THE STOKELYS OF EAST TENNESSEE
Robert Evan Lee
The Stokely family has a long and illustrious history in east Tennessee and beyond. The Welshman John Jehu Stokely, the patriarch of the branch of the Stokely family that settled in east Tennessee, came to that region in the 1790s at around the time that Cocke County was created. One of the region's pioneers, he arrived in the eastern part of the county near Del Rio from central North Carolina with a Revolutionary War soldier's grant of land and later expanded those holdings to include hundreds of acres of prime farmland along the French Broad River and south along the banks of Big Creek.
Stokely, while still in Wales, had been hauled into court by the British for a minor offense and sentenced to serve seven years aboard a British sailing vessel as punishment. He eventually reached the American colonies, arriving through Charleston, SC, and, nursing a serious grudge against the British, acquitted himself admirably during our country's Revolutionary War, serving with the North Carolina Militia, then under John Paul Jones' command when Jones captained the Bon Homme Richard and defeated the British vessel Serapis in September of 1779, and, according to some reports, as an artilleryman.
Members of the Stokely family can be found throughout the country and in all walks of life today. Old Jehu's widely scattered descendants include prominent doctors, ministers, lawmen, educators, political leaders, military officers, captains of industry, stars of the stage and screen, philanthropists, and yes, intelligence analysts. But most of all, the Stokely men and women were community leaders who took an active part in seeing to it that the wilderness they entered was cleared, that dwellings and forts were constructed, that schools and churches were established, and that the blessings of liberty were secured for themselves and their descendants.
In the three-part article that follows, the reader may sample the history of the Stokely family in east Tennessee, including John Jehu Stokely's arrival in Cocke County from central North Carolina and his apparent service with the "Father of the American Navy," John Paul Jones. Additional material is included addressing the contributions of other family notables, including Grace Moore, Wilma Dykeman, and the founders of the Stokely canning enterprise.
JOHN JEHU STOKELY COMES TO EAST TENESSEE
amily sources tell us that there are at least five separate and distinct Stokely lines in America, and members of these five lines number in the thousands, but all of the Stokelys in east Tennessee or with roots in east Tennessee can very likely claim kinship with John Jehu Stokely, a Welshman and the first Stokely to arrive in that part of the country sometime in the 1790s. Old Jehu named his first son David Royal Stokely (1784-1842), and it is believed that just about all of the Stokelys in or from east Tennessee are descended directly from David Royal Stokely and his wife Jane (Jennie) Huff, who is reported to have survived being scalped by marauding Indians as a child. John Jehu, who fathered at least eight children before dying in about 1820 (some sources say he died in 1826), established his main home near Rocks Creek, some three miles up the French Broad River east of the little town of Del Rio in Cocke County in Tennessee and he's apparently buried on the old Burnett property about one-half mile south of the Wolf Creek bridge that spans the French Broad River.
The family often refers to John Jehu as "Old Jehu" and we pronounce Jehu as JEE -hugh, with the emphasis on the first syllable. Although one can find Stokely's given name rendered sometimes as Jehu and other times as John, it's probable that the old gentleman's full name was John Jehu Stokely, and I base this on the appearance of the name “John” in connection with Jehu's presence aboard the American frigate Alliance in September/October 1779, the use of the name “John” again on land transfer documents in the aftermath of the Revolutionary War, and the naming of one “John” Stokely in the Revolutionary War pension applications of two men who were from Stokely's home county in North Carolina. Old Jehu also gave the name John Jehu Stokely, Jr. to his second son, which I think is pretty solid evidence that my fourth great-grandfather's full name was in fact John Jehu Stokely. There are many John Stokelys to be found on the branches of our family tree, and I'm convinced that the name “John” can be traced all the way back to Old John Jehu Stokely himself.
The Universal Transverse Coordinates (UTM) for John Jehu's gravesite are UTM 17 323476E 3975480N. ( Special thanks and recognition go to my cousin Gordon Stokely, Jr., of Cincinnati who provided these coordinates .) I personally visited the gravesite in October of 2009 in the company of a local churchman who has spent years helping families locate old graveyards in the Del Rio area. To get to the gravesite, we drove up the Dry Fork Road past Harmony Grove (on State Route 107 some 3 miles south of Del Rio), turned north onto Odyssey Road (a small one-lane dirt road just a short distance past the Big Hill Cemetery, which is on property once owned by my maternal great-grandparents), drove for about a half-mile or less, parked the car, and then hiked generally northeast for a little more than a half-mile uphill through a dense forest, in the process criss-crossing a small stream known as Bee Creek.
We eventually arrived at a spot in the woods that appeared to have been a clearing of some sort many years ago. Based on family stories and the topography of the area, this is probably the location of Old John Jehu's grave and possibly that of his wife Nancy Neil (or Neal or O'Neil), whom he married near Charleston, South Carolina, in 1780. Old Jehu's gravesite, which is located in what is now known as the Cherokee National Forest, consists of some moss-covered fieldstones with no inscriptions. Such graves were unmarked in the early 1800s because local Indian tribes would desecrate the graves if they found them. My Aunt Chattie Stokely Rainwater (1899-1981) – the daughter of my great-grandfather Americus Jehu Stokely (1867-1946) – passed by this site many times as a young girl in the company of her father, who would often point in the direction of the grave and say , “That's where Old Jehu is buried."
Land records indicate that Old Jehu eventually held title to at least four plats of land along the French Broad River in addition to the one in which he is probably buried. One of those plats, number 2143, consists of 50 acres of land lying on the north side of the French Broad River. The land is upriver from Wolf Creek and is about half way between Buffalo Rock and Weaver Bend. A second plat, number 2144, describes some 50 acres of land on the south bank of the French Board. This section of land is about one and one-half miles south of the point where Wolf Creek empties into the French Broad River and it straddles Wolf Creek itself. Both of these parcels of land were surveyed in June of 1811.
Old Jehu purchased two other parcels from John Waddell in 1802. These parcels are considerably larger than numbers 2143 and 2144 and encompass a portion of the little town of Del Rio itself and include land in the old 15 th District and up the Trail Fork of Big Creek almost to Harmony Grove. One of the plats, number 1162, consists of 200 acres and includes land in the old 15 th District. The second plat, number 181, encompasses some 603 acres. The northernmost end of this second plat begins on the south bank of the French Broad River at a point that includes the mouth of Big Creek; from there, the property is roughly laid out along the Trail Fork of Big Creek almost to Dry Fork. Included in plat number 181 is the land on which John Jehu's first son David Royal Stokely eventually built his home near the mouth of Big Creek in Del Rio. The hundreds of acres that my great-great-grandfather John H. Stokely (1810 - 1893) eventually gained title to ca. 1840 were probably adjacent to the plats owned by Old Jehu. Nathan Jones, in his book By the River and Beyond , tells us that the Stokelys at one time owned almost all of the land on the west side of Big Creek all the way from Del Rio to Midway, some 5 miles to the south.
According to information in the bible belonging to David Royal Stokely, John Jehu Stokely (David Royal's father) was born in 1747 in Wales. We know too that Jehu arrived in the colonies in time to participate in the American Revolutionary War because there are war records indicating that one Jehue Stockley ( Stockley is the spelling used to this day in Wales) was paid for clothing lost at the Battle of Brier (or Briar, or Bryer) Creek in eastern Georgia in March of 1779. The applications for revolutionary war pensions filed separately by two men from Warren County, North Carolina, (where John Jehu Stokely lived before coming to east Tennessee) also say that John Stokely was captured along with these two men at the Battle of Brier Creek and then imprisoned.
