At first glance, any connection between Kings Stanley,
Near the Cotswold mill town of Stroud,
And Jesse James of Wild West infamy,
Would seem improbable, to say the least;
But I was told by Ade Blair
(with comments from Otto Didakt),
That Jesse James’ great-grandfather,
William James, was born in Kings Stanley in 1754,
‘And is buried in St George’s churchyard’,
Dying in 1805, the year of Trafalgar.
Seems improbable, it’s true,
For here we are in landlocked locked down Stroud,
A long way from the Atlantic Ocean,
And the ‘Wild Missouri’,
And yet …
Charles Mason of the Mason-Dixon Line,
Was born just down the River Frome in Sapperton;
An American historian believes that Edward Thache,
Aka ‘Blackbeard’, the notorious pirate,
Was born in Stonehouse;
The eighteenth century was an age
Of martial and maritime and slaving expansion,
Press gangs and ships’ crews,
And a busy River Severn just down the River Frome …
Stroud Scarlet cloth went all over the world,
The East India Company,
Traded with the Iroquois,
‘Strouds’ were traded deep within First Nation lands,
Way out west beyond the Missouri river;
Redcoats were out there, of course,
before and during the American Revolution
(Or American War of Independence as we were taught);
Bristol, the eighteenth century foremost slaving port,
Was just down the road and river;
The Atlantic Archipelago
Saw many migrants go west and saw some return –
So, it seemed quite conceivable, initially,
That William James went to America,
Only to return to die in Kings Stanley in 1805,
Having left a family way out west …
And it seemed quite conceivable that he would want to emigrate:
America: beacon of freedom;
America: land of opportunity;
The West Country:
Economic hardship …
Anonymous threatening letters;
Luddism before the Luddites;
But before we speculate further,
On motives and consequences,
A bit more on the dialogue between Adie and Otto:
William James ‘lived in, and is buried in Kings Stanley’;
‘Is there a headstone?’
‘As far as I know there is but I haven’t been to see it myself.
He’s buried in St George’s churchyard.’
‘I heard the story from a couple of friends, on the same day this week.
It’s mentioned in the Wikipedia entry on Kings Stanley.
Also, on Wikipedia it says that William James moved to
Goochland County, Virginia, in the late eighteenth century.
He had a son called John M James (1775-1827)
Whose son, Robert Sallee James, was born in Logan County,
Kentucky, on July 17th 1818,
And was Jesse and Frank’s father.
It also says that William moved to the USA from Pembrokeshire
So how he ended up in Kings Stanley remains a mystery.’
I was captivated and joined the discussion:
Did he emigrate from Pembroke via Ireland?
Did he have connections with Bristol and the triangular trade?
Slaves, cotton, rum, sugar, tobacco, textiles?
What was his social status?
Merchant or artisan or labourer?
Ade’s thoughts were as follows, in May 2020:
‘Or the Pembrokeshire information was a mistake.
A little voice tells me that he was somehow involved
With the whole slaves, tobacco thing …’
I decided to walk to Kings Stanley along the canal,
To have a recce of the churchyard,
What would the headstone signify?
Merchant or artisan or labourer?
There was spring in my step:
I pictured William having a last tankard in the King’s Head,
Before sailing the next morning, sometime in 1774;
But before I talk of that,
Here’s a bit of context about Stroud and the Five Valleys,
Back in the late eighteenth century –
What was William leaving behind?
Here’s Adrian Randall in his seminal study of our area:
‘Resistance to machinery was multiform …
Peaceful petitioning, appeals to the courts …
Negotiations … strike action, intimidation and riot’;
‘Just as food riots reveal order, discrimination and a clear moral economy,
So do community-based riots against the jenny and the scribbling machine’;
A few miles up the road from Kings Stanley,
In the village of Uley, this letter was penned in 1795:
‘No King but a constitution down down down
A fatall dow high caps and proud hats
For ever dow down we all’;
Sir George Paul observed:
‘The cry of want of bread … forms a body of insurgents,
Amongst them are mixed a number of seditious persons’;
The Earl of Berkeley observed:
‘A vein of bad materials runs through the lower orders
In the clothing part of the county which still continues
To study Tom Paine with a few political clubs
and of the very dregs of Tom Paine’s cash’;
I arrived at St George’s in early June;
A welcoming information board proclaimed:
‘What are You Looking For?
