On this 4th of July week, we turn our thoughts to people like Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, the main authors of the Declaration of Independence, and how they changed the history of the United States and the world.  But, I suggest, just for a moment or two, let us turn our thoughts to William French, Robert Parke, Thomas Parke, Alice Parke, Thomas Ford  and Robert White.  You may ask yourselves and rightfully so, who are these people and why am I writing about them and America’s birthday?  And, what do these New England Yankees and a wealthy 17th Century Virginia widower have to do with the history of East Central Georgia? 

Their stories begin nearly some four centuries ago in the English colonies of Connecticut and Massachusetts. All of them,  members of the gentry of England, played important roles, not in the founding of the United States in 1776, but in the two centuries which followed.

For you see, if these people or their children had never made the trip across the Atlantic, the Wright Brothers would have never made that first flight at Kitty Hawk, there would be no Disney World and Dorothy would have never gone over the rainbow to see the Wizard of Oz.

William French, one of the first to settle in Billerica, Massachusetts, was a tailor by trade. He arrived in Boston about the “Defence” in 1635.   French’s first wife and mother of his children, died in 1669.  Elizabeth French could rightfully be called “the mother of the great inventors.” For without her, there would have never been Mickey Mouse, Disney World and the Morse Code. Through their descendants, Elizabeth and William were the ancestors of Eli Whitney - the inventor of the cotton gin,  Samuel F.B. Morse - a world famous portrait painter and the developer of the Morse Code for telegraphy; Charles Goodyear - the inventor of vulcanized rubber tires; Walt Disney - founder of the Disney Corporation and a pioneer cartoon and movie maker; and both Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush and the man Democrats love to hate, Vice President Dick Cheney.


Eli Whitney

                                                                  Samuel F.B. Morse

                                                                    Charles Goodyear

                               George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, Dick Cheney

Robert White and his wife Bridget Allgar, both natives of Essex, England, never made it to New England, but many of their children did.  Their list of descendants ranks near the top of the number and variety of notable Americans.  Without their progeny, there would have no Latter Day Saints Church in America as we know it, no flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903, and possibly a much longer Civil War in America and possibly no Civil War at all as among the White’s descendants was one John Brown, (left)  whose actions ignited the abolitionist movement in the years before the war. 

Among their descendants, the Whites count four presidents, Millard Fillmore, U.S. Grant, Grover Cleveland and Gerald Ford, along with authors Emily Dickinson and O. Henry (William S. Porter,) the pioneering plane pilots, Wilbur and Orville Wright, entertainers Donny and Marie Osmond and their brothers along with the queen of television comedy, Lucille Ball, and the princess of child actors, Shirley Temple.  Among other notable descendants are NFL Hall of Famer and three time Super Bowl winning quarterback Steve Young  and Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of the Church of Latter Day Saints in America.  One could speculate that had U.S. Grant had not continued to pommel Robert E. Lee’s army as his predecessors had not done after Union victories, that the Civil War would have lasted many more years or ended in a draw.  One could also argue that had the Whites not been born, Millard Fillmore would not be regarded as the country’s worst president.  There’s still time for that undesirable title to be earned.

  Without the Whites, there would have been no Vincent Price to scare us in horror movies, no Racquel Welch on pip up posters in the 1960s, nor neither one of Ronald Reagan's wives, Jane Wyman or Nancy Davis, nor a Juliette Gordon Low to found the Girl Scouts of America.  And you could have never bought books from Barnes & Nobles.

Grover Cleveland


                          Millard Fillmore             

Gerald Ford

O. Henry 

Emily Dickinson

Donny  and  Marie Osmond

Joseph Smith

Lucille Ball

Shirley Temple 

Steve Young

Vincent Price

Racquel Welch 

Jane (Mrs. Ronald Reagan) Wyman 

Richard Gere

Ernest Hemmingway 

Nancy Reagan 

Juliette Gordon Low 

And, Barnes and  Noble, too.

Without Thomas Ford and his wife, Princess Diana Spencer would have never married Prince Charles and ensuing mania would have never been spread over television, newspapers and magazines.  One might could speculate that Charles may have never married and the monarchy of Great Britain in the 21st Century would have been radically different.

Without Thomas Ford and his wife, the face of World War II would have been completely different.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt would have never had his fireside chats, the country may have been delayed in coming out of the Great Depression, and it is possible that the Axis powers may have won the war.   

Thomas  Parke,  his wife Dorothy Thompson Parke, his father Robert and  her mother Alice T. Parke, were directly responsible for four of the silver screen’s greatest actors.  For without them, their would have never been two of Hollywood’s greatest couples Bogey and Bacall and Tracy and Hepburn, who individually and collectively appeared in many of the  greatest movies of all time.   You would have never loved “The Wizard of Oz, written by L. Frank Baum.

