From left to right are Lewis Alexander Garrett (1868-1932), his father John Perry Garrett (1836-1912), and his great-grandfather Elijah "Caleb" Garrett Sr. (1777-1855).

The history of Garrett: Tracing the lineage from medieval Europe to Tennessee

The descendants of Lewis Alexander Garrett (1868-1932) — which include Maude A. Garrett, Warren Omar Garrett, Elza Oral Garrett, Henry Clayton Garrett, Serina Bell Garrett, William Theodore Garrett, Denver Elmer Garrett, Myrtle Alice Garrett Voiles, Velma Ann Garrett Duncan, Lloyd Albert Garrett, Herman Alexander Garrett and Virgie Leo Garrett — are an unmistakably Appalachian clan. They’re deeply entrenched along the remote northern Cumberland Plateau and they are mostly un-wealthy.

It seems odd that such an Appalachian family would have direct ancestral ties to English royalty; that their ancestors would have played a large role in the warfare of Middle Ages Europe. Yet, it appears to be true.

It is a history that isn’t unique to the Garrett clan, of course. As Europeans migrated to the New World for various reasons — be it religious freedom or something else entirely — many of them gave up relative wealth and prestige in their native homeland to do so. Later, when settlers of the original American colonies decided to follow Daniel Boone through the Cumberland Gap to the frontier lands west of the Appalachian Mountains, they sacrificed wealth and positions of influence once more. It’s fascinating to trace families through several generations and find that they became steadily poorer and less educated as they migrated first across the Atlantic and then through the mountains to remote parts of Appalachia.

This is the abridged story of the ancestrial lineage of Lewis Alexander Garrett. I’ll tell it as best I can, and as briefly as possible without compromising the integrity of the story.

What follows was written from notes that I gathered during research. Much of my research didn’t include visits to cemeteries to find headstones, and none of it included trips to courthouses to find census records. I let the real genealogy buffs who’ve come before me do the heavy lifting, and I’m trusting that their research is correct. The beauty of the various genealogical resources that the internet has given rise to is that while there are many falsehoods — whether intentional or otherwise — masquerading as facts, anything that is posted is often corroborated by others.

After I completed much of my notes, I stumbled across a family history that had been written by a far-distant cousin, and which corroborates most of what I’m writing here. Additional reading can be found on several websites devoted to history, and a few ancestors even have their own Wikipedia pages. I’m not going to attempt to source any of this; there are too many sources to keep track of.

This writing is concerned only with the paternal lineage of the Garrett clan. Several centuries back, there are other lines worthy of further exploring — it appears the ancestors of Clayton Garrett also had ties to Richard Strongbow de Clare (the Welsh lord who led the Norman invasion of Ireland) and before that were vikings.

The Garrett family can be traced back to A.D. 800s. After migrating from Normandy to England, the ancestral Garretts became one of the wealthier families in the UK due to a variety of factors. For six centuries, the family put down roots in England before religious reasons (assumed, but likely) led them to America. Along the way, the Garretts had strong ties to more than one famous king of England, and rose to become prosperous merchants with trading ties to Russia, honorary knighthood, and even two lord mayors of London.

Among the distant cousins of the Lewis Alexander Garrett line are Sir Winston Churchill, Diana – Princess of Wales, and President John F. Kennedy. (Kennedy’s 20th great-grandmother was my Clayton Garrett’s 24th great-grandmother, making President Kennedy and my great-grandfather 21st cousins four times removed, for whatever that’s worth.)

