This old and well known family has lived so long in America that little
of its early history can be learned and it is not positively known from what
country the founders of the American branch came, though from the name, the
nationality is supposed to be English. Sufficient has been learned, however,
to fix the date of immigration to the colonies at a very early period,
inasmuch as several generations have been identified with the settlement and
development of different parts of the United States and for over ninety
years various representatives of the family have figured prominently in the
history of Marion and other counties of Southern Illinois. Israel Jennings,
the first ancestor of whom anything definite is known, is supposed to have
been a native of Maryland, where his birth occurred about the year 1774.
When a youth he went to Mason county, Kentucky, and settled at Maysville,
where about 1799 or 1800 he married Miss Mary Waters, of whose nativity or
genealogy there is no record. After living in the above state until about
1818, Mr. Jennings moved to Illinois and located six miles southeast of
Centralia, the country at that time being almost as nature had made it with
only a few sparse settlements long distances apart, the majority of the
inhabitants consisting of straggling bands of Indians, whose principal
village was near the present site of Walnut Hill. Entering a tract of
government land, he at once addressed himself to the task of developing a
farm and founding a home in which laudable undertaking he succeeded
admirably, for in due time he became not only the leading farmer and stock
raiser of his section of the country but also one of the most enterprising
and public-spirited citizens of Jefferson county, to which this part of the
state then belonged. It is a matter of interest to note that his entry was
the second purchase of government land in what is now Marion county, and
that it was made in 1819, one year after Illinois became a state. Mrs.
Jennings departed this life October 30, 1845, the mother of eight children,
whose names are as follows: Israel, Jr., who is survived by eleven children;
George, deceased; Charles Waters, deceased, who had a family of eight
children; William W.; Elizabeth, who married William Davidson; America, wife
of George Davidson; Mary, married Edward White, and Ann, who became the wife
of Rufus P. McElwain. All are deceased. William W. died recently at Alvin,
Texas. Mr. Jennings was again married, but the second union was without
issue. He died August 7, 1860.
For a number of years Israel Jennings held worthy prestige among the prominent citizens of Marion county and took an active and influential part in the development of the country. He was a leader in many enterprises for the social and moral advancement of his fellow men, a liberal contributor to churches and educational institutions and all laudable measures for the good of the community found in him a warm friend and earnest advocate. He early became prominent in public affairs and in 1827 was elected to the lower house of the Legislature, being the third representative from Marion county. He was one of the leading Democrats of the county and his influence as a politician, together with valuable services rendered his party, made him widely known and led to his appointment in 1834 as postmaster at Walnut Hill, which position he held for many years. He was more than ordinarily successful in business matters and accumulated a handsome fortune, being at one time the largest land owner in the county and one of the only two men in this part of the state to own slaves. A man of strong character, unquestioned integrity and upright Christian principles, he exerted a wholesome influence on all with whom he mingled and his death, which occurred in the year 1860, removed from Marion county one of its leading citizens and prominent men of affairs.
Charles Waters Jennings, third son of Israel and Mary Jennings, was born January 8, 1802, in Mason county, Kentucky, and accompanied his father to Illinois in 1818, settling within a half mile of the latter and like him becoming a successful tiller of the soil. He was married on December 14, 1826, to Maria Wood Davidson, who bore him the following children: Josephus Waters, deceased, who lived near the home of his father; Harriet married B. F. Marshall and died at Salem, Illinois, May 3, 1901; Sarah married Robert D. Noleman, of Centralia, both deceased; Mariah Elizabeth, deceased, was the wife of the late Judge Silas L. Bryan, of Marion county, and mother of Hon. William Jennings Bryan; America, deceased, married William C. Stites, then a resident of Marion county; Nancy, wife of Dr. James A. Davenport, lives in Salem; Docie, now Mrs. A. Van Antwerp, lives at St. Louis, Missouri, and Z. C., who is living near the town of Walnut Hill. Charles W. Jennings died August 18, 1872.
Charles Waters Jennings was a man of high standing in the community, successful as a farmer and stock raiser, and his character was ever above the suspicion of reproach. Courteous in his relations with his fellows and the soul of honor in all his dealings, he measured up to a high standard of manhood and citizenship and made the world better by his presence. By good business management he succeeded in amassing a sufficiency of this world's goods to place him in easy circumstances, owning at the time of his death one thousand acres of valuable land, the greater part improved, and the source of a liberal income. He was called from earth on August 18, 1872, his wife following him to the grave April 3d, of the year 1885.
Josephus Waters Jennings, the oldest of the family of Charles W. and Maria W. Jennings, was born on the homestead near Walnut Hill, Marion county, October 29, 1827. He was reared under excellent parental influences, received the best education which the schools during his childhood and youth afforded and while still a young man, engaged in merchandising at Walnut Hill, to which line of trade he devoted his attention with gratifying success until 1856. Disposing of his business that year, he moved to his farm near by and during the ensuing forty-four years followed the life of a tiller of the soil in which pursuit he was also successful as his continued advancement bore witness.
Amanda Couch, whom Mr. Jennings married on the 24th day of November, 1850, was born in Marion county, Illinois, January 8, 1834, being the daughter of Milton and Nancy (Baird) Couch, early residents of the county and representatives of well known and highly esteemed families. During the three years following their marriage, Mr. and Mrs. Jennings lived at Walnut Hill, but at the expiration of that time, changed their residence to a farm in section 26, Centralia township, where Mr. Jennings engaged in agriculture and stock raising on quite an extensive scale and met with financial success commensurate with the energy which he displayed in all of his undertakings. He also manifested an active interest in public and political matters and was long one of the leading Democrats and influential politicians of the county, besides achieving much more than local reputation in party circles, throughout the southern part of the state. He served for some years as Associate Judge of Marion county, the duties of which position he discharged very acceptably, also filled the office of Supervisor several terms, and in 1850 was elected Coroner. During the Civil war he was Deputy Collector of internal revenue, later served as Deputy Sheriff and for several years was Justice of the Peace, an office for which his sound sense, well balanced judgment and love of justice peculiarly fitted him. His official career was eminently honorable and he proved an efficient and very popular public servant, adorning every position to which he was called and fully meeting the high expectations of his fellow citizens.
The children, of Mr. and Mrs. Jennings, nine in number, are as follows: Mary R., who married I. N. Baldridge, of Walnut Hill; Charles E., who is noticed at some length further on; Frank E., of Centralia; Daisy, deceased, who married O. V. Kell, also of that city; Hon. William S. Jennings, ex-Governor of Florida; Mrs. Nannie D. Stover, Mrs. Eva Shaw and Thomas J. are three living at Walnut Hill, and Mrs. Elizabeth Wheeler, whose home is in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Mr. Jennings was a man of profound religious convictions and in early life united with the Methodist Episcopal church, of which he continued a faithful and consistent member to the end of his days. He died November 20, 1890, in the full assurance of a triumphant resurrection. His widow, who lives on the old homestead, has reached the age of seventy-six and retains to a remarkable degree the possession of her powers, both mental and physical. She is one of a family of six children, three are living. Robert Couch, whose home is at Marissa, Illinois, and Porter, who resides at the town of Sparta, this state. Milton Couch, the father, was a son of James and Elizabeth Couch, the former a native of North Carolina and among the early pioneers of southern Illinois.
Extracted 27 May 2019 by Norma Hass from 1909 Biographical and Reminiscent History of Richland, Clay and Marion Counties, Illinois, pages 513-516.