly Martin Sahiounie, living in Syria.
Bill Mimms is the only father and grandfather Billy and Lilly Martin ever knew. If you ask them, Bill Mimms is not just their biological ancestor. They continue to speak of Bill Mimms as their father and grandfather and consider him so.
Lilly’s immediate motivation for studying this Mimms family line of ancestors is to understand the relationship between Wayne Homer Mimms, a half-brother of Wyatt Leon Mimms, and her father Billy Joe Martin. The two were lifelong friends, as well as cousins. They also link Lilly and her family to the Mimms family.
It was Lilly’s father, Billy Joe Martin, who re-discovered Wyatt Leon Mimms. In Honolulu, Hawaii in 1945, Billy Joe Martin looked inside a bar-room telephone book. There, he found Wyatt listed!
The Restless Flight of Wyatt Leon Mimms
Little is known about the childhood of Wyatt Leon Mimms. The boy grew up in the household of his mother Pearl Myone Rogers Mimms and his step-father. He visited his biological father Billy Mimms often. That is about all that can be said, other than, Wyatt must have been a restless person. When he grew to adulthood, Wyatt took flight.
The research of Lilly Martin Sahiounie is voluminous. It would compose a small book quite nicely. For purposes here of clarity and brevity, the story of Wyatt Leon Mimms might best be represented in the following timeline.
1917: born in Hooker, Oklahoma
1920: living with his mother in Santa Cruz, California
1930: living in Santa Cruz with his mother and step-father
1936: issued a marriage license in Reno, Nevada to marry his first wife, Catherine Chilcote of Powder River, Montana, on November 10th
1936: arrested on December 20th, following his marriage, in Reno for disorderly conduct
1938: when he was an office clerk at the Pasatiempo Country Club in Santa Cruz, California, Wyatt married a second time to Virginia Helen Hill. He later is employed as an usher at the Santa Cruz Theater
1939: a first child is born to Virginia and Wyatt. The child’s name is not known
1940: their second child, Wanda Mimms, is born. Later in the years when the U.S. Census is taken, Virginia and Wanda are each identified as a “lodger,” living in San Jose, California
1941: Wyatt, while on duty in Hawaii as a police officer, is witness to the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan
1942: Wyatt arrives in Honolulu aboard the K.V. Japara from the Canton Island of Kiribati in Micronesia on March 20 to work with the Hawaiian Construction Company on development of the Maryknoll School in Honolulu
1942: On December 31 Wyatt is mustered into the U.S. Armed Services
1943: Wyatt marries his third wife, Lila Kananioehowa Lee in the Hawaii Court of Domestic Relations on May 23rd
1947: Wyatt arrives in Honolulu aboard the S.S. Matsonia from Los Angeles and San Francisco
1948: On the 4th of July Wyatt marries his fourth wife Josephine Ruby West of Boise, Idaho in the Central Union Church
1949: Wyatt arrives in Hawaii aboard the S.S. Lurline with Josephine. Again he is employed as a police officer
About 1952: Wyatt marries his fifth wife Jeanne June.
1953: Rodney Mimms is born to Jeanne June and Wyatt
1955: Wyatt is working as an agent for the GTE telephone company, a job he will hold until at least 1970. Josephine is a clerk for Standard Oil
1956: Josephine departed Nandi, Hawaii to travel to the mainland United States alone on January 23rd
1957: While still working for the GTE telephone company, now as a chief special agent, Wyatt flies aboard Pan American World Airways on March 22 to San Francisco alone
1976: Wyatt sells property in Hawaii that was held in the name of Wyatt and Margaret L. Mimms. The precise relationship between Wyatt and Margaret is unknown
1981: Wyatt’s granddaughter, Taryn D. Brewer, is born in California
1982: Wyatt obtains a divorce on May 26th from Virginia Helen Mimms in Alameda County Court in California
1982: Wyatt marries Margie Belle Hunnicutt on June 6th in Las Vegas, Nevada. The couple establish their home in Visalia, California, but travel extensively “living life to the fullest.” The marriage will last 26 years. This represents the most settled and stable period of Wyatt’s life
1994: Virginia Hill Mimms is recorded living in Berkeley, California, with a former residence in Sylacauga, Talladega County, Alabama
2000: On October 1st, Virginia is last recorded living in Paris, Texas.
2005: Margie Hunnicutt Mimms dies in a rest home on April 14th in Visalia, California
2005: Margaret R. Mimms paid taxes in Hawaii on May 16th
2005: Wyatt dies in a rest home on August 18th in Placerville, California
Do You Know Where Virginia Hill Mimms Is?
Nothing would be known about this Mimms family line were it not for Virginia Hill Mimms gone missing and the research of Lilly Martin Sahiounie. Virginia is last identified in 1949, living in Berkeley, California. Somewhere in the world of Mimms family genealogy, the rest of this story is waiting to be discovered.