There is a potential snag to the story, which I’ll disclose here in the interest of full transparency: Sir William Garrett, the seventh great-grandfather of Lewis Alexander Garrett, was knighted in England in 1603 and married Bridget Bridon. He is listed as the son of Sir John Garrard and Lady Jane Partridge. There has been some question as to whether Sir John was actually his father. Historical records suggest that Sir John and Lady Jane only had two sons who survived to adulthood — John and Benedict. This is also reflected on an historical monument placed by Benedict to memorialize his father. It doesn’t mention the sons’ names, but does state that Sir John had only two surviving sons. However, two different Garretts who are listed on paper as descendants of Sir William have written that they had cheek swabs conducted through the DNA ancestry services that have become popular in recent years, and both of them have shown a genetic link to Gerald Fitzwalter (b. 1066 in Wales), a proven ancestor of Sir John. The link has also been corroborated by John E. Garrett (deceased), who wrote at length about the Garrett family history. It’s hard to argue with science, so this writing will assume that Sir William Garrett was, in fact, the son of Sir John Garrard.

I am the great-great-grandson of Lewis Alexander Garrett. My great-grandfather was Henry Clayton Garrett, my grandfather is Clifford Garrett and my father is Rick Garrett.

So the story begins …

To the Cumberlands

The intriguing story of the Garrett family is really the history of the clan from the “old country.” But the move to Tennessee is also interesting. So we pick up the story there, then we’ll trace our way back.

The Garrett family came to America in the mid 17th century, with Lord John Garrett (1615-1680), the son of Sir William Garrett of Bucks, and Bridget Bridon. This would have been Lewis Alexander Garrett’s sixth great-grandfather. John Garrett, whose first wife was Ann Dunston (Lewis A. Garrett’s sixth great-grandmother) and second wife was Mary Bible, migrated from Leicester, England to Pennsylvania with 11 of his sons at some point prior to his death in 1680. He was a Quaker, and was heavily involved with the Quaker movement in America.

In fact, it was likely religious reasons that caused the Garretts — who had been a wealthy family in England — to migrate to the new world. The Garrett family was traditionally Roman Catholic but had begun to convert to protestantism. Lord John’s second wife — Mary Bible — was born of royal descent, but was disinherited because she married a Quaker.

John Garrett’s grandfather, John Garrard, was just a child when 16-year-old Lady Jane Grey was placed on the throne for nine days after King Edward VI named her to the crown from his deathbed. The natural line of succession to the throne was through Lady Jane’s half-sister, Mary I, but she was Roman Catholic, and the Reformation Period was underway in England.

Lady Jane was not Roman Catholic; she had converted to protestantism. So King Edward named her to the throne instead of her sister. After just nine days, Mary overthrew the throne and had Lady Jane arrested. She was convicted of treason and beheaded, along with her new husband and her father. She was given an opportunity to denounce protestantism and refused, leading her to be remembered as a martyr.

In the years that followed, several of John Garrett’s cousins were beheaded as they converted to protestantism. Mary I spent her years on the throne working to reverse the Reformation and restore Catholicism, and proved ruthless. Thus, it’s likely that religious persecution drove the Garretts to America — just as it did so many other Europeans.

Lord John’s son, John Garrett II (1631-1706) was born in Leicester, as was his son, William (1661-1724). When William was just three years old, the family — including his father, John II, and his grandfather, Lord John — migrated to the colonies. William Garrett was Lewis A. Garrett’s fourth great-grandfather.

From there, the Garretts stayed in Virginia for a couple of generations before Elijah Caleb Garrett Sr. (1777-1855), son of Stephen Burton Garrett and Magdalene Bernard, moved to the Cumberlands along with his son, Elijah Cayce Garrett (1806-1864).

Elijah Caleb Garrett was apparently quite a character. Born in Buckingham, Va., he is listed as having died in Overton County, Tenn., and likely migrated through the mountains sometime between 1807 and 1814. He was a preacher, and it appears he may have also been a slaveholder. A footnote in one of the historical writings says that Elijah “was a faithful minister in the Primitive Baptist Church, as were also three of his sons, and one of his Negroes.”

Despite being a preacher, it has been said that Elijah Caleb Garrett may have fathered as many as five illegitimate children with a mistress who lived next door, Nancy Walker. Apparently, Nancy never married. If this is true, Elijah would have been stepping out on his wife; Mary Ann Cayce died just two years before Nancy Walker.

