James Pennington.  This is my 2nd Great Grandfather and the man responsible for kindling my passion for genealogy.  I obviously didn’t know him, but I heard a lot about him while I was growing up listening to oral traditions passed down from my grandfather Ronald.  “He stowed away on a boat and came to America.”  “He was the bastard child of Queen Victoria and took the Pennington name while living in an orphanage.”  “He was definitely related to Queen Victoria and had the Hapsburg curse – a disease that affects closer than cousin relationships causing their lips and extremities to turn blue and any wounds to bleed for a longer than normal extended period.”

All of these things intrigued my childish curiosity.  And as I grew older and upon the passing of my grandfather in October of 2000 I once again took up the genealogical torch and set out to prove what I could about the family lore or imaginings of my grandfather.  What was fact?  What was fiction?  Could any of these things be proved?  Or was the memory of James Pennington lost to time?  I was on a mission to learn all I could about him and to forever immortalize his memory.  For a man is not dead while his name is yet spoken.


His Origins.  

What we know.  A single document points out a possible connection to Glasgow, Scotland, this being the 1903 death certificate of James Pennington.  On this same document are recorded the alleged parents of James, his father William Pennington, his mother Ann Wallace.  All of this is indirect evidence that cannot be substantiated by fact.  Truth is there is nothing else to tie James Pennington to Glasgow or to parents of these names.  Scouring through records myself on FindMyPast, Ancestry, and ScotlandsPeople, my searches for a man named James Pennington was was born 12 August 1830 to parents William Pennington and Ann Wallace found absolutely nothing of interest.

I turned to hiring two genealogists both in country.  The first was from Scotland who searched parish records there and could find no evidence of James or his alleged parents (marriage, death or otherwise).  The second was in England.  He searched records to no avail.  Both genealogists pointed to the fact that the Pennington surname is English and that there were not any to be found in Scotland, mainly in the Lancaster, England region where the 2nd genealogist, a professional writer, pointed me to.

A search of this region finds numerous James Pennington births of the 1828-1832 time period.  But unfortunately none of these list parents by name of William and Ann.  Hypothetically family lore states that James Pennington’s father may have died either shortly before or after the birth of James.  If this is so, James never knew his father.  What are the chances he misunderstood his father’s name?  What if he created it out of embarrassment from not knowing when asked?  That’s stretching things a bit, but the possibility of some like occurrence may have transpired.  

Family lore also states that James Pennington’s mother died when he was between 8 and 12 and that he was then sent to the coal mines for work.  in that Victorian era child labor was in demand especially in mines.  This was tough work in small cramped spaces.  Children would crawl to tiny doors for opening and remain there throughout the day.  James may have been one of these.  And it is possible that he worked the mines near Glasgow, Scotland but nothing firm has been found to prove this one way or the other.  

So was William Pennington and Ann Wallace (a Scottish name) the parents of James?  James certainly seemed to have told his family this.  And likely others.  He even went so far as to name his firstborn son William, and his firstborn daughter Eva Ann.  But I have found no proof.  Even on the first American census of which James was a part he claimed to be born in England.  It was not until after this brief period that the birthplace morphed to Scotland.  More on this in the next section.

Bernice Pennington Whitbeck Genealogical Notes

Bernice Pennington Whitbeck, daughter of James Pennington’s son Warner James Pennington, was deeply interested in our family roots.  She had the privilege of being able to interview the last surviving member of the 2nd generation, Edith Maud Pennington.

What follows is taken verbatim from Bernice’s notes on James Pennington.

“I know very little about Grandfather Pennington; what little I know I got from Aunt Edith Pennington.  The information they gave out at home seems to have been incorrect.  They told me that he came from London and that he had an invalid sister and mother whom he left there when he came over and that he had worked int he mines.

