Early Etowah Co. settlers: The Gilliland Family


For the last few weeks, The Vagabond has been discussing some of the folks who settled in the area west and north of Attalla before the Cherokees were removed. This area was from around Highways 77 and 431 all the way up to Sand Valley Road and over to Reece City.

Last week The Vagabond discussed the Engle (Ingle) family that lived around the Keener area.

This week The Vagabond will discuss the Gilliland settlers in Etowah County before the Cherokee were removed. All the names in the past few weeks are listed in the old Avery Store ledger book in the Cherokee Nation of 1835.

The first record of the name “Gilliland” is reportedly found in Midlothian, a county in Southeastern Scotland, and is dated to some time prior to the Norman Conquest of 1066 AD. A mixture of Gaelic and Celt, known as the Strathclyde Britons, the name appears taken from the Celtic chief Gillander, in the Parish of Walton in the north of Scotland. There are many known variations of the name, including Gilleland, Gillsland, Gilsland, Gillesland, Gillerland, Gilliland, and Gililland.

The Gilliland family came from County Down in the north of Ireland and was Scotch-Irish. There were seven sons and four daughters in the family, and their names are as follows: James, Thomas, Hugh, Adam, Andrew, Robert, John, Jane, Mary, Sarah and Catherine. Three of the brothers came to America in advance of the rest of the family.

As the mother and father were about to sail, one of the daughters, Catherine, left the vessel and married, contrary to the wishes of the family. It is said that her name was never mentioned in the family thereafter. It is also said that when the mother met the three boys already in America, she was much shocked at the color of their teeth, for they had learned to chew tobacco.

The family settled in Maryland, near Hagerstown. John Gilliland (or Jack, as he was familiarly called) and one of his bro-thers went up in the northwestern part of Pennsylvania and took up a “tomahawk right” claim; that is, they blazed around a piece of land which gave them a title to it. Upon their return, the Indians pursued the brothers for 30 miles until within sight of Fort Duquesne (now Pittsburg). 

The brothers seldom were out of sight of the Indians. As they ascended one hill, they would see the Indians coming over the previous one. John Gilliland killed a fine mare in the race. He was so dis-gusted that he gave his claim to one of his brothers, who improved the land.

There was a large settlement of the Gillilands in that part of the state, many of them wealthy farmers. Two of the brothers settled in Greenbrier County, Va., and later went to eastern Tennessee. The brothers married rich planters’ daughters and became slaveholders. It was a source of regret to their mother that her boys held slaves.

It is said of one of the boys that when quite he was a lad, he hired out to neighboring farmers to drive a cart. It was noticed that when he met a neighboring squire in his carriage that he would drive out of the road and take off his hat till the squire passed. 

Someone asked him what he did that for, and he answered, “Don’t you have to do that when you meet a squire?” They told him that a squire in this country was no better than anyone else. The lad thought it over and concluded that he would make the squire give the road the next time.

It so happened that the next place the two travelers met was on a narrow piece of road with a deep mire at the side. The lad stopped his cart and the squire his carriage. They eyed each other and finally the squire told the lad to drive out of the road. 

“No,” said the lad. “You give the road this time.” 

The lad enforced his command by pulling a stake out of his cart and swinging it in front of the squire and telling him to drive on. The squire did as such and mired down, while the lad mounted his cart and drove on, feeling that he had asserted his rights as an American citizen, much to the amusement of the bystanders, who were watching the performance.

Two brothers moved to Virginia and finally to Eastern Tennessee, two moved to northwestern Pennsylvania and two moved to eastern Ohio, west of Pittsburg. The other brother, John, remained in Maryland. He married Jane Briggs and raised a large family as his father before him had done. James’ children’s names are as follows: James Gordon (named for Lord Gordon of Ireland), John, Nancy (Mrs. Peter Wills), Thomas, Adam, Sarah (Mrs. George Guy), Robert, Jane (Mrs. Theophilus King), Hugh and William. The last few children named died when they were quite young. 

John Gilliland served in the Continental Army and was present at the Battle of Yorktown and the surrender of Lord Cornwallis. John died in 1826 from injuries received in an explosion.

James’ grandson, John Gilliland, and his wife Rebecca McBrayer, were among the first settlers in the Etowah County Bristow’s Cove region. This area was originally located in Blount County and became a part of Marshall when that county was created in 1836 and became a part of Etowah in 1867.

John Gilliland married Rebecca McBrayer, daughter of David and Mary Young McBrayer, on April 10, 1811. They lived near Cowpens, S.C. and in Buncombe County, N.C., before moving into Tennessee, where they lived about one year.

The couple came down the Tennessee River on flat rafts and landed at Guntersville. They lived for a short time where Albertville is now located, and in 1822 moved to Bristow’s Cove, where they lived until John’s death in 1835. He is buried on his farm near Bristow Creek.

After her husband’s death, Rebecca moved with her parents to Little Wills Valley, where she entered a large tract of land just north of Attalla. She lived there until her death in 1849. She is buried in the Bethany Cemetery in Reece City.

John and Rebecca Gilliland were the parents of five children. Their first son, Byers Doyle, was born on Sept 15, 1814 and died in 1850, leaving his widow Elizabeth and sons John E., Nathaniel and James H. and daughter Margaret Jane.

The second son was Wiley Buford Gilliland, born May 10, 1816 and died in 1875. He married on Nov 18, 1838, to Martha Burnett, daughter of John and Jerusha Davis Burnett. The couple first lived on Lookout Mountain where the old TB hospital was located. They later moved to Rainbow Drive and are buried in the Old Harmony Cemetery. Their children were Matilda (1840-1931, married Joshua Patrick); Lucy (born 1841, married John Shepherd); John W (1843-1929, married Nancy McCauley); Mary J (born 1844, married Ab Myrick and moved to Tex-as); Ella J (1846-1901, married first John W. Bentley and second Andrew J. Owens); David Cauis (born 1848, married Miss M.C. McCauley, both died in Texas); Andrew Jackson (Jack) (1850-1939, married Mary Jane Bentley); Elmina (1851-1950, married John Dismukes); Margaret (1855-1937, married Joe F. Gaines); Georgiana (1857-1909, married Edmond Clayton Jones); and Thomas Oliver (1860-1935, married first wife Cellie Gray and second wife Delia Evans.

The third son of John and Rebecca Gilliland was David McBrayer Gilliland, born on May 7, 1818, and died on July 5, 1900. He was married on Nov 9, 1844, to Sophornia E. Ross, daughter of Jesse Ross. The couple lived in Little Wills Valley. Several of their descendants still live on their old farm. They were the parents of seven children: John Ross (1845-1922, married Parthena J. Shepard); Mercer Ervin (1847-1912, married Mary Stephens); Alexander A. (1838-1926, married Harriett Gilbert – they were the parents of the late Judge H. Ross Gilliland); Jesse Edwin (1850-1927, married Mary A. Sitz – they were the grandparents of Mayor Lesley Gilliland); Francis M (born 1851, married Edith Shahan); Rebecca J. (1852-1871); and Walter F. (1854-1890, married Viola May Brock.

Note: Jess Gilliland was the leader that built the covered bridge in 1899 that now rests at Noccalula Falls Park. The daughters of John and Rebecca Gilliland were Mary Jane (1828-1901). She married John Rink, who had no children. Amanda (born 1831) married David N. Patterson and was mother of John D., Henry C., Francis M., Jasper Patterson and possibly others. This family moved to Texas. Next week – the McBrayer Family.

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