Elijah Cayce Garrett (1806-1864), Lewis A. Garrett’s grandfather, was born in Buckingham, Va., but made the move to Tennessee with his father. He was listed in the 1830 Pickett County census. He and his wife, Anna Story Garrett, left the South during the Civil War and moved north, possibly to Indiana.

That is how the Garretts wound up in the Cumberlands. Elijah Cayce’s son was John Perry Garrett, who married Catherine Serina Howard. Their son was Lewis Alexander Garrett, who married Mary Matilda Jones. And their son was Henry Clayton Garrett, who married Flona Mae Goad. They had three children: Clifford Garrett, Thelma Garrett Terry, and Stanford Garrett.

Garrett roots

The paternal lineage of the Garrett family can be traced all the way back to A.D. 840, when Lord Otterus Gherardini (840-900) was born in Italy.

Very little is known about the early Gherardinis. It isn’t known who Lord Otterus’s parents were, or who his wife was. His son was Cosimo “The Great” Gherardini (870-950), the first Duke of Florence and the Grand Duke of Tuscany. Duke Cosimo Gherardini’s son was Mathias Gherardini (900-unknown), the Baron of Gherardini.

Lord Otterus Othoer Gherardini (934-996) was born in Gherardini, Italy, the son of Mathias Gherardini and Di Florence Othoer. One of Lord Otterus’s children was Gherard Gherardini (986-1075).

The Gherardinis were among Italy’s wealthiest families by the 10th century — and also among the most politically-powerful families in Tuscany. It is a proud lineage that remains politically active in Italy today.

Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting, the “Mona Lisa,” is believed to be the portrait of Lisa del Giocondo Gherardini (1479-1542), who came several centuries later.

Otho Dominus de Stanwell (1006-1056) was the son of Gherard Gherardini and Sancia de la Cerda. He would have been Lewis A. Garrett’s 25th great-grandfather. And that’s where the Garrett family began to take on a shape of its own.

From Italy to England

Otho Dominus de Stanwell, who married Lady Otha de Windsor, was the first of the Garrett ancestors to enter England. According to historical documents, he was a duke in Tuscany.

When Otho was 21, Cnut the Great — the King of England — passed through Tuscany after visiting the Pope. For whatever reason — perhaps it was because he was not going to be a part of his father’s inheritance — Otho decided to join the king’s caravan. It was a decision that would reverberate through the family’s history for centuries to come.

When Cnut’s caravan reached Normandy, Otho left it and stayed with Robert, Duke of Normandy. Also living with Robert was his first cousin, Edward, son of Ethelred the Unready, who had been King of England.

King Ethelred had assumed the throne in 978, following the death of his father, Edward the Martyr. However, he was constantly warring with the Danish, who were conducting raids on English territory with increasing frequency. In 1002, Ethelred ordered that all Danes living in England be killed, in an event that became known as the St. Brice’s Day Massacre.

The massacre prompted King Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark to invade England in retaliation. Joining him in the invasion was his son, Cnut the Great. Ethelred fled to Normandy, along with his wife, Emma of Normandy, and their first son together, Edward. Young Edward — later to be known as Edward the Confessor — was just 10 years old at the time.

Sweyn ruled England for two years before his death. His son, Cnut, briefly assumed the throne after his father died, but Ethelred was summoned from Normandy, returned to England, and managed to drive Cnut from London in the spring of 1014. Ethelred reigned for two more years before he died in the spring of 1016. Cnut regrouped and waged a battle against another of Ethelred’s sons, Edmund Ironside. The battle ended in a victory for Edmund, but he died shortly thereafter and Cnut became King of England.

It was in Normandy that Otho Dominus de Stanwell met Edward the Confessor. Edward spent 20 years in Normandy, living in Exile, before returning to England to assume the throne. When he went, Otho went with him. He remained close to King Edward throughout Edward’s reign. In fact, there’s an old English lyric that says, “the Earldom which to Otho brave, the Saxon sainted Edward gave.”