Old Jehu was eventually given a soldier's land grant of 228 acres for his service to the state of North Carolina during the Revolutionary War. The amount of land granted was normally based on rank and on the amount of time that the recipient had served in the Continental line (the army). Available records indicate that Jehu served two and one half years. It is assumed that the land that Jehu eventually took possession of in accordance with this grant lay in the Big Creek area of what is now Del Rio, Tennessee. One of John Jehu's great-grandsons, Jesse W. D. Stokely, says that Jehu served two enlistments in the Continental Army after first enlisting in what passed for an American Navy in those days. Although it is clear that Old Jehu served on the side of the colonialists during the Revolutionary War, the capacity in which he served and the dates of this service are less clear, as different sources give conflicting information.
According to the family story passed down through the years, Jehu decided to settle in east Tennessee after being impressed by the skill and determination of the soldiers who were referred to as the “Over-Mountain Men” at the Battle of King's Mountain. ( Author's note: I also suspect that Old Jehu, if he visited east Tennessee before settling in the mountains there, discovered in the green valleys and rushing streams of eastern Cocke County a countryside that reminded him in many ways of his native Wales. Having found such a bucolic landscape that so closely resembled the land of his birth, it is easy to believe that Jehu would have quickly decided that the mountains of east Tennessee would be where he would settle. ) The Battle of King's Mountain, fought in October 1780 just west of Charlotte, North Carolina, was one of the key encounters in the south that helped signal the beginning of the end of the Revolutionary War. Over-Mountain Men was the name given to the force of more than 1,000 untrained militiamen from eastern Tennessee and southwest Virginia who, angered by warnings from British Col. Patrick Ferguson that they had best submit to British rule, marched to King's Mountain from eastern Tennessee and thoroughly decimated (some call it a massacre) Colonel Ferguson's force of Tories (Tories were Americans whose loyalties lay with the British). But even though one might infer from the family story that Old Jehu may actually have been at King's Mountain, I have found no official record to confirm that the Stokely patriarch was in fact one of the participants in the battle.
A period of some 12-18 years apparently elapsed between the time of the Battle of Kings Mountain and Jehu Stokely's move to east Tennessee . But the birthplace for Jehu's daughter Nancy is given as Cocke County, Tennessee, in 1792, and Cocke County is also cited in some documents as the birthplace of Nancy's three younger sisters in 1794, 1797, and 1802. It is difficult to reconcile this bit of information with the fact that Cocke County wasn't officially established until late in 1797, so perhaps we can compromise and simply agree that the girls were all born in the part of east Tennessee that was to become Cocke County.
John Jehu's residence of record apparently was in Warren County, North Carolina, until his move to Tennessee, which could have occurred as early as 1792 or as late as 1798. The census for 1790 shows that John Jehu was being carried as a resident of the Halifax District of Warren County at that time and that his family consisted of one male over 16 years of age (this would have been John Jehu himself), three males under 16 years of age (probably John Jehu's sons David Royal, John Jehu, Jr., and Thomas), two females (likely Nancy Neil and daughter Susan), and one slave.
Earlier, one Jehue Stokely (sic) had appeared in the Bute County, North Carolina, Record Book in an entry that was recorded in August 1778. Bute County was eventually divided into two counties – Franklin and Warren – and John Jehu resided in the part that came to be named Warren. One Jehue Stokeley ( sic ) also appears in Warren County's Will Book in an entry dated September 1781. The name of Jehu Stokely, with variations on the spelling, continued to appear in Warren County documents up until May of 1798. This is the latest date that we can find Stokely being carried officially as a resident of Warren County. A Jehu Stokly (sic) then appears on the Washington County, Tennessee, tax records for 1798.
Fixing the date of John Jehu Stokely's arrival in east Tennessee is made even more difficult by the fact that Washington County was at one time a part of western North Carolina, and many of the military land grants that were awarded to Revolutionary War veterans by North Carolina were located in Washington County. Indeed, in those days North Carolina territory extended westward all the way to the Mississippi River. Cocke County wasn't created as a separate entity until late in 1797 when it was carved out of Jefferson County.
Jehu Stokely himself enlightens us as to exactly how he came to be in the American colonies and he tells us of one adventure in particular that he experienced before settling in east Tennessee. Lady Ruth Odell tells of sitting down with my great-grandfather Americus Jehu Stokely (1867-1946) on March 23, 1938, at his home in Nough (pronounced “Nuff” and known locally as Slabtown) and of listening as the old man told of Jehu's arrival in America and of Old Jehu's claim that he had actually served with John Paul Jones.
Old Jehu told the family that while he was still living in Wales he was arrested by the British Crown for a minor offense (trespassing or breaking a branch from a tree) and then sentenced to serve seven years aboard a British sailing vessel as punishment. Old Jehu, according to Americus Jehu Stokely, nursed a grudge against the British for the rest of his life for what he considered to be a flagrant miscarriage of justice. John Jehu served at least a portion, and perhaps all, of this seven-year sentence and eventually arrived in the American colonies (through the port of Charleston, South Carolina, it is said). He soon enlisted on the side of the colonialists in their Revolutionary War against the British, during which time he found himself aboard one of the vessels commanded by John Paul Jones in 1779. Essentially the same story related by Americus Jehu Stokely is repeated in The Stokely Story , an account by Mable Stokely Grigsby – another direct descendant of John Jehu Stokely. Mrs. Grigsby's story was published in the Cocke County Banner some years ago and is on file in the Stokely Memorial Library in Newport, Tennessee.
I, like others, had some doubts about the truth of the family story that John Jehu served with John Paul Jones in September of 1779 at the time of the historic clash between Jones' flagship the Bon Homme Richard and the British vessel Serapis . These doubts about the story led me to initiate a research effort (See Part II of this article ) to see if light could be shed on this portion of my great-great-great-great-grandfather's life. My doubts were reinforced when I was unable to find Stokely's name on the roster for the Bon Homme Richard , which can be found in The Life and Character of John Paul Jones, a Captain in the United States Navy, During the Revolutionary War, the fine compilation by John Henry Sherburne. Mr. Sherburne's book contains the rosters for the Bon Homme Richard and the American-built frigate Alliance , as well as copies of certain correspondence between John Paul Jones and Benjamin Franklin related to the exchange of American sailors imprisoned by the British and these sailors' eventual assignment aboard vessels under Jones' command.
But upon further investigation I discovered that Old John Jehu was in fact not on the Bon Homme Richard but was apparently aboard the Alliance, which was also at the scene of the battle on the night of September 23, 1779, and which was captained by the half-mad Frenchman Pierre Landais. The Alliance , even though she was a participant in the battle on that September evening in 1779, has not achieved the historic notoriety enjoyed by the Bon Homme Richard . Captain Landais and the Alliance were present only on the margins of the battle between the Bon Homme Richard and the Serapis . Shockingly, Landais ordered the Alliance to actually fire on the Bon Homme Richard and the Serapis while those two vessels were lashed together in what some have called their "deadly embrace," and the Alliance did in fact rake (fired down the length of the boat) both vessels three times with cannon fire. Whatever Landais' intent, Jones, even though the Bon Homme Richard sank just hours after the battle, forced the captain of the British vessel to strike his colors, thereby defeating the more heavily armed Serapis in what was one of the bloodiest encounters to occur between sailing vessels of that era. ( A bristling description of the battle between the Bon Homme Richard and the Serapis may be found in the book Night on Fire , John Evangelist Walsh's splendid account of John Paul Jones' finest hour.)
The battle between the Bon Homme Richard and the Serapis, which took place over a period of hours on the evening of September 23, 1779, was fought beneath a full moon and was witnessed by crowds of British citizens watching from atop the chalk cliffs at Flamborough Head, England. ( Author's Note: I feel fortunate to have been able to stand atop those very same chalk cliffs at Flamborough Head, with the ghost of Old John Jehu at my side and with the rain in my face, as I gazed out across the waters of Filey Bay to the spot where the Bon Homme Richard sank some 230 years ago. ) Stokely too was a witness to history on that moonlit night in September of 1779, as he doubtless gazed with a sense of satisfaction across the water from the decks of the Alliance as the glow from the fires aboard both the Bon Homme Richard and the Serapis illuminated the scene. The world was changing before young Jehu's eyes (at 32, he was the same age as John Paul Jones), but it is doubtful that the youthful revolutionary envisioned the colossus that his adopted country would become. It was probably beyond his comprehension that the sea would someday be ruled by huge nuclear-powered naval vessels made of iron and steel and that they would serve as floating landing strips for machines that could fly through the air so rapidly that they would have passed through the area before the sound signaling their approach had even arrived.
