Thursday, March 28, 2013

John Bird, Tabitha Taylor and their grandson John James Smith

In researching my third great-grandparents, John Bird and Tabitha Taylor, it seems that they were pursuing the post-revolutionary dream and moving west to the new frontier. Okay, here’s the data: John Bird - born in South Carolina on March 30, 1780; Tabitha Taylor - born in North Carolina on October 1, 1795; married in Tennessee on April 14, 1812. John fought in the War of 1812. The John Bird family moved to Illinois before the birth of my second great-grandfather, William, who was born in 1820. Trivia fact – Illinois became a state in 1818. They owned land, had a horse mill, and raised ten children.

Nancy, Betsie, Minerva, Rhoda and our William, five of John and Tabitha’s children, were comfortable staying in Illinois. Thomas, Annis Mariah, Spicie, Isaac, and Susan traveled to the new frontier, Texas. Family tradition tells that they moved to build railroads. Census records from 1870 reveal their occupations as farmers.

John and Corrine Afton have documented a Texas historical marker commemorating John James Smith. John was the eldest son of Minerva Bird Smith, making him a grandchild of John and Tabitha. The inscription on the marker states:

            John James Smith
(March 24, 1822 - April 22, 1924)

Illinois native John James Smith came to Texas shortly before enlisting for service in the Mexican War, 1846-48. He later served as a Texas Ranger, helping protect frontier areas from attacks by hostile Indians. During the Civil War Smith joined the Confederate Army and served for four years. Following his discharge from the military, he served as City Marshall of Greenville, Texas, for two years. Smith moved to Kimble County in 1881, where he was a farmer and a respected citizen. He lived at his nearby farm home until his death at the age of 102.    

After reading this in The Bird’s and Related Families by Angie Bird, I wanted to know more about our cousin. On I found an article that had been scanned from The Star-Telegram dated November 26, 1921. This is my condensed revision of the biography.

Mr. Smith, a man weighing in at 236 pounds and standing six feet and three inches tall, developed a reputation of being a fighter during his railroad working days. Apparently there were many “watering holes” along the construction route of the Illinois Central Railroad. Well, there is always one drunk in the bar who thinks he is tough and decides to pick a fight with the biggest man around. John James Smith was the biggest man around and was not going to back from a fight. Eventually, since no one could best him one-on-one, he was jumped by a group of “drunken Irishmen”. John had a small pewter knife that he used to defend himself. Then (in my word) “opened up his can of whoop ass and put the hurt on ‘em.” He didn’t have many more confrontations during his time in Illinois. After the railroad was completed John worked as a brakeman on the section from Cairo to Ashley. Cairo (KAY-roh) is at the southern tip of the state where the Ohio and Mississippi rivers meet.

John followed relatives to Texas. This biography makes no mention of him serving during the Mexican War. It does tell of his service with the Texas Rangers, where he “chased marauding bands of Indians.” When war broke out he enlisted in the Confederate Army and served in Steven’s regiment of the Texas Cavalry. After the war he took a post as the City Marshall of Greenville, Texas. He proudly served and protected the citizens of Greenville for two years.

John left Hunt County heading west in a prairie schooner, settling in the less populated Kimble County. The author says that he was married three times and had thirteen children. Both the historical marker and the article point out that he was well respected in the community, saying he was a “man of his word.” It appears that his fighting reputation followed him throughout his life, because the author closes with these remarks, “most men chose to be his friend and never fight him a second time” and after he would “thrash a man then make him come into his house, eat a meal, and smoke a pipe.” This remarkable man, our cousin, lived to be 102 years old.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Sunday, March 24, 2013

I ordered a DNA test from Here are the results...

British Isles                  71%
Scandinavian                16%
Finnish/Volga-Ural        6%
Uncertain                       7%

I think that this explains why I cannot go out into the sunshine. I know many of you thought I was a vampire-- sleeping all day, staying up all night, and the really rare steaks....but with this DNA I might burst into flame during the day.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Family Trees

a link to the family trees I am working on

The Gilmores

The Gilmores

While reviewing my genealogical research on the Buster branch of the family tree, I thought I discovered an error. My sixth great-grandparents, John and Agnes Gilmore, shared the same date for their death. I thought I must have copied the information for one of them and wrote it in the family tree for both.