Come and See!
John 1 38-9’;
But it was impossible to find William James’ headstone:
A needle in a haystack in a churchyard:
Too many grand monuments and headstones had mouldered away,
The soft ooilitc limestone no match for rainswept cumulus;
Inscriptions now indecipherable,
Lichen glowing in the hot June sun,
And no William James headstone in the 1805 area.
This might just mean he was not of merchant stock, I thought;
Times were hard round here with food riots:
‘On Friday last a Mobb was rais’d in these parts by the blowing of Horns
& consisting entirely of the lowest of the people such as weavers, mechanicks,
Labourers, prentices and boys &c’;
That’s what led him to leave, I thought.
I sat down on a bench and googled John 1 38-9:
‘Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked,
“What do you want? …
Come … and you will see.”
So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him.
It was about four in the afternoon.’
Well, in fact, it was mid-day,
And friends joined me for a physically distanced chat:
Becky Thomas told me that some of the Wikipedia entry
Had been deleted:
William James was no longer buried in St George’s churchyard.
Becky wondered if he had been a Baptist …
I had read that Jesse James’ father had been a Baptist minister …
There had been a thriving Baptist church in the village …
Zak led us up past the King’s Head –
If William James was a Baptist
would he have had that tankard before emigrating?
We wandered footpaths over streams to the church;
The churchyard was overgrown.
An enjoyable meander but mission impossible.
‘Did you find what you were looking for?’
Asked the man who lived next door to the church;
I explained my quest,
Talked about his grandfather’s World War One diaries,
And then made for home,
Reflecting that I was on the track of a bushwhacker,
A Confederate White Supremacist,
In the wake of the death of George Floyd,
Here in the south-west of England,
Home to so many slave-owners and beneficiaries from compensation;
Kings Stanley and the USA were now seeming more conjoined …
Particularly when I discovered that William James
Emigrated in 1774 – one year before the start of war.
Was he a democrat and a free thinker?
Did he know that war was brewing?
Within a year, Stroud Scarlet redcoats
would be fighting in his new homeland,
Against his new countrymen and women;
How did he deal with that dissonance?
I had to pop up to the Crown & Sceptre,
When I got back to Stroud for some groceries,
And mentioned my Jesse James quest to Rodda:
‘I’ve been to his home,’ he said …
In the evening I went on Ancestry.com,
Carried out a bit of triangulation,
To feel contented with this assertion:
William James b 1754 Kings Stanley m Mary Hines 1774
Hanover, Goochland, Virginia
(Mary Hines b 1755 Hanover)
Willam d 1805 Lickinghole Creek, Goochland Co, Virginia
Mary d 1805 Lickinghole Creek, Goochland Co, Virginia
The son to watch of their progeny:
Rev John Martin James b 1774 Hanover
d 1827 Clay County, Missouri
The son to watch of his progeny:
Robert Sallee James b 1818 Whipporwill Creek, Logan, Kentucky
d 1850 California
Father of Jesse Woodson James b 1847
d Kearney, Clay County, Missouri 1882
So, now we know why I couldn’t find
William James’ headstone in Kings Stanley.
He never came back.
It seemed as though William and Mary died on the same day,
I wondered what Lickinghole Creek was like;
An artisanal brewery over there replied:
I am sorry that we cannot be of much help. We are named after the creek that runs through our property. You can learn more about our where we developed our name on our website: https://www.lickingholecreek.com/about and https://www.lickingholecreek.com/brand.