Our family should be proud that Jehu was there when Jones battled the Serapis , as this exceptionally bloody clash (participants spoke of mangled corpses, scattered entrails, and blood lapping over one's shoes) was arguably the most significant naval encounter involving an American vessel to occur during our country's formative years. ( The Bon Homme Richard , even though she displayed the American flag , was actually a French merchant vessel that had been loaned to John Paul Jones and then re-fitted by him.) Indeed, there are some (this does not include the British) who maintain that the engagement between the Bon Homme Richard and the Serapis was the most significant naval encounter ever to occur in our nation's history, rivaling even the June 1942 Battle of Midway when American pilots destroyed the bulk of the Japanese aircraft carrier fleet and changed the course of the war against Japan.
Even had he not been present with Jones on that September evening in 1779, we should be proud of the very fact that Old Jehu served as an American sailor during the revolutionary era. Scholars have written of the leadership role assumed by the waterfront crowd, which of course included sailors, in pre-revolutionary actions. In fact, there is ample evidence that the American Revolution began on the waterfront and then relied in great part on the actions of the maritime workers to maintain its impetus. (Paul A. Gilje, Liberty on the Waterfront, American Maritime Culture in the Age of Revolution .)
Jehu, having fought on the side of the colonies during the Revolutionary War and apparently having served under John Paul Jones in the North Sea during the autumn of 1779, found his way back to America in time to wed Nancy Neil sometime in 1780 and then to settle in the Big Creek area of east Tennessee in the late 18 th century and become the patriarch of a clan that now probably numbers at least in the hundreds.
In Part II (below) of this article I lay out in more detail the evidence that I was able to uncover that supports the family story that John Jehu Stokely was on the scene when John Paul Jones' flagship, the Bon Homme Richard, battled and captured the British vessel Serapis in September of 1779. Part II is footnoted for those who may wish to look further into the story.
JOHN JEHU STOKELY AND JOHN PAUL JONES
Geof Hunt's painting of the Bon Homme Richard as she prepared to engage the British
vessel Serapis in September of 1779.
ust about every Stokely in east Tennessee or with roots in east Tennessee has heard the family story about John Jehu Stokely, the patriarch of the branch of the Stokely family that settled in Cocke County, Tennessee, having served with John Paul Jones at the time of the Bon Homme Richard's historic clash with the British vessel Serapis . From reading the family's accounts of what John Jehu claimed, one might infer that Stokely was actually on board the Bon Homme Richard on the night of September 23, 1779 . But an examination of the Stokely family accounts, a close look at the historic record, and a little amateur handwriting analysis has led me to conclude that John Jehu Stokely was probably at the scene of the battle all right, just as he said he was. But it appears that Stokely was aboard the American-built frigate Alliance and not Jones' flagship the Bon Homme Richard.
Variations on the story of Old Jehu's exploits are everywhere in Stokely lore, but we'll concern ourselves with the accounts passed down to today's generations by two of John Jehu Stokely's direct descendants: Americus Jehu Stokely of Del Rio, Tennessee, and Mrs. Charles L. Grigsby of Asheville, North Carolina. Americus Jehu was the great-grandson of John Jehu Stokely. His account can be found in Lady Ruth Webb Odell's ambitious Over The Misty Blue Hills and begins on page 140 of that book. Mrs. Grigsby was Old Jehu's great-great-granddaughter, and her account was published in the Cocke County Banner some years ago and is now filed in the Stokely Memorial Library in Newport, Tennessee. The two versions are essentially the same when it comes to the basic story, but Mrs. Grigsby adds that Jehu was captured in battle, imprisoned, and then exchanged.
Old Jehu told his family that he was arrested by British authorities for the simple act of either trespassing on royal property or for breaking a branch from a tree limb. He claimed that as punishment for this act he was sentenced to serve seven years aboard a British sailing vessel. This is entirely plausible, as the British Royal Navy was using methods such as this in the 18th century to satisfy the growing need for sailors to man its expanding fleet and to provide crews for its warships during times of war. The seven-year figure cited by Jehu is within the normal range of time levied by British authorities, and if we assume for the moment that Jehu was in his late teens or early twenties at the time of his arrest, we can fix the time of this incident as probably in the late 1760s. (Jesse W.D. Stokely, a descendant of Old Jehu, tells us that John Jehu was born in south Wales, while other sources of undetermined reliability claim that Jehu came from Monmouth, Wales. Jesse W.D. also estimates Jehu's arrival in the colonies at about 1768 or 1770.)
According to the story handed down to us, Jehu said that he eventually landed in Charleston, South Carolina. British vessels were everywhere in American waters in the late 18 th century just before the Revolutionary War broke out, and it is something of an understatement to say that life on board one of these ships was harsh. Most of the sailors detested serving aboard His Majesty's vessels, and it has been recorded that British seamen deserted their ships in large numbers while those ships were in American ports. (1) Charleston, of course, was and is a major port, and it's plausible that young Jehu either completed his seven-year sentence while in American waters or that he simply jumped ship, as some have suggested. Family sources tell us, after all, that Jehu nursed a serious grudge against the British for what he considered to have been unjust punishment and that he retained this animosity toward the Crown for his entire life. ( The Stokelys apparently had a strong sense of family, and this trait – and John Jehu's feelings for his adopted country – is perhaps reflected in the name given to one of John Jehu's great-grandsons: Americus Jehu Stokely. )
Jehu, according to the story, cast his lot with John Paul Jones soon after arriving in America but, as we shall see, some period of time in fact elapsed between Stokely's probable arrival in the colonies and his experience with Jones in the North Sea waters off Flamborough Head in September 1779. Students of history will recall too that Jones' flagship the Bon Homme Richard was in fact a French merchantman loaned to Jones. (2) The French wanted Jones to lead a diversionary force into the northern British Isles as cover for a planned French invasion of southern England in the summer of 1779. (3) This invasion, of course, never occurred, but Jones, who had arrived in France from America aboard the American frigate Ranger in December 1777, (4) went ahead with preparations and recruited the entire crew for the Bon Homme Richard and some additional men for the Alliance while he was on French soil. (5) We are probably safe in concluding, therefore, that Stokely must have been in France or nearby when he signed up with Jones.
Prior to his service with John Paul Jones and in apparent testament to his feelings toward the British, Jehu took up arms against the Crown sometime after his arrival in America. Indeed, there is ample evidence that he was a member of the North Carolina Militia at the time of the Battle of Brier (Briar or Bryer) Creek in eastern Georgia on March 3, 1779, just a little more than six months before John Paul Jones was to sail into history aboard the Bon Homme Richard . One Jehu Stockley (the Welsh spelling) appears on a list of sundries and cash awarded to members of the militias of North Carolina, Virginia, and South Carolina as compensation for losses claimed and allowed during the Revolutionary War. Jehu, according to this list, was to be paid for clothing lost at the battle of Brier Creek. (6) The question then arises of exactly what happened to Jehu (and his clothing) at the Battle of Brier Creek and how did he manage in the aftermath of that battle to find his way to western Europe and keep his date with history?
The Battle of Brier Creek was a one-sided victory for the British that resulted in the capture of scores of Americans. (7) So, did Stokely simply discard his extra clothing and equipment in order to escape the British by swimming across a river in the vicinity – as many American fighting men did (8) – or was he captured by the British and was his extra clothing and equipment taken from him, as was commonly done? (9) Fortunately, we are enlightened by information contained in the pension applications of two other veterans of the Brier Creek engagement.
