DID NICHOLAS GENTRY THE IMMIGRANT HAVE TWO WIVES?
And The Consequences
Revised February 2015
There has never been complete agreement about the family of the Nicholas Gentry who came
from England in the late 1600's to found a line of Gentrys that has spread throughout our
country. We argue about how many wives he had and who they were. We have differing
views as to the identity of his children, and by extension, the descendants of those children.
This document revisits some of these questions and presents some proposals that over time
have occurred to him but have not heretofore been published. There is no assurance that the
proposals are correct for we will never know some of the details of Nicholas' life. This writer
believes, however, that a discussion of these revised thoughts may bring out features that
would be of value to Gentry genealogists. I will be discussing three propositions:
- Nicholas the Immigrant probably had two wives.
- There appears to have been a considerable consistency in the naming of children of the
separate wives which differed between the two.
- The pattern of different names can be of assistance in determining family
While working with early Gentry records over the years, this writer has tried to fit
fragmentary references to isolated Gentry families into a plausible relationship with other
Gentrys. While doing so, I have observed some interesting facts that might be coincidental,
but might also be based upon underlying circumstances that are not immediately obvious. One
of these is an apparent difference in the names of children and grandchildren of Nicholas that
seems to depend upon the order of birth of his children. The following table shows the sons of
Nicholas (in order of birth), and in turn their sons in the family relationships that have been
commonly accepted by Gentry genealogists or have been proposed as a plausible possibility.
|Sons of Nicholas ||Grandsons (and Great-
||William, John? (D), Joseph (J)|
||Nicholas ("the Younger")(S), Joseph (J)(S), Allen, Simon, John (J), Richard, William,
[Nathaniel? (S)], Samuel (S)|
||David (D), Robert, Nicholas ("Junior") (D), Benajah, Moses (D), Nathan, Martin|
||James, George, Aaron?, John, David, William|
||Hezekiah, David (D), John, Simon (D), Cain (D), Elisha (D), Elijah, [Nicholas
||(Speculation): John (J), Nicholas, David (D)|
The grandsons marked (D), (J), and (S) indicate individuals who had children named David,
Joseph, or Samuel respectively. The names in italics are grandsons who may have been
When we look at the names of these descendants of Nicholas, each of his
sons had a child with the same name as themselves which is no surprise. But when we look at
the names of children the next generation down, or at children of one of the second
generation siblings, these names divide into three groups:
- In the families of the two older sons of Nicholas, namely Joseph-II and Samuel-II
[Note. I will be using the suffix "-II", "-III" and "-IV" to identify the generation of the
individual with relation to Nicholas-I], "Joseph" occurs several times but a very
speculative "David" is found only in the case of John whose status as a son of Nicholas-I or a
son of Joseph-II is very uncertain.
- The name "Samuel" appears to have been used only by the descendants of Samuel-II and
not Joseph-II, nor any of his younger brothers.
- In the families of the younger siblings, Nicholas-II, James-II and David-II, the name
"David" occurs a number of times, but not the name "Joseph". "Samuel" is found only in the
commonly-proposed assignment of Nicholas Gentry to David's family which we feel to be an
- If we include John as a son of Nicholas, we are still faced with a great deal of uncertainty
as to his family (see later journal article in issue D, Septermber
2014). We suggest that he had a son David who in turn named a son, David, but he
also had a son, John, who had a son (a great-grandson of Nicholas) named Joseph.
A. Two wives for Nicholas-I ?
If this difference in names is not purely coincidence, the first thought that comes to mind is
that Nicholas-I had two wives. It was a common practice in colonial times (as it frequently still
is today), for children to be named for their maternal or paternal grandparents. We can
speculate that Nicholas' sons had two different maternal grandfathers, the first wife's father
being named Joseph, and a second wife whose father was named David. Following the usual
practice, the name "Joseph" would have been used for Nicholas' first-born sons, and was
carried on in succeeding generations. When Nicholas married again, the name "David" was
given to that wife's sons and was perpetuated in the younger generations, beginning with
It is not at all critical to the development of this article as to whether or not indeed
Nicholas had two wives but this writer has accepted this proposition as probably true.