Please let me know if you have any questions. Thanks,
I wrote to Hanover Local History Society,
But no reply, and life is so busy …
So, Wikipedia it had to be:
The county was named for Sir William Gooch, 1st Baronet, the royal lieutenant governor from 1727 to 1749. The nominal governor, the Earl of Albemarle, had remained in England. As acting royal governor, Gooch promoted settlement of the Virginia backcountry as a means to insulate the Virginia colony from Native American and New France settlements in the Ohio Country.
As the colonists moved into the Piedmont west of Richmond, they first developed tobacco plantations like those of the Tidewater. After the Revolution, tobacco did not yield as high profits as markets changed. In Goochland, as in other areas of Virginia, many planters switched to growing wheat and mixed crops. This reduced their need for labor. In the early nineteenth century, some planters sold slaves in the domestic slave trade, as demand was high in the developing Deep South where cotton plantations were developed.
was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.
During the early part of 1781, Lord Cornwallis marched his sizable army through the boundaries of Goochland. They occupied and thoroughly destroyed Elkhill, a small estate of Thomas Jefferson, slaughtering the livestock for food, burning barns and fences, and finally burning down the house. They took 27 slaves as prisoners of war, and 24 died of disease in the camp.
In 1774 Hanover citizens assembled at the Courthouse and adopted the “Hanover Resolutions”, stating that “we will never be taxed but by our representatives.” These resolutions became an early flashpoint in the American Revolution.
Well, that seemed to suggest that land attracted William James,
And it also seemed to suggest that the area was for Independence,
And also, that William would have seen Stroud Scarlet redcoats
In action in the area of his new homestead;
I talked this over with Jon Seagrave
In Kings Stanley churchyard,
The links between this village and Jesse James,
A Confederate bushwhacker,
Days after the killing of George Floyd,
Days before a BLM artwork,
At Sainsburys roundabout
Would be scrawled over with KKK;
I read this piece from Afua Hirsch to Jon:
‘The British government could have had the humility to use this moment to acknowledge Britain’s experiences. It could have discussed how Britain helped invent anti-black racism, how today’s US traces its racist heritage to British colonies in America.’
It was sort of serendipitously appropriate, wasn’t it?
The next day, I started on a biography:
Jesse James Last Rebel of the Civil War
Written by T.J. Stiles,
And according to my interpretation of my notes:
A self-styled Robin Hood,
With a penchant for performative robbery and violence,
A murderous, robbing thug,
A racist Confederate bushwhacker and nightrider,
Who sported KKK vestments on occasions;
His father, a Baptist preacher,
His mother, Zerelda, independent and resolute,
Both hailing from Kentucky,
Before moving to Clay County, Missouri,
Where Robert Sallee James was a preacher:
‘His manner of speaking was sublime’,
While his ‘exhortations were inimitable’,
Was the view of a Clay County resident;
But he kept slaves, despite his Christianity,
And rejected abolition;
Frank was born in 1843,
Jesse in 1847;
Robert Salle James died in California in 1850,
A victim of the California Gold Rush,
Having written to Zerelda, en route:
‘Train up your children in the … admonition of the Lord …
Kiss Jesse for me and tell Frank to be a good boy and learn fast’.
Zerelda would marry again, twice,
But she was more than capable of running any show herself,
She could run the farm, boss the slaves,
Stand tall for the Confederacy,
When Frank went off to war,
Later joined by Jesse as a bushwhacker at the age of 16,
Where his first guerrilla action was reported thus:
‘Men were slain before the eyes of their wives and children’,
These were civilians who supported the Union;
Later they would scalp Union soldiers,
In a ‘carnival of blood’,
With scalps tied to their saddles as trophies.
