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Thursday, February 16, 2012

In a Nutshell

John Denman was only 14 when he arrived in Boston with his younger siblings and twice-widowed mother, via Barbadoes, West Indies (in order to outwit the English authorities, who in 1635 would often force passengers booked for North America, to disembark before ever leaving Gravesend harbor).

His mother's Puritan family was from Surrey (southeast England, where her father was a Reverend); and she had two brothers helping her: one who colonized Dorchester, Massachussetts; and another who lived in Windsor, Connecticut.  She resided and died (1639) in Salem Colony.

However, John's father's family (also Puritan) was from the Midlands of England (Retford, Nottinghamshire); and while still in his teen years, he moved to Long Island, NY, near where he married Sarah Hollander.

Their eldest son then later purchased undeveloped acreage near Newtown, Long Island (also known as "Middleburgh", in times past), from local Indian chiefs, which included a salt meadow held in common with two Scudder brothers. (Salt hay was used, to keep their cattle healthy).

However, after Britain grabbed New York (and much of their land got confiscated in the bargain), setting off a long series of vicious fights over boundaries, his young widow, French Huguenot Mary Gano (he'd married very late in years), whose own family had originated in La Rochelle, France, sold the remaining property after his death, to the Hallett family, and moved to New Jersey (Westfield vicinity) with her children and second husband (Mr. Brooks).

(Some of the Scudders also moved to New Jersey around the same time; and our direct ancestor, Daniel, married one of their daughters, Deborah).

Our Denman ancestors stayed in New Jersey on their 100 acre parcel (purchased by Mary Gano's eldest Denman son, John), until the Revolution was declared; whereupon John's son, Daniel, and Daniel's (also Deborah Scudder's) son, James, both left NJ to fight for Georgia Colony during that war.  (Deborah later remarried, to Daniel's brother, Phillip Denman; and I believe they resided in Connecticut thereafter).

James won a post-war land lottery in northern Georgia, and our branch of the family has been "Southern" ever since that time (his grandson, my gg-grandfather, eventually settled on land in a rural area of central Florida, after the Civil War).

(Daniel's eldest brother, John, my grand-uncle, x's removed, had also left NJ to fight for Georgia Colony, but was able to return to NJ, following or perhaps even during the war.)

... Another significant (to me at least, since he's a direct ancestor and one of whom I fortunately know more) branch of my father's family came from London, England (having found refuge there, after escaping harsh religious persecutions in Navarre, France).

In 1740, his father ran away from his French Huguenot grandparents as a young boy, leaving from Gravesend to Baltimore, Maryland, with his older brother.  The Seviers colonized the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia at first, but then later moved to Tennessee.  John Sevier became the first governor of Tennessee, and is my 6th great-grandfather.  His great-granddaughter, Neaty Elston, married James' son (Blake, my 3rd g-grandfather) in Georgia.

... On my mother's side of the family, I'm told that John Morrow was a knitter by trade from Dublin, Ireland, who married (Sarah) Selena Cathey in Scotland, before sailing to America and settling in McMinnville, Tennessee.

[CORRECTION:  John Morrow did marry in Scotland, but not to Selena Cathey.  Selena actually married William Thompson, my grandfather's grandfather.  (Same branch, different twig.)]

I'm not sure where the Thompsons or Kimberlings of my mother's family originated, but all of the above listed, eventually homesteaded lands in the Ozark mountain regions of circa late 18th to 19th century Arkansas and Missouri.

... Mother's mother's side of the family were Elkins, Nobles, Hilburns (possibly Cherokee, as some Hilburns probably related to me are listed on the Dawes' rolls), and Birds (definitely Cherokee).  Not sure where the Elkins or Nobles originated, but they were involved in the turpentine industry in North Carolina and then later in St. Augustine, Florida (where my grandmother was born, in 1902).

I still can't find even reprints of my grandmother's family photos (afraid they may be lost forever), but I managed finally to get off my tired backside and located page two of a letter she'd written in her own hand to me, shortly before her death in 1984, in response to my inquiries about her family history:

The text reads (to translate it for you):  "My mother's name was Polly Hilburn Elkins.  Mama's daddy's name was Steven Hilburn.  Grandma's name was Cely Bird Hilburn.  Bird is an Indian name.  My daddy's name was George Washington Elkins.  His mother's name was Nancy [Nobles] Elkins, & his daddy was Jonathan Elkins.  Yes, we were part Indian.  Your grandfather's [her husband's] name was Arthur Grady Thompson.  His mother was Octavia Morrow Thompson.  His dad's name was Dr. James Isack [Isaac] Thompson."

Although not college-educated, Mary Gladys was a very intelligent, well-mannered and industrious woman, who earned the respect of her entire community and family.  I have no reason to doubt her word on it.  And she showed me her family pictures, including an informal portrait of the aged Cely Bird.  Cely is my only (verified) most distant ancestor, whose family certainly originated here, in America.

