1/30/12 & 1/28/14
References to several of my families go back quite a ways beyond the British Isles and into France: The Percys (Pearces) and the Croys (Grays) , for example. Most of these claims are associated, whether correctly or not, with the Norman conquest of the Isles by William in 1066. But one line on my father’s maternal side, while not going back that far, is much more convincing, with specific names, dates, and locations—the Jack family, which is Jacques in French or James in Dutch—dating to 1393. The connection began with the 1783 marriage of Mary Jane Jack (b.1749) to John Cooper (b.1751) in Newton Township, Cumberland County, PA. She lived her entire life there, passing at the age of 72. Mary Jane and John’s daughter Margaret (b.1787) married Lawrence Carlysle Fleming (b.1784) and they moved to the region of the world’s first oil boom, Venango County, PA. But some of Mary Jane’s earlier family moved south, taking the Great Wagon Road south to the Carolinas and at least one became a household name in those parts. In this article we’ll look at her ancestors and the directions their lives took, from France to Scotland, to Northern Ireland, to America. How did the name go from James to Jacques to Jack? Let’s begin by exploring the somewhat confusing origins of the name and some famous persons who have carried it.
First of all, an inaccuracy: our surname “Jack” actually comes from the Medieval moniker “Jankin,” which, according to Wikipedia, is “strictly a diminutive of “John,” or “Jean” in French, not “Jaques.” I’ve written about this name before in a piece called “Clearing up Confusion over Names: John & Jack.” Never the less, our ancestral records show that sometime after 1559, when the children of Jacob James (b.1496) and wife Sara moved from The Netherlands to France, their surname became translated “Jaques,” or “Jacques.” Then, it was changed again, this time to the Anglicized “Jack,” around 1650 after Guillaume, Jr. (b.1630) married Jeanne and they moved to Scotland with at least part of their mid-sized family already in tow. By the way, Guillaume was Anglicized to “William.” From there the entire choice of names seems to be used interchangeably by historians and genealogists either through confusion or uncertainty among the record keepers. The great irony is that “Jacques,” the French equivalent of “James,” is the derivative of “Iacobus,” or “Jacob” (the I and the J here pronounced as a Y), from the Greek. Jacob and James, of course, come from the Bible. In Hebrew, Jacob means “heel,” a reference to the twin of Esau who held onto his brother’s leg at birth. Sometimes, the name has a negative connotation, as in “deceiver,” because of the trick Jacob played on his brother to get father Isaac’s inheritance. In the New Testament, James was the brother of Jesus. So, in summary, Jaques (or the better known Jacques with a C), James, and Jack in this case all refer to the same family. Was there confusion or were the record keepers and genealogists listing all the possible translations to be on the safe side? You decide.
We’ll get more into our family line in a moment, but now let’s consider some famous users of these names. There are too many to list here, but suffice it to say that persons with Jacques as a last name include an actress, a hockey player, a politician, and several writers. Of course, the most famous person using Jacques as a first name was French underwater explorer Cousteau (1910-1997) . Let’s not forget former first lady Jacqueline (in the diminutive) Onassis (1929-1994) , whose first mate was—John “Jack” Kennedy. Most of the rest were athletes, artists, or politicians. Plenty of fictional characters exist in song and prose, also.
James has been the most popular name in the British Isles over the years, probably owing to the various kings. That popularity certainly carried over to the United States with an equivalent from every culture added to the melting pot. The same is certainly true of Jack, with page after page of examples on websites devoted to names. We suggest a search of Wikipedia.com to start, if you’re interested.
Little is known of the first two generations of our Jacks in Europe, except through later wills and marriage contracts, but notes on Jacob James (b.1496) say that he was born in Utrecht, The Netherlands. His wife Sara’s (b.1502) last name certainly indicates that she was Dutch—VanHaestrecht. Their son Jacobus (b.1528) traveled to England in 1558 for whatever reason before marrying his French bride Corrine and settling in Eure-et-Loire. The next three generations were born in France, but as we said above, Guillaume Jaques, Jr. (b.1630) moved to Edinburgh, Scotland sometime before he died and two generations of Guillaumes’ became anglicized to William Jack. One is said, according to family tradition, to have been ordained into the ministry. Furthermore, he “moved to Ireland to escape religious persecution.” Under the reign of King Charles II he and twelve ministers of the Presbytery of Lagan, Northern Ireland, were “ejected from their benefices or livings for their non-conformity to the Church of England.” Quite a bit has been written on this and other persecutions but, at this time, we cannot positively connect this Rev. Jack with our William. Research continues.