But that didn’t stop Jesse joining the Southern Baptist Church,
After the Civil War ended –
It was a fiercely secessionist, anti-abolitionist church,
In Clay County, Missouri –
Before turning his hands to bank robberies,
Intimidating northern carpetbaggers;
But as the price on his head grew,
So, he was mythologised by John Newman Edwards:
‘There is always a smile on his lips, and a graceful word
or compliment for all with whom he comes into contact’;
And as editor of the Kansas City Times,
Newman collaborated with James:
‘As soon as I can get a just trial, I will surrender myself’;
‘It is true that during the war I was a Confederate soldier,
And fought under the black flag but since then I have lived a peacable citizen’;
But, sure as night follows day,
So, bank robberies followed this 1870 declaration,
But that didn’t stop Edwards, with an editorial:
‘The Chivalry of Crime’,
With an Arthurian round table allegory;
While James began to see himself as a Robin Hood figure,
With the false claim that ‘we rob the rich to give to the poor’,
Forgetting that he also said:
‘There is no use for a man to try to do anything when an experienced robber gets the go on him, if he gives the alarm, or resists,
or refuses to unlock, he gets killed’;
And on the railroads:
‘If you don’t open the safe or give me the key,
I’ll blow your brains out’.
Once he lost Edwards’ patronage,
The spelling and grammar deteriorated;
But James married; became a father;
And the days of the railroad revolution
Were leaving the days of the Confederate guerrilla behind,
So, by the late 1870s, even erstwhile admirers
Would be inclined to see James as nothing but a robber;
Kansas City Times 1881:
‘They continued the war after the war ended … But as time passed on the war, even to them, was a thing of the past …
they … became the outlaws they now are.’
While as for his enemies …
‘I consider Jesse James the worst man, without exception, in America.
He is utterly devoid of fear, and has no more compunction about cold blooded murder than he has about eating his breakfast.’
(Robert A. Pinkerton Richmond Democrat 1879)
In consequence, the reward on his head,
and brother Frank’s
Climbed to $10,000 each.
It had once been $300.
Old comrade, Charley Ford, decided the time was right:
‘My brother and I made up to kill him …
I would not try it when he had his arms on.’
‘We waited a long time to catch Jesse without his revolvers’;
But in early April, 1882, Jesse James found the day so hot,
He took off his coat and vest and gun belt and revolvers …
And that was the end of Jesse James,
Although not the end of the mythology:
Some have claimed, said Ade Blair,
That Jesse James fabricated his death,
And lived to the ripe old age of 101,
A quiet and forgotten Texan centenarian,
Living into the Cold War atomic age.
Seems improbable doesn’t it?
Impossible, more like.
Jesse and Frank James, The Family History Phillip W. Steele
‘William James, believed to have been born in 1754 in Pembrokeshire, Wales, came to America with his family at an early age, originally settling lands in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. He later moved to Virginia where he settled near Lickinghole Creek in Goochland County. Records also indicate that William also owned land in nearby Fluvanna and Louisa counties. It was there he married, on July 15th 1774, to Mary Hines, who was English-born … the ceremony in Hanover County.’
‘The lineage of Jesse and Frank continues with John and Polly Poor James, paternal grandparents of the famous brothers …John and Polly … settled lands in Logan County, Kentucky, alongside Whippoorwill Creek’. John James was a minister and the fifth child, Jesse James’ father, was born on July 17th 1818. Robert Sallee James’ unusual middle name ‘was given him in honour of a Baptist minister from Kentucky, Rev. Sallee, whom his parents admired’.
Two conclusions I draw from this:
1. A genealogical trawl for William James might well bring forth quite a few infants named William James in Pembrokeshire in the mid eighteenth century. Is that what happened with the above family history? Which conclusion do we jump to? Kings Stanley or Pembrokeshire?
2. The strong Baptist that runs through the James generations is interesting. There was a thriving Baptist church in Kings Stanley. So, do we plump for Kings Stanley?
Right. That’s it. I’ve had enough of Jesse James now. I leave the story to more empirically minded historians. Perhaps this piece will stimulate some further research into the presumed Kings Stanley connection. William James: Kings Stanley or Pembroke?