“Edith stated that he was an orphan, although he did have brothers and sisters, and that both his parents were dead when he was 12.  He made his home with a family named Smith.  He lived in Glasgow, Scotland.  He did work in the mines.  He came to America when he was 18 years old, meaning to go to Malden, Massachusetts where he had relation but on the shipboard he got acquainted with a bunch of young fellows and came to Michigan with them.  He was a cooper and made barrels in Romeo (a very common occupation in those days); he met Esther Inwood there and they married.  They had their own home and did not live with her parents.  They came to Kent county, Cannon twp. to take up land.  They were living near her brother James Inwood in Cannon twp.  I do not know if they came out here together or not.  Afterwards they moved to the south short of Brower Lake in Courtland twp.  It was a poor sandy piece of land although it was a pretty location.

“When James Pennington and Esther Inwood married, he was 26 and 1/2 years old and she was 22 years old.  Their first child, a son, was born May 13, 1858, (Macomb county, I think) so they must have been living near her parents.  They named him William which was the name of both their fathers.  I do not know what date they came to Cannon twp.  Her brother, William Inwood, came to stay with her while Grandfather was in the Civil War.

“They suffered a tragic loss in 1871, when their two smallest children, Isabella (what a beautiful name), and Oliver S. died with scarlet fever.  Grandmother must have loved and missed that little boy for she named her next baby, Oliver after the little dead boy, Oliver.

“Edith also said that Grandfather had some relation in Australia; I wonder about that because Australia was a penal colony, a place of transportation.  There were the Scotsmen who were in the rebellions against England of 1715 and 1745 – I am still wondering.

“I do not believe I or anyone else will ever find out very much about Grandfather Pennington for he was a silent man and so were his sons.  He was very handsome and distinguished looking.  They looked something like Anthony Eden.  And my Great-Grandmother – Ann Wallace, who knows anything about her?  Wallace is an honored name in Scotland but it is also fairly common.”


1850 US Census.

According to James Pennington’s youngest daughter Edith, who was interviewed by Bernice Pennington Whitbeck in the early 1960s, James had intended to come to Massachusetts where “he had relation” but was convinced by some young shipmates to follow them to Detroit where James worked for a time as a cooper before heading to Macomb County where he settled in Ray Township, just east of Washington Township.

The 1850 US Census shows James Pennington boarding with the George Robb family, Robb being a farmer born in Scotland.  Five points of interest on this census:

1) James Pennington was without work – possibly because he was a recent immigrant or migrated from nearby Detroit (per Edith).
2) James Pennington claimed to have been born in England.  This is the only time this occurs.  From this point forward he was from Scotland.  Could this be because James settled in a predominantly Scottish area so he wanted to fit in?  In that era you were who you said you were.  There were no records to speak differently.  
3) This census was taken on 13 August 1850.  You can just make out a rewrite of James’ age.  It now says “22” but beneath the last “2” wrote over a “1”.  This may be an indicator that James, likely present, remembered that he had just had a birthday the day before and was no longer “21”.  In any case, an age of 22 gives a birth year of 1828.  
4) George Robb’s next door neighbor was a Scot named Neil Gray Jr.  Neil was brother to Hugh Gray of adjacent Washington Township where James would soon be employed as a teamster and where James would meet his future bride, Esther Maud Inwood, she too being employed there.
5) Richard Shutt.  It was possible that Richard Shutt, age 21, farmer, born in England, was one of the men whom convinced James to go to Detroit.  I looked into Richard’s immigration to see if James was on board: he was not.  Richard Shutt sailed from Glasgow to New York arriving on 10 July 1848 aboard the Madawasa.  His passenger manifest states that he was both born in and last lived in Scotland.  Richard is no. 160 on the manifest.  A search of all 204 steerage passengers plus additional 12 cabin passengers does not find James.

What is James was a stowaway?  He could have been.  But stowaways were typically found and then forced to work their keep.  And stowaways were recorded on the manifest.  In case of the Madawasa there were no stowaways.  No passenger list has been found for James Pennington.  There are a couple but they do not seem to fit with what we know.

According to Edith Pennington James came to the States in 1848.  Both the individuals above do not fit with what we know.  The Jas. Pennington, 22-year old laborer from Ireland arrived 20 September 1851: a year later than the James Pennington found on the 1850 census.  The James Peinngton, 22-year old tailor from England arrived 6 June 1850.  This James could fit but there is no further mention of James ever have been a tailor and this does not fit with family lore/history.  So the search isn’t over.

