Are We Related to Jesse and Frank James?

Frank and Jesse James 001

This weeks prompt for 52 Ancestors is Family Legends.   Right away I thought of what  my Uncle Bill Lyons would tell us when we were young.   He said we were related to Jesse and Frank James, the infamous outlaws.  Uncle Bill was the oldest in my dad’s family and seemed to know the most about family history.  Still, it was hard to believe and as we grew up, we believed it less and less.  When I became interested in genealogy, I discovered that my 2nd great- grandmother was Mary Ann James, married to Columbus Perry Ashlin, so there was the James name.   However that did not prove any relationship and I really needed to investigate this James family.  I proved to be a gargantuan task as the James family lines are huge!  It will take me years of research to complete, for sure!

Wanted poster 001

While researching at the Mormon History Library in Salt Lake City a couple years ago, I found a whole book written on the James Family!  It is titled “Montgomery and James of southwest Virginia” by David B. Trimble (see Sources).  This volume of genealogy in one of four written as an expansion of Southwest Virginia Families, published in 1974.    The book basically gives the genealogy  and families of three brothers, Samuel, Thomas and John James who were born in Virginia in the early 1700’s.  I was able to establish my ancestry connection with Samuel James who was born 19 November of 1722 and married Mildred Taliaferro in 1740.

One of Samuel and Mildred’s sons, Spencer James (also known as James Spencer James), married Frances Davis and their daughter Phoebe Byrd James, born in 1797, married Chesley Harrison Ashlin.  Chesley and Phoebe are my 3rd great-grandparents, being the parents of Columbus Perry Ashlin.  So here I found my 2nd Great-grandfather, Columbus was also descended from a James as was his wife, Mary Ann James!  Mary Ann was the daughter of Thompson B. James and Susannah J Porter.  Thompson B. James was the son of Ezekial James and  Frances James, the sister of Phoebe Byrd James.  It all sounds confusing but my 2nd great-grandparents, Columbus Ashlin and Mary Ann James were actually distant cousins!  So now I established that there are indeed a lot of James ancestors in my tree!   But how did they relate to Jesse and Frank James?  I still had my doubts!

Then I stumbled on a web site entitled “Stray Leaves” by Eric James as I was researching the ancestry of Jesse and Frank James.  This web site was surprising and very well documented!  It is based on 10 years of research and uncovered 35,000 plus known James families and relations!  The Story of the James Family in American spans 350 years and started with John James, an immigrant from Carnarvon, Wales to Colonial Virginia arriving before 1650.  It also traced the James heritage back to William the Conqueror, Edward I “Longshanks”,  Edward II and Edward III of England.  There is much more on the James family ancestry that one can explore.  However, from what I could determine, some James family stayed in Virginia (which would be my ancestors) and others moved on to Kentucky.  Many were Baptist ministers as was Robert Sallee James, Jesse and Frank’s father.

This is a very extensive site but has a list of surnames that can guide you to check for anyone related to Jesse and Frank.  I checked the Ashlin name and was very surprised to find my second great-grandparents, Columbus Perry Ashlin and Mary Ann James listed as related to Jesse and Frank James!  Wow, according to this, my Uncle Bill was right!  However, I do need to continue studying the site and tracing both Jesse and Frank’s ancestry to see how they are related to our James’.  I do need more concrete proof.  But for now, if anyone asks if we are related to Jesse and Frank James, I can say “Quite possibly!”

stray Leaves 001

Jesse James, shall I say “distant cousin?”

Jesse James32 001


Trimble, David B. (David Buchanan), 1922-(Main Author), Montgomery and James of southwest Virginia, Austin, Texas: D. B. Trimble, c1992, 402 pages.

Wingfield, Marshal, Pioneer Families of Franklin County Virginia, Chesapeake Book Co. 1964, pp. 132-136.

(Stray Leaves)


7 thoughts on “Are We Related to Jesse and Frank James?

  1. I ran across your site when searching for Lt. Stephen Justephonicus K Smith, then I saw you post about the James connection. Have you noticed Stevens son William married a James and Williams son Peyton married a cousin of his mother also a James . I have traced these as being a daughter of Samuel James and Mildred Taliaferro James. William lived in Va and is mentioned in the will of Samuel James . Peyton lived in Logan County Ky ,home of Jessee James parents before their move to Mo. Peyton had a son William Winter Smith, who moved from Ky right after the Civil War , to Texas dying there in 1876.


    1. Peyton Smith is the son of William Smith and Elizabeth “Betty” James. He married Mary “Polly” James his first cousin in 1805 in Franklin county, KY. Mary “Polly” James is the daughter of James “Jimmy” James and Rutha/Ruth LNU but widely guessed at as being Fielding. The name “Fielding” is assumed because James “Jimmy” James and wife Ruth named their second son Fielding James.