Beating the Bushes for How Daniel Lewis James Jr. Died
Who says how you die? Over the weekend I was talking with Martha Diehl, the granddaughter of Daniel Lewis James Jr. Dan is the blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter and subject of the chapter “All for the Underdog” in Jesse James Soul Liberty. Martha commented about Dan and how he died. “He died instantly of an aneurysm in his kitchen while fetching a piece of bread for his pet rabbit.” That was how Martha received the news of Dan’s passing from her mother, Barbara James.
The New York Times reported Dan’s passing far less personally.
OBITUARY New York Times DANIEL LEWIS JAMES IS DEAD AT 77; WROTE ABOUT LOS ANGELES BARRIO By EDWIN MCDOWELL Published: May 21, 1988 LEAD: Daniel Lewis James, who startled the literary world when he was revealed to be the author of a prize-winning novel about a Mexican-American family in a Los Angeles barrio, died Wednesday at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula in Monterey, Calif.
Martha complains, “Dan died at home, not at CHOMP,” i.e. Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula.
And yet, Dan’s death certificate, issued by Monterey County in California, produced a third and entirely different story. Monterey County cites the cause of Dan’s death in clinical terms as a heart attack and “severe coronary atherosclerosis.”
Somehow, all three reports perfectly reflect the multi-dimensional personality of Daniel Lewis James Jr. who practiced the art of multiple identities. You can suspect Dan scripted the three scenarios himself, each for a different audience.
Here’s laughing with you, Daniel Lewis James Jr.
Hunting for Elk Run Farm of Capt. John James 1708/09-1778 & Dinah Allen 1716-1800
Thanks to the recent appearance of an old map, the location of their Elk Run farm and its James cemetery can now be identified. This has been a hunt in progress for years. This also is where the Capt. James and Dinah Allen are presumed to be buried.
Elk Run Farm is central to the triangular points of the Potomac River, Washington D.C. and the town of Culpeper. From this location, the James family financed George Washington with specie during the Revolution.
This family also is a progenitor of Benjamin James, the Indian Trader, whose children Susannah and Benjamin James “of the Choctaw” went forward to become integral elements of the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations.
Furthermore from Elk Run Farm, their daughter Elizabeth James and her spouse John “Old Wisdom” Bradford migrated into the Kentucky frontier where John Bradford founded the Kentucky Gazette. The newspaper recorded the events surrounding the early founding of the Commonwealth and remains a seminal course of Kentucky’s first history.
As well, Capt. John James and Dinah Allen of Elk Run Farm are 2nd great grand uncle & aunt of Frank & Jesse James, as well as of John James “of Alvarado.” Among the James family, Elk Run Farm is an important key factor and geographic location point in the genealogical origination of the James family.
Susannah James-Colbert and Jane James-Wilson are a granddaughter and a 2nd great-granddaughter respectively of Capt. John James and Dinah Allen. For more on their kinship, both can be found in the special Choctaw/Chickasaw genealogy database on Stray Leaves.
Recently, young filmmakers used Ward Hall as a backdrop for the film short below. We wish we had known these talented young filmmakers when we visited Georgetown. Back then we were looking for someone to video our events. Maybe another time.
Dalton Gang Photographer Also Photographed the James
An incoming photographic artifact to the James Preservation Trust, courtesy of James family descendant Geoff Saunders, amplifies the story of Joseph McJames and the Dalton Gang robbery in Coffeyville. Mack’s son Daniel Ephraim James was captured in the robbery while it was in progress. The story also appears in Chapter Three of Jesse James Soul Liberty, titled “Goodland.” Contributor Geoff Saunders is a 2nd great-grandson of Mary Ellen James and a 3rd great-grandson of Joseph McJames.
Mack’s daughter, Mary Ellen James who is Daniel Ephraim James’ sister, had her photo portrait taken in Coffeyville. Her photographer was W.H. Clark. He is the same photographer who took the iconic image of the dead Dalton Gang body lineup following the robbery. Clark’s son, Ray H. Clark known as Champ, also appears in the body lineup photo. Champ Clark is peering over his hand through the fence, as his father took the historic photo.
Later, W.H. Clark purchased Bob Dalton’s gun from Dalton’s estate. The gun was used in the robbery. Clark’s son, Ray H. “Champ” Clark, inherited the pistol on his father’s passing. Champ then bequeathed the gun to his step-son Richard H. McGregor, whose widow put the gun up for auction in 2005 with proceeds to be donated to charity.
Exploring State Representative A.J. James in the Old Kentucky State Capitol
I’ve sat in this legislative chamber of the Old State Capitol in Kentucky a couple of times before. In honor of President’s Day this year, the Kentucky General Assembly did the same.
Usually, I was alone as I tried to imagine the chamber filled with legislators. Among them was Andrew Jackson “A.J.” James who was a state representative from 1855 to 1857. There would be observers in the balcony then. The chamber was smokey, crowded, and loud, even when someone was speaking. Stateliness was not a requirement in the antebellum era.