Both of these men, one Augustine Balthrop and a gentleman named John Hancock, had enlisted in the North Carolina militia in Bute County, North Carolina, where Jehu Stokely made his home before he came to the French Broad River region in east Tennessee, probably in the late 1790s. (Bute County was divided into Warren and Franklin Counties in 1779, and Stokely lived in the portion that became Warren County). Both Balthrop and Hancock swore in their separate pension applications that they were captured at the Battle of Brier Creek and were subsequently taken to the town of Savannah and placed aboard a British prison ship anchored in the river some miles south of the town. Both men identified John Stokely by name as having been captured along with them and then being put aboard the prison ship south of Savannah. (10)
Both Balthrop and Hancock, justifiably fearing for their lives if they had to remain aboard that prison ship, ultimately signed on with the British forces and agreed to fight on the side of the Crown. Balthrop held out until late June 1779 (his estimation), while Hancock waited until September before enlisting in the British ranks. (11) A third veteran of Brier Creek, a certain William Poplin, swore that he was also captured at Brier Creek and was confined aboard a British prison ship south of Savannah for about six months before he too, rather than risk starving to death, enlisted in the service of the British. (12) Poplin did not give the names of any of the men who were captured with him.
This switching of allegiances (taking an oath only "from the teeth out" ), especially if it meant escaping the death traps that the prison ships had become, was a common practice for captured Americans during the Revolutionary War. (13) The British prison ships were regarded by some as merely a way to kill American soldiers, and many thousands of Americans did in fact perish aboard these hulks. Indeed, the number of deaths that resulted from incarceration in the rancid holds of these rotting vessels far exceeded the number of American deaths from wounds suffered in battle. (14) Balthrop, Hancock, and Poplin eventually deserted from the British ranks and made their way back to the American lines and returned to their homes. (15) Other Americans captured at Brier Creek served time aboard at least three British prison vessels in succession, beginning at Savannah, before eventually being exchanged at Charleston in October 1779. We have found no evidence that Stokely was among this group of exchanged Americans, but if our John Jehu Stokely had been imprisoned in the Savannah area throughout the summer of 1779, then he obviously could not have been with Jones in September of that year.
Neither Balthrop nor Hancock mentioned what eventually happened to Stokely after the British imprisoned him. We know of course that Stokely survived his time aboard the prison ship south of Savannah and that he eventually filed for repayment for the clothing that he lost at the Battle of Brier Creek. We are fairly confident too (as we shall see) that he was at the scene of the battle between the Bon Homme Richard and the Serapis in September 1779, just as he claimed to his family some 200 years ago. So if the John Stokely named by Balthrop and Hancock is our man, and if John Stokely was in fact at the scene of the battle between the Bon Homme Richard and Serapis on September 23, 1779, then my g-g-g-g-grandfather had to have gotten off of that prison ship fairly quickly and to have set sail for the waters around the British Isles. But what were the circumstances surrounding his leaving that scow in the river south of Savannah and how did he get from there to France?
There are several possibilities. Stokely could have been paroled or involved in an exchange for British prisoners or he could simply have escaped. Parolees, in accordance with the terms of their release, were obliged not to return to the battlefield until they were officially exchanged, but a considerable number of these former prisoners failed to live up to the stipulations of their paroles. Mable Stokely Grigsby, of course, tells us that Stokely was captured in battle, imprisoned, and then exchanged, but she provides no details that would help fix the date of these events or the parties involved. We can't be sure, therefore, if the action at Brier Creek and afterwards are the events to which she refers. If Stokely – by now an experienced seaman – avoided imprisonment on that British prison ship near Savannah by being either paroled or exchanged or by escaping, then he might have decided that signing on with one of the hundreds of American privateers then operating out of American ports – or even a privateer sailing under a foreign flag – would serve two purposes: it could conceivably put money into his pockets in reasonably short order (privateering could be an uncommonly profitable venture in those days) and it would allow him to continue his personal vendetta against the British for the time he served as punishment for the trespassing/property destruction incident back in Wales. (16)
Some estimates place the number of Americans who served aboard these American privateers at something more than 200,000, and it was not unusual for an American to sign on with a privateer flying the flag of another country (many Americans served aboard French vessels). Indeed, American vessels were enjoying the sanctuary of French ports by the spring of 1779, and two French privateers, Monsieur and Granville , in fact were waiting near Lorient, France, when Jones arrived there at the helm of the Bon Homme Richard in early August of 1779. (17) The captains of these two vessels had decided to join Jones, and the two privateers were part of Jones' task force when the seven vessels under his command set sail on August 14, 1779, from Groix Roadstead on the southern tip of France. Both Monsieur and Granville, however, separated themselves from Jones' flotilla within a few days and were not with Jones at the time of the engagement between Bon Homme Richard and Serapis . (18) Americans were serving aboard French privateers during this era, and crewmen switched vessels easily and not necessarily with the permission of their captains in those days. The two French privateers were in fact in port at Groix Roadstead at the same time that Jones, the Bon Homme Richard , and the Alliance were there. And even though it may be something of a stretch, who can say with certainty that Stokely was not on either the Monsieur or Granville and that he did not join the crew of the Alliance while the vessels were all at Groix Roadstead?
We can also consider the possibility that Stokely, when captured by the British at Brier Creek, immediately decided to save his neck and, drawing upon his years of experience at sea, avoided incarceration on that prison ship near Savannah by switching sides and signing on with the British as a crewman aboard a British sailing vessel. American fighting men knew all too well what to expect if they were to be confined aboard one of the British prison ships: either death or the ruination of one's health for a lifetime. There are eyewitness accounts of American prisoners gnawing at their own flesh or trying to eat bricks as they sought simply to survive their confinement aboard these festering hulks. (19) One unidentified prisoner lamented , “Death or enlistment with the enemy are the only two choices we have.” (20)
It is well known that the British were experiencing a shortage of sailors during this period and were employing all manner of incentives and tactics, including impressments, to provide crews for their vessels. British recruiters were among the first to approach newly confined American prisoners with offers of amnesty if the prisoners would sign on aboard a British vessel. (21) Indeed, Americans constituted a significant percentage of the crews manning British vessels during the revolutionary era. One British source claimed that thousands of seamen were recruited from the prison population for His Majesty's service. (22) Just as Balthrop, Hancock, and Poplin had done after temporarily switching allegiances, Stokely would probably have looked for an opportunity to escape from the British if he in fact joined them in the spring of 1779 and put to sea. (23)
If Stokely signed on with a privateer or with a British ship, then it's entirely possible – indeed probable if we accept that the Brier Creek Stokely and the Bon Homme Richard-Serapis Stokely are one and the same – that his new vessel sailed back across the Atlantic into waters near the British Isles and that Stokely left the ship at that point. Stokely would then have had little trouble finding his way to a French port where he would have been available for recruitment by John Paul Jones in the spring/summer of 1779. American prisoners who escaped from British captivity in the United Kingdom did in fact make their way across the English Channel fairly easily and, with the aid of facilitators put in place by Benjamin Franklin, quickly found their way onto privateers or warships. (24)
It is a matter of historical record that many American sailors aboard privateer vessels were captured by the British during this period and that these sailors were taken to England and locked away in British prisons. Two of the most notorious of these lockups were Forton (near Portsmouth) and Mill (at Plymouth) in the United Kingdom. In fact, most of the Americans imprisoned at these two British facilities were naval personnel. (25) We also know from the history books that Benjamin Franklin, who was one of the American Commissioners in Paris and America's Ambassador to France during the Revolutionary War, succeeded in gaining the release of hundreds of the American sailors from Forton and Mill in exchange for British prisoners. It is also a matter of record that many of the American sailors who were eventually released in the exchange agreement negotiated by Franklin were transported from England to French ports, where they immediately signed on with John Paul Jones during the spring and summer of 1779 and became part of the crews of the Bon Homme Richard and the Alliance. (26) Indeed, one of Jones' primary missions while in the waters around the British Isles was to capture as many British sailors as he could so that they might be exchanged for the Americans languishing in British jails.