Moreover, I am convinced that the name or names of these wives were not either Lucy
Cornelius or Mabel Wood, names which have occurred frequently in the genealogical
literature. The reasons for this have been discussed a number of times in earlier issues of this
journal, most recently in Issue A, May 2007<1>, and we will not elaborate on them here.
Regardless of the question of number of wives, the fact remains that there appears to be some
consistency in the pattern of names given by Nicholas and his sons to their respective offspring
and we will attempt to use this apparent consistency to our advantage.
To summarize, I suggest that Nicholas married a first wife in about 1683, daughter of
perhaps a Joseph [Unknown], who had children:
Mary Gentry (speculation), married John Spradling
There is then a small gap in birthdates and I suggest that it was at this point that Nicholas
married a second wife, daughter of perhaps a David [Unknown] in about 1695-6 and had
Nicholas Gentry Jr.
B. Identification of Nicholas Gentry of Davidson County, Tennessee
We would be foolish to depend on this name difference as a hard and fast rule for identifying
descendants of Nicholas, but if exceptions to the general rule occur, they can serve as a flag
alerting researchers to possible mis-identification of relationships. A very good case in point
here is the presence of a Nicholas Gentry frequently included among the children of David-II.
This Nicholas has been described in some detail in an earlier article of this journal<2>.
He lived for a short time in South Carolina, in the same area where all of David's sons lived, and
because of this fact, he has been considered by many to be one of those sons. He moved from
there to Tennessee and is best known for the fact that he was one of the first settlers in the
Fort Nashboro area in Davidson County, in what was then North Carolina but later became a
part of Tennessee. Nicholas was killed by Indians in about 1782, and was granted land in the
new county by the North Carolina General Assembly in appreciation for his efforts to settle the
Nicholas had children named John, Randal, George, Samuel, and Nicholas. As we consider
the names of these children in turn, John is ubiquitous, all of the Gentry siblings had sons by
that name. Randal is unique and found nowhere else among the earliest Gentrys. The other
three names are nowhere else found among the other children and grandchildren of David.
The name discrepancy prompted a closer look at this Nicholas family.
As a result of this closer look, I believe that he was a son of the Nicholas-III
who was a son of Samuel-II (labeled "Nicholas the Younger" in the table above), rather than a
son of David-II. Several factors concerning the Nicholas under discussion, besides that of the
names of his children, are compatible with this conclusion.
- Samuel's son, Nicholas, and his wife, Mary Brooks, are believed to have married in 1743.
This was the date of a gift of land by Mary's father, Richard Brooks, to his son-in-law, Nicholas
Gentry (who was called "Nicholas the Younger" in Louisa County to distinguish him from his
uncle, "Nicholas the Elder" or "Nicholas Senior" and the latter's son, "Nicholas
Junior")<4>. Is it plausible that the Nicholas Gentry of Davidson County was
a son of the Louisa County Nicholas? The oldest son, John, of the Tennessee Nicholas was
included in a list dated 1787, of residents of that county that were twenty-one years of age or
older<3>. This means he was born at least by 1766, but probably not before
1765. This in turn means that a date of birth for his father, Nicholas, in 1744 or 1745 would be
quite reasonable. The birth of a child in this time period helps to fill a gap in ages of
Nicholas-III's children following his marriage which has always been somewhat of a puzzle.
Prior to this time, the oldest son postulated for him has been Allen who was not born until
about 1748-1751, and the next son has been postulated as Arthur (or "Atha/Artha" as he was
known in North Carolina). The latter was born about 1755 or 1756, leaving a period of a dozen
years in which only two children have been proposed for Nicholas and Mary.
- We also propose a son, Samuel, born about 1748, as another addition to the family of
Nicholas the Younger, spaced between Nicholas Jr. and Allen. We will have more to say about
this Samuel below.
- We believe that after the time their father left Lunenburg County, Virginia, both Nicholas
and Samuel struck out on their own while the rest of the family settled in Surry
County, North Carolina. The younger Nicholas was married by that time and had a child. They
presumably either moved directly, or over a short span of time, to the Ninety-Six District area
of South Carolina. There is a single reference to Nicholas in South Carolina, in 1779 when he
was named in an act of the General Assembly, along with Hezekiah and John Gentry and many
others, as individuals to be considered for jury duty<5>. Nicholas was living
in an area near Cuffee Town and Turkey Creek in Ninety-Six District, and was to be subject to
petit jury duty.