Democrats from Pulaski County nominated their favorite son A.J. James in 1875 to succeed Gov. Preston Leslie. Under Leslie, A.J. served as Kentucky’s Attorney General. He also had been Secretary of State under Gov. Beriah Magoffin and mayor of Frankfort. Ultimately, A.J. lost the nomination to James McCreary. Family lore says A.J’s wife didn’t want A.J. to run. Instead, McCreary was elected Governor of Kentucky. By then, I believe, A.J. was ready to walk away from political life. He withdrew to become President of Farmer’s Bank of Frankfort.
Louisville International Airport to be Renamed for Our James Cousin, Muhammad Ali
Recent research by Stray Leaves established that Muhammad Ali is a 2nd cousin, 3 generations removed of Frank & Jesse James. Ali also has a second line of supporting kinship to the James brothers through Rev. Jeremiah Vardeman.
Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Ali has been Louisville’s favorite son for a long time. He is widely honored. Renaming Louisville International Airport for Ali could not be a more appropriate honor. Muhammad Ali is one of Louisville’s finest exports.
Land Patents of This Bloody Ground
Readers of This Bloody Ground, the forthcoming Vol. II of the Jesse James Soul Liberty quintet, will get a heavy dose of source data about the Kentucky frontier life of Jesse & Frank James’ grandfather, John M. James. Early Land Patents of Kentucky were culled extensively in preparation for the book. This voluminous research took more than a decade. These patents will give you an idea of the sources that were consulted. These are sources that have gone ignored for too long by the traditional historians of the Jesse James story. This is one reason why This Bloody Ground will be a ground-breaking history of its own when it is published. Get ready to have your preconceptions of Jesse James rattled when you read this history that has never been researched, written, or told.
The following letter of David Daniel “D.D.” James to his daughter Bessie James-Gaston leaves much unsaid. Topping the list, D.D.’s lack of knowledge about his James ancestry is abundantly evident. Beyond his father Thomas James, D.D. knew little, if anything at all about his ancestral James family who preceded him and his father.
The Message is Significant for its Omissions
While Bessie did not ask him directly to account their family history, D.D. did omit to say anything to his daughter about his life, his work history, or the family businesses. D.D.’s lengthy letter states nothing about his education at West Point or his subversive intelligence activity in the Civil War. While D.D.’s letter makes occasional references to Hyde’s Ferry in Nashville and the family residence there on the land where Frank and Jesse James later lived after the war, D.D. is plainly silent about the Bank of Commerce in Nashville, where his brother John Duke James was the bank’s president and D.D. was the bank’s cashier.
Most glaringly, D.D. is entirely tacit about the Forks of the Road slave market in Natchez, Mississippi. D.D., his brothers John Duke and Thomas Green James, with their associate Benjamin F. Cochran in Richmond, Virginia operating as James & Cochran, were slave traders in the years leading up to the Civil War.
Letter Prompts Intense Research Probe
This significant letter has laid the groundwork for a decade of new research into this hidden and lost branch of the James family tree. In recent years, an abundance of new information has risen from the deep South. This new knowledge surprisingly has tied together many unexplained discoveries of the past.
The Intelligence Explains Previous Discoveries
The origination point of James City, now Leon in Madison County, Virginia & Rev. Daniel James
The family of Phillip Henry James in Charlottesville, Tennessee
The West Point & military service of the brothers Maj. Robert Allen Williams James, Allen E.L. James, and Col. William Henry Williams James of White Bluff, Dickson County, Tennessee
John Graves James, Mississipi merchant, and planter who returned to Fayette County, Kentucky to plant hemp and found the Second Agricultural Bank of Kentucky, the progenitor of Commerce Bank of Lexington, Kentucky
The James in-law descendants of Capt. James Finnie, the migrant from Culpeper & Madison Counties in Virginia to Woodford County to Logan Counties in Kentucky, and founder of Union County, Kentucky
The 24-year career as Kentucky State Representative & Senator Thomas Henry James of Morganfield, Union County, Kentucky
The role of Choctaw & Chickasaw descendants of Benjamin James “of the Choctaw” and Susannah James in tribal leadership, enslavement, education, and the Trail of Tears migration into the West, including the three known James students of Choctaw Academy in Georgetown, Kentucky
Most significantly, these family ties explain the protection and comfort zone afforded to Frank & Jesse James during their residency in Tennessee.
Source Citation for the Corespondence
Katherine B. Gaston (granddaughter of D.D. James) August 28, 2004
Upon my mother’s request of her father he, being near 90 years old he wrote her, I think from memory about each part of his family. It was written in pencil by hand and I think most interesting. His original letter is in my lock box at Peoples National Bank.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Minor editing has been applied to D.D.’s letter for purposes of readability and clarity. Editor notes have been added within the text and appear in italics.
