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Before America

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 tax records.

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."

Acton Church 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.



James W Jennings, 4403 Campfire Rd RORA G-16, HARTSEL CO 80449     w5eut @