- There must have been some lag in publishing jury lists by the General Assembly for in
that same year, 1779, Nicholas Gentry entered a claim for land in Washington County, North
Carolina (later Tennessee) joining a rapidly growing settlement along the Holston
River<6>. His subsequent move to Davidson County is described in the further history of
Nicholas<7>. A link for this Nicholas to the Nicholas that was in South Carolina is
found in the fact that his son, George, still living in 1850, reported his own place of birth as
South Carolina in the census report for that year.
C. Identification of Samuel Gentry of Spartanburg District, South
Let us now continue the examination of Samuel Gentry as a probable addition to the family of
Nicholas the Younger. The parentage of this Samuel has never had the wide acceptance that
has been true for his proposed brother Nicholas. This writer has suggested in the past the
possibility that Nathaniel Gentry, also of Spartanburg District, may have been his father, but
with no firm reason for doing so other than they lived in the same area at the same time. In
turn the parentage of Nathaniel has been equally uncertain. Establishing Samuel as a son of
Nicholas the Younger will go far towards improving the plausibility of the respective family
relationships of Samuel and Nathaniel. A brief summary of the pertinent facts follows:
- Samuel's name reinforces the possibility that he was a grandson of Samuel-II. The fact
that he had a son named Samuel also is really irrelevant as that would be not the least unusual.
The fact that he also had a son named Nathaniel does not necessarily mean that Samuel and
the senior Nathaniel were part of the same immediate family, especially as they lived next to
each other for many years.
- Records for western South Carolina both before and for several years after the
Revolutionary War are extremely sparse, but Samuel Gentry was a resident of Spartanburg
District, South Carolina, at least from 1789 (the first reference to him)<8> until his death
in 1819. As a matter of clarification, in addition to this Samuel and his son, two other Samuels
also lived in the Spartanburg District between the time of the 1790 census (which was actually
canvassed in 1791) and the 1800 census. This writer has adopted the practice of referring to
the Samuel under discussion as "Samuel the Younger" and the two other Samuels as "Samuel
the Elder" and "Samuel Junior". Samuel the Elder was Samuel-III, youngest son of Samuel-II
and a proposed uncle of Samuel the Younger. (Samuel the Elder is listed in the 1790 census as
"Saml Jentry" with five members in his family. Samuel the Younger is listed in the census as
"Samuel Gentry" with ten members in his family.) Samuel the Elder was in Surry County,
North Carolina, in the 1780's but there is no record of Samuel the Younger being there for any
- There is no good way to estimate Samuel the Younger's date of birth other than being
approximately in the vicinity of 1750. This makes it reasonable for him to have been a son of
Nicholas-III. Whether he was older or younger than Allen, Nicholas-III's next oldest son, is a
guess. Census records for these two individuals and for their children do not provide any
differentiation between them. The fact that Nicholas and Samuel had ventured off separately
from the family when they moved from Virginia to North Carolina suggests that Samuel was
the older of the two. We can make a rough estimate that Samuel was born about 1748 and
Allen was born about 1751. As an aside, it is interesting to note that Nicholas' two other sons,
Artha and John, eventually followed their proposed brothers Nicholas and Samuel in moving to
South Carolina. Allen was the only exception.
To summarize the case for Nicholas and Samuel, there are plausible reasons for suggesting
that Nicholas Gentry the Younger had two sons that have not previously been proposed for
him, namely Nicholas Gentry of Davidson County, Tennessee, and the Samuel Gentry who
settled in Spartanburg District, South Carolina in the latter part of the 1700's. We specifically
suggest that Nicholas and Samuel were the two oldest sons of Nicholas the Younger.