Tecumseh, Oklahoma July 22, 1902
Mrs. Bessie Gaston Tyler, Texas
My dear Daughter:
As you request I will give you a short history of my father’s family from memory as told to me different times by my mother. I was only a little over six years old when he died and too young to learn much from him, I shall simply relate facts as told them to me and avoid as far as possible attaching blame to anyone.
Thomas James 1745-1825
My father, Thomas James, died in August 1825, and his age as marked on his tomb stone in the family burying ground in Tennessee is 81 years nine months; counting back, his birth must have been 1744. The family was from Wales. I do not remember his father’s name but he (his father) had a brother Daniel James (the Baptist preacher). There is where my middle name came from. The family was a large one and settled in Culpeper County, Virginia.
John D. James’ third wife, Kate Wheatley [Mary Catherine “Kate” Wheatley 1829-1908], was born and raised in Culpeper County and when they went back there in 1863, he reported the family numerous and scattered all over the County. I have found Jameses everywhere And once when en route to Richmond, I landed from a steamboat at Wheeling, Virginia, and registered on the Stage register. Next morning when names were called to take their seats, my name was called, D.D. James; I answered and a young man about my age answered. The company he was with showed his seat and in the hurry, he took it and I had no chance to talk to him.
Father took offense at something his father said or did and left home when he was 17 years old and never went back. He must have written home for some of his relatives visited him in Tennessee. He worked his way to New Orleans, got sick, spent all his money and watch and was wandering about the streets a mere skeleton when an old Indian met him and told him to go home with him and he would cure him. He did so, they fed him on bear meat and he soon got well and strong. This must have been about 1762. He got to trading on an Indian drink, they called Taffa, furs, bear, deer, and other game and got rich, for 1782 found him a merchant in Palmyra of Grand Gulf on the left bank of the Mississippi River, 360 miles above New Orleans and the owner of five or six thousand acres of rich land, ten or a dozen Negroes, immense number of stock, horses and cattle, a mill, a store full of goods and most for the Indian trade and was a married man.
All Louisiana then included about ten of our States; was owned by Spain and its purchase from France by the United States in 1803 will be commemorated by a fair at St. Louis next year.
The Spaniards came up there, levied heavy contribution on the people and gave them so many hours to take the oath of allegiance to the Spanish Government. That night father left with such articles as he could pack upon such horses as the Negroes could catch and went into the forest, intending to keep in hiding until the Spaniards left but they did not leave until they had stripped the people of everything, and desolated the country. Effort was made to get Congress to give the heirs some compensation for their loss, but in vain. The Government would not do anything. Father lived with the Indians several years and worked his way up to Nashville and bought the old homestead on Cumberland River, 640 acres. The date of his settlement there is not known but I see his name on my Davidson County history as a taxpayer in 1787.
He was very popular with Indians, especially with the Choctaws and Chickasaws. They wanted to make him their chief and they made him frequent visits to his home on the Cumberland in squads of 40 or 50 trying to persuade him to go back and I recollect one squad that came after his death. This was their last visit. These visits must have been kept up for twenty years or more at this time.
For years father’s first wife [Anna Sturns] was an invalid and my mother was hired to nurse her. Mother has told me that she used to take her up in her arms and carry her about like a baby. How long this state of things continued I do not know. The invalid made the match between them and they were married shortly after her death, about 1799; father’s age about 55 and she 18 and weighed 180 pounds.
Elizabeth Duke James 1779-1849
Mother’s maiden name was Elizabeth Duke. She was and is my beau ideal of womanly excellence; no other human being ever could rival her in my memory’s secret place. In her all-female excellence centered, she was my heart’s ideal in infancy, boyhood, youth, and manhood. I never saw a picture of her but her features are still stamped upon my heart and I can see her at any time. For years after she was gone, every time temptation assailed me, I could see her standing by me and often has her fancied guardianship averted evil. All through her life of trouble and sorrows she stood finer than Gibraltar’s rock for the right and when assailed by the greatest dangers, she seemed to be strongest. I never heard her speak an indelicate word or perform an unwomanly action. Her education was very limited yet her company was sought by the learned and unlearned alike. Her house was always the Preacher’s home, the needy were never turned away empty-handed. The afflicted was always visited night and day; and when at 9 o’clock on the night of 29th of June, 1849, I closed her eyes in death, I could not realize that my dearest, truest and best friend left me.
Cholera had made its appearance in our family on the Cumberland that morning and five died the first day; mother, sister Mary, Brother John’s wife, Mary [Elizabeth Duke-James 1779-1849, Mary Tennessee James 1801-1849, Mary Elizabeth “May Eliza” Scott-James 1829-1949] and two Negroes and in ten days had buried fifteen; five whites and ten Negroes. [The three children of John Duke James and Mary Elizabeth Scott also expired from cholera on that fateful day: Unknown child James 1845-1849, S.H.C. James 1848-1849, and W.E. James 1849-1849 bringing to a total of eighteen of one household deceased on one day.]