The 1900 US Census points to an 1851 immigration year but this too is incorrect.


1857 Marriage.

From 1850 through 1857 James Pennington worked for Hugh Gray, a miller based in Washington Township.  It is here that he met his bride, Esther Maud Pennington.  He courted her and won her heart.  The couple were married on 12 February 1857 by the Baptist minister, A. E. Mather. at Romeo, Macomb, Michigan.  Martha West of Romeo and Emily Walker of Washington were witnesses.

Who is the little girl?  Maureen Taylor believed this to be the flower girl.  Putting the pieces together – and due to family resemblance – this can be no other than Armintha Inwood, youngest sister of Esther.  Hers is a sad story as her own brother had her committed to an asylum after her mother allegedly refused her to marry a soldier lover.

Above are wedding photos of James Pennington and Esther Maud Inwood.  These are daguerreotypes passed down to Bernice Pennington Whitbeck and now in the hands of Doris Whitbeck Bartell of Pennsylvania.  Both were analyzed by photo expert Maureen A. Taylor of Family Tree Magazine.

Article: Old Blue Eyes.  6 June 2016.  Link here.
Article: Daguerreotype, Ambrotype and Tintype: Telling Them Apart.  12 June 2016.  Link here.

Birth of William Wallace Pennington.

William Wallace Pennington was born 13 May 1858 in Washington Township.  According to Edith (youngest daughter) James and Esther always had their own place so they didn’t live with Esther’s father, also named William.  As discussed previously James named his firstborn son William (for his father) and Wallace (his alleged mother’s surname).  Of course son William might have been named for Esther’s father as well.

Late 1850s Migration.

James and Esther Pennington migrated from Macomb County to the opposite side of the State in Cannon Township, Kent County, Michigan.  They came between late 1858 and early 1860 (probably 1859) alongside Esther’s brother James and family.  Both settled in Cannon Township building cabins there for the family.

1860 US Census – Cannon, Kent, Michigan.

Shown above is the 1860 Cannon Township US census taken on 7 July 1860.  James Pennington lived adjacent his brother-in-law, James Inwood, both with young families.  This census states James Pennington was born in Scotland, the first time we see this.  James is a farmer, allegedly age 28 (born 1832).  His cabin is valued at $300 and personal estate an additional $300.  Esther is 25 (born 1835).  William Wallace is 2.  The land James owned lies direct northeast of that owned by James Inwood.

Above is the agricultural schedule from 1860.  James Pennington owned 75 acres of improved land, 5 acres unimproved, cash value of his farm was $2,000, cash value of farming implements and machinery was $75; he owned 1 milk cow, 2 working oxen, both with a value of $120; his land produced 15 bushels of wheat, 50 bushels indian corn, and 50 bushels of oats.  Oddly, James Inwood does not appear on this farm schedule.  Did he come at a later date?  Or did he settle initially with James Pennington and family?

Birth of Eva Ann Pennington.

Eva Ann Pennington was born 10 August 1861 on the Cannon Township farm.  It is likely that Eva’s middle name of “Ann” was taken from James Pennington’s mother “Ann Wallace”.

1862 Land Purchase.

James Pennington purchased the Courtland Township homestead and the wooded parcel on the south side of 10 mile for the sum of $400 on 27 March 1862.   

Birth of Warner James Pennington.

Warner James Pennington was born 23 December 1862 on the Cannon Township farm. 

Lincoln’s War 1864.

James Pennington waited 3 years into the war, many of his neighbors having already enlisted, and then decided to join, not a Michigan based unit, but rather a New York unit from Genesee Falls, a distance of 450 miles.  Why such a long distance when it would have been just as easy to enlist with a Michigan unit?  I believe the answer might lie in the bounty that was being offered from the State of New York, $100 cash for just 1 year commitment.  All Michigan units were requiring 3 years.

James Pennington enlisted with the 9th New York Cavalry at Genesee Falls, New York, on 4 October 1864 and was mustered in at Lockport the same day.  On the signed enlistment James claims to be 35, born in Scotland, and a farmer.  His given physical description: James had blue eyes, brown hair, a fair complexion, and was 5 feet 9.5 inches in height.


