Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,
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William Thomas White, of Knoxville

I spent yesterday doing a bit of research into the sixteenth-century Sir Nicholas White. My researches threw up this surprising biographical note:
White, William Thomas, educator; born in Wahala, S.C., May 12, 1859 ; son of Thomas Warren and Margaret Branchefield (Keough) White. His father was a planter before the Civil War, and lived in South Carolina ; after the war he moved to Knoxville, Tenn., and engaged in real estate business. His father served in the Confederate Army. His great-grandfather was Sir Nicholas White of Leixlip Castle, Ireland, who was a Knight of Malta, and a lieutenant in his uncle, Sir Arthur Dillon's Irish Regiment, that fought in the French Army in the American Revolution, 1778. He is a direct descendant of John White, who Sir Walter Raleigh commissioned as "Governor of the City of Raleigh," 1587. A duplicate of this John White's will, copied 1698, is still in the family archives. He was a cousin of Senator Stephen Mallory White of California, and of this family is Chief Justice White. His maternal grandparents were Edward and Margaret (O'Donnell) Keough. He was a nephew of Col. Myles Branchefield Keough, U.S.A., who was killed with Gen. Custer by the Sioux Indians near Yellowstone River, and for whom the American Army have named an important post in Montana in his memory — Fort Keough. His mother's ancestors, John and James Keough, were Revolutionary soldiers of Virginia. He was educated in the University of Tennessee, and graduated in June, 1879, with B.A. and M.A. degrees, and prospective candidate for Doctor of Philosophy in 1914. He was principal of the Knoxville High School for over thirty years. He conducted normals in North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee. Writer for daily press and educational magazines, collector of books and owner of one of the largest private libraries in the south. Conversant with German, French, Italian and Spanish tongues. Sinking fund commissioner for City of Knoxville, Tenn., 1889-91. Member and officer in the National and