Otho’s son was Walter FitzOtho de Windsor (1037-1086). During that particular time period, sons took their father’s first name as their last and “fitz” meant “son of.” So when Otho named his son Walter, he became Walter FitzOtho.

Walter grew up with William the Conquerer, the son of Robert, Duke of Normandy. In January 1066, Edward the Confessor died. He was childless, with no heir, and had supposedly promised the crown to William, his cousin. But on his deathbed, he named English earl Harold Godwinson as king. That fall, William invaded England in protest. With him was Walter FitzOtho. He was by William’s side at the Battle of Hastings, and received favor for his loyalty when William assumed the throne. He was appointed to defend Windsor as it was being built, and was the first constable of Windsor. Later, he was granted significant land holdings and castles by King William.

And, so, the Gherardinis had been a family of significant influence in Italy. And now one of their descendants was a man of significant influence in England.

Royal happenings

During a skirmish in Wales, Walter FitzOtho took hostage the wife and daughter of Rhys ap Tewdwr, the King of South Wales. Walter would go on to marry the king’s wife, Gwladys ferch Rhiwallon, while her daughter, Nest Rhys, became a mistress to Prince Henry, the son of King William.

While Walter and William were close, so were their sons, Geraldus FitzWalter de Windsor (1070-1136) and Prince Henry. Gerald spent his days at Windsor, playing with Prince Henry inside the castle. It is likely that he was present when King William Rufus (son of William the Conqueror, and Prince Henry’s brother) was killed on a hunting excursion in August 1100. King William II had ascended to the throne upon his father’s death in 1087. After he was killed — one of his own men shot him through the lung with an arrow — his brother, Henry, assumed the throne. It was believed that he was likely responsible for his brother’s death, since his father had not left the throne to him. If Henry did conspire to kill King William II, it’s likely that Gerald — Lewis A. Garrett’s 23rd great-grandfather — was complicit in the plot.

When Robert, another brother who was in line for the throne, and who was a natural rival of William’s, returned to Normandy from the First Crusade a few weeks later, King Henry had him taken prisoner. Robert spent the rest of his life in bondage.

Nest ferch Rhys, the Welsh princess, had become one of King Henry’s many mistresses. It is written that Henry fathered at least two of her children (she had at least 20 illegitimate children). According to some historical writings, Nest was considered the “most beautiful woman in England,” and she was the subject of many men’s attention.

Nest eventually married Gerald FitzWalter, though it isn’t clear whether she was attracted to him or was betrothed to him by King Henry.

In 1108, Cadwgan the Prince of Cardigan invited Gerald and his family to a feast. During the night, the prince’s son, Owen, set fire to the castle, and he and his followers surrounded the room where Walter was sleeping. Gerald was persuaded by Nest to escape, but she and two of his sons — one being William, a direct ancestor of Lewis A. Alexander — were taken hostage.

Historical accounts of the incident vary. Some say that Owen raped Nest in front of her children before taking her hostage. However, conflicting reports suggest that Nest may have been complicit in the ordeal. There are some reports that Owen fathered a child with Nest, but those reports are doubted.

In any event, Nest ferch Rhys was the 23rd great-grandmother of Lewis A. Garrett.

As a result of the capture and rape of Nest, war broke out. Nest was eventually returned to Gerald, while Owen fled to Ireland. Eight years later, when Owen returned to Wales, he just happened to run into Gerald — who was a constable — and was killed. Gerald had gotten his revenge.

William FitzGerald (1100-1173), the son of Gerald FitzWalter and Nest ferch Rhys who was kidnapped by Owen, would go on to become Baron of Windsor and Pembroke. His son, William FitzWilliam (1134-1192) eventually became Lord of Moiety. William FitzWilliam and his brothers played key roles in the British invasion of Ireland, where they conquered large swaths of land and greatly increased their family’s wealth. Their successes led to Nest, their grandmother, being called the “mother of the Irish invasion.” The FitzGerald dynasty — remembered by history — was born. From Italy to England and now to Ireland, the FitzGeralds would play a key role in Irish history.