I did not find Stokely's name on any of the lists that I have seen of Americans that were involved in the prisoner exchanges arranged by Franklin. Nor does his name or any variation of Stokely appear on the roster of the men aboard the Bon Homme Richard at the time of that vessel's encounter with the Serapis . (27) But there were other vessels in the little flotilla commanded by John Paul Jones at the time of that fateful encounter in September of 1779. The two French privateers Monsieur and Granville left the flotilla before the Bon Homme Richard-Serapis encounter , leaving – in addition to Bon Homme Richard – the frigate La Pallas , the Corvette La Vengeance, the cutter Le Cerf , and the Continental Frigate Alliance . The Alliance was the American-built fighting ship that would go on to greater glory on the side of the colonies in the Revolutionary War. (28) In September of 1779, however, the unbalanced Frenchman Pierre Landais, who disgraced himself by firing on both the Bon Homme Richard and the Serapis while those two vessels were locked in mortal combat, was at the helm of the Alliance . (29) Happily, Landais was eventually removed (twice) from his post as captain of the Alliance . (30)
Enter John Holeky ! A copy of the roster of the Alliance dated October 3, 1779, just ten days after the Bon Homme Richard-Serapis engagement, contains the name of one John Holeky and identifies him as a surgeon's mate on board the Alliance . (31) The roster that I have seen is typewritten and, one assumes, was probably copied from the handwritten roster kept either by the ship's clerk (scribe) or by the first mate. Because Stokely and Holeky are so similar, I initially suspected that Holeky just might be Old Jehu and that my g-g-g-g-grandfather had deliberately altered the spelling of his last name to conceal his true identity. The British were of course quite conscious of the possibility that an exchanged prisoner might well take up arms against them again, and they had made it clear that things would not go well for anyone who might be recaptured. But after some additional research, I became convinced that the appearance of John Holeky on the typed roster of the Alliance is because the transcriber misread the handwritten name Stokely as Holeky. The first name is rendered by the transcriber as John because either Old Jehu actually used the name “John” (which is used on other documents) or because the name “Jehu” was misread as “John.” (Readers who look closely at examples of the handwritten “Jehu” will see how easily it can be rendered as “John.”) The record, in fact, reveals that the handwriting on ships' documents during this era was often misread, which led to the frequent misspellings of sailors' names.
I came to this conclusion after I turned my attention to copies of several documents: the original census roles of 1790 for Warren County, North Carolina; an official list of militia members from the Carolinas and Virginia that shows that one Jehu Stockley ( sic ) was authorized to be compensated for clothing lost at the Battle of Brier Creek; Tennessee Land Grant number 2143; and the State of North Carolina Warrant number 1919. Each of these documents contains John Jehu Stokely's name, written in old-style script by clerks who presumably were considered to have at least adequate penmanship skills. It takes only a cursory examination of these documents to see that the inscribed name Jehu (or John) Stokely could easily have been mistakenly read as John Holeky. This is because, in the hands of these scribes, the old-style capital “S” followed by a lower-case “t” would often appear to the unwary to be a capital “H.” This phenomenon, in which the crossing of the “t” is exaggerated, is especially noticeable in the State of North Carolina Warrant number 1919 and on the census roles of 1790 for Warren County, North Carolina. (32) In fact, several examples of this exaggerated crossing of the “t” after the capital “S” can be found on the census roles for 1790. One need only look at such names as Stephen, Stoke, and Story, which are to be found on the same page with Stokely. Examples of this peculiar “St-becomes-H” convention can be observed in later years in the signatures of both my g-g-grandfather John H. Stokely and his grandson John H. Stokely, Jr.
I have personally confirmed that this same handwriting convention was practiced by the clerk who made out the payroll for the Alliance in 1781 (33) , but I have not seen the original handwritten crew list prepared in October 1779. I cannot say with certainty, therefore, whether the ship's clerk at that time used the same style as his fellow scribes in North Carolina and in Tennessee territory and on board the Alliance in 1781, although I strongly suspect that he did. I believe that the person responsible for typing the Alliance roster from the clerk's handwritten list of October 3, 1779 simply mis-read Jehu (or John) Stokely as John Holeky. This mistake would have been even easier to make if the names were not arranged alphabetically (the rosters I have seen were not arranged alphabetically) and if the typist was not familiar with the first name “Jehu.” I'm convinced that the similarity between Jehu (or John) Stokely and John Holeky is too striking to dismiss and that the Holeky who appears on the typewritten copy of the roster of the Alliance is in fact John Jehu Stokely.
Jehu had very likely heard of John Paul Jones and his exploits among the British Isles in early 1778 while Jones was at the helm of the frigate Ranger , and he may have welcomed the opportunity to join the “pirate” Jones, as the British still call him. Serving under Jones, despite Jones' proclivity for going in harm's way, would have allowed Old Jehu to pursue his personal vendetta against the British, and since the Alliance was an American frigate, he probably looked upon service aboard this vessel as a way of securing passage back to the American colonies.
The name John Holeky appears again some 70 years later, in May of 1848, on the typewritten official list of prize money awarded to crewmen aboard the Alliance . (34) It is clear, however, that this prize list is for the crew who were aboard the Alliance in September 1779. I consider it very likely that this list dated in 1848 was merely copied from the typed version of the October 3, 1779 list that was prepared while the vessel was under Jones' command but captained by Landais. Since I'm convinced that a John Holeky never existed, I suspect that this prize money was never awarded to the descendants of John Jehu Stokely. Holeky's name also appears on page 72 of the book The Revolutionary Worthies of the Medical Staff , where he is identified again as a surgeon's mate aboard the Alliance , although the book explains that it cannot vouch for the medical credentials of the people listed. It is interesting that of the some 90 “medical worthies” listed in this book whose last names begin with “H,” only two names – one of them being Holeky – do not include the state of residence. (35) Again, I believe that the appearance of Holeky's name in this book, which is dated July 1890, can be traced to the appearance of Holeky on the typed version of the Alliance roster dated October 3, 1779.
So, I am suggesting that Jehu Stokely arrived in America after either completing his seven years with the British Navy or after cutting short his time of service by jumping ship, and that he ultimately made his way to France and signed on with John Paul Jones there in the spring/summer of 1779. Stokely, of course, would have had to have been aboard a sailing vessel to get from the colonies to France in the spring of 1779 after the Battle of Brier Creek and his capture by the British. If he somehow avoided a lengthy imprisonment in Savannah, then his experience at sea in the service of the Crown would have enabled him to land a position aboard a privateer – either an American vessel or a privateer flying a foreign flag. This new vessel would have sailed across the Atlantic to a point on or near the coast of France, where Stokely could have left the ship and made his way to the spot where John Paul Jones recruited him.
But American privateers were at sea primarily to attack British shipping, (36) so if Jehu were on a privateer and that vessel were to have been captured in battle with a British sailing ship, then Stokely would logically have been confined to either Forton or Mill prisons in England. He could then have been among those Americans exchanged for British prisoners and would have been available to sign on with John Paul Jones and then serve aboard the Continental Frigate Alliance. This chain of events would also satisfy Mable Stokely Grigsby's account that Stokely had been captured in battle, imprisoned, and then exchanged. Several American seamen who signed on with Jones in 1779 followed precisely this route: they served aboard privateers, they were captured and then imprisoned at either Forton or Mill, they were eventually exchanged for British prisoners, and they then signed on to serve under John Paul Jones. (37) And then there's the possibility that Stokely was on one of the two French privateers that greeted Jones when he arrived at Groix Roadstead in August of 1779.
