Urban Myths: Indian Forebears
Finest Hour 104
Long before the age of political correctness, some Churchills delighted in extolling the legend of their Native American blood, believed to have been introduced through Jennie Jerome’s maternal grandmother, Clarissa Willcox. Despite the much-mooted Indian features of some of Clarissa’s descendants, there is no genealogical evidence to support Indian ancestry in the Jerome lineage.
In Jennie: The Life of Lady Randolph Churchill, Vol. 1, Ralph G. Martin wrote that Randolph S. Churchill in his biography of his father noted that the mother of Jennie’s grandmother Clarissa was one Anna Baker whose “mother’s maiden name is not recorded in the genealogies” and “is believed to have been an Iriquois [sic] Indian.” Although Randolph did write something like this it is ironic that any Churchills or Churchillians give credence to Jennie, which was withdrawn in Britain over its false allegation that Sir Winston’s brother Jack was not Lord Randolph’s son. In any case, the fact is that we now know not only Anna Baker’s mother’s name but something of her background – thanks to an unearthed 1951 typescript on the descendants of the Baker family.
Joseph Baker, born at Jamestown, Rhode Island on 12 February 1738 or 1739, married one Experience Martin in Swansea, Massachusetts on 4 September 1760. Experience Martin was the daughter of Eleazer Martin of Swansea (died 1749) and his wife, also named Experience, who, as a widow, was recorded in a land transaction of 30 March 1776. Circa 1761 Joseph and Experience Baker, together with Joseph’s brother William and two male cousins, George Sherman Sr. and Jr., migrated to Sackville in the newly created British Province of Nova Scotia, where Anna reputedly was born. They were all living at Sackville in 1770, but later returned to New England. The ancestry of Joseph Baker is well documented.
In these pre-Revolutionary days when Nova Scotia was often regarded as a 14th American colony, the 1748 Treaty of Aix-la-chapelle restored the island of Cape Breton and its mighty Louisbourg fortress to France, and Captain John Gorham was sent by Governor Shirley of Massachusetts to organize Nova Scotia’s defence. In 1749, with the founding of the British fortress of Halifax to counterbalance Louisbourg, Gorham’s assignment was to construct the first outpost fort from Halifax at the mouth of the Sackville River‹the chief artery into the interior‹to protect the settlement from the French and their allies, the Micmac Indians.
Known as a crack militiaman and a powerful Indian fighter, John Gorham installed his band of 60 to 100 Rangers, most of them Mohawk Indians from New England, at the new Fort Sackville. By 1761, when Anna Baker was born in Sackville, Gorham had died and the command rested with his brother Joseph, who undertook some reorganization. The former militia became a unit in the regular army and a blockhouse was erected. It may have been that Anna’s father, uncle and male cousins became soldiers in the new command or were attached in another capacity.
After the Baker family returned to New England around 1787, Anna Baker married David Willcox (born 10 January 1762 at Dartmouth, Massachusetts). By 1791 the couple had moved to Palmyra, northern New York State, where Willcox purchased a 100-acre farm and also set up a blacksmith shop. The building believed to have been their dwelling was still in existence in 1970, when Anita Leslie, grand-niece of Jennie Jerome, visited Palmyra on a book promotion tour for her life of Lady Randolph Churchill. Anna Baker Willcox’s daughter Clarissa was born 30 September 1796. David and Anna Willcox are buried together in Palmyra, where their headstones may still be seen. Anna’s father, Joseph Baker, died 15 June 1796 and in his will named his daughter, “Anne Willcocks.”
Biographer Martin went on to suggest “the possibility that Anna Baker may have been raped by an Indian and that [her daughter] Clarissa Willcox may have been half-caste” which, even for prurient writers, is quite a stretch. There were no Iroquois Indians in Nova Scotia where Anna likely spent much of her young womanhood. While there were certainly Iroquois in upper New York State, where she moved as a 25-year-old wife and mother, her husband’s will mentions their daughter “Clarind Willcox” and her sisters, which in itself seems definitive. Of course it is possible that Clarissa may have been an illegitimate half-Indian, with the Willcoxes bringing her up as a daughter; but this is harder to believe than the simple, forthright facts as recorded by her colonial family in their probate records. The absence of proof does not make a story untrue; but it does not establish it, either.
In the absence of any real proof we are left with are the stories passed on through the Jerome family over the years, of some ancestor’s supposed Indian blood. That these stories existed, and were believed, is undeniable; but they could have any number of origins. It is just as possible that other children, confronted with a dark complexioned Anna Baker, teased and even convinced her that she had Indian blood as that she really was, however improbably, part-Indian.
The Churchill world does not easily give up its myths, no matter how fanciful. Sir Winston, to whose romantic nature the story appealed, was known to believe it, as did some members of his family, including all the writing Leslies beginning with Anita Leslie’s father. Sir Winston’s grandson, in his preface to The Great Republic, his new book of his grandfather’s writings on America, while stating his continued bias to believe, leaves it to the reader to decide if there is Native American blood in the Jerome line.
Hall-Jerome-Churchill Line of Descent
Eleazer Martin m. Experience ___ [maiden name n.a.]
d.1749, will named a recorded in land transaction
minor daughter, Experience 30 Mar 1776
Experience Martin m.* Joseph Baker
b. [a minor in 1749] b. 12 Feb 1739, Jamestown, R.I.
d. before 11 Feb 1795 d. 15 Jun 1796, Ira, Vermont
Anna Baker m. David Willcox
b. 27 May 1761, Sackville, N.S. b. 10 Jan 1762, Dartmouth, Mass.
d. 28 Dec 1813, Palmyra, N.Y. d. 23 Aug 1828, Macedon, N.Y.
Clarissa Willcox m. Ambrose Hall
b. 30 Sep 1796, Palmyra, N.Y. b. 29 Aug 1774, Lanesboro, Mass.
d. Jul 1827, Palmyra, N.Y. d. 14 Oct 1827, Palmyra, N.Y.
Clarissa (“Clara”) Hall m. Leonard Walter Jerome
b. 16 Jul 1825, Palmyra, N.Y. b. 3 Nov 1817, Pompey, N.Y.
d. 2 Apr 1895, Tunbridge Wells, Kent d. 3 Mar 1891, Brighton, Sussex
Jennie Jerome m. Lord Randolph Churchill
b. 9 Jan 1854, Brooklyn, N.Y. b. 13 Feb 1849, Woodstock, Oxon.
d. 29 Jun 1921, London d. 24 Jan 1895, London
Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill
*Experience Martin married Joseph Baker in Swansea, Mass. on 4 Sep 1760.
Mrs. Snell is a Churchill Center Associate and the author of “The Churchills: Pioneers and Politicians,” reviewed in Finest Hour 85.