William Jennings Bryan - Vol. 1

By Paolo E. Coletta | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1

Genesis

I

THE ANCESTORS of William Jennings Bryan on his father's side were of Irish stock. One line flows back to Baron William De Bowbray, who helped wrest Magna Carta from King John; another goes back to a king of Munster known as Brian Borou, "King of the Irish," who was born about A. D. 927. William Smith Bryan, the first Bryan known to rebel against despotic government, suffered banishment to the colony of Virginia during the wars of the Puritan Revolution. A grandson settled near Winchester, Virginia, in 1710. One of his children, William, William Jennings's great-grandfather, accepted a commission from the governor of North Carolina on July 1, 1776 and mustered troops to fight the British. After the war he amassed farm and timber lands and became a leader in the civic and religious life of Culpeper County, south of Winchester. So active was he in the Baptist church that it was popularly called the Bryan Meeting House. Through him the Bryans were related by marriage with the Daniel Boone family.

William had three sons and two daughters. Two sons succumbed to the lure of the West, one going to Ohio and one to Kentucky, starting the movement of the Bryans along a path very similar to that followed by the Lincoln family. The last son, John, William Jennings's grandfather, stayed on the home place for a time and married Nancy Lillard, of English descent. They built a double log cabin and filled it with children. After the seventh child, Silas Lillard, was born, in 1822, they moved across the state to Point Pleasant, on the Kanawha River near its junction with the Ohio. There three more children were born. After eight years on the Kanawha Nancy Lillard died. Two years later, when Silas was twelve, his father died, leaving him to the care of several older brothers and sisters who had not gone to western country.

At eighteen years of age, Silas decided to go west. He walked from Virginia to Troy, Missouri, to live with his brother William, a farmer. He was almost six feet tall, raw-boned, with an aquiline nose and thin lips. His slenderness belied a grim kind of determination, an instinct

-1-

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