John Duke Jr. 1751-aft 1803
Somewhere about the close of the century [18th century], John Duke moved with his family from Wake County, North Carolina, eight miles from Raleigh and settled on White’s Creek where Dan Young lived. His children numbered ten; three males and seven females, all about grown. He was either a widower when he came or his wife died sometime soon after and a stepmother came in who must have been a terror. She scattered the family like a covey of birds. My mother left and hired to father and the others got homes as best they could by marriage or otherwise but all did well. I will give a short sketch of each one.
Martha “Patsy” Duke 1783-Unk.
Aunt Patsy was a beautiful woman, a devoted Christian and everybody loved her. She married Matthew Brooks and settled in Jackson County, Tennessee near the Smith County line. Her children were two girls, Elizabeth, who married a Mr. Daniels and Martha married a Mr. Sadler. She was the prettiest woman in all that country at that time. Brooks took to drink in his old age and made a dog of himself.
Mary “Polly” Duke 1781-Unk.
Aunt Polly married Henry Hyde [1774-1835 of Hyde’s Ferry], a brother of the five Hydes in our old neighborhood, Dick Jordan, Ben, Taswell and Edmund, who owned nearly all the land from Hyde’s Ferry to Hickman’s Ferry and were the richest men in that county at the time. After the old men died, the children went to rack, mostly. Henry Hyde settled on Mill Creek, 9 miles South of Nashville. Their children were Maria [1807-1868], who married a Mr. Carden [Allen Dickenson Carden 1792-1859] and lived in Nashville. Their (Maria and Mr. Carden’s) children were three; Maria [1824-1863], who married Dr. [John Spray] Parks [1819-1908-09] of Franklin; Martha [1827-1847] married Charles Bosley and were said to be the handsomest couple ever in Nashville. I used to think they were perfect models of beauty but they did not live long. And [Henry] Hyde Carden [1831-1862, Harrodsburg, Mercer Co. Ky. resulting from wounds in the Battle of Perryville, Ky.], I lost sight of; I think he died young. Mary [Duke Hyde 1819-1891] a beautiful but vain and foolish woman, married [Augustine Watt] A.W. Butler [1804-1887], who stood high in Nashville business circles. They raised a numerous family but I never knew what became of them. Elizabeth [Hyde 1819-1869] married James [Madison] Green [1812-1883] and lived near Nolensville, fifteen miles south of Nashville. I never knew anything about their family. Their three boys, Edmund, Irvin, and Jordan grew to manhood and all turned out badly.
Charlotte Green “Lottie” Duke 1785-Unk.
Aunt Lottie married Robert [Luke] Duke [1775-1845], a distant relative. They lived near the mouth of Harpeth, had one child, [Green] Wesley Duke [1813-1860], who married [Rhoda Ann] Simpkins [1822-1894]. You knew some of his girls.
Nancy Ann Duke 1773-Unk.
Aunt Nancy married Jeremiah Ellis [1770-1845] and lived down near Wade’s Schoolhouse and grange hall near Hickman’s Ferry. They raised a large family of boys and one girl, [Charlotte Green] Chalott [Ellis 1808-1884], the mother of your Cousin, [Sarah] Ellen [James 1842-1912], who married old John Cato and afterward John Simpkins. Charlotte married my brother Joseph [W. James 1800-1850]. They moved to Randolph County, Arkansas and died in Pochahontas, the County Seat, where they raise a large family of girls and one boy, who joined the Southern Army and died of smallpox.
Sallie Duke 1771-Unk.
Aunt Sally married Eubanks and lived in West Tennessee. Aunt Burchit lived in West Tennessee too. I never knew much of either of them, though I have seen them.
Father sold his place on the Cumberland about 1810 or 1812 and moved with his family to Union County, Kentucky and bought a farm near Morgansfield and County Seat.
Elizabeth Dulaney “Eliza Duke” James Abt 1794-Bef 1902
My oldest sister Elizabeth was the first to marry. She ran away and married James Finnie [III 1789-Bef 1856], son of “Old Captain Finnie” [James Finnie Jr. 1752-1819] of the Union County, Kentucky, a man that stood high in his community. His son was remarkable for his good looks and laziness. He had no force of character. They had one child which she named Thomas James Finnie [1813-1886] who grew up with considerable talent. He was employed by the British Government who sent him to India on a big salary to teach the natives how to raise cotton. He made a success of the cotton-raising but came back poor, having spent his large salary splurging with English nobility, studied law and at the outbreak of war, entered the Southern army and the close in 1865, married a very estimable Virginia lady [Sarah Jane Moore 1832-1917] with considerable property. I forget her name. I saw her and her daughter, [Rosa Lee] Rose [1870-1898], at Abilene, Texas in 1887, where he had died the year before. Their son T.J. Finnie [1867-1955], was in Dallas. He has since married in Dallas. Rose was a beautiful girl of 17. Her mother told me she had to take her from school on account of her beauty; the boys were always in a fuss about her. This is all I know of their history. The family seemed to be poor.
