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Posts Tagged ‘ainsworth’

Last month, Renegade South posted a query from Lea Worth, an Austrialian Ainsworth seeking to link her international ancestors to the American Ainsworths.  Then, just a few days ago, I received the following email from Glenn McNeil via my Renegade South Website:

Sampson J. Ainsworth is my Third Great-Grandfather. His daughter Arenna Renee married William McNeil who I think was conscripted in the Civil War. He is the Mystery Man my Family has been searching for for years. He lived near Taylorsville, Ms. Help!!

Lea Worth and Glenn McNeil’s questions stimulated me to read further into the history of the Ainsworth family.  Consulting the research of Ainsworth descendants, including Shirley Pieratt of Texas and Gerald Johnson of Mississippi, reveals that the 19th century Ainsworths, who swept across the American Southwestern frontier from South Carolina to Texas, were an integral part of the settlement process. Some mixed their lines with Choctaw Indians and multiracial slaves of Indian, African, and European heritage.  According to Shirley, the frontier Ainsworths were:

“an engaging lot of kinfolk: slaveowning entrepreneurs, hard-scrabble farmers, a country schoolteacher, Choctaws, blacks, put-upon women of all races, two county judges, an accountant  for a race track, Sam Houston’s nemesis, a justice of the peace-sheriff-preacher—and a rogue medicine-show man.”

[Shirley Insall Pieratt, frontispiece, The Ainsworth-Collins Clan in Texas, 1838, 2004.]

I have had the good fortune to meet and correspond with both Shirley Pieratt and Gerald Johnson. Back in 1998, Gerald provided me with my most important insights into the Unionist branch of the Welborn family for my book The Free State of Jones. Although he mentioned his research on the Ainsworths to me, they did not fit into the story I was telling at that time.  Only later did I recognize the Ainsworths’ importance to the history of the Southwestern frontier (as well as to the postwar Knight family, as Yvonne Bivins has shown).

My knowledge of the Ainsworths increased substantially after I contacted Shirley in 2004 on the advice of Gerald. A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to meet this preeminent historian of the Texas branch of the Ainsworth family. Shirley and I shared lunch in the small town of Buda, Texas, midway between her home in Austin and mine in San Marcos. We had a great time together,  eating chicken and dumplings while making connections between the Texas and Mississippi Ainsworths and the Ainsworths and Collinses families (Collinses who were related to none other than Stacy Collins–it’s a small world!)

Knowing that I was working on a new book, Shirley generously gave me several Ainsworth files. So, after hearing from both Lea Worth and Glenn McNeil, I returned to those files. I knew that Shirley’s book included material on Sampson Ainsworth, and I eagerly searched for some mention of William McNeil. Alas, no luck, although the book does list Arenna as one of the many children of Sampson and Ann Ainsworth (p. 110). 

While searching for McNeil, I was delighted to discover that Shirley’s files contained excerpts from broader works on the Ainsworths.  For example, it contained the front page of Francis J. Parker’s  Genealogy of the Ainsworth Family in America, (1894), which refers to the Ainsworths of Lancashire and contains a drawing of the very coat of arms described by Lea.

I also found excerpts from the April 1991 issue of the genealogical newsletter, Ainsworth Trading Post,  which featured an article on the origins of Ainsworths who settled in American and elsewhere. It’s interesting that Lea described her GG grandfather, Thomas Hargreaves Ainsworth, born in Lancashire, as having established a cotton weaving school and factory in the Dutch town of Goor, because this article identified the Lancashire Ainsworths as “engaged in a wide variety of industrial and commercial occupations, predominantly in bleaching and the manufacture of textiles.”  The economic importance of the English Industrial Revolution to the Ainsworths seems clear, then, although the ancestral names provided by Lea don’t appear in this essay. 

How interesting that the American Ainsworths would be so identified with the raw frontier of America, in contrast to their European kin! One wonders if the Americans represent a branch of the family that deliberately rejected the industrializing world, or one that simply failed to make good as entrepreneurs during those tumultuous, insecure economic times of change.

Having gotten this far and failing to find definite answers to Lea and Glenn’s questions, I hope that other Ainsworth researchers will chime in. Perhaps there are non-American researchers who can help link the Ainsworths across the oceans. Or perhaps someone has information on Arenna’s husband, the elusive William O’Neil. If so, we’d love to hear from you.

Vikki Bynum

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Is THIS Rachel Knight?

Is THIS Rachel Knight?

At long last we return to the question of whether a photograph of Rachel Knight exists. (see my earlier post,  “Rachel Knight: Does a Picture of Her Exist?”).  I am pleased to now be in touch with Yvonne Bivins, who has been researching the Ainsworth/Smith/Knight family lines for many years.