D. Identification of Nathaniel Gentry of Spartanburg District, South
The Nathaniel Gentry who lived in Spartanburg District, South Carolina, before the turn of the
eighteenth century, has always been very much of an enigma to Gentry genealogists. There
are fragmentary references dating from 1785 to 1793 relating to his holding of state land
grants; and his family is listed in the 1790 federal census. A final reference to a Nathaniel
Gentry who is presumed to be this same family, was in the 1810 federal census record for
Pulaski County, Kentucky. That is the extent of hard facts concerning him. Even the
identification of any of his children has been a matter of guesswork with the exception that
Tyre/Tyree Gentry was almost certainly one of his sons. Because of his association with South
Carolina, it has seemed probable that he was a part of either the Samuel-II Gentry family, or
the David-II family, the only early Gentrys known to have moved out of Virginia into South
Carolina. The fact that his son Tyre had a son Samuel and two other sons of Tyre had children
in turn named Samuel lends support to the thought that Nathaniel was part of the Samuel-II
We will not venture further into a discussion of Nathaniel and his family which will be
covered in more detail in a soon-to-be-published revision of a previous article in this
journal<9>. This includes a discussion of previously suggested children of
Nathaniel that now seem to be unreasonable given the proposed change in parentage of
Nathaniel. This includes, besides the Samuel Gentry above, another Gentry that has been
very difficult to identify, namely the Revolutionary War veteran, Richard Gentry (who settled in
Rockcastle County, Kentucky).
These plausible proposals for the parentage of Nicholas, Samuel and Nathaniel are a
consequence of re-examining the genealogical data pertaining to them as prompted by our
opening statements in this article. The use of differing patterns of naming children has not
been a determining factor in reaching new conclusions. Rather it has triggered a closer look at
these three individuals. This second look has resulted in a review of previous assumptions and
the adoption of new, and at least in this writer's mind, superior conclusions concerning family
||"Nicholas Gentry, the Immigrant, A Case Study of Erroneous
Journal of Gentry Genealogy, Issue 2007(A), May 2007.
||"Nicholas Gentry of Davidson County"|
Journal of Gentry Genealogy, Issue 2004(F), July 2004.
|| Edythe Rucker Whitley, "Tennessee Genealogical Records,
Davidson County Pioneers", p.12|
||John Gentry, listed for 1 poll in rolls of 1787 "being
the first year in which the tax on land and polls was taken" [thus age twenty-one at a minimum
in that year].|
||Louisa County Deed Books|
||1743 Jun 13
||Richard Brooks of Fredericksville Par., Louisa Co., Planter, for
paternal affection to my son-in-law, Nicholas Gentry, the younger, and his wife,
Mary Gentry, my daughter ... 100 acres on Dirty Swamp. Signed. Richard (R)
Brooks. Wit: John Venable, John Clark. Ack. 13 Jun 1743 by Richard
|| South Carolina General Assembly Ordinance, MS Act No. 1123, 20
Feb 1779, |
||Hezekiah Gentry – Spartan District
||liable for grand/petit jury|
||John Gentry – Spartan District
||liable for grand/petit jury|
||Nicholas Gentry – Cuffey Town &Turkey Creek
||liable for court service|
|| Shelby Ireson Edwards, "Sullivan County, Tennessee Deed
Books 1 & 2", 1985|
| ||1791 Dec 26
||Land Grant No. 558, State of North Carolina,
Alexander Martin, Gov. to Nicholas Gentry, 50 shillings for every 100 ac; 200 ac in
Sullivan Co., NC, including Egan Troy's plantation ... along William Kee's line formerly Robert
King's ... |
/s/Alexander Martin, Esq by J. Glasgow, Sec.
[Note, this is a grant to Nicholas Sr. in consequence of an entry claim dated 6 Oct 1779, and
surveyed 18 Oct 1780 in Washington County, NC. It was a part of Sullivan County by the time
the grant was issued.]
|| "TENNESSEE GENTRY FAMILIES, Nicholas Gentry of Davidson
Journal of Gentry Genealogy, Issue F, July 2004
||Brent H. Holcomb, "Spartanburgh County, South Carolina,
Minutes of the County Court, 1785-1799", Southern Historical Press, Easley, SC,
||1789 Mar 19||[p.96]|
||Samuel Jentry against John Chesney; case dismissed at plaintiff's
||"Speculations on the Family of Nathaniel Gentry of South Carolina and
Journal of Gentry Genealogy, Issue B, Feb 2011 (Revised)
15 Feb 2011, Revisions, February 2015
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