From: The McGavocl Family, A Genealogical History of James McGavock and His Descendants from 1760 to 1903, by Robert Gray, p. 85
Thomas James Finnie… He, son of James Finnie and his wife Elizabeth Duke James, was born in Union county, Ky., 15 September 1814. His grandfather, Thomas James, was English charge de-affairsto the Spanish colonial government at Natchez Mississippi; and in the war between Spain and France he was taken a prisoner, but made his escape and became one of the early settlers near Nashville, Tenn. In 1840, Major Finnie was made the agent of the East India Company to introduce and superintend the American mode of cotton culture in India, and was thus engaged until 1849, when he re turned home, remaining in Virginia until 1882, when he moved to Dallas, Texas, and died in Abilene, Texas, 7 October, 1886.
In the meantime, after father moved back from Kentucky to see the old farm which he had taken back from Gilbert about 1820, Sister Elizabeth married again against parental advice, a Mr. Yarborough and went with him to Florence, Alabama. After about two years she stole away from and walked and carried her one-year-old boy, William Lafayette Yarborough, all the way back home, 110 miles. This boy grew up to very brilliant young man, was liberally educated, started out teaching and died at Mrs. Peoples in Lowndes County, Mississippi. My father had told her that if she went with Yarborough, she never would come back so he built her a small house near where the pond now is and she lived there with her two little boys until she married Charles Davis, a book-binder, a man her inferior in every way. By him she had three more children, Julia Tennepec [sic: i.e. Tennessee], Samuel Hopkins, and Benjamin Franklin. The former James B. McDonald and settled at Anderson, Texas. Samuel never married, died in Tennessee and Ben married and owned a newspaper at Corsicana, Texas. Sister Elizabeth had a fine mind and was capable of being brilliant but hers was a hard lot. She told her mother she died with a broken heart.
Charlotte “Chalott” James 1799-1817
The next one of my sisters to marry was Chalott. She too ran away and married Abner Davis [1797-1877] while the family lived in Kentucky. Davis was rich and was afterward a member of Congress. One child was born, Julia Greenfield [1817-aft 1901] and my sister died at birth. Mother took the child and raised it, nursing it with her own child, Ann, who was born two weeks after its birth. Davis never contributed anything to its support. The child grew up as win sister to Sister. Married first Edmund Powell [1835-unk] and lived at the place we called Cedarvale. She had four Powell children, James l., Abner D., John and Edna all of whom are dead. She then married James B. McDonald [1792-1893] of Carthage, Tennessee, father of the man the other Julia Davis married and is now living in Carthage and is over 85 years old.
Martha Field “Patsy” James 1806-1862
My next sister to marry was Martha Field. Patsy, we called her. She too ran away and married Hiram Welles [1795-1836]. This was after the family came back to Tennessee and took possession of the farm on the Cumberland and must have been about 1818. So you see three of my oldest sisters ran away to marry and all under fifteens years old. Sister Patsy and ten or twelve children, more than half of whom did not live to be grown. Welles was an industrious, pushing fellow; accumulated good property and died of heart trouble about 1838, generally respected by his neighbors. She then married Thomas C. Simpkins [abt.1819-unk.]. They had one child, Albert, who is still living about Nashville. Neither of them lived long after Albert’s birth. The other children, you knew. Martha married Robert Cato. Eliza married Barnes and afterward Russell, John and Jeff Welles, you know never did much good.
Mary Tennessee James 1801-1849
My next sister, Mary Tennessee never married. I suppose she was deterred by conduct of her older sisters but she had more chances than any woman I ever knew, generally speaking. She was never without a beau after she was sixteen until her heart failed. She had beaux from every direction. One from Kentucky, and a wealthy farmer and stock man and from the counties around and she never went to church without one or more gallanting her home and after her death 1849. I took a letter from the Post Office addressed to her from Arkansas containing a proposition of marriage from Burrell Lee, a Methodist preacher, who rode our circuit when a young man and I think was one of her discarded suitors. I answered his letter and told him of her death. I saw Lee’s obituary in the Advocate several years ago. He lived to be about ninety. I once asked her why she never married and she told me that a third cousin of hers, John G. James [1797-1874], spent several weeks at father’s when a young man and she was about sixteen and she loved him and never could love any other man. He went to Rodney, Miss. And made a fortune merchandising, married a Miss Springer of Adams County, went to Lexington, Kentucky, bought a farm in the vicinity and raised a large family. He never knew that my sister loved him.
Juliana G. James 1817-1866
My youngest sister, Juliana G. James, married John McClaren of Carthage, Tennessee, and elder in the Cumberland Church but in every way unworthy of her. She died at my house in Nashville in May 1866, aged forty-nine, from effects of an operation by Dr. Briggs for ovarian dropsy. She was a sweet Christian.