Grandma, Mary Gladys Elkins (Wray, Hagewood) Thompson, ("Gladys") with my sister Barbara under the comforter at her feet.

Grandpa, Arthur Grady ("Grady") Thompson, age 75 here.  He worked guard-duty on one of the filming sets of the movie, "Follow That Dream", located out on the marsh flats of the Gulf of Mexico, near his home in Inglis, Florida.

When asked by Elvis' 'people', "Where's a good place to eat?",  he offered, "My house!";  and Elvis accepted.  Grandma told me that Elvis and crew ate "dinner" (an early afternoon meal, in those days) at her little 'Jim Walter' home, several times while working in Levy county, Florida; and showed me the autographed portrait of himself, which he later had his secretary send to her from Graceland (my mother still has it, as far as I know).

And I suspect that's how Grandpa ended up with the "Baby-Blue" Cadillac he was so proud of, although the family wouldn't have bragged about how he got it.  They only broke out in grins, when mentioning it.

Grandpa on the actual set of "Follow That Dream", in Yankeetown, Florida.  The beach was artificially created with semi-truckloads of sand.  Dad took me over to see it while some sand was still left on it.  Now it's all gone -- washed away by the tides.
In these three b&w photos from the newspaper account linked above, an older gentleman dressed in 'Summertime Florida' Sheriff's uniform exactly like my grandfather (and looking like him too, as far as I can tell) -- is never far from Elvis' side.  In the first one he escorts Elvis at the man's left elbow; in the second picture he follows Elvis, emerging from a doorway; in the third one he is hiding behind the palmetto branches, so as to keep out of a fan-photo. LMAO!
A very grainy snapshot, but Elvis' autographed picture is hanging up there on Grandma's living-room wall (upper left corner).  It's the common one seen everywhere:  the one of young Elvis wearing a solid red shirt.  (My sister broke her leg in a bike accident.)
Extremely grainy close-up... perhaps not worth posting (sorry, but people never believe me when I tell them my grandparents entertained Elvis in their home.  I guess it seems so 'cliche', lol.
Me at the "End of the Road", where the boat ramp is on the Gulf of Mexico, just down the road from the movie set, in Yankeetown (ca1971, age 13).  The family would often drive down there, just to watch the amazing sunsets.  And I remember some lovely old, wind-gnarled Cedar trees down at the very mouth of the river where it empties into the Gulf, the roots of which clung tenaciously to the bare rocks.  At low tide, you could practically walk out to the islands (we called them sandbars) -- but it was dangerous to do so, because of the rip-tides and muck.  When the wind was calm, the water looked like a huge glass mirror, if the Sun's angle was just right.  At such times the water reflected the sky so perfectly, disappearing and becoming an extension of it.  The colors were fabulous.  I'll never forget the smell of the ocean and the marshes.  Of all foods, seafood is my favorite.

My second cousin, George Stephens' and wife, Jerri's old "Rock Store" on hiway 40 in Inglis, Florida.  They had a lovely apartment complete with piano, in the top floor of the building; no children.
Yankeetown School, in Inglis, Florida; made of the same native stone.
"Home of the mighty Sand Gnats", LOL.
Eighth Street Elementary School
Osceola Middle School, Ocala, Florida
Ocala High School (Forest High), the campus where I attended classes.
The campus of my parents' generation.
Pictures of the new Forest High School campus.
Kimberling family info.
There are a number of Kimberlings in West Virginia, too (probably related, somehow, since it's a rare name).


  1. I stumbled upon this blog while researching the old rock store in Inglis. I am a huge Elvis fan and really enjoyed the pictures and stories of his interaction with your family! That is really awesome! I am looking for the owner of the old rock store in the 1930's, specifically 1933. I see that your second cousin owned the old rock store and was curious if the store maybe had been in the Stephens family for a while? Just grasping at straws here. Any info you may have would be greatly appreciated! My email is: Thanks!

    1. I don't know any more about the history of that store, although I too find it a subject of interest. I wonder when it was built and by whom. There are three remarkable buildings (church, school, and store) in that neighborhood, all facing highway 40, which are built of the same native stone, probably quarried from right across the lane from my grandparents' old homestead, just a couple of blocks away.

      I've braved the woods to visit that quarry a time or two, and found it to be a particularly secluded spot with a strangely foreign and very quiet sort of ambiance. I have theorized that the stones may have been originally part of an ancient Indian mound, but who knows.

      I am only related to the Stephens by marriage, somehow; not a very close relationship; so, I really don't know much about their family. George Stephens was my 2nd cousin by blood, but I'm not sure what the precise connection was. He was my mother's cousin, via one of her maternal aunts (Thelma or Hattie, perhaps).

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