James Pennington would not have been immediately thrust into action.  He would have been transported by train to Washington D.C. where he would have undergone training for a brief period.  James was assigned to company “G” of the 9th New York Cavalry on the 25th of October but did not meet up with his unit until 12 December 1864.  His daughter Edith told Bernice Pennington Whitbeck that James was present for the battle at Cedar Creek but this is not possible.  That battle was fought on 19 October 1864.  James had not yet been assigned to a unit.  He may have been present at minor skirmishes after the major battle but not before.


Long thought to be a one-of-a-kind original, it has since been discovered that a 2nd portrait was made for the William Pennington (eldest son) family of Iowa.  That portrait still adorns the wall of the Iowa Pennington clan.

This portrait was painted post-war near the turn of the century, about the same time the portraits of Esther Inwood Pennington and Edith Pennington were done.  The portrait was at the old Timpson House in Alto (Oliver Pennington’s home) and after Edith’s death it was passed down in the family to Bernice Pennington Whitbeck, then to her oldest daughter Joyce.  Joyce donated the portrait to the Cannonsburg Museum where it presently hangs on the entry wall.

A couple years ago I asked the museum curator to borrow the portrait for the express purpose of having it duplicated.  I took the portrait to MercuryHead Printing in Grand Rapids where Ben Perrin removed the portrait from its frame, professionally photographed portrait, and printed an exact duplicate that now hangs on my living room wall.  A framed portrait runs about $500.  The print is also available as a pastel print for a lesser price.  Just ask for the James Pennington photo: it was one of their favorites.

The original portrait was repaired.  When created the pastel print was placed direct against glass.  MercuryHead placed offsets so that the print no longer touches glass preserving it for time to come.


Private James Pennington did not leave the war unscathed though he was not injured in battle.  As soon as able he applied for a soldier’s pension based on several disabilities incurred during the war.  His injuries would afflict him for the remainder of his days to the point that in his latter years he was unable to work his own farm.  Son Oliver took over those responsibilities.  More on this later as we take a look at James’ pension record.

Birth of Isabella Hattie Pennington. 

Isabella was born 19 May 1866 at the old Cannon farm.

Birth of Oliver S. Pennington. 

Oliver was born 27 April 1868 at the old Cannon farm.

Relocation to Courtland Township. 

On a date between the birth of Oliver S. Pennington and the 1870 US Census, the Pennington family relocated to their homestead parcel south of Big Brower Lake on the south end of Courtland Township on 10 mile road.  The homestead parcel was 20 acres.  Direct across the street was a 65-acre wooded area in Cannon Township.  And a little distance east on 10 mile road was an 80-acre parcel of sand not much good for farming.  The barn sat across the road on the 65-acre piece.  Driving through the area the raised grassy surface that would have met the large barn doors are still visible.

1870 Agricultural Non-Population Schedule.  

James Pennington owned 90 acres improved and 75 acres unimproved land valued at $5,000 with an additional $735 value of farm implements.  Livestock owned were 2 horses, 3 milk cows, 4 other cattle, 29 sheep, and 4 pigs, all valued at $582.  The land produced 185 bushels of winter wheat and 300 bushels of indian corn.  Most neighboring farms produced more than this. 


Tragedy Strikes Family 1871

Early 1871 the two youngest Pennington children, Isabella Hattie and Oliver S. were claimed by Scarlet Fever.  This is a bacterial infection that is easily treated today.  But sadly, in the 1870s it was a common cause of death for children.

The Michigan Death records do not match what is etched in the children’s tombstone and what is found in Esther’s family Bible (which I have not seen, that was owned and lost by Joyce Whitbeck, and was viewed at one time by Bernice Whitbeck, mother to Joyce).

Below is record from the Michigan Death register.


As recorded in the official registry, Hattie Isabella Pennington died on 21 February 1871 at the age of 4 years, 8 months, and 19 days of age; and Oliver S. Pennington died on 1 January 1871 at the age of 2 years, 3 months, and 26 days.

