Genealogical Keynotes[]


  • Born: 10 September 1772 (see tombstone photo)
  • Married:
  • Died: 06 January 1861 (see tombstone photo)
  • Burial: Oak Spring Cemetery, Canonsburg, Washington Co., PA


James "Smoking Jimmy" Gillespy was the son of James Gillespy “Sr.” and Elizabeth Finley.

Elizabeth (Finley) Gillespy’s parents were John Finley and ______ THOMSON.

Per Carmen Finley's research:   "This John was the Elder at Tinkling Spring. These two John Finleys were contemporaries living in Augusta County about 15 miles apart. Early researchers have confused the two lines."


Child List[]

  1. John Finley GILLESPY
  2. William Cowan GILLESPY, MD b: 24 Mar 1797 in Blount Co., TN; d: 28 Mar 1860
    m. Narcissa ______ "Nancy" SHARP b: 21 Jul 1802 in Maryville, Blount Co., TN; d: 21 Jan 1884
  3. James Houston GILLESPY, MD b: 04 Feb 1799 in Blount Co., TN; d: 18 Oct 1881 in Miller's Cove/Walland, Blount Co., TN m. Elizabeth Baldridge TUCKER b. 1791: d: 19 Dec 1844
  4. Jane Walker GILLESPY 03 Nov 1800 in TN; d: 26 Jun 1882 in Canonsburg, PA
    m. David ______ CARSON b: 25 Oct 1799 in Fayette Co., PA; d: 25 Sep 1834 in Canonsburg, PA
  5. Campbell _____ GILLESPY b: 09 Sep 1802; d: 20 Nov 1886 in TN
    m.#1 Hannah C_____ WALLACE b. 1811; d: 1853
    m.#2 Ann ______ HOLIDAY b: 04 May 1833; d: 03 Mar 1890 in Little River, Blount Co., TN

Family History[]

Canonsburg Presbyterian Church history has the following notation:

  • "James Gillespie Carson succeeded the Reverend Mr. Bain in 1867. He was a son of the Rev. David Carson, who, in 1834, had become a professor in the Canonsburg Seminary. Both James G. and his brother, David W. Carson, attended Jefferson College and the Associate Theological Seminary here.
  • When the Carsons had moved to Canonsburg from Tennessee, Mrs. Carson’s family, the Gillespies, came with them. The Gillespie family brought two emancipated slaves with them to Canonsburg. From these two former slaves came the black Gillespie and Caldwell families — highly respected citizens and members of this congregation for many years.
  • James Gillespie Carson stayed only two years as pastor of the Canonsburg congregation. He left here to accept a charge in Xenia, Ohio and an appointment as a professor in the Xenia Theological Seminary. During his pastorate, a Sabbath School was instituted and interesting benevolent commitments were made: to the rebuilding of San Francisco and to the Anti-Secret Society."

Surname Variations[]

The GillespY surname has several spelling variations -- e.g., GillespIE, Gillespy, Gillaspy, Gillsapie, Gilaspy, Gilaspie, Gillispy/Gillispie, etc. -- found in various documents and, sometimes, multiple spellings within the same document.

It seems likely that in the 18th century settlement the differences in spelling represented individual idiosyncracies in how different record takers chose to spell the name, and not necessarily the spelling chosen by a specific individual. Thus, as has been discovered by this research, the surname for a single individual may differ between census, may appear one way on a marriage license, may appear differently on a will, land record, tax record, pension record, military record, etc. ... or have multiple spellings even within the same document. How the surname was spelled may have been due to whether the person involved in the transaction knew how to read/write or the document was being written for him/her, whether the person giving the census info was the family member/neighbor, etc. To further muddy the waters, are indexes and transcriptions where the person had trouble reading the old handwriting.

For example, the Cowan Bible records has Rosanna Gillaspie, her Blount Co. marriage license has Gillaspy and Gillespy on the inside and Gillespie on the front, and her pension application for her husband's Indian Wars service has Gillespie. To disregard these spelling variations would cause a researcher to overlook and/or disregard important documents and clues about relevant family data without investigation and analysis of their applicability to a specific family member.

Thus, one cannot reject the GillespIE spelling for individuals (particularly in 18th and early 19th century documents) as not being related to James GillespY and Eleanor Cowan. In following the descendants of "Smoking Jimmie" and Eleanor Cowan through to the present day, the bulk of the GillespY descendants at some point elected to use the GillespIE spelling – even though this may not be their original ancestor's spelling.