The Garrett name emerges

By the end of the 12th century, the practice of taking the father’s first name was ending, and true surnames began to be used. Thus, the first variation of the Garrett surname appeared with William FitzWilliam’s son, William Gerrard, Lord of Kingsley. Gerard waas derived from Gherardini.

William Gerrard married Emma de Kingsley, the daughter and sole heiress of Richard de Kingsley, and thus inherited half of all the Kingsley properties — again increasing the family’s wealth.

Lord William’s son and grandson, William Gerrard II and William Gerrard III, continued to establish themselves as merchants and traders. Finally, William Gerrard IV (1322-1352) married Joan de Bryn, daughter of Peter de Bryn, and thus inherited Bryn Hall.

Sir Peter Gerrard of Kingsley and Bryn (1335-1380) was William Gerrard’s son, and his son was Sir Thomas Gerrard of Kingsley and Bryn (1340-1416), who was fined for marrying in minority before later receiving a royal pardon and being knighted in the Scotch War of 1393. Sir Thomas Gerrard was Lewis A. Garrett’s 15th great-grandfather.

From there, the lineage was as follows: Sir John Gerard of Kingsley (1379-1431), Peter Gerard (1407-1447), who was knighted between 1440 and 1445, Thomas Gerard (1431-1490), and Lawrence Garrard (1449-1494).

The Gerards of Kingsley and Bryn were very wealthy and very influential, and their mark remains in London today. Today you’ll find Gerard Street, Gerard Centre (a shopping center), the Sir Thomas Gerard Pub and more. Steven Gerrard, the world-famous soccer player, is a descendant of the family.

Lawrence Garrard chose to leave Kingsley and Bryn because he did not inherit. He became the first member of the Gerard family in 10 generations to leave. He was also the first to change the spelling of his last name.

Next in line was Sir William Garrard (1507-1571), who became Lord Mayor of London in 1555 and 1556, and also served as sheriff and alderman. He was knighted in 1556, and was granted exclusive trading rights with Russia in a treaty signed by Queen Elizabeth and Russian Duke Vasiliwich.

Sir William’s son was Sir John Garrard (1546-1625), who was also Lord Mayor of London, elected in 1601. He was also sheriff of London at one point.

Although the Garrard family was frequently referred to as Garret or Garrett, it was William Garrett (1583-1640), the son of Sir John Garrard, who first took on the name formally. He was knighted in 1603.

Sir William’s son was John Garrett I (1615-1680) of Leicester, who migrated with his sons to America and began the journey that eventually landed the Garretts in the Cumberlands of Tennessee.

Religious connotations

Exactly when the Garrett family began to convert from Roman Catholicism to protestantism is unclear, but what is clear is that Lord John Garrett I was a Quaker.

The Reformation Period had been raging in Europe since the 16th century. Martin Luther (1483-1546) and John Calvin (1509-1564) were key voices who pushed for reform, and their beliefs gave rise to protestantism.

The cry of reformists was for the church to return to its roots, through simpler adherence to the teachings of the New Testament. This was summed up by Luther’s views on the doctrine of justification. Through his studies of the writings of the Apostle Paul and others, Luther had become convinced that God declared a sinner righteous by faith alone through His grace, and so in 1507 he pinned his 95 Theses to the door of his Catholic church, denouncing the church’s practice of pardoning sins and questioning papal authority.

By 1530, Calvin, too, had broken away from the Roman Catholic Church. The two men were similar in their approach to a Christ-centered theology, and Luther influenced Calvin. But they were also different, with Calvin’s theology focusing on the depravity of man as a stark contrast with the glory of God. His beliefs gave rise to the doctrines that would become known as Calvinism.

The Protestants slowly divided themselves into two groups: Puritans and Separatists. The Puritans believed in the purity of doctrine and its practice within the church, admitting that reform was needed but believing the Church of England could be saved. Separatists had given up on reform and separated from the official church to form their own independent congregations.