This does not match what is transcribed on the headstone and recorded in Esther’s Bible.  Here it shows that Hattie died first on 27 January 1871 and Oliver died a few days later on 31 January 1871.  Which to believe?  Certainly a mother would know.

The Pennington burial plot is at the Old Bostwick Lake Cemetery (aka Marshall) that sits near the northwest corner of Belding Road (M44) and Ramsdell behind an old building that once was the Bostwick Lake Congregational Church.  They are found toward the middle of the cemetery.  Isabella is recorded as “Isibella H”.  The small inscription on her side of the stone reads “Meet me in heaven.”  Her side has an engraved flower.  The side for Oliver S. features an engraved lamb.  The inscription reads “Budded on earth to bloom in heaven.”  

Bernice Pennington Whitbeck writes, “These records were copied from the Bible which belonged to the family of James Pennington and Esther Inwood.  Copied April 12, 1963 at the home of Vernon Warren by Bernice Whitbeck.  The administrator had charge of the family Bible.  This Bible was not an old one and the date of publication was 1882.  On a paper sheet inserted in the Bible – 

Oliver (buried) right of stone, died Jan. 31, 1871 at 2 yrs, 9 mo., 4 da.
Hattie, died Jan. 27, 1871 at 4 yrs, 8 mo, 19 da.”

William would have been 12, Eva 9, and Warner age 8 at the time of their sibling’s deaths.  They would have known and remembered them.


Bostwick Lake Congregational Church

Under the missionary labours of the Rev. Isaac Barker who received a commission from the A. H. M. S. bearing date June 6th, 1846 for Courtland and vicinity Kent County, Michigan retyrable? to previous “notice” at the House of Smith Baileys in Cannon June 18th, 1846 for the purpose of organizing a Church. Present, Rev. James Ballard, pastor of the church at Grand Rapids and Deacon Abel Page of the same church when the following names were given in, duly recommended –

Smith Bailey 
Samuel H. Steele
Eunice Bailey 
Mary Steele
Eunice Pitcher 
Theron H. Stone
Chloe Scott 
Mary Stone
Isaac Barker

2ND – The inquiry was made whether we had fellowship for each other sufficient to organize and commune together which was answered in the affirmative.

3RD – Adopted the following articles of faith and Church covenant (here follow the Articles and covenant on the record).


1ST – We believe that there is ONE GOD, who is FATHER, SON and HOLY

GHOST, self existent, eternal, perfectly holy, the creator, and rightful

disposer of all things.

2ND – We believe that the BIBLE is the revealed will of God to mankind

and the only unerring rule of faith and practice.

Info found here.

Pennington family members recorded in church membership records 1846-1892 are as follows:

PENNINGTON ESTHER, pg 119, received 7 January 1883
PENNINGTON EVA A, pg 119, received 7 January 1883
WELLER EVA (PENNINGTON), pg124, received A (amendment?) 7 January 1882
PENNINGTON WARREN, pg 119, received 7 January 1883
PENNINGTON WARREN, pg124, received A (amendment?) 7 January 1882

Info found here.

There is no evidence that James Pennington ever placed membership with or attended this congregation though he is buried in the church cemetery.


Bostwick Lake Congregational Church mid-1890s.

Identified in photo:

A – Sidney Leroy Weller Sr.
B – Eva Ann Pennington Weller (Sidney’s 3rd and final wife)
C – Hazel Weller (daughter Sidney and Eva)
D – Sidney Leroy Weller Jr. (son Sidney and Eva)
E – Robert Weller (son Sidney and 2nd wife Sarah Inwood)
F – Harley Inwood
G – Grace Elizabeth Weller Pennington (wife Warner Pennington, daughter Sidney Weller and 2nd wife Sarah Inwood)
H – Warner James Pennington

These photos are housed at the Cannonsburg Museum.


Birth of Oliver Henry Pennington. 

Oliver was born 10 November 1871 at the Courtland homestead.  He was named after his younger brother that died earlier that year.

Birth of Clarence R. Pennington. 

Oliver was born 1 May 1874 at the Courtland homestead..

Birth of Edith Maud Pennington.

Edith was born 6 September 1877 at the Courtland homestead. 

