I do not have any hard facts
about our ancestors before America. But in looking for that information I
found some very interesting information about the Jennings name that I feel
should be passed along for what it is worth. So this chapter will be
interesting reading I hope, but I cannot say that our family is tied to any of
the facts I present.
The surname Jennings appears to be patronymical (for the father) in origin1.
It probably can be associated with the English, meaning, "descendant of
Jen, a pet form of the word John (gracious gift of Jehovah)". I have
found several spellings, Jenings, Ennins, Jennins, etc. I do not know that
any of out ancestors in America prior to my great-grandfather could read or
write which could account for some of the various spellings found in census and
I found many stories about the very early history of the Jennings family in
England. I am almost sure that our ancestors came from England and I will
expound on that later. One interesting narrative is as follows2:
A Jennens, a Danish captain accompanied Canute, King of Denmark to England about
900. He was granted lands near the coast at Harwich, in return for his
services to his master's father, Sweyn (Forkbeard), King of Denmark.
A descendant of this Jennens, also a sea captain, brought the body of Richard
Cour de Lion from Palestine, and in commemoration of this event was granted
three plummets, or shells, as a coat of arms. See Coat
of Arms for the Jennings coat of arms. These Jennings took no
prominent part either in public life of at court until the reign of Henry VIII
when one Robert Jennings was employed in the royal household. He became a
favorite with the King, who gave him a sword and belt, and about the year 1545
appointed him chief ranger and deer-stalker in the parish of Duffield,
Derbyshire. He then lived at Shottle.
To this branch belong the families descended from Robert of Shottle, John of
Birmingham, and Philip of Duddlestone, who was the father of Admiral Sir John
Jennings or Jennens, well known in the days of Queen Anne; also Robert Jennens,
who was about the court; and his son, the famous William Jennens, who died
intestate. There were many claimants for his property - Jarndyce vs.
Jarndyce, in "Bleak House" being founded on this case.
This William Jennens, also
known as "William the Miser", died in 1798 at the age of 99 leaving a
very large estate. His obituary read as follows:
"Died, June 19th, in his 97th
year,Wm. Jennens, of Acton Place, near Long Melford, in the county of Suffolk,
and of Grosvenor Square, Esq. He was baptized in September, 1701, and was
the son of Robert Jennens, Esq., Aide-de-Camp to great Duke of Marlborough (by
Anne, his wife, and daughter of Carew Guidott, Esq., lineally descended from Sir
Anthony Guidott, Knight, a noble Florentine, employed on sundry embassies by
King Edward VI), grandson of Humphrey Jennens of Edington Hall, in the county of
Warwick, Esq., Lord of the Manor of Nether-Whitacre in that county in 1680
and an eminent ironmaster of Birmingham. King William III was godfather to
late Mr. Jennens."
shows a photograph of the Acton Church and Acton
Statue shows a lifesize marble statue of Robert Jennens and Anne Guidott
(William's parents) inside the church.
The church was erected by Anne.
During the Civil War many of the Jennings
families tried to claim the estate of William Jennens from the crown of England
without success. That estate was said to be valued at more than ten
million dollars at the time of his death. These efforts continued at least
until the 1930's. As a result there is much written about the Jennings
family as everyone with that name wanted to get their hands on the money.
The Jennings Association, USA published a report
in 1863 and gathered information from many Jennings families trying to establish
a link back to the estate. Much of this large amount of data was collated
by Beatrice Mackey Doughtie3.
There are other Jennings families to be found in
the history of England. Sarah Jennings, (b. June 5, 1660) who married John
Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough in 1678 was one of Sir Winston
Churchill's ancestors. There was a Jennings who was Lord Mayor of London
in the 16th century.
"The World Book of Jenningses", Halbert's Family Heritage, 1990.
2 "Some Notes on the History of the Parish of Acton
Suffolk", David Johnson, High Street, Acton, 1981.
3 "Documented Notes on Jennings and Allied
Families", Beatrice Mackey Doughtie, Brown Press, Inc., Decatur, GA, 1961.