By the mid 1600s, there were several protestant movements. There were the Quakers, the Presbyterians and the Congregationalists. Also rising: Baptists, a derogatory nickname given to a sect of protestants who believed that believers could only be accepted into the church through baptism.

It was in 1647 that the Religious Society of Friends was formed. Its members were called Quakers because they were said to “tremble in the way of the Lord.”

Exactly 100 years earlier, Edward VI was crowned king of England at just nine years old. He was England’s first monarch to be raised a protestant, and was largely credited with advancing the reform of the Church of England.

So in the 1550s, when King Edward VI fell ill, there was concern that the reformation of the church was in jeopardy. Next in line for the throne was Edward’s half-sister, Lady Mary. But she was Catholic. So, Edward named his first cousin, 16-year-old Lady Jane Grey, to the throne.

Despite Edward’s insistence that Mary not inherit the throne, her support quickly grew in the days after Edward’s death. Lady Jane’s supporters abandoned her, and Mary was declared Queen of England. Lady Jane was held prisoner in the Tower of London, convicted of treason, and beheaded, along with her husband.

As expected, Queen Mary I worked hard to reverse the reformation of the church, re-establishing Roman Catholicism as the religion of England. Many protestants were executed under parliament’s Heresy Acts. Hundreds of Christians were burned at the stake over the course of five years before Mary died. Hundreds more fled into exile. She became known as “Bloody Mary.”

Mary’s reign started the great religious persecutions in England. Quite a few of the Garrard or Garrett family were beheaded or otherwise executed after converting to protestantism, though none of Lewis A. Garrett’s direct ancestors were executed.

Following the death of his first wife, Lord John Garrett I married Lady Mary Bible. She was born of royal descent, but she was disinherited when she married John — because he was a Quaker.

Prior to his death, John migrated with his family to Pennsylvania, a new colony founded by William Penn specifically as a safe harbor for Quakers.

From Pennsylvania, the Garretts who were Lewis Garrett’s ancestors migrated first to Virginia and then along Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap to Tennessee. They settled first in Overton County, eventually spreading into Pickett and Fentress counties. Lewis Garrett’s son, Henry Clayton Garrett, moved with his family to Scott County and settled in Oneida, which is where this document is being written.

Stephen Burton Garrett was the last of the Garretts in Lewis Garrett’s line to die in Virginia. He died in 1803 in Buckingham County, Va. Both his son, Elijah Caleb Garrett, and his grandson, Elijah Cayce Garrett, were born in Buckingham County, but both died in Tennessee. Both are buried in Pickett County. John Perry Garrett was the first in this line of Garretts to be born in Tennessee. He was born in 1836 in Overton County, and died in 1912 in Fentress County.

Lewis Alexander Garrett died in 1932 and is buried at Mount Helen Cemetery in eastern Fentress County, along with his second wife, Mary Matilda Jones, and his parents, John Perry Garrett and Serena Catherine Howard. Only two of Lewis Garrett’s 12 children ever left Tennessee, and seven are buried alongside him at Mount Helen. The last of his children, Virgle Leo Garrett, died in 2016 in Michigan.

Likewise, all eight of the Garretts in Lewis’s generation — he and his seven brothers and sisters — remained in the Upper Cumberland region their entire lives, dying in Overton, Pickett or Fentress counties. And of the 12 Garretts in the previous generation — John Perry Garrett and his 11 brothers and sisters — all died in the Upper Cumberland region.

The Garrett family migrated from Virginia to Tennessee sometime between 1810 and 1814. Elijah Cayce Garrett’s sister, Sabrina Garrett Pritchard, was born in 1810 in Virginia; his brother, Michael Pleasant Garrett, was born in 1814 in Overton County, Tenn. Elijah Cayce and all 11 of his brothers and sisters died in the Upper Cumberland region, though some spread a bit to the north, into southern Kentucky.

Ben Garrett is a journalist from East Tennessee. He is publisher of the Independent Herald, a weekly newspaper serving the Big South Fork region of the Cumberland Plateau, with a sideline in website development and digital marketing. He is also an erstwhile blogger.

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