Dorothy’s mother, Alice Freeman Thompson, may have been the most prestigious and prolific ancestress in American history.  Through her first husband John Thompson, Alice,  who married later remarried Robert Parke (father of Thomas) was the ancestor of President Warren Harding, Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, Union Army commander, George B. McLellan, author Louisa May Alcott, activist and nurse Dorothea Dix,  chef Julia Child, actors  Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Katherine Hepburn and Lee Remick. Washington Post editor, Ben Bradlee,  Spanish American War Admiral Thomas Dewey, Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum, aviation pioneer Samuel Langley, Secretary of State Henry Stimson, actor Robert Lansing, not to mention the spouses of Louis Comfort Tiffany, Harvey Firestone, Gen. George Patton, philanthropist Paul Mellon, General Billy Mitchell father of the modern bomber, television journalist Edward R. Murrow, industrialist John D. Rockefeller, Jr., agricultural industrialist and inventor Cyrus McCormick, women’s activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, singer Enrico Caruso, actor John Barrymore, inventor and painter Samuel Morse, actor Rudolph Valentino, boxing champion Gene Tunney and Secretary of State Cyrus Vance.

George B. Mc:Lellan

Louisa May Alcott 

Warren Harding 

Nelson Rockefeller 

Humphrey Bogart - Lauren Bacall 

Spencer Tracy - Katherine Hepburn

Dorethea Dix

Julia Child

Lee Remick

Ben Bradlee, Editor Washington Post - Watergate

Admiral Thomas Dewey 

                               Wizard of Oz Cast - Conceived by L. Frank Baum

The ancestry of the Wright Brothers (left)  is particularly interesting in the fact that it took Robert White, Thomas Ford and their wives to procreate descendants for these two men to have made the first heavier than air flight.

John Alden and William Bradford, leading passengers of the Mayflower, which landed at Plymouth Rock were famous for their arrival in America.  But without these men taking a calculated risk and leaving their homes in England behind them, there would have been no Dirty Harry movies, no Playboy magazine and no Webster’s dictionary.  Presidents John Adams, John Quincy Adams and Calvin Coolidge would have never lived in the White House.  Nor would have Dick Van Dyke or Raquel Welch been icons of television and movies in the 1960s. 

So as you see, these grandfathers and grandmothers, neither of whom had any particular fame or lasting achievements during their 17th Century lives, were responsible for forming the history of our country and the history of our world.  Between these men and women, they were the ancestors of at least ten presidents,  many pioneering inventors, great authors, outstanding athletes and iconic entertainers. This impressive list does not include those who haven’t been able to complete their family trees back to the early 1600s.

So if you will allow me, I will beg your leave to allow me to remind each of you  that we are all put on this Earth for a purpose and that purpose is to build and not to destroy.  It doesn’t matter from whom you are descended. You can’t wait on your descendants to accomplish great deeds. The time is always right to serve your community and your country.  When you leave this world, you can take solace in the fact that you left it a far better place than when you got here.  Who knows? Your descendants can cure cancer and heart disease, walk on the moons of Saturn, travel at the speed of light  or bring everlasting peace to this ever battling world.  

As for me, I take no particular pride in that I descend from all of these early settlers of New England and their parents.  I do rejoice in the fact that they and we are an integral part of the greater family of Americans, who work far better when we work together and often.
On this 241st anniversary of the Declaration of Independence,  I do thank my ancestors, the Frenches, Whites, Parkes and Fords.  For without all of them being in this world, I would not be writing about Dublin and Laurens County, the home I will always love and for the enduring gifts they gave to us. 

Happy Birthday America!

An American Great Grandmother

I cannot imagine the United States of America without Katherine Banks. You ask, who is Katherine Banks? Katherine lived around three hundred and fifty years ago in 17th Century Virginia. So why is this Virginia lady so significant and what does she have to do with the history of east-central Georgia? Well, she has nothing to do directly with the history of our area, but without her, the face of the history of America, and the world for that matter, would have been vastly different. What did she do? Well, I will tell you.

Katherine Banks was born into a prosperous family in Canterbury, England in County Kent in 1627, the same year the Massachusetts Bay Colony had been chartered to colonize the eastern coast of North America. Her father, Christopher Banks, was one of England's most influential commoners in his position with the Old London Company, which financed the settlement of Jamestown and Virginia.