Yvonne believes that the woman identified as Rachel on the cover of my book, The Free State of Jones, is probably Anna Knight, daughter of Georgeanne Knight and granddaughter of Rachel. Based on her grandfather’s description of Rachel, she believes the woman in the above photo is much more likely to be Rachel. Grandfather Warren Smith, she writes, “described Rachel as a ‘Guinea Negro,’ meaning she was racially mixed but did not look white nor was she light-skinned, but with “nice hair” not kinky and shoulder length.”

Further descriptions by Warren Smith of Rachel’s appearance led Yvonne to conclude that Rachel’s daughter, Martha Ann Knight, most resembled her.  Photographs do exist of Martha Ann, who, Yvonne notes, looked very much like an “Australian Aborigine.”  Because the woman in the above photo sharply resembles Martha Ann, Yvonne hypothesizes that this just may be a photo of Rachel.

Yvonne makes another important point: “My grandfather,” she states, “said that Rachel’s children did not appear as white as most would believe. They had complexions that ranged from dark olive to light brown, most with coarse black hair with a few red-heads in the mixture. The infusion of fair-skin came from the Ainsworths and not the Knights.”

This is all very fascinating, and I’m sure we haven’t yet heard the final word on Rachel Knight and her progeny.  Thank you, Yvonne, for sharing your research and perspective with us.

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Several members of the extended Knight family are gathered here.

Several members of the extended Knight family are gathered here.

After posting my blog about Serena Knight, I returned to my research and photo files. There, I located this photograph of the Jeffrey and Ella Knight family, which is particularly revealing about Serena’s life after she left the home of her husband, Newt Knight. In my book, The Free State of Jones, I included this picture, but mis-identified it. I had thought that it was a photo of Jeffrey Early Knight (son of Rachel) and his first wife, Martha Ann (Mollie) Knight, the daughter of Newt and Serena Knight. Well, it is a photo of Jeffrey, and I was correct in identifying the elderly woman seated in front as Serena, Jeffrey’s mother-in-law. But this photo was taken after  the 1917 death of Mollie, Jeffrey’s first wife and Serena’s daughter. I have Dianne Walkup of Monterey, CA, a descendant of Jeffrey and Mollie Knight, to thank for setting me straight.

The woman standing next to Jeffrey is not Mollie, but rather is his second wife, Sue Ella (called Ella) Smith. Like Jeffrey, Ella was descended from a multiracial family. Her grandmother was Martha Ann Ainsworth, the only slave of Sampson “Jeff” Ainsworth of neighboring Smith County. All six of Martha Ann’s children are believed to have been fathered by Jeff Ainsworth. Like Rachel Knight, Martha Ann was herself multiracial. She was of Native American and probably African and European ancestry. After the Civil War, the multiracial Ainsworths intermarried extensively with the Knights and another multiracial family of the area, the Smiths, who may have descended from Mahala Smith, born in 1832 in Alabama and identified by Mississippi census enumerators as a mulatta.*

Back to the photograph. The children and young adults who surround Jeffrey, Ella, and Serena represent an extended, blended, and genealogically complex family. On the far left is Ada Knight, the daughter of Newt and Serena’s youngest daughter, Cora. Next to Ada is Mabry Knight, Ella’s son by her previous marriage to Henry Knight, who was Jeffrey’s nephew. Standing behind Ella is Wilder Knight, the son of Floyd Knight, whose parents were Rachel and, allegedly, Newt Knight. Wilder’s mother was Lucy Ainsworth Knight, the daughter of Martha Ann Ainsworth and, allegedly, Sampson “Jeff”Ainsworth, making him Ella’s half-brother. The remaining two children on the right are Ella’s son, Lacy, and her daughter, Nobie. Their father is alleged to have been Charlie Knight, a son of Jeffrey and Mollie Knight. If true, these children were both the grandchildren and stepchildren of Jeffrey Knight.

Represented in this extended family portrait are descendants of slaves, slaveholders, and non-slaveholders, Native Americans, African Americans, and Euro-Americans. Serena Knight, like her estranged husband, Newt, lived among her multiracial kinfolk until the end of her long life. She died in 1923 at the age of 85, having outlived Old Newt by one year.

*My knowledge of the Ainsworth, and Smith family lines has been greatly enhanced by the research of Dianne Walkup, Yvonne Bivins, and Shirley Pieratt.

A caveat to the above identifications:  The 1920 census listed Lacy as two years older than Mabry, making me suspect that their identities should be reversed on the photograph.

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