Volume 3 Issue 4B
Original, April 2003
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Did he have an Indian wife?

Additions February 2015
Willard Gentry

We present here the second of two issues of the Gentry Journal devoted to Gentrys with known or proposed close ties to Indians, namely David Gentry and Elijah Gentry. We will discuss Elijah's relationships here.

The well-known Methodist preacher in Mississippi in the early 1800's, Elijah Gentry, was the son of Elijah Sr. and Hannah Gentry. Elijah married Wilmoth Killen in Mississippi two or three years before 1820 and the couple spent the rest of their life there, raising at least eight known children. Two controversies relate to this marriage, and recently surfaced again in the Queries and Comments section of the Journal of Gentry Genealogy for February and March, 2003. The Journal will attempt to throw a little more light on this subject by outlining the facts as we see them.

A Statement of the Issues
The kernel of the controversy comes down to the issue of whether or not a proposed son of Elijah Jr, a James G. Gentry, was or was not a son of his, and was or was not of part Indian extraction. In order to preserve in a more permanent location, the exchange which precipitated this present discussion, we will reprint here the comment of Correspondent A (a descendant of James G. Gentry) in the February Comments and Queries section of the Journal of Gentry Genealogy:

"[Responding to a comment by Correspondent B] about how Jacob Elijah Gentry could not be the father of James Gentry, due to the fact that Elijah Gentry was a Circuit Riding Methodist Preacher in Monroe County, Miss. when James Gentry was born in Alabama in 1814. I am of the opinion that James is the son of Jacob Elijah Gentry as this was all the same territory during this period of history. Most all of Alabama once was part of the Mississippi territory. [The State of Mississippi was formed in December 1817, at the same time that the Territory of Alabama was split off from the eastern portion of the former Territory of Mississippi.] [The writer adds: Monroe County was established by a Proclamation of Governor Holmes of the Territory of Mississippi and covered, in fact, about half of the Alabama Territory.]

"Wilmoth Killen was known to be a Full blood Catawba Indian that married Jacob Elijah Gentry. James Gentry ( one-half Catawba Indian) married Caroline Bush . They are my GGG Grandparents. Their daughter Mary Elizabeth Gentry Gordon is my GG Grandmother. One of their (James and Caroline's) sons is William E. Gentry (one-quarter Catawba) and lots of information can be found in the Creek Indian Territory about him . These Gentry's were Catawba Indian (Catawba Indians are from the SC area originally) but were adopted into the Creek Nation in IT."

Correspondent B (who is a GGGgranddaughter of Elijah) responded in March as follows:

"Continuing the debate as to the parentage of James Gentry, b. circa 1814 in Alabama. There are many problems with [Correspondent A's] theory that 'Wilmoth Killen was known to be a Full blood Catawba Indian that married Jacob Elijah Gentry']

"First, The Elijah Gentry who was the Methodist minister who married Wilmoth Killen (and who was a son of Elijah, son of David, son of Samuel, son of Nicholas I), was never known as Jacob Elijah. Every tax record, every census record, every land record refers to him simply as Elijah. Examples include the census records of 1820 (Wayne Co MS), 1830 (Rankin Co MS), 1840 (Winston Co MS), 1850 (Neshoba Co MS) and 1860 (Neshoba Co MS), 1820 Wayne Co tax roll, 1827 land patent, and two Mississippi state statutes (one naming Elijah Gentry to a three-man committee to locate the courthouse and jail of the newly formed Rankin County and one naming Elijah Gentry as one of nine trustees of the Pearl River Academy). The only Jacob Elijah in the direct line is a grandson of Rev. Gentry (born August 5, 1852, son of the minister's son John Wesley).

"Second, Wilmoth Killen's family has been identified and she is NOT a full-blood Catawba, or indeed a full-blood Indian of any kind. She was born in 1795 in North Carolina, and is clearly the one female child under age 10 in the household of her father William Killen (spelled "Killin") on the 1800 Richmond County NC census. William Killen is believed to be the son of John Killen, one of several brothers who emigrated to America from Ulster, Ireland and settled in Delaware. Killen family history does not agree as to whether it was John or William who was born in Ulster, Ireland, but it is consistent that either William or William's father was born in Ireland.