John Gilmore and Agnes Anderson were both born to Scottish parents in the Ulster Plantation of Northern Ireland. The inconsistencies in the documentation make me reticent to pinpoint birth dates and even second guess the correct parentage. However, I am sure that they were married in Coleraine, Londonderry, Ireland on 11 January 1720. I don’t know what prompted them to uproot their families, cross an ocean, and start new lives in the uncivilized British Colonies of America, but they did. It may have been the higher taxes, religious persecution, or the rumors of abundant farm land. What appears to be true is that the Gilmores were at least a modestly wealthy family. They paid for their passage to America, while other immigrants arrived as indentured servants working for their sponsor to repay the cost of their voyage.

Sometime in the middle to late 1730’s John and Agnes Gilmore, their children, three of John’s brothers, and their extended families arrived in Pennsylvania. They originally settled near the Quakers. These newly arrived Scots-Irish became a buffer zone between the Quakers and the “savage Indians.” Eventually, John and his brother James followed the wagon trails southwest and settled in Virginia among other Presbyterian Scots-Irish. We will never know if this move was due to cultural or religious differences, financial advancement, or the enticement of the adventure of exploring the western frontier.

In Virginia, there is a land deed dated 21 November 1745 in Augusta County proving that the Gilmore brothers moved. John and James purchased 500 acres of land at Kerr’s Creek for 130 Pounds Sterling from Benjamin Borden, Sr., a land speculator. In an effort to understand what 130 Pounds Sterling is today, I used a British inflation calculator, then converted that amount into US Dollars, and concluded that it would equal $37,000 today. But, if one tried to purchase land in the same area today, 50 acres would cost $300,000. Further documentation shows that three years later John Gilmore purchased an additional 250 acres adjacent to his current property.

Most Scots-Irish Presbyterians who immigrated to the Colonies were literate. Education was important in their society. John Gilmore’s appointment as a Justice of the Court is evidence of his education and status within the community.

As the Gilmores, their families, friends, and neighbors built a life on the Western Frontier, the French and English were at war once again. This time it was a battle for control of North America. The Native Americans, aspiring to stop all Europeans from taking their land, sided with the French. The Shawnee Chief Cornstalk headed many raids for the French in an effort to destroy English settlements.

Departing from Ohio in the fall of 1759, Chief Cornstalk and sixty warriors snaked their way through the mountains to the disputed Virginia border. The raiding party divided near the settlements of Greenbrier. The larger group feigned friendship, but once they acquired the colonists trust they assaulted and massacred most of them.

Simultaneously a small band of twenty-seven warriors crept over Mill Mountain. Robert Irvine, a member of the Kerr Creek community, spied the band from atop a bluff. Now Robert had to alert the community in time to avert the impending slaughter.

The first cabin along Kerr’s Creek that the raiding party attacked was that of Charles and Rebecca Daugherty. They butchered the entire family. Moving along the creek warriors assaulted Jacob Cunningham’s homestead. Jacob, who was away for the day, survived and found his wife murdered. Their ten year old daughter was knocked unconscious, scalped, and left for dead.

The next farm along the creek belonged to the Gilmores. Preparing to visit neighbors, John and Agnes were murdered and scalped. Two other family members were slain in the attack. The community had finally been alerted to the danger, but not soon enough to save five people who were slaughtered at the Robert Hamilton home.

With the alarm raised the local militia led by Charles Lewis, John Dickenson, and William Christian recruited 150 men to apprehend the marauding Indians. The militia caught up to the raiding party near what is now the West Virginia border. Twenty warriors were killed, and the militia rescued eleven hostages, and recovered seventeen horses, six white scalps, money, and blankets.

My research notes were correct. John and Agnes both died on 10 October 1759 during the First Massacre of Kerr’s Creek. Ironically while Indians slaughtered John and Agnes, their son Lt. James Gilmore served the Virginia Militia defending other settlers from attack. Life on the frontier returned to normal until Chief Cornstalk renewed hostilities in the summer of 1763.