Joseph W. James 1800-1850
Brother Joseph W., I think was my oldest brother. He traded a fine horse for a farm in Randolph County, Arkansas and moved to it but did not like it. He rented it out and settled in Pocahontas, the county seat, kept hotel and was County Judge for many years. In early manhood, he married his first cousin, Charlotte [Green “Chalott”] Ellis [1808-1884]. They had seven or eight daughters and one son who was about eighteen when the civil war commenced. He joined the Southern army and died of small pox. I think in about 1862.
John Duke James Sr. 1808-1899
John Duke was married three times, first to Miss Mary [Elizabeth “May Eliza”] Scott [1829-1849], daughter of Samuel Scott of Jefferson County, Miss. They were summering at the old homestead in Tennessee and on the 29th of June 1849 all died of cholera, mother and three beautiful boys. The oldest lingered several months and I brought his corpse up from hatches and buried him beside his mother and little brothers in the old family burying ground. His second wife was widow Shelby, whose maiden name was Maria [Elizabeth] Delaney [1824-aft 1857] of Morganfield, Kentucky. She died, I think in 1857 leaving four children. Mary [Elizabeth James 1853-1871], Mattie (twins) [1852-unk.], Lucy [abt 1855-unk.] and John D. Jr. [1856-abt 1947]. The former was sacrificed in marriage to [Ethelbert Henry] E.H. Hatcher [Jr. 1847-1917] and did not live long. The latter to Dr. Siddons, all of whom are living. Lucy is still living with her husband, D.W. Childress near Nashville. John D. Jr. is married and lives in Arizona. He married this third wife in Memphis in 1863. She was Kate Wheatley of Culpepper County, Virginia. Their children were four; two boys and two girls. Katy, Anna, Wheatley and Thomas. Katy died in California when nearly grown. The others are still living and married. My brother John D. lived to be ninety one. His widow survives him.
The next of my brothers is nameless, having died in infancy.
George Washington James Abt 1812-Abt 1864
George Washington was my fifth brother. He was reckless don’t care sort of fellow. Had rather fight than work. Went to Texas in 1836, fell in love with Julia Cook on the vessal crossing the gulf, married her, joined the Texas army, fought in every battle including San Jacinto. Got a great deal of land from the State, squandered it and died poor as a church mouse. I educated his only child, Fanny at Brenham Academy and am prouder of it than anything I ever did. I visited him in 1860 and stayed one night with them and was happy that he held prayers in his family. He was an Episcopalian and a thoroughly reformed man. He died, I think about the close of the war aged fifty-two. Fanny was eighteen the day I was there and a beautiful girl and of a sweet and lovely disposition. She corresponded with us for years and up to her death. She married a widower, Mr. Rogers and died childless in a year or so.
Henry Fletcher James 1815-1836
My sixth brother, Henry Fletcher, in my estimation was the perfect of manly beauty, of medium height and weight. He possessed all the qualities of heart and temper to make him a perfect gentleman and carried his nobility in such a manner that no mortal could ever dare to question it; modest and unassuming yet so decided in manner and bearing that no one could doubt the nobility of his character. Everybody loved him and evil doers would stop to think before incurring his displeasure. Such was the boy at school, such was the man. Every lineament of those countenance, very word, every action showed invincible decision, always companionable, always playful, always ready for any turn of things might take, he was a hero amongst the girls as a boy and when grown to manhood, though he never seemed to try his skill in that line. He was a protector at school and at home. If ever a larger boy whipped me, Brother Henry was sure to whip him no matter how much bigger he was, it made no difference. He always whipped him. I reckon this will account for much of my idolatry. Oh, how I loved him and when the letter came announcing his death, I was bereaved indeed. John D. was farming Jefferson County, Miss. And in 1836 Henry went to spend a year with him and took congestive fever and died and was buried in the Rodney burying ground near the age of twenty-one. My brother was not professionally a Christian but I cannot cease to hope through God’s boundless mercy of Christ’s sake that when the last trumpet shall sound and all nations be gathered at the great white throne, I shall then see my brother with the redeemed, washed in the blood of the Lamb.
I shall now turn to my mother’s three brothers which I should have finished before taking up my mother’s family.
Philemon “Phillip” Duke 1775-Unk.
Uncle Phillip Duke settled in Montgomery County, near the Davidson County line and raised a large family. His wife had the reputation of being the laziest woman in the county. Her chief occupation was eating, smoking and sitting in the chimney corner but her two daughters married well. Uncle Phil was a pretty good old time farmer. His boys did pretty well. William married Martha Simpkins.
Josiah Green Duke 1772-1835
Uncle Josiah was the aristocrat of the family. He kept up more style than any of them. One of his boys was a big Methodist preacher. I don’t think the family was a large one. The brothers’ homes were not more than seven or eight miles apart.