1880 US Census: Courtland Township, Kent County, Michigan

James Penington [sic], age 49, married, farming, born Scotland, both parents (allegedly) born Scotland.
Esther, age 45, wife, married, keeps house, born England, both parents born England.
William, age 22, son, single, farming, born Michigan.
Eva, age 20, daughter, single, at home, born Michigan.
James W., age 17, single, at home, born Michigan.
Oliver, age 7, son, at home, born Michigan.
Clarence, age 6, son, at home, born Michigan.
Maud, age 3, daughter, at home, born Michigan.

1880 Non-Population Schedule, Agriculture, Courtland Township, Kent, Michigan.

Too structured to include screenshot (original available on Ancestry).  110 tilled acres; 38 acres orchard; 40 acres woodland; $5000 farm value; $100 farm implement value; $800 livestock value; $600 sold 1879; 25 tons hay; 4 horses; 3 milk cows; 1 other cow; 3 calves; 1 cow slaughtered, 1 sold; 300 pounds butter; 45 sheep; 26 lambs; 4 dead sheep; 45 fleeces shorn – 220 pounds; 5 swine; 50 chickens; 100 dozen eggs; 7 acres indian corn – 250 bushels; 23 acres wheat – 310 bushels; 20 tons straw/flax; 2 acres potatos – 50 bushels; 3 acres apples – 100 producing trees. 

1881 Land Purchase and Sale.

In October of 1881 James Pennington sold to his brother-in-law James Inwood the underside 1/2 W 1/2 NE 1/4 and SE 1/4 NW 1/4 Section 13 in Cannon Township for $350.  James also purchased from John Mann the W 1/2 NE 1/4 of Section 19 and SE 1/4 NW 1/4 of Section 19 in Cannon Township for $600.  This information was published in both the Grand Rapids Weekly Leader (26 October 1881 p3) and the Evening Leader (24 October 1881 p4).

1882-83 Grand Rapids City Directory.

On page 664 in the back of the directory (separate Kent County directory) is listed James Pennington for both Cannon and Courtland Townships.

1884 Grand Rapids City Directory.

On page 769 in the back of the directory (separate Kent County directory) is listed James Pennington for Courtland Township.  Information given: James Pennington, farmer, section 34, 90 farmed acres, accessed value $1550, township of Courtland, Rockford post office.

1886-87 Grand Rapids City Directory.

On page 887 in the back of the directory (separate Kent County directory) is listed James Pennington for Cannon and Courtland Townships.  Information given:

James Pennington, farmer, section 35, 90 farmed acres, accessed value $1700, township of Courtland, Rockford post office.
James Pennington, farmer, section 3, 65 farmed acres, accessed value $1100, township of Cannon, Rockford post office.

1888 Grand Rapids City Directory.

On page 1162 in the back of the directory (separate Kent County directory) is listed James Pennington for Cannon and Courtland Townships.  Information given:

James Pennington, farmer, section 35, 90 farmed acres, accessed value $1700, township of Courtland, Rockford post office.
James Pennington, farmer, section 3, 65 farmed acres, accessed value $1100, township of Cannon, Rockford post office.

1890 Veteran’s Schedule – Courtland, Kent, Michigan

Though the majority of the 1890 US Census was destroyed by water used to put out fire, certain portions do exist like the Veteran’s Schedule.  James Pennington is featured on this schedule as living in Courtland.  His information given is that he was a private in the 9th New York Cavalry with company ‘G’.  He enlisted on 12 September 1864 and was discharged in August of 1865.  His post office was Rockford.  He claimed the disability incurred (during war) of being blind in one eye.  Because he was disabled this indicates that a pension may have been filed.

A look at the U.S., Civil War Pension Index on Ancestry and we find the following:

And given is the information needed to order the pension record of soldier James Pennington.  He filed on 19 August 1890.  Application No. 845550 / Certificate No. 592459.  Esther, his widow, filed a widow’s pension for survivor benefits on 2 April 1904.  Application No. 803367.  These numbers are necessary to order the file from the National Archives.

James Pennington’s Pension Record from Service in Lincoln’s War