Queen Elizabeth II, Jesse James and Josiah T. Settle

1926

England

The Mullins family tree contains a juxtaposition of three of the most unlikely individuals: Queen Elizabeth II, Jesse James, and Josiah T. Settle, who certainly never appeared together before in a title. They have in common one thing, and probably only one thing: they are our cousins. This chapter details our relationship to the Queen, the James brothers, and Josiah T. Settles, the famous African-American 19th century attorney and politician.

First, we should begin with the Queen; she would certainly expect us to! Her relationship to us is summarized as follows.

  • Queen Elizabeth II (born April 21, 1926) 9th cousin (3 times removed) of Sophia Freyschlag Mullins Common ancestor: Jane Finche (?-1644)

The age difference between the Queen and our generation of American cousins — about 25 years — is not an accident: our European cousins tend to be older because of the traditional English practice of primogeniture, according to which a father's eldest son inherited the entire estate.

Primogeniture ensured the peaceful transfer of land and home but left younger siblings with few assets. Land was plentiful in the Colonies so, beginning in the early 1600s, many younger siblings left England for a chance at prosperity in America. In each generation, the oldest family members remained in Europe, and younger ones came to America. Thus our English cousins of the same generation tend to be older than we are, especially those related through distant ancestors.

Now the story of how we came to have an African-American cousin who was a prominent attorney and political leader in the late 1800s:

  • Josiah T. Settle (1850-1915) 2nd cousin of William Madison Mullins (1845-1913) Common ancestor: Reverend Thomas Mullins (1736-1816)

Josiah T. Settle was a grandson of Rev. Mullins's daughter Rhoda Mullins. Rhoda's son, Josiah Sr., was a North Carolina plantation owner who, after his first wife died, started a family with one of his slaves, Nancy. Although it was quite common for plantation owners to father children with slave women, the practice was not considered socially acceptable. Josiah Sr. and Nancy lived openly with their children as a family and eventually left North Carolina because of social ostracization.

The family first moved to Tennessee, where Josiah T. was born; he was the sixth of the couple's seven children. In 1850, shortly after Josiah T. was born, the family moved to Mississippi. Josiah Sr. manumitted Nancy and her children, and in 1858, he and Nancy were married. It may come as a surprise that interracial marriage was legal in Mississippi in 1858; and the fact emphasizes the complexity and variability of racial laws in the various states in that era.

Just before the Civil War, the Settles moved north to a more hospitable culture in Ohio. When he came of age, Josiah T. enrolled at Oberlin, but shortly afterwards his father died, and he transferred to Howard University in the District of Columbia where he studied law. He had an active career in both law and politics. He was said to be a spellbinding orator; descriptions of him bring to mind Barak Obama.

By 1883, Josiah T. had moved back to Mississippi where he was elected to the state legislature. Political allies and foes alike admired his leadership abilities; upon his departure from that body, he was given a gold-headed cane in appreciation. He later moved to Tennessee where he served as the State Attorney General. His verbal skills were so exceptional that defense attorneys complained that they were unable to win acquittal in any case brought by Settle.

The latter part of Josiah's life was spent in legal practice in Memphis, with occasional political roles, such as serving as a delegate to the 1892 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis. His first wife died in 1888; in 1890, he remarried to Miss Fannie A. McCullough, who was head of the music department at the LeMoyne Institute and was said to be "one of the most beautiful and accomplished ladies in Memphis."

Josiah T. Settle's life history was unusual for an African American in 19th century America. Our present-day extended family includes several African Americans, descendants of Josiah T. who live in California, and with whom we have been in touch. This seems a particularly American story.

Finally, we move on to our most nefarious cousins, the larcenous Frank and Jesse James, to whom, for better or for worse, we are doubly related:

Jesse Woodson James (1847-1882) Alexander Franklin James (1843-1916)

4th cousins of William Madison Mullins (1885-1954) Common ancestor:

Thomas Mims (1681-1719), father of Benjamin Mims (1710-1788)

Also:
6th cousins of Lucy Hawkins (1828-1922)
Common ancestor:
Robert Woodson (1634-1716)

There is little positive to be said about Jesse and Frank James. They began their notorious careers as Confederate guerillas who were especially vicious in their treatment of Union soldiers. After the war, their exploits included bank robbery, train robbery, and murder.

Two members of his gang, the Ford brothers, killed Jesse James in 1882. The Fords surrendered to authorities; in one day, they were indicted, convicted of the murder, sentenced to hang, and received a full pardon from Governor Crittenden of Missouri.

Jesse James was famous even during his life and became a legend of the Wild West after his death. In what must be called the "Theater of the Absurd," in later years the Ford brothers joined a traveling stage show in which they reenacted the shooting of Jesse James.

Frank James surrendered to authorities in Missouri five months after his brother's death. He spent 17 months in jail awaiting trial on various charges but in the end was acquitted and supposedly never again broke the law. In his later years, he worked various jobs, including shoe salesman and ticket taker at a burlesque theater. The theater advertised: "Come get your ticket punched by the legendary Frank James!" Eventually Frank returned to the James Farm in Missouri where he gave tours for 25 cents. He died of natural causes in 1915.