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.