In recent years some family lines may have permanently adopted a specific spelling, which may or may not have been the spelling of their ancestor. Some researchers, however, are of the opinion that the differences in spelling reflect real differences in heritage. This seems to be a minority opinion, but one strongly held by some researchers. Perhaps, the choice of spelling reflected political separation, strongly differing viewpoints on other matters, a family feud/rift, or just personal choice, etc. -- for example, a story about two branches of the Wellborn family is that they held differing Revolutionary War loyalties which resulted in one branch spelling the name WELLBORN and the other deliberately changing the vowels and electing a spelling of WILLBURN.

Alternative Interpretation[]


Oral tradition (legend) has it that James Gillespy died while visiting daughter, Jane Walker (Gillespy) Carson; however, from census information, it appears he moved to PA sometime prior to the 1850 census as he is enumerated there in both the 1850 and 1860 census.)

  • 1850 census, PA, Washington Co., Canonsburg, shows James Gillaspie (78, VA) in his daughter’s household.
  • 1860 census, PA, Beaver Co., Racoon Township, M653_1071, 07/25/1860, p. 662 shows James Gillespie (87, VA) in daughter’s/grandson’s household … daughter, Ellen (Gillespy) Carson, is also in David Carson’s household. (David has not married as of this census.)


  • First Families of Tennessee applications for James Gillespy and Eleanor (Cowan)
  • David A. Coulter
  • John L. Coulter
  • Wayne Lexan Overholser
  • Kathy Coulter Wood
  • DAR applications on James Gillespy, Sr. through his son James "Smoking Jimmie" Gillespy (m. Eleanor Cowan)
(Copies of DAR applications are available from the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, 1776 D Street, NW, Washington, DC. Cost is $10 for each application, which includes the four pages of each application.)
DAR # Date Applicant's Name Cowan Child's Name Rev. War Ancestor
166093 03/20/1943 Mayme R (Maxery) Bissnar Eleanor Cowan James Gillespy, Sr.
265374 10/15/1930 Sallie E. (Gillespie) Ambrister Eleanor Cowan James Gillespy, Sr.
281000 04/01/1933 Maude (Ambrister) Wyche Eleanor Cowan James Gillespy, Sr.
362422 10/11/1946 Carrie Irene (Ambrister) Clark Eleanor Cowan James Gillespy, Sr.
379812 09/17/1980 Emma Elizabeth (Ambrister) Carpenter   Eleanor Cowan James Gillespy, Sr.
423729 11/20/1953 Sabina E (Ambrister) Beckman Eleanor Cowan James Gillespy, Sr.
426464 04/17/1954 Elizabeth (Gillespy) Brinegar Eleanor Cowan James Gillespy, Sr.
435539 02/25/1955 Barbara (Gillespy) Jarrett Eleanor Cowan James Gillespy, Sr.
475597 09/20/1960 Francis (Thornton) Bryant Eleanor Cowan James Gillespy, Sr.
489340 08/10/1962 Lorinda (Farley) Thornton Eleanor Cowan James Gillespy, Sr.
608878 04/06/1976 Lorinda (Thornton) Williams Eleanor Cowan (S) James Gillespy, Sr.
667362 07/15/1982 Lorinda Christine (Thornton) Orlowski Eleanor Cowan (S) James Gillespy, Sr.
706026 12/11/1986 Lynne (Farley) Williams Eleanor Cowan (S) James Gillespy, Sr.
712988 10/25/1987 Mary (Wyche) Rescendes Eleanor Cowan James Gillespy, Sr.
717908 08/01/1988 Ann Maude (Rescendes) Guttierez Eleanor Cowan James Gillespy, Sr.
781773 09/30/1997 Kenlyn Christina (Foster) Spencer Eleanor Cowan James Gillespy, Sr.

Research Needs[]

  • Date & place of marriage between "Smoking Jimmie" and Eleanor Cowan. (The marriage is not found in the Blount Co. or Knox Co., TN marriage records.)
  • More information on the black Gillespy families/descendants in Canonsburg, PA

Page Needs[]




Common Acronyms and Definitions
Genealogical Definitions


Cowantex -- Descendants of Eleanor "Ellen" COWAN