Sunday, May 24, 2009

Marriage of Alexander Jones and Elizabeth Kinley

The Jones Family is blessed to have a letter from Lillian Mears (first cousin to our grandfather, Fred Jones) to Edith Breving written in February, 1978. In her letter, she said that our gg-grandparents, Alexander Jones and Elizabeth Kinley, got married in Maysville, KY on July 6, 1840.


For years I’ve tried to find their marriage record. Many old records are posted online, but I could never find a listing. On August 31, 2007, I decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather and drive to the Mason County Courthouse in Maysville and see if I had better luck in person.

The employees there were very helpful, directing me to their Marriage Index for that year and the corresponding marriage licenses, all carefully saved in plastic sheet protectors. We could find no record of their marriage. Although I strongly suspected they did not own land, we reviewed the deed books and again found nothing. As I was leaving, one of the clerks suggested that I go across the street to the local Historical Society. Perhaps they would know something.

The local Historical Society had recently moved to a new, modern facility. They directed me to their Genealogical Research Library. When I told the librarian about my quest, she immediately said she thought that perhaps it was a “Gretna Green” marriage. This term was unfamiliar to me. Luckily for us, within two minutes, she found the marriage of our gg-grandparents in the “Marriages of Squire Thomas Shelton, 1822-1854, Aberdeen, Ohio, Vol. 1”. The only discrepancy was that Elizabeth’s last name was spelled “Kindley” vs. “Kinley” which is probably just a transcription error from reading the original handwriting. Since most of the marriages performed by Squire Shelton were never recorded, this was a lucky stroke for our family.

As it ends up, Gretna Green is a small town in Scotland, just across the border from England. It has had the reputation, apparently for centuries, for marrying eloping couples. If you “google” the term, you’ll find comparisons to Las Vegas and numerous other places.

The Ohio town of Aberdeen, directly across the river from Maysville, is known as the “Gretna Green of the Ohio Valley.” In 1822, “Squire” Thomas Shelton was “elevated to the office of Justice of the Peace” in Huntington Township. He, in fact, had the authority to perform marriages, except he married over 20,000 couples who did not have a marriage license. He was succeeded in his death by “Squire Massie Beasley” who continued the lucrative practice until his death in 1892. He kept excellent records that prove he married 7228 couples.

Home of "Squire" Thomas Shelton

The couples were issued “Certificates of Marriage” that, in fact, held no legal standing. There were several reasons why couples chose to be married by the “Squires”. For one thing, Kentucky at the time required a “bond” guaranteeing that the marriage would “work” that could be quite costly. Many could not be legally married because they were too young. Others chose to be married by the Squires because of the perceived “romance” of being married in this way and the acceptance of many in this vicinity as common practice. Often the “illegality of marriage” ran through three generations.

None of this appeared to be a problem until after the Civil War. “Immediately after the war a serious trouble arose in this State (Kentucky) regarding the validity of these marriages. When widows and orphans of soldiers made application for pensions, it was discovered that they were not entitled to them; the Government holding that the marriages were illegal and the children illegitimate. . . . So universal was the illegality of marriage, and so grave and complicated was the situation, that the Legislature of this state (Kentucky) was obliged to pass an act legalizing all marriages of Kentuckians performed by Shelton prior to the close of the war.” (This may in fact have legalized the marriage between Alexander and Elizabeth).

The stories surrounding the marriages of Squire Beasley are great fun. During the summer, six eight and ten bridal couples landed on their shore every day, “to say nothing of several exciting chases each week of the year.” The ferry boat which plied between Aberdeen and Maysville was called the Gretna Green.


“When an agitated and breathless couple came hurrying down to the ferry boat, with an infuriated father or guardian following close at their heels it was Thomas Beasley who calmed their fears by the assurance that he would see them safely over, and that he would not give their followers an opportunity of boarding the boat. . . .Everybody knew when the Gretna Green emitted six, short, sharp shrieks of her whistle that there was a chase to Aberdeen, and it was then a race between Squire and people to see who would get to the landing first. Long before the boat had touched shore, every man woman and child in the town, who was able to run, walk or crawl, had congregated about the Squire, who was taking in the situation through the immense ‘spyglass’ which he always carried for that purpose. He was always ready for such emergencies, his vest pocket containing a goodly stock of blank marriage certificates and as his marriage ceremony was short he made quick work of an elopement once he stood face to face or even within earshot of the refugees.”

There are several humorous stories of angry fathers and others in hot pursuit of the Gretna Green trying to prevent the marriage. In one case “The girl’s father and brother were in hot pursuit of the runaways and were heavily armed. There had been a feud between the families of the contracting parties for generations and the father of the bride vowed that he would kill the lover rather than permit him to marry his daughter.” It is said that the Squire “mumbled over a hasty marriage ritual at the conclusion of which the new-made husband flung him a well-stuffed wallet and dashed away toward the hills with his hard-won bride. The fugitives disappeared in a cloud of dust just as their pursuers came dashing up the street to find that they had been foiled.” Ah, the romance of it all . . .

In my opinion, there is nothing worse than a family tree filled with a boring bunch of names in boxes that have no flare. The Joneses have provided me with a great deal of entertainment and admiration over the years --- and it’s true. A river really does run through us.

Kathleen (Jones) Reed
September 1, 2007

Note: Most of this information came from an article that originally appeared in the Louisville Courier-Journal. It appeared in the Sunday, August 4, 1897 issue and was written by Dorothy Richardson of Maysville, KY.

Maysville as it appeared in the 1850s.

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