A common starting point for genealogists with the Anglicised surname Jack are the historical journals of Josiah VanKirk (J. V.) Thompson . Amassed in 28 volumes written from 1898 to 1933, they tell the stories of many pioneer families, including our Jacks. For example, in Volume 3, Thompson records an interview with a Mrs. Barnes, great-granddaughter of Patrick James Jack:
[Patrick] James Jack was Captain of the Militia of North of Ireland in County Down at the time of the persecution of the Protestants, and the Catholics were very bitter against him by reason of his marshalling the militia against them. After the wars had quieted down, he went back to his old home in Scotland and later returned to Ireland.
The family narrative continues with Captain Jack finding that his land in Ireland had been maintained by a young Catholic man named Patrick O’Reily, who apparently would take no payment for the upkeep. Having no family, O’Reily simply requested that the good Captain name his son Patrick, after him. Patrick James agreed and furthermore, promised to “use his influence to have it continued in future generations.” Patrick James did name a son Patrick, but it was son James and grandson James, Jr., from whom we descend. Look for more stories of our Jack family from J.V. Thompson in future articles.
Though James, Sr. married Elizabeth McNulty in about 1725 and lived the rest of their lives in the Tyrone County village of Ardstraw, Northern Ireland, we believe that father Patrick James (b.1678) and wife Eleanor, who had married in Londonderry Co., NI, around 1699, may have left some of their older children behind and came to America without them. Some records indicate that they produced children on both sides of the pond and died in Chester Co, PA, in their late 40s. We believe that Our Patrick was the great-grandfather of our Mary Jane Jack mentioned in the introduction above. Patrick’s next two generations of James Jacks, Senior and Junior, became known for their bravery in both the French & Indian and Revolutionary Wars.
Tradition has it that one of our great uncles, Jeremiah Jack (1689-1785), brother to Patrick James, came to Pennsylvania from Scotland and built a cabin near the confluence of the Potomac and Conococheague Rivers. Not long after a battle ensued between the Delaware and the Catawba tribes nearby. All but one of the Catawba were killed. Not only did Jeremiah provide shelter for the survivor but he talked the Delaware into sparing the Catawba’s life if he would return to his tribe and report what had happened to their enemies.
We have record of a Jack family sailing out of Belfast in 1736, aboard the Paoli. This family shows up on public records in Chester County, near Philadelphia, and Chambersburg, along the Great Wagon Road. By 1760, some of these Jacks had emigrated from Chambersburg south to the Charlotte, NC. It was another Captain James Jack, our distant cousin, son of Patrick, Jr., our James’ brother, who delivered the famous “Mechlenburg Declaration of Independence” (“Mec Dec”) to the Colonial Congress in Philadelphia in 1775 on horseback. He had it tucked in on of his boots. Below is a photo of me at the site of this Capt. James Jack’s house in Charlotte.
In another tale of bravery, John Jack, another grandson of Patrick, Sr. and brother of the Mechlenburg Captain James, apparently saved the lives of women and children on the Pennsylvania frontier in Westmoreland County’s new seat called Hannastown. In the final days (1782) of the American Revolution, the British had commissioned the Indians to destroy everything there. Read about the leader of this raid, Guyasuta, in my article entitled “Meet Native American Guyasuta.” John is also given credit for writing a major portion of what’s know as the “Hanna’s Town Resolves,” a document very similar to the Mechlenburg Declaration. Another Jack, Captain Matthew was also the sheriff of this frontier outpost. He was responsible for saving many lives as he rode to warn the settlers of the impending disaster. The only thing that remains in modern day Hannastown is an historical center, well worth visiting I might add if for nothing else than seeing an exhibit called “The Jack’s Bedroom.” The county seat was moved after the attack and burning to a spot, present day Greensburg, donated by another relative, William Jack, one of the wealthy judges of the county a the time.
In conclusion, knowing that information exists pertaining to our Jack family, reaching as far back as the 14th century, I feel that I can finally compete with my wife Susan’s Swiss-German Anabaptists, whose published genealogies go back into the 16th century. These Amish-Mennonite not only had fascinating stories to tell of their quest for religious and political freedom, but they kept relatively clear and concise records of their ancestors. One might ask why a particular people such as these kept the biblical genealogical practices alive while so many of my ancestors from the British Isles seemed not to care. My present theory is that most in the Ulster plantations and on the Pennsylvania frontier were concerned primarily with their survival and few had the educational skills to keep such records, i.e. they probably couldn’t read or write very well before the coming of the American public school movement. Yet some, like our Jacks, who can boast of national heroes, have surely inspired those within the family and others to do the research necessary to support a rich and full genealogical history. Hopefully, future generations will continue in this tradition.
“Hannastown Resolves.” 28 January 2014.
Westmoreland County History. 28 January 2014.
See also Our Jack Family Tree and the various generational Vitals documentation.