Alternatively, Stokely could have switched sides temporarily in Savannah just to avoid incarceration aboard that prison ship, after which he may have sailed aboard a British vessel to a British port where he would have left the ship and made his way across the English Channel to France. Once in France, probably near Lorient, Stokely could have signed on with John Paul Jones and would have served as one of the three surgeon's mates aboard the Alliance . Some historians, in writing of how Jones assembled the crews to serve aboard the Richard and the Alliance , have included “stranded seamen” as one of the groups from which Jones recruited his sailors. There are of course other scenarios within which Stokely could have found himself under Jones' command, but I believe, given the circumstances at the time, that these that I have put forward are the most likely.
Either of the two scenarios that I have proposed would account for Stokely/Holeky appearing on the Alliance crew list in October of 1779, but John Jehu was not on any of the other rosters that I have been able to locate for that vessel. Obviously, the name Stokely/Holeky would not have appeared on the Alliance roster (and it didn't) (38) when that frigate set sail from Boston for France early in 1779 if my g-g-g-g-grandfather didn't come aboard the Alliance until the spring or summer of that year, which I believe is the case. As for crew lists for the Alliance dated other than October 3, 1779, I have learned that at least six other rosters are known to exist for that vessel. Those rosters are dated March 1779 (two), April 1779 (a partial roster), March 1781, April 1783, and May 1783 near the end of the Revolutionary War. I have been told by other researchers that the name Stokely, or any variation of it, does not appear on any of these rosters, and I have personally confirmed that no such name appears on the two rosters dated March 1779, (39) on the partial roster dated April 1779, (40) or on the Alliance payroll for 1781. (41)
It should be noted too that a sizeable group of men left the Bon Homme Richard at Lorient in July 1779. All of these men had signed on with Jones at French ports in March and April of 1779, but they had apparently decided by July, for whatever reason, that duty aboard the Bon Homme Richard was not for them. (42) It is known that sailors of that era often left one ship for another, sometimes with permission and sometimes without, (43) and men certainly were not competing to serve under John Paul Jones. One need only look at the carnage that took place during the battle between the Bon Homme Richard and Serapis for an example of just why Jones was not that popular with his men: one could get killed serving under Jones.
In any event, 24 of the men who left the Bon Homme Richard in July 1779 were identified by name, and their position when they were aboard the Richard was listed. Neither Stokely nor any variation of Stokely appears on this list, but two men among the deserters, both of whom were unnamed, were identified as surgeon's mates and it was noted that they had both come aboard the Bon Homme Richard at Lorient. (44) When the Alliance left Boston in January 1779, two of her crew were identified by name and it was noted that they were surgeon's mates. (45) The roster of the Alliance dated October 3, 1779 contained the names of these same two men and that of a third surgeon's mate: John Holeky (our John Stokely). The Alliance and the Bon Homme Richard were in and out of some of the same ports in the summer of 1779 and were often anchored near one another, (46) so one might suspect that one of the surgeon's mates who left the Bon Homme Richard that month could have been John Jehu Stokely and that Stokely simply found his way aboard the Alliance . In fairness, however, it should be noted that none of the men who were identified by name as having left the Bon Homme Richard in July 1779 appeared on the crew list of the Alliance that was dated October 3, 1779. So, if Stokely did in fact simply leave the Bon Homme Richard and step aboard the Alliance that July, then he may have been the only former Bon Homme Richard crewman to have done so.
Stokely, who it appears did not come aboard the Alliance until that vessel had arrived in French waters, was back in America in time to wed Nancy Neil sometime in 1780 (according to David Royal Stokely's bible), but we can't be certain at this point exactly when or how Jehu returned to the colonies. It could be that Jehu left the Alliance sometime after October 3, 1779 – but while that ship was still in Europe – and that he then found his way back to America aboard another vessel. He certainly had ample opportunity to do so between the time of the battle off Flamborough Head on 23 September 1779 and the eventual departure of the Alliance from France in June 1780. Passage to America was available out of either French or Dutch ports, and some of the American prisoners who escaped from British detention are known to have signed on at these ports for the voyage back across the Atlantic to their homes. (47)
The Alliance in fact arrived in Texel – Amsterdam's access to the North Sea – on October 3, 1779, just days after the Bon Homme Richard-Serapis encounter, and the ship remained there until late December. Jones, who by this time had taken over from Pierre Landais as Captain of the Alliance , took her back out to sea on December 27 th and – after an 11-day stop in Corunna, Spain – eventually brought the Alliance into Lorient, France, on February 19, 1780, where she remained until mid-June. The log of the Alliance confirms that a number of crewmen left the ship – some in March, others in May – without authorization while she was in port in Lorient, and other members of the Alliance crew were put aboard prizes (other ships) captured by the frigate while she was under Jones' command between late December and mid-February. (48) The prize crews would have sailed these captured ships into nearby ports. (49)
Pierre Landais, who had earlier been stripped of his command of the Alliance , took advantage of Jones' absence from that vessel in June 1780 to board the frigate and reclaim the captaincy. (50) Landais eventually sailed the Alliance back across the Atlantic – although he was in command for only a portion of the trip – and the ship arrived in Boston in August 1780. But there apparently is no roster available that would tell us if Stokely was aboard during that voyage home. Perhaps Stokely became lost in the confusion over which vessel – the Alliance or the frigate Ariel – that the Bon Homme Richard veterans would board for their return to America. When Landais took back the helm of the Alliance in June of 1780 a number of Bon Homme Richard veterans were already aboard that ship and were preparing for their return to America. (51) Landais, who was at odds with John Paul Jones from the time he was placed under Jones' command, (52) immediately demanded oaths of allegiance from all of the Alliance crew – which may still have included Stokely – but he then slapped in irons all of those who wanted to leave the ship and join Jones aboard the Ariel (53) (the Ariel was yet another vessel that the French had loaned to Jones). (54) We may never know if Jehu was among those who wanted to leave the Alliance and go with Jones, but the Jones loyalists who were aboard the Alliance eventually returned to America with that vessel and arrived in Boston in August 1780. Some of them were in chains, as ordered by Landais. (55)
As an aside, Captain Pierre Landais became even more unstable as the Alliance made its way across the Atlantic. The crew and passengers eventually mutinied against the totally unhinged Frenchman and turned command of the vessel over to the First Officer, who guided the ship into Boston. Landais was eventually found guilty on several counts at a courts martial and was ignominiously drummed out of the service. The Alliance , which was named in recognition of the American-French alliance during the Revolutionary War, went on under the command of John Barry to become a mainstay of the American Navy during the War for Independence. (56)
Another 45 or so Bon Homme Richard veterans formed part of the crew of the Ariel as Jones sailed this smaller frigate back across the Atlantic to Philadelphia. The Ariel arrived in the City of Brotherly Love in February 1781, but a roster of the men aboard the vessel for this voyage is available and does not include Stokely's name or any variation of it. (57) Some men loyal to Jones, therefore, were aboard the Alliance and others were on the Ariel, but it appears more likely that if Stokely were in fact aboard either of these ships, then the Alliance would seem to be the more logical choice. This would be cutting it pretty close, but Jehu would have had time to make it to Charleston in time for his marriage to Nancy Neil that year – even though the British were still occupying that port city – if he were aboard the Alliance when it arrived in Boston on August 19, 1780. We also know that some Bon Homme Richard veterans were aboard the frigate South Carolina when that vessel left Texel in August 1781, but the dates associated with this ship's voyages conflict with other information about Stokely of which we are fairly confident. For instance, Jehu's first child Susan was probably conceived in September 1781 at a time when the South Carolina was at sea on its way from Texel to Corunna, Spain. (58) Absent information that Jehu was not the biological father of Susan, then we must assume that he and Nancy had to have been together sometime in the autumn of 1781.