      James “Jimmy” James is the son of Samuel James and wife Mildred and a brother to Spencer James and Elizabeth “Betty” James Smith.

      James “Jimmy” James and his family moved to Warren and Barren counties in KY from Franklin county, Virginia shortly after 1800. Peyton Smith and his wife “Mary “Polly” James also moved to Barren county, KY. (Barren county was taken from Warren county.)

      James “Jimmy” James died in 1826 in Warren county, KY. In his will he mentions Peyton and Polly and directs them to take care of his wife “Ruth.”

      James “Jimmy” James had the following children:

      Samuel James married Martha “Patsy” Sneed in Franklin county, VA in 1791. He died in Barren county in 1805/6.
      Mary “Polly James married Peyton Smith in Franklin county, VA in 1805. Peyton’s will is below.
      Fielding James married Sally Custer in 1813 in Barren county, KY and died in Barren county, KY in 1816.
      Mildred James married John R. Karr is Warren county, KY in 1808.

      Peyton and Polly Smith had the following children; there may be other children.
      Thornton J. Smith remained in KY.
      Ruth Eunice Smith married Frederick Moss and moved to Texas.
      William Winter Smith moved to Texas.
      Daughter never married.
      Daughter Martha married Ben Reed and moved to Iowa.

      Here are deeds, wills as documentation of the above. I have many more if you are interested.

      Orange Co. VA Deed Book 24, page 109: This Indenture made the 3d day of December in the year one
      thousand eight hundred and four, between James James and Rutha his wife, Spencer James and Fanny
      his wife, John James and Fanny his wife of the County of Franklin, also William Smith and Elizabeth his
      wife of the state of North Carolina in the County of Surry, also Joseph Atkins and Mildred his wife of the
      County of Orange of the one part and William C. Willis of the County of Orange of the other part. … in
      consideration of the sum of one hundred pounds current money of Virginia … sell unto the said William C.
      Willis and his heirs and assigns forever, all that tract or parcel of land lying and being in the County of
      Orange containing twelve acres seventy seven poles be the same more or less …

      The above deed is for the same land Mildred James inherited from her son Catlett James.

      Will of James “Jimmy” James:

      Warren Co. KY Will Book C, page 296: The nuncupative will of James James deceased made at his
      place of residence in Warren county during his last illness in presence of Reuben Johnston, Thornton J.
      Smith, and Patsy Smith who were called upon by the said James James deceased to bear witness that
      he wished the following distribution of his property to be made … I leave and bequeath to the infant heirs
      of Fielding James, deceased, to wit, Samuel, Betsy, and Mary James, forty acres of land, lying in Warren
      county on Sinking Creek … to my daughter in law Patsy James two cows and calves. … my beloved
      daughter Polly Smith and Payton Smith the ballance of my earthly goods … the said Peyton and Polly
      Smith is to support and take care of my beloved wife Ruth James during her life, commited to writing this
      8th day of Feby 1826 and 4th day after the death of the testator …

      November Court 1833. Will of Peyton Smith. Wife: Polly Smith. Son:
      Thornton J. Smith. Son: William Smith. Daughters: Yes – not named. Executrix:
      Wife, Polly. Witnesses: John Beckman, Samuel Feland, John C. Feland. Source:
      Barren Co KY Will Book 3, p. 38.

      More info on Peyton Smith in Barren county:

      Peyton Smith married January 17, 1805, in Franklin County, Virginia, Mary James; about 1805 moved to Warren (now Barren) County, Kentucky, where on March 23, 1816, he received a grant of 150 acres
      on Sinking Creek; he sold 100 acres of it to David Denton in May, 1817, for $200.00.
      He received a grant of 18 acres on Sinking Creek on August 13, 1817, and he bought
      100 acres on Sinking Creek from James James for $100.00 on January 22, 1824.

      Following is the will of William Smith, naming Peyton as his son.

      Surry Co. NC Will Book 3, page 136a: Will of William Smith, dated 27 Jul 1817, proved Aug 1818. … my
      beloved wife Elizabeth … my son John … my daughter Mary … my daughter Selah … my son, Peyton …
      my son Catlett … my daughter Milley, wife of John Smith … my daughter Nelly, the wife of James Muncus.


  2. I just found out my 3rd great grandfather was Spencer James. This is great information! My family would have been the Kentucky family.


    1. Thank you for commenting on my blog. It seems we are distantly related! I really need to find more time to research and will delve more into the James family in the future! Happy research! Marilyn


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