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Life of William Jennings Bryan
The Jennings family
by Bryan, Mary Baird

The Jennings family has lived so long in America that the descendants do not know the date of the immigration of the ancestors to the colonies nor is it known positively from what country they came, but they are believed to have been English.

Israel Jennings, who was born about 1774, is the first known ancestor. He was married to Mary Waters about the year 1799, and lived in Mason County, Kentucky. In 1818 he moved with his family to Walnut Hill, Marion County, Illinois, where his wife died in 1844 and he in 1860. He was the father of eight children: Israel Jr., and George, now deceased; Charles Waters, of whom I shall speak later; William W., now living in Texas; Elizabeth, who married William Davidson; America, who married George Davidson; Mary, who married Edward White; and Ann, who married Rufus McElwain. All of the daughters are deceased.

Charles Waters Jennings was married to Maria Woods Davidson, December 14th, 1826, and established a home adjoining the Israel Jennings homestead. He died in 1872, and his wife in 1885. To this pair were born eight sons and two daughters: Josephus Waters, deceased, who lived near the home of his father; Harriet, who married B. F. Marshall, and lives at Salem, Illinois; Sarah, who married Robert D. Noleman, of Centralia, Illinois, both deceased; Mariah Elizabeth, the mother of William Jennings Bryan; America, deceased, who married William C. Stites, then of Marion County, Illinois; Nancy, who married Dr. James A. Davenport and lives at Salem, Illinois; Docia, who married A. Van Antwerp, and lives at Sedalia, Missouri; and Zadock, who lives near Walnut Hill.

Mariah Elizabeth Jennings was born near Walnut Hill, Illinois, May 24th, 1834. She attended the public schools of the neighborhood, and when nearly grown was the pupil of Silas L. Bryan, who was nearly twelve years her senior. At an early age she connected herself with the Methodist Episcopal Church, which was the church of her parents, and remained a member until about 1877, when she united with the Baptist Church, at Salem, to which her husband belonged. She was a woman of excellent sense and superior management. Her husband's frequent absence from home threw upon her a large portion of the responsibility for the care and discipline of the family, and for some years after his death her entire time was given to the nurture and education of the five minor children. When the boys were grown she removed from the farm to Salem, and became an active worker in her church and in societies for social improvement. She always took a deep interest in the political fortunes of her son William, and he has always felt indebted to her equally with his father for counsel and instruction. She lived during the later years of her life in a home which William bought for her use with the first savings from his Congressional salary. After a lingering illness, which she bore with great patience, she died on the 27th of June, 1896, and was laid to rest by the side of her husband.

To Silas Lillard and Mariah Elizabeth Bryan were born nine children. Of these Virginia, John and Hiram died in infancy. Russell Jones, born June 12th, 1864, died at the age of 17, on the eve of his departure for college. Five children are now living, namely:

  • Francis Mariah, born March 18th, 1858.
  • William Jennings, born March 19th, 1860.
  • Charles Wayland, born February 10th, 1867.
  • Nancy Lillard, born November 4th, 1869.
  • Mary Elizabeth, born May 14th, 1872.
Francis M. Bryan (now Baird), lives at Salem, Illinois, and Charles W., in Lincoln, Nebraska.

The Bryan, Lillard, Jennings and Davidson families all belonged to the middle classes. They were industrious, law-abiding, God-fearing people. No member of the family ever became very rich, and none were ever abjectly poor. Farming has been the occupation of the majority, while others have followed the legal and medical professions and mercantile pursuits.


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