Ordinarily, we might consider a tale such as this to be just a little far-fetched. Here we have a young Welsh lad being slapped aboard a British sailing vessel for seven years as punishment for a minor offense. He then arrives in America in time to enlist on the side of the colonies against the British, he's captured in battle, he faces being thrown aboard a death-trap of a British prison ship, he somehow avoids a lengthy incarceration aboard that vessel, he soon finds himself probably back on the coast of France, he signs on with John Paul Jones and is present at one of the most famous battles in the American Navy's history, he probably returns to America aboard an American vessel with a certifiable Frenchman at the helm, and he then finally settles in east Tennessee with a Revolutionary soldier's grant of land and becomes my g-g-g-g- grandfather and the patriarch of hundreds of descendants.
But what Old Jehu may have experienced was not that much out of the ordinary during this period in our country's history. Indeed, there are many such stories that strain credulity. Sailors of that era typically served aboard many different vessels; they changed ships for a variety of reasons – better pay, a more lenient captain, or a destination more to their liking; they often left one vessel for another without the captain's permission, simply jumping ship; attempted mutinies were not that uncommon as crews frequently rebelled against their captains; men were lost at sea; capricious winds blew ships to the four corners of the globe; sailors were captured in battle, imprisoned, exchanged, and recaptured; sailors switched allegiances and often fought on both sides at separate times; American sailors escaped from certain British prisons for a night on the town and then re-entered the prison the next day on their own; captured British officers were paroled and allowed to live in American towns among the colonialists; prize crews put aboard captured vessels in order to sail those ships into a nearby port were sometimes captured themselves; press gangs prowled the waterfront pubs and grabbed unwary seamen for service at sea; and thousands of American sailors died in captivity during the Revolutionary War. There are dozens of true stories from the Revolution that make our version of what may have happened to Stokely seem run-of-the-mill. (59)
There are several accounts of Jehu Stokely's service during the Revolutionary War that identify him as both a sailor and as a member of the Continental Army in the service of America. It is unclear from these accounts, because they sometimes conflict, exactly when Jehu served in what capacity. Family legend has it that Jehu admired the courage displayed by the “Over-Mountain Men” at the battle of King's Mountain on October 7, 1780 and that he made the decision at that time to settle in east Tennessee. (60) The implication in the family story is that Stokely was in fact at King's Mountain when the Over-Mountain Men decimated the Tories under British Col. Patrick Ferguson. Members of the North Carolina Militia did indeed participate in the battle, (61) but the engagement occurred less than two months after the Alliance arrived in Boston and I have been unable to locate any official record that places Stokely at Kings Mountain in October of 1780.
One account provided by one of Jehu's great-grandsons, Jesse W. D. Stokely, has Jehu enlisting in what passed for a Navy in the revolutionary era and then serving two enlistments in the Continental Army in the “heavy artillery.” Another version of Jehu's service, allegedly also provided by Jesse W. D. Stokely, has Jehu enlisting as a private soldier with the colonies and then later re-enlisting in the Navy, where, according to Jesse, he remained “until terminated.” (62) Within this scenario, Jehu could have fought at the battle of Brier Creek in March 1779 and then could have gone to sea in time to surface aboard the Alliance in September of that same year. But my great-grandfather, Americus Jehu Stokely, told Lady Ruth Webb Odell in March 1938 that Old Jehu became a soldier in the “Department of Heavy Artillery” and fought on the side of America in the Revolutionary War after serving under John Paul Jones. (63) One wonders if Old Jehu was serving as an artilleryman when the Continental Army's artillery batteries played a key role in the defeat of Cornwallis at Yorktown in October of 1781. Whatever the case, I think that one would agree that Jehu would have had to have been one busy revolutionary indeed during this period.
So, after a lot of sometimes frustrating detective work -- and unless Grandpa told a real whopper -- I am confident that I have found sufficient evidence to place John Jehu Stokely at the scene of the September 23, 1779, encounter between the Bon Homme Richard and the Serapis . We may never know exactly how Old Jehu came to be off Flamborough Head or how he returned to America in time to wed Ms. Neil in 1780, but I think I have provided Jehu's descendants with some food for thought. My g-g-g-g-grandfather told family members that he served under John Paul Jones, and we should no longer have to add so many qualifying comments when we tell the story of how Old Jehu was present at what was arguably one of the most significant sea battles in our country's history.
(Author's Note: The conclusions and suggestions that I have put forward after analyzing the historical information I have been able to uncover relating to John Jehu Stokely and John Paul Jones are mine alone. Perhaps other researchers will be able to pick up the thread and tell more of Old Jehu's story. Perhaps additional reviews of the information I have cited will lead others to different conclusions. To all I say, good hunting and God speed your efforts. In any event, don't be too hard on me because one's vision becomes somewhat clouded when one tries to peer back through over 200 years of history.)
Of the printed books cited in the following notes, I will refer to each of those listed here by the author's last name:
Gardner W. Allen, A Naval History of the American Revolution , Boston and New York Houghton and Mifflin Company, The Riverside Press, Cambridge 1913.
John S. Barnes, The Logs of the Serapis-Alliance-Ariel, Under the Command of John Paul Jones 1779-1780 . Printed for the Naval History Society by The De Vinne Press, New York, 1910.
Larry G. Bowman, Captive Americans, Prisoners During the American Revolution, Ohio University Press, Athens, Ohio, 1876.
Edwin G. Burrows, Forgotten Patriots, The Untold Story of American Prisoners During the Revolutionary War, Basic Books, New York, NY, 2008.
Sheldon S. Cohen, Yankee Sailors in British Gaols, Prisoners of War at Forton and Mill 1777-1783 , Associated University Presses, Inc., 1995.
Danske Dandridge, American Prisoners of the Revolution , 1910, Reprinted by Kessinger Publishing.
Paul A. Gilje, Liberty on the Waterfront, American Maritime Culture in the Age of Revolution, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 2004.
William Gilkerson, The Ships of John Paul Jones, The United States Naval Academy Museum, 1987 . The highly-regarded Mr. Gilkerson visually reconstructs all of the vessels that played a significant role in Jones' career, and he discusses in the accompanying text the actions and movements of those vessels and their crews, especially during the Bon Homme Richard-Serapis engagement.
Mrs. Mable Stokely Grigsby, The Stokely Story, Manuscript available in the Stokely Memorial Library, Newport, Tennessee.
Charles Herbert, A Relic of the Revolution: Containing a Full and Particular Account of the Suffering and Privations of All the American Prisoners Captured on the High Seas and Carried Into Plymouth, England, During the Revolution of 1776. Published for the Proprietor by Charles H. Peirce (sic), 1847. Reproduced by Bibliobazaar, Charleston, SC.
William Nathan Jones, By the River and Beyond: History and Humor from the Mountains of East Tennessee , Newport Printing Company, Newport, Tennessee, 1996 . In this loving, first-hand account of life in Del Rio, Tennessee, Mr. Jones draws upon the recollections of local historians as he delves into the history of the Stokely family.
James A . Lewis, Neptune's Militia , The Frigate South Carolina During the American Revolution, The Kent State University Press, 1999.
Samuel Eliot Morison, John Paul Jones: A Sailor's Biography, Little, Brown and Company, Inc. Boston, 1959. Mr. Morison's fine Pulitzer Prize-winning work includes passages on the exchanged American prisoners who signed on with John Paul Jones and on the actions of the unstable Frenchman Pierre Landais during and after the battle between the Bon Homme Richard and the Serapis.
Ruth Webb Odell, Over the Misty Blue Hills: The Story of Cocke County, Tennessee, Southern Historical Press, Inc., Greenville, SC, Reprinted 2001. Ms. Odell tells in this book of sitting down with Americus Jehu Stokely in Del Rio, Tennessee, in March of 1938 and of listening as my great-grandfather told her of the exploits of John Jehu Stokely, especially his service with John Paul Jones.
