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Whitley County, KY


This event  took place in the winter of 1825/6 and involved several families in the Cumberland River Region.  We have found no other record  than what has been located in the Whitley County Court records.  We would like to discover what happened on that (probably) cold day in the winter of 1825/6 that Pleasant Johnson died.....and why were five people (including a woman) accused of his death....and why did the witnesses fail to appear at the first trial (including the sheriff).....and why were they all related??????  Can anyone add to our record?


PLEASANT JOHNSON was killed in Whitley County, Kentucky in the winter of 1825/6. 

     A murder (manslaughter) trial was conducted in Whitley County with 5 people having been indicted. The trial began 19 May 1826 and concluded in July.    The people indicted were WELLS PENNINGTON, SAMUEL GARLAND, AMBROSE GARLAND,  JOHN JONES, and his wife, ANNY GARLAND JONES. 

Wells Pennington, John Jones, and Anny Jones were allowed to have someone stand security ($200. each) for them and stay free until the next session of court.  Sam Garland and Ambrose Garland were kept in jail. Apparently, they could not find someone to provide security or were not allowed to.

     According to the Court Order Book, there were several witnesses for the Commonwealth:   JOHN ROSS, ANGUS ROSS, WILLIAM and BETSY RIDDLE, THOMAS HALL and his WIFE.  Interestingly enough, they did not appear on the day of the trial.  The judge continued the case to the next session and ordered that the witnesses be fined if they could not show cause for failing to be present.

Wells Pennington and John Jones were found innocent.   Sam Garland, Ambrose Garland, and Anny Garland Jones were tried.  The jury declared them "Not Guilty" of murder but "Guilty" of Manslaughter.  Sam was given 4 years in prison, Ambrose was given 2 years and Anny Jones was given 2 years.  Anny was granted a retrial, and was found not guilty on the final verdict.  

     There were some tendencies among the Whitley County residents toward violence.  Did it happen before or as a result of the death of Pleasant Johnson?   The Court intervened and made the following orders:

THEOPOLIS PENNINGTON is ordered to keep the peace toward  ANGUS ROSS. 

JOHN NEAL and DANIE NEAL are ordered, in a separate entry, to keep the peace, "especially toward ANGUS ROSS". 

And, again in a separate entry, ANGUS ROSS is ordered to keep the peace toward JOHN NEAL.\

Did the witnesses for the Commonwealth fail to show because they were afraid to?

Members of the Cast of Events:

Angus Ross was born in 1767.   He was a JP in 1822, ran a ferry over Marsh Creek and kept a tavern out of his house.

John Ross was a sheriff.   He likely was related to Angus Ross.

"Wells" Pennington was born in Ashe Co., NC ca. 1779-1781.  It is said that he is the son of William Pennington, but that has not been proven.  No record has been found to indicate who Wells' father was. Wells is believed to have married Elizabeth Strunk (not proven as yet), the sister of Daniel Strunk who also came to Whitley Co about 1818.  Daniel's first wife died, and he married Honor Pennington, believed, but not proven, to be a sister to Wells.  Wells Pennington served on the Grand Jury in 1820.

Samuel Garland was the husband of Well's daughter, Christina. Christina was born in 1804.  They were married in Whitley Co., 19 March 1823.

Theopholis Pennington was Well's son.  He was born in 1802.  Theophilus Pennington married Penelope Jones 25 Feb 1825 in Whitley Co.KY.   She may have been related to Anny Jones, who was charged. 
Theophilus Pennington served on the Grand Jury in 1825.  In  the same summer, he was also was suing Angus Ross

The Anny Jones who was charged, was Anna Garland who married John Jones in Whitley Co.KY in 1825.  

A Pleasant Johnson was known to live in Wayne Co., near Frazier, and on the south bank of the Cumberland River.   Angus Ross lived on Marsh Creek and Wells and Theophilus Pennington lived near Pleasant Run Creek which appears to be between Marsh Creek and Frazer. Consequently, they all lived relatively near each other.

      It appears that the Pleasant Johns(t)on that was killed is Pleasant Johnson of Wayne Co.  He was proven to have died at the age of 31 in the winter of 1825/26 and lived on the south bank of the Cumberland River, within 30+ miles or so of Whitley County.  There was no one named Pleasant Johnson living in Whitley or Pulaski County according to the Census of 1820.   Therefore, it seems most probable that we have identified the proper person.


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The following information was provided by Bill Pennington


Several additional things of interest appear in the Whitley County Clerk Minutes 1818-22

. On page 4 is the motion for Angus Ross to establish a ferry across Marsh Creek etc. He was to be entitled to 75 cents for each wagon and team carried across along with 12.5 cents for each man and horse etc.

On page 16 is a reference to John Ross, Commissioner.

On page 20 is a reference to a road passing through the lands of several persons and Ambrose Garland is mentioned.

On page 22 is a reference to Samuel Ross getting the back part of his ear bitten off in a fight with Henry Holt.