Thomas Gilmore, another son, was a casualty of the Second Massacre of Kerr’s Creek. His wife Jenny and three of her children were spared due to Jenny’s bravery, but they were taken hostage. When Thomas was killed, Jenny risked her life by standing over her husband protecting his body from mutilation by a tomahawk-welding brave. Many of the captives’ families purchased them back from the Shawnee. Gilmore family members raised the money needed for the return of Jenny, who was sold to a fur trapper, and her son, who lived with the Shawnee. Jenny never saw or heard from her two daughters after she was sold. In 1764 Col. Henry Bouquet demanded that all captives held since the outbreak of war in 1754 be released. Some of the Kerr’s Creek residents were returned.

Martha Gilmore, granddaughter of John and Agnes, married Captain James Hall. Upon learning that Indians killed a Gilmore relative while he was hunting, Captain Hall flew into a rage. He ordered his men to kill Chief Cornstalk for this and the massacres of other relatives at Kerr’s Creek. Hall and his men assassinated Chief Cornstalk and three other Natives that were meeting at Fort Point Pleasant. Captain Hall was tried twice and finally acquitted when no witnesses appeared to testify against him.

The Gilmore descendants continued defending this new homeland. They fought in the Revolution, the War of 1812, and on both sides of the Civil War. This story of the Gilmore’s, the Scots-Irish of Virginia and the other Southern Colonies shows how resilient (or stubborn) our ancestors were. 



Family tradition passed down by my maternal grandmother, Lola, says that we are Scots-Irish. Now what does that mean? Unfortunately, Dear Reader, I need to give a history lesson.

You remember Henry VIII of England, don’t you? He was the one with all the wives and religious unrest. Anyways, in 1541 the Irish Parliament passed the Crown of Ireland Act. It stated that whoever was the King of England was also the King of Ireland.

Now here’s when the fun begins. Protestant-raised Edward VI, Henry VIII’s and third wife Jane Seymour’s son, was the first of Henry’s children to ascend to the throne. Edward abolished the mass, clerical celibacy, and decreed that all religious services were to be conducted in English. The sickly Edward died at the age of fifteen.

Next in line, Mary I, Henry’s heir from his first marriage to Catherine of Aragon, was a devout Catholic. Mary reinstated Catholicism as the official religion of England. She reinforced this by burning 280 Protestant dissenters at the stake, two from the Bird branch of our family tree. Mary reigned for five years and died without children.

The last of Henry’s children to rule England was Elizabeth I. Elizabeth was the child from the union of Henry and the beheaded Anne Boleyn. She established what is now known as the Church of England. Reigning for over 44 years, she was more religiously tolerant than her siblings. Elizabeth was labeled the “Virgin Queen”, never married or had children. Upon her death King James VI of Scotland, a Scottish Presbyterian, assumed the throne as James I as king of England, Ireland, and Scotland. James was the great grandson of Henry VIII’s sister Margaret.

King James I created the Plantation of Ulster to strengthen England’s Protestant control over the Roman Catholic population of Northern Ireland. James, unable to persuade his English subjects to migrate to Ireland, opted to entice the Protestant Presbyterian Lowland Scots to move. Over 100,000 Scottish migrated to the Ulster Plantation between 1607 and 1697. On a side note, our Highlander cousins were seen as more “wild and unruly” than the native Catholic Irish.

As the Scots-Irish of the Ulster Plantation began to prosper, laws to protect English trade were passed at the expense of the Irish. These laws were meant to only tax the Irish Roman Catholics, but instead also taxed the Presbyterian Scots-Irish. Because of this religious and economic persecution, more than 250,000 Scots-Irish immigrated to the American Colonies between 1717 and1775.

While researching the Scots-Irish I ran across a this quote: “If all else fails, I will retreat up the valley of Virginia, plant my flag on the Blue Ridge, rally around the Scotch-Irish of that region, and make my last stand for liberty amongst a people who will never submit to British tyranny whilst there is a man left to draw a trigger” George Washington at Valley Forge.

Now that the historical background has been explained, let’s learn about our Scots-Irish ancestors and their encounters in the New World. 

Who am I?

Who am I? I have always been a history nerd, so when my mother wanted to explore our family history, I was hooked. Trolling cemeteries for dates, names, and clues and prowling courthouses for birth, marriage, and death records became an adventure.

When we started this journey we hit many roadblocks, which was before the World Wide Web,, etc. Several years ago the wife of a second cousin took up the pursuit of finding our family roots. I was once again hooked on finding the relatives that made me the person that I am.

Step one is to compile the facts and figures. That part is easy. Step two is how do I bring their story to life and how do I make it interesting?