Joseph G. Sawtelle, John Paul Jones and the Ranger , Portsmouth Marine Society, July 2002.
John Henry Sherburne , The Life and Character of John Paul Jones, a Captain in the United States Navy, During the Revolutionary War, Adriance, Sherman and Co., Publishers, New York, 1851. In Mr. Sherburne's book can be found the rosters for the Bon Homme Richard and the Alliance , as well as copies of the correspondence between John Paul Jones and Benjamin Franklin related to the exchanged American sailors and their eventual assignment aboard vessels under Jones' command.
Evan Thomas, John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2003 . Mr. Thomas' biography provides further insights into the character of John Paul Jones, the battle between Bon Homme Richard and Serapis, and the presence of exchanged American sailors among Jones' crew.
David K. Wilson, The Southern Strategy , Britain's Conquest of South Carolina and Georgia 1775-1789, The University of South Carolina Press Columbia, South Carolina.
I am also grateful to my cousin Gordon Stokely, Jr. for his contributions as we worked to track down the elusive John Jehu Stokely, to document Old Jehu's service in the Revolutionary War, and to trace our ancestor's path from Wales in the United Kingdom into east Tennessee.
THE DESCENDANTS OF JOHN JEHU STOKELY MAY ALSO ENJOY READING ABOUT . . .
nother interesting story related by Americus Jehu Stokely to Lady Ruth Webb Odell in March 1938 has to do with the appearance of the name “Royal” in almost every Stokely generation. Old John Jehu Stokely, according to Americus Jehu, told the family that a Stokely ancestor was a key player when the so-called Spanish Armada sought to invade England in the summer of 1588. This would have been some 160 years, or about 6 or 7 generations before Old Jehu was born. According to Old Jehu, this ancestor may have been an admiral and his name may have been Samuel Stokely.
Queen Elizabeth I ( Unknown Artist )
In the background are scenes depicting the defeat of the Spanish Armada.
(Author's Note: Others researching the Stokely family should exercise care on this point, as some have postulated that a Samuel Stokely may have been John Jehu Stokely's father. It may well be that Jehu's father was named Samuel, but I believe that the appearance of the name “Samuel” can be traced to the story about Samuel Stokely [probably Stockley] having been present at the time of the invasion by the Spanish Armada.)
In any event, the Spanish Armada was repulsed (the weather played a key role), as historians have well documented, and Queen Elizabeth The First was said to have been so pleased with the exploits of Samuel Stokely during this time of national emergency that she rewarded him by making him a baron and by giving him the hand of her first cousin in marriage. Royal blood has flowed in Stokely veins ever since this union, it is said, and each branch of the family names a son “Royal” so that the story is kept fresh.
The following is an excerpt from the speech given by Elizabeth The First to her troops at Tilbury in 1588 as they prepared to defend against the Spanish invaders. Queen Elizabeth said, ". . . I know already, for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns; and We do assure you in the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you. . ." The historical record, therefore, confirms that Queen Elizabeth The First did in fact promise rewards to certain of her subjects who played key roles in turning away the Spanish fleet in 1588, so the family story as told by John Jehu Stokely has a ring of truth to it.
THE STOKELY BROTHERS AND THEIR CANNING ENTERPRISE,
Anna Eliza Rorex Stokely and her family. Anna is seated, third from left. Three of her sons, George, John M., and William B. Stokely (L-R) are standing in back row; Jehu T. and James R. Stokely (L-R) are seated. ( Collection of Sally M. Burnett ).
John B. Stokely, another of the many John Stokelys that can be found on the branches of my family tree, was the father of the five boys who, with their mother, began the Stokely canning operation. John B. Stokely was a great-grandson of the first John Jehu Stokely and a distant cousin of mine. John B.'s father was Jehu Stokely II, who in turn was the son of John Jehu Stokely, Jr., one of the sons of the first John Jehu Stokely. John B. Stokely married Anna Rorex in 1872, fathered five boys and three girls with her, but then died tragically, of typhoid fever, in 1890.
Upon her husband's death, Anna was left with vast acreage of fertile river-bottom farmland along the French Broad River in Jefferson County, Tennessee, and with at least eight children. The five boys, Will, James, John, Jehu, and George, helped their mother operate the farm and they achieved their college educations by leaving home for school one at a time and one year apart, starting with Will when he was 18. The five boys eventually all returned home and, at James' suggestion, the family embarked on a modest canning business that over the years developed into one of the nation's largest such enterprises, becoming a $100-million-per-year business by the year 1950 and, notably, the primary bottler of the sports drink Gatorade. The family established the home plant of Stokely Brothers in Newport, Tennessee. Over the years the plant purchased thousands of bushels of produce harvested by farmers in the region and provided employment for hundreds of local families. Stokely Brothers has changed ownership a number of times and, as of 2010, was the property of Con-Agra. George Stokely, who became the Mayor of Newport when he was only 32, died along with his mother in 1916 when a train struck their automobile. James Rorex Stokely, Jr., Anna's grandson, married noted writer Wilma Dykeman in 1940.
WILMA DYKEMAN STOKELY,
Wilma Dykeman Stokely
The prominent novelist, essayist, historian, environmentalist, and social activist Wilma Dykeman Stokely (1920-2006) was a distant cousin of mine through her marriage to James Rorex Stokely, Jr., a grandson of Anna Rorex and the son of one of the original five Stokely brothers of canning factory fame. Wilma, described as a seminal force in Appalachian literature and as a bridge between fellow Asheville native Thomas Wolfe and the current generation of Appalachian writers, died in December of 2006. Her book The French Broad is a favorite of mine, but she wrote many other books and papers chronicling the lives and experiences of the people of Appalachia and the land that shaped them. Ms. Dykeman, who used her maiden name in her writings, was named the Tennessee state historian in 1981.
AND GRACE MOORE
Mary Willie Grace Moore
Grace Moore (1901-1947), who became one of the premier operatic sopranos of her day and who has been called the most famous soprano in the world between 1930 and 1938, was born near Slabtown and was a great-great-great-grand daughter of John Jehu Stokely. Mary Willie Grace Moore's mother was Tessie Stokely, who was the daughter of William Russell Stokely. William was the son of John H. Stokely, who was the son of David Royal Stokely, who was the first son of John Jehu Stokely. Grace, who was therefore a distant cousin of mine and, according to some who knew her, one of the biggest tomboys you could ever hope to meet, was an internationally-applauded performer who starred on the stage and in films. She died an untimely death in January of 1947 when her plane fell back to earth shortly after departing the airport in Copenhagen, Denmark. Her death prompted a national day of mourning in the United States, and a commemorative marker has been installed alongside Route 107 near Nough (Slabtown) marking the place of her birth. Grace's autobiography, published in 1944, is entitled, "You're Only Human Once," and she may be seen in any of the several movies in which she starred during her meteoric career. Grace's life story was made into a movie in 1953 entitled So This is Love and starring Katherine Grayson.
Robert Evan Lee, the author of the three-part article that appears above, is a great-great-great-great-grandson of John Jehu Stokely. The material in the article is excerpted from John and Annie's House , a book that Mr. Lee self-published in 2011 about his ancestors and his experiences growing up in a little sawmill village (Nough officially, but usually referred to as "Slabtown") tucked back in the mountains in the eastern part of Cocke County.
A photograph of Mr. Lee on the beach beneath the cliffs at Flamborough Head in June 2010 is attached below. Just behind him is Filey Bay, which was the scene of the encounter between John Paul Jones's Bon Homme Richard and Richard Pearson's Serapis in September of 1779.
Mr. Lee, who is retired now after a career in the American intelligence community, lives with his wife near the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, where John Paul Jones is entombed. Comments on the material contained herein are welcome and may be addressed to Mr. Lee at email@example.com.