Micajah Cagger “Kage” Duke 1777-Aft 1865
Uncle Micjah was the youngest of the boys and a great worker. He settled in Smith County near the line of Jackson, five or six miles from his sister Patsy Brooks and made a fortune raising tobacco. He would make his own boats every fall, put his hogsheads of tobacco on them and float them down to New Orleans, sell boats, tobacco and all and bring back lots of cash, buy more land and Negroes and raise more tobacco. His first wife brought his twelve children and his second thirteen, twenty five in all and all boys but one girl, Ann. I think he raised about all of them and he was rich enough to give them all a farm and settle them around him. I have seen cousin Ann walking bare foot five or six miles to church, with shoes and stockings tied up in her handkerchief and she a grown woman and uncommonly large. She married well and was an excellent housekeeper. I do not know the name of Uncle “Kage’s” first wife but his second was a very pretty girl named Cynthia, an orphan raised by Aunt Patsy Brooks. Soon after he became a widower he mounted his horse, rode over to his sister’s, talked with her a while to arrange matters with Cynthia, mounted his horse, took Cynthia behind him first to the nearest squire, then home gave her orders set her to work and all was done with the loss of perhaps half days time. I went to see them several years after and Cynthia was spinning and laughing; would scarcely stop the wheel long enough to tell me howdy. Laughing all the time. I knew her soul of sincerity and Queen Victoria was never half so happy. Who would put on style at the expense of such happiness. What workers! Up every morning in time to get to the field by the time it was light enough to see how to work. Their meals brought to them in the field. They never stopped as long as it was light enough to see how to work. Such was the tread mill of this man who at least obeyed a part of the fourth commandment to work. Not a penny was spent that could possibly be avoided.
Not a moment lost for lack of a forethought. Not a horse ridden when the rider was able to walk; he must rest to be fresh to begin his week’s work, Monday. This indomitable worker at the head of his sons working with his army of Negroes lived to be somewhere in his nineties, respected, if not loved by all his neighbors. The last I heard of his boys, they were trading in their father’s steps, getting richer each succeeding year for they were the stingiest set I ever saw. I went with mother when a little boy to visit Uncle Kage, whom she had not seen in many years. He fell out with her about the division of property and had cut her off as an enemy. The old lady put on the war paint and took the war path determined to settle the difference. After two days of hard travel on horse back for there were no carriages or buggies then and no roads fit for them, we rode up to the incorrigible one’s yard fence about an hour after dark and called him. To my boyish judgment the old man seemed obstinate for a while but could not resist his sister’s determination to make friends. She threw herself upon his neck and talked to him and cried over him until she got him to crying and peace was made and never disturbed afterwards.
I have under the press of many hindrances and disadvantages finished this short sketch of my father’s family. I could not write with pen so took pencil. I hope you can read it. Its chief commendation is its brevity and its truthfulness. All are gone. I hope to see them all again in that bright world where the Savior is and where our conditions of life will be on a higher scale and we will have a better chance.
I am sorry I could not bring better results out of my long life but I tried to do my best and I trust our Merciful Father will look with pity on our infirmities, forgive our many mistakes and wash in the cleansing blood of our Crucified Redeemer, may we all stand justified, an unbroken family around his throne in Heaven and begin anew a life of joy and peace.
I am the last of my father’s family of twelve children. All but one lived to be grown. I am not satisfied with my life. I have tried to do right. It might have been worse. It ought to have been much better. My life will soon end, I have no fears for my future. I hope all my children will live long, do much good and all meet me in Heaven.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Alliene Gaston-Coker, a daughter of Bessie James & Finis Ewing Gaston, wrote about her own family, as well about her family’s Gaston ancestry. Like her grandfather, D.D. James, Bessie was silent about her James ancestry.
With so much to be sad and concerned about, Joseph McJames was not about to end his day unpleasantly. Writing to his daughter Mary Ellen, he could not wait to tell her about his possum.
The letter Mack received from Mary Ellen was filled with disappointment. There was the illness of Mack’s wife, too, that concerned everyone. Mack still had his house keeper Clary to rely on. At the age of 82, soon to be 83, this “fine Kentucky gentleman” as Mack was called was still in control. That discipline extended also to his possum.
10 o’clock Coffeyville, Oct. 2nd, 1901
Have just read your letter. So sorry, so sorry for you and dear Maggie. And sorry Annie did not come. I feel sure they could have gotten a wise position. I could have gotten it for them.
Don’t be uneasy about your dear mother. If any difference, she is a little better than when you left. I am watching over her both day and night. Clary is here and won’t leave until you get back home. And if she does, I will find someone else.
Everything is going right. Don’t be uneasy. Bring Maggie with you.
I will see Mr. Hunt and will box up all in safe condition.
Send a postal often. Tell us of all things. Clary is all right.
Will have a fine possum for dinner. I caught (it) in her house stealing eggs.