"Since James' adoption into the Creek Nation requires that his mother have been of Native American descent, Wilmoth Killen's Irish ancestry clearly means that Wilmoth was not James' mother.

"Third, Wilmoth and Elijah did not marry until after the 1816 territorial census. William Killen appeared on that census in Wayne County with two females 21 years of age or older. That is consistent with Wilmoth's date of birth of 1795. On the 1820 Wayne Co census, William Killen is shown with only one female in his household, a woman more than 45 years of age, thus showing that his daughter married between the date of the 1816 census and the date of the 1820 census. Elijah Gentry is then shown on the 1820 Wayne Co census with a wife aged 16-26 (thus born not earlier than 1794 and not later than 1804), and the members of the Killen family are all around the same area. In fact, the census entry for Wilmoth's younger brother William Jr. is directly beneath the entry for the Gentrys in 1820, her father William Sr. and older brother Henry on the next page. Further bolstering the later date of the Elijah-Wilmoth marriage is the fact that the minutes of at least one Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church attended by Elijah Gentry as an itinerant minister after the probable birthrate for James Gentry show that all the ministers in the conference were unmarried.

"Fourth, the census records for the Gentry family clearly show that Elijah and Wilmoth had only eight children: Martha Ann Gentry, Elijah K. Gentry, Ira Bird Gentry, John Wesley Gentry, Nancy A. Gentry, Isabella Gentry, William Jefferson Gentry, George Washington Gentry. The only others ever to live in the household of Elijah and Wilmoth Gentry were Elijah's youngest brother, Josiah, and their mother, Hannah. All of the Gentry children were born in Mississippi, married in Mississippi, and, with the exception of Martha Ann, who cannot be traced after her marriage in 1836, all remained close to their parents in Mississippi until after Rev. Gentry's death (in 1850, for example, Elijah K., Nancy and Isabella were in Winston Co, Ira Bird in Attala Co, and John Wesley, William and George were living with their parents). By contrast, James was born in Alabama, was married in Alabama, remained in Alabama through the 1840 Coosa County census, and did not appear in Mississippi until 1850 when he first appears on the census in Chickasaw County, some distance away from any of the Elijah Gentry family."

"It is certainly possible that James Gentry was the son of some Elijah Gentry, perhaps even some Jacob Elijah Gentry. It is even possible that there may be some connection between James Gentry and Rev. Gentry. James may well be a grandson of Elijah Gentry Sr., father of Rev. Elijah Gentry, or of one of the elder Elijah's many brothers, and thus a cousin of Rev. Elijah Gentry. There is, however, no evidence that he was the son of Rev. Elijah Gentry, much evidence to suggest that he was not the minister's son and he absolutely cannot be the son of Wilmoth Killen Gentry, the wife of Rev. Elijah Gentry."

There is another version of this issue, which repeats the thought that James was partly of Indian extraction, but does not identify Wilmoth Killen as an Indian. Doris Gentry Bias, in "Gentry Family Gazette & Genealogy Exchange", vol. 7, pp.115-116 (Sep 1989) [edited by Richard Gentry of McLean, Virginia] observed:

"Another known son of Elijah and Hannah Gentry is Elijah Gentry, born in Georgia, c.1787 who married first -?- an Indian and had a son named James G. Gentry. James G. Gentry is listed on the 1850 Chickasaw County, Mississippi census at page 271 with wife Carolina Bush, a Creek Indian and their family.

"One daughter [of James] was Vicey Rebecca Gentry. She married Hermogene LaBlanc (it is spelled "Lerblanche" today); they had one known son, Hermogene Elijah Lerblanche. LaBlanc, says Karen Beare, one of their descendants in Checotaw, Oklahoma, was a Louisiana Frenchman and he left Vicey Rebecca and she never heard from him again. There may have been other children of Elijah and his Indian wife we do not known about."