Page 23 has another reference to Angus Ross and his tavern  Another reference on page 24 is made to the road at his place. There is yet another reference to the road on page 25.

Daniel Strunk's name is mentioned on page 26 concerning a road.

On page 28 there is a reference to John Ross, Sheriff, and his pay.

On page 32 Wells Pennington is mentioned as being appointed surveyor of the road leading from the ford of Gillico to the dividing ridge between Marsh Creek and Gillico

      In the 1820s there was no McCreary County.  McCreary was formed from Wayne and Whitley in 1912.  As such, Wayne and Whitley shared a common border and both were bordered to the south by Tennessee.  Today Marsh Creek is in McCreary County.  If you imagine a pendulum swinging from 10:00 to 3:00 you can imagine a road or some semblance thereof in an arc that ran from Monticello, county seat of Wayne to Williamsburg at 3:00 in Whitley.  Marsh Creek running to the south into Tennessee intersected the road at about 4:30.  To require a ferry, this probably is fairly wide, as creeks go. Anyone traveling from as far away as Monticello by horseback would probably arrive at Marsh Creek late in the afternoon and enjoy a drink at Angus Ross's place either before or just after crossing the creek.  It may be that some folks would have more than one drink.  Today this area is part of the Daniel Boone National Forest and is very remote.  The closest anything is Silerville or the Strunk post office five miles or so to the northwest.

     Some other notes:  Angus Ross was born 29 Oct., 1767 and was four years older than Wells.  Angus married Elizabeth Haws 2 Aug., 1791.  He appeared in the 1810 Knox Co. census and the 1820 Whitley census.  Whitley was carved from Knox in 1818 so Marsh Creek has appeared in all three counties.  Ross also appeared in the 1850 Whitley census.  He received land in 1816 at Marsh Creek in the amount of 355 acres.  He received 100 more at Marsh Creek in 1826.

      John Jones married Anna Garland 10 May, 1825 in Whitley Co.  There was some sort of settlement at that time near Marsh Creek called Jones.

     Penelope Jones wed Theophilus Pennington in Whitley 25 Feb., 1825.

      Samuel Garland married Christina Pennington in Whitley 19 March, 1823. The Garlands had been closely related with the Penningtons, having come over from NC to Whitley about 1818.

      A Catherine Johnson married Isaac Riddle in Wayne County 26 Aug., 1824. Could it be that these folks might have come with Pleasant to Marsh Creek?

      There's a lot of newly married folks and Pleasant Johnson who may have appeared at Marsh Creek alone, and met three men: Wells Pennington, Ambrose Garland, and Angus Ross.  Obviously, something happened.  It was murder that got changed to manslaughter. Sometimes a murder charge is reduced to manslaughter through plea bargaining. I doubt that this was the case.  More likely a jury of people who knew everybody except Pleasant decided either rightfully or wrongly that the victim was at least partially at fault.

     When Wells, Theophilus, et al moved to Pulaski County in 1828 they pretty much moved to the north rather than to the west. When Samuel Pennington went to Whitley County in 1848 to get married he went to Clio, about five miles northwest of Williamsburg. 

     Wells Pennington's daughter Tabitha, born 1811 is my ancestor.  At 17 in May of 1828 she gave birth to a son.  The father is unknown. The child was born in Pulaski County.  Wells, Theophilus, and all the others moved to Pulaski in early 1828 and at 17 young Samuel was granted fifty acres that was adjacent to land owned by Wells.  Samuel married Martha Walls in 1848.  Interestingly, they went to Whitley County to get married.  Samuel and Martha raised 14 children, most of whom were born at Miller County, MO.  He joined forces with the North in 1861 and was a life long member of the Grand Army of the Republic.  He died in 1914 at the age of 86 shortly after taking a second wife.  Martha had died in 1904.  Samuel and Martha's fourth son was John born in 1857. He married Louisa McCubbin in Miller County and died in 1945 at the age of 89.  John's oldest son was William, born at Ibera, MO in 1878.  He married Alice Clow in 1905 and died at Siloam Springs, AR in 1962.  His oldest son was my father, Clarence Pennington, born at Tulsa, OK in 1908.  He died in 1978 and is buried near Atlanta.

     I don't know what happened at Marsh Creek. I can only surmise.  Presumably Samuel Garland was the trigger man since he served the most time.  If you look at the birth dates of Samuel Garland's children you will see that were none during the years he served his time. It's interesting that women were involved.  Your curiosity and imagination can go in many directions.


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Link to:  Whitley County Court Minutes , Book 1, 1818-1822

      If you have any information on this historical event that significantly disrupted and changed the lives of several families of the Cumberland River region,  please contact any or all of the following:

     Barb Temple--descendant of Wells Pennington who conducted the initial field research concerning the trial

     Bill Pennington--descendant of Wells Pennington.   He is the Group Leader for Group 32 (the Wells Pennington Group) of the Pennington Research Association . 

     Elbert Johnson--descendant of Pleasant Johnson. 





                          Updated 24 March 2002