Sometime in the early 1640s, Katherine journeyed to America, landing in Charles City County, west of Jamestown on the James River. It was not long after her arrival that she married her cousin, Joseph Royall, twice a widower and 27 years her senior. Royall had come to Jamestown aboard the Charitie in July 1622, just after Powhatan Chief Opechancanough had murdered three hundred and forty-seven colonists. Royall survived "the burning fever," which killed even more settlers. By transporting colonists to Virginia, Joseph Royall was able to accumulate a large plantation, which he called "Doghams" after the French river D'Augham, on the James River above Shirley and opposite current day Hopewell, Virginia.

Joseph Royall died in the mid 1650s. As was the custom in those days, his wife's dower from his estate passed to her during her widowhood. When Katherine married Henry Isham in 1656, Royall's estate passed to Isham, who immediately added another wing to his residence on Bermuda Hundred.

From their luxurious home encircled by tall pines and a extensive English flower garden, the Ishams became leaders of Virginia society. It has been said that Katherine Banks Royall Isham was the wealthiest woman in America. Her father gave her one of the first English coaches to be used in the colonies. It was described as cumbrous and capacious. It held six individuals, three on a seat opposite one another. Two others could sit on stools which faced the doors. Its body was hung high on large springs and was entered by steps. The lining was made of cream-colored cloth. Silver trimmings, cords and tassels accented the exquisite exterior. The driver and the footman sat on the front, while luggage was carried in the rear.

As the fall weather began to cool the shores of the James River, Katherine made out her last will and testament. Three hundred and twenty three years ago today, Joseph Royall, Jr. and Francis Eppes walked into the court of Henrico County to probate her generous and loving testament to her children and grandchildren. Her bequests of exquisite and valuable heirlooms paled in comparison to the true legacy of this little known woman.

By her first husband, Katherine gave birth to six children, Joseph, John, Sarah, Katherine and two other unknown daughters. With Henry, Katherine had Henry, Jr. and Anne. But by far, her most famous child was Mary Isham. Mary was a much courted belle of Virginia. Suitors swarmed to get a glance of this charming young woman, who played the cittern, a three-stringed early version of the mandolin. Mary captured the heart of the wealthy William Randolph of Turkey Island. Over the next three centuries, the couple would come to be known as "the Adam and Eve of Virginia." Now, you will see why.

The Randolphs were the parents of ten children, most notably Isham Randolph. His daughter Jane married Peter Jefferson. They were the parents of President Thomas Jefferson. Elizabeth, daughter of William and Mary Randolph, married Richard Bland. They were the great-great grandparents of the noble and the revered, General Robert Edward Lee. William and Mary's son Thomas was the great-grandfather of John Marshall, the nation's longest serving Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In point of fact, Katherine's descendants included the wives of both President Jefferson and General Lee. You can see why the Randolphs are the closest thing to royalty that Virginia ever had.

I will dispense with all the begats, the great-greats and the removed cousins and simply say that among the most well known descendants of Katherine Banks Royall Isham are presidents John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter, first lady Edith Wilson, authors William Faulkner, Willa Cather, Robert Penn Warren and Ray Badbury. Among the most interesting name on the list is Booker Talieferro Washington, a former slave, who became a highly revered educator, author and political leader. There are many, many more. Their names have not yet been entered in the files of So for now, I will stop here.

Why would anyone care about Katherine Banks? She was never memorialized in the annals of early American history. All she did was live a good life and have children. And, that's just the point. All of us have a purpose on the Earth. As we go about our daily lives, we never stop to imagine that our descendants, close and remote, can play a pivotal role in the history of our country.

Can you imagine the Declaration of Independence written by someone else other than Thomas Jefferson? Can you imagine the Civil War without Robert E. Lee? Can you imagine the emergence of the Supreme Court without Chief Justice John Marshall? I cannot.

Thomas Jefferson 

Robert E. Lee

Thomas Marshall 

John F. Kennedy 

Booker T. Washington 

Maybe you can conceive of the world of literature without the names of Bradbury, Faulkner, Cather and Warren, but it would have been a far poorer one.

I can't envision the world without the leadership and brilliance of Booker T. Washington. I can't envision the world without John F. Kennedy. Would there have even been a man on the moon? Would Richard Nixon have been elected president in 1960? Would their have ever been a war in Vietnam or the turbulent times of the 1960s?

I can't imagine a world without these exceptional Americans who descended from the forgotten Katherine Banks Royall Isham. You see, I couldn't visualize these thoughts at all if it were not for Katherine, who was my eighth great-grandmother.

Study the history of your family. Learn where you came from so that you can know where you are going. Everyone's families are no more important than any others. It is up to you. Serve your community now. Don't rest of the accolades of your ancestors or wait on the achievements of your remotest descendants. Who knows what they may learn from you?