[Doris is a descendant of Elijah and Wilmoth Gentry through their son Elijah Killen.]

Editor's Comments
Correspondent B presents persuasive evidence that if Elijah had an Indian wife, it was certainly not Wilmoth Killen. Consequently the claims of Correspondent A appear to be unfounded as she presents them. The former's comment that Elijah was an itinerant preacher in the Methodist Episcopal Mississippi Annual Conference, does not entirely dispose of the possibility that Doris Bias raises.

Census records in Neshoba County, Mississippi, in 1850, indicate Elijah was born about 1787 in Georgia. This age is consistent with his age in census records in previous Mississippi listings: in 1820 (Wayne County), 1830 (Rankin County), and 1840 (Winston County). The date of Elijah's marriage to Wilmoth is not known precisely, but it appears to be between the time of the 1816 census Correspondent B mentions, and the birth of their first daughter Martha Ann, and two sons Elijah Killen and Ira Bird Gentry, all before 1820.

James Gentry's entry in the 1850 Chickasaw County, Mississippi census indicates a date of birth of about 1814, a year when Elijah was about 27 years old. Elijah's father was last known to be in Clarke County, Georgia in 1805, then moved to Mississippi where he died in about 1817. This leaves a considerable span of time in Elijah Jr.'s early life during which nothing is known of his whereabouts or activities. We cannot say with assurance that he did not marry an Indian woman in that time (whether it was a formal ceremony that Elijah considered binding, or was an Indian ceremony that he may have considered to be of no more concern than that of Sam Houston for his wife Tiana).

In the records of the Methodist Episcopal Mississippi Annual Conference which was first formed in 1813, Elijah was first included in the Conference annals as being "continued on trial" in 1815, and being "elected to deacon's orders" in 1816. In the first year of existence of the Annual Conference, in 1813, Elijah's brother Simon is listed as being "admitted on trial", but there was no mention of Elijah. For the sake of argument, let us say that Elijah and Wilmoth were married about 1816 or 1817, after Elijah was elected a deacon of the church. [Note comments below and added reference 1 would date Elijah's marriage probably in 1817 when he "located" and left the itinerancy.] If indeed, Elijah Jr was married once before his marriage to Wilmoth, between the birth of James and Elijah's entry into the ministry, there were almost certainly two or three years of time when Elijah could have married.

James G. Gentry's indication of Alabama as being his place of birth, may or may not have been accurate. Elijah's son, Ira Bird Gentry, is listed in the 1850 Attala County, Mississippi census as also being born in Alabama. To the extent that Ira's place of birth was mis-stated, James' place of birth may also have been mis-stated, or as Correspondent A indicates, James may have been born in a section of Mississippi that was considered to be part of Alabama at the time. Neither census record can be relied upon as being completely authentic. Of further interest, is the fact that this James, if indeed a son of Elijah, was probably named for Elijah's older brother, James Gentry, the presumed oldest son of Elijah Sr. and his wife Hannah Gentry. In any case, if the younger James was a son of Elijah Jr., he was obviously not raised with Elijah's family and may have lived with Indian relatives (or with his mother if she was still alive) in Alabama.

Supplementary Comments – I (Added June 2014.)
Subsequent to the first publishing of this article, additional information was forwarded to the editor<1,2>. The first piece of additional evidence is the fact that Elijah's service as an itinerant Methodist preacher started as early as November 1814. This was while Mississippi was still being served by the Tennessee Annual Conference. Elijah continued in this itinerant service until the 1817 conference at which time he "located" and gave up his travelling duties (usually this was done when the preacher married and took on family duties). The second contribution of additional evidence concerns the record of Elijah Jr and Elijah Sr's service as volunteers in the Mississippi militia in the War of 1812.

These facts do not seem to lessen the possibility that Elijah Jr was the father of James G. Gentry. Elijah's brief episodes of military service were not likely to have seriously affected his home life and they confirm the fact that the family was living in Mississippi by at least early 1814. There is the possibility of Elijah fathering a son with one of the camp followers that may have accompanied the army, or with some local woman during a period of encampment, and leaving the mother behind when he left the service, (quite possibly without knowing she was pregnant). There are many instances of this in modern times such as in Vietnam. It would help to explain the termination of the relationship if indeed Elijah was involved, and the fact that James apparently was raised entirely by his mother or her family and never had any contact with Elijah. As to Elijah's ministerial life after his army service, there are many cases where a man "gets religion" and undergoes a radical change in lifestyle.

The question has been raised as to why Elijah and Wilmoth Killen should have to try to prove that as a couple, or Elijah individually, were not parents of James. This is a legitimate observation. The argument is that if someone wishes to assert that Elijah was James' father, it should be up to them to provide proof of such. No such proof has been offered to date and it appears that from present information we have no way of proving this relationship. On the other side, one can also say there is no proof that such a relationship could not have been possible. So the question is at a stand-off.

Supplementary Comments – II   (Added February 2015.)
It will be helpful in these discussions to provide more information about the activities of the Gentrys – father, Elijah Sr., and sons, James and Elijah Jr., and the military situation that prevailed locally during the War of 1812. The war so far as it affected Mississippi and Alabama was primarily fought between settlers and Creek Indians ["Red Sticks"] until the final battle of New Orleans which was the only time there was active intervention by the British. Furthermore, the Indian hostilities were due to a civil war between two factions of the Indians tribes. In January 1813, in response to a call for military protection from Indian raids, the 1st Regiment Mississippi Territory Volunteers was organized under the leadership of Col. Carson. The records of this regiment show Elijah Sr., Elijah Jr., and James Gentry all serving as privates, but with no record of when they enlisted. A great majority of the personnel voluntarily enlisted rather than being drafted for compulsory militia service, we assume the Gentrys did the same. The initial call for service was in general for six months. This regiment was disbanded in January 1814 after the enrollment period for most of its personnel had expired. Elijah Sr. may have left earlier, but it is probable that the two younger Gentrys, were discharged at this time. James enlisted again briefly in the 15th Regiment Mississippi Militia stationed in Clarke, Alabama, under Col. Johnson. He is listed in their rolls as a private on entry and departure but with no indication of when he enlisted and when he was discharged. Finally, both Elijah (Jr.) and James enrolled once more in Major Samuel Dale's Battalion, a part of the Mississippi Territory Infantry Volunteers. This was a military force that was organized after the termination of the 1st Regiment. Their mission was "to cooperate with the 3rd Regiment [U.S.] Infantry against hostile Creek Indians". Elijah and James are listed in the rolls of Capt. Austill's Company. National Archives compiled service records of Mississippi soldiers confirm the presence of each in this company. Both entered as privates, James was discharged as a sergeant. James' record indicates that he enlisted 1 Feb 1814 for one month. Elijah's record simply says date of enlistment and time of service were "Not Stated", but we can assume that they probably served together.

So much for their service record. What was going on doing during this time. The 1st Regiment along with other troops under the command of Gen. Claiborne was sent, accompanied by Choctaw Indian allies, to the area of the Tombigbee River (flowing south into Mobile Bay, see Fig. 3) because of Creek hostilities. They arrived late July at Mt. Vernon, Alabama. Two companies were sent to garrison Ft. Mims on the Alabama River. This garrison was massacred August 30th by a group of Creek Indians, with only a handful of military or civilian survivors. This provoked a drive south by Gen. Andrew Jackson with troops from Tennessee to attack Indian towns and warrior gatherings along the Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers in Alabama. This culminated in a final victory, 27 Mar 1814 at Horseshoe Bend. This in turn led to the signing of the Treaty of Fort Jackson in which the Creek Indians ceded twenty-three million acres to the U.S. Government . In the meantime, the Mississippi 1st Regiment was stationed for some three months during the fall of 1813 near Mobile to guard against any attack by sea from the British. In a final campaign, the regiment was sent in December to destroy an Indian camp at Holy Ground. Gen. Claiborne's comments when the regiment was discharged in January 1814 were "My volunteers are returning to their homes with eight months' pay due them, and almost literally naked. They have served the last three months of an inclement winter without shoes or blankets and almost without shirts, but are still devoted to their country and properly impressed with the justice and necessity of the war."

AL Rivers
Fig. 3.  "Battle of the Creek Indians" Territory, 1813-1814

How does all this affect the discussion about Elijah having an Indian wife? The known facts do not in any way exclude this possibility. One can well imagine that during the months that Elijah was stationed along the lower Tombigbee/Alabama Rivers, he could have met the mother of James G. Gentry and "married" her. The fact that the young child, James is said to have been born in 1814 in Alabama fits this scenario perfectly. If indeed James was Elijah's son, he may or may not have been aware that James' mother was pregnant. The mother may have known before Elijah left, but presumably preferred to remain with her family to raise the child among her fellow Indians when Elijah was discharged and returned home. This is exactly the situation that Tiana Rogers Gentry Houston later chose rather than follow Sam Houston to Texas.

Anecdotal, family tradition in the family of James G. Gentry asserts that he was part Indian, and this tradition has claimed that James was a son of Elijah Gentry and Wilmoth Killen. No direct evidence of this has been provided. It appears evident from what our correspondents have written, that Wilmoth Killen was in no degree Indian; and if James was part Indian, he was certainly not a son of hers. It is further evident from what is known of Elijah Gentry, that the predominance of evidence indicates there was the possibility that Elijah could have acquired a formal or informal Indian wife, name unknown, in late 1813 who was the mother of this child before Elijah married Wilmoth. The evidence may not be compelling, but the author is inclined to favor this interpretation of facts.

Judy Russell, in a private communication to the editor provides the following.

  1. "The first reference to Elijah as an itinerant was not on the records of the MISSISSIPPI Conference, because Mississippi was part of the TENNESSEE Conference until 1815. So the first reference is on November 14, 1814, when Elijah Gentry was admitted as a junior itinerant preacher for the Tennessee Conference at a meeting in Logan County, KY, and assigned to the Pearl River District in Mississippi."

    "At the 1815 conference, he was received into full connection, continued as an itinerant and assigned to the Amite district for the year 1816.

    "At the 1816 conference, he was elected to deacon's orders and assigned to the Chickasawhay district for the year 1817. According to Rev. John Jones, "A Complete History of Methodism as Connected with the Mississippi Conference," 1887, vol I, page 427 ' Except the supposition that Alexander Fleming was a widower, the Mississippi Conference at this date [Oct 11, 1816], was exclusively a bachelor Conference.'

    "At the 1817 conference, he "located" (gave up his itinerant status and salary but continued to preach locally). That is ordinarily done because of marriage and responsibilities of a family. "

  2. "Mississippi Territory in the War of 1812", written by Dunbar Rowland in 1908 and reprinted in 1978 by Mrs. Rowland is accessible at multiple locations online. It is the standard source for the majority of detailed information about Mississippi military units and their personnel. [More material is included here than was originally published.]
    1.   1 Regiment U.S. Volunteers. (1 Reg't Miss. Territorial Vols.):
      Elijah Gentry – entered as Private, discharged as Private
      Elijah Gentry Sr. – entered as Private, discharged as Private
      James Gentry – entered as Private, discharged as Private (p.179)
    2.   15th Regiment (Johnson's) Mississippi Militia:
      James Gentry – entered as Private, discharged as Private.
    3.   Major Samuel Dale's Battalion, Mississippi Militia, Capt. Evan Austill's Company:
      Elijah Gentry – entered as Private, discharged as Private
      James Gentry – entered as Sergeant, discharged as Sergeant (p.224).
      [National archives compiled service records add for James: muster roll dated February 1814 showing James present, commencement of service (for one month), 1 Feb 1814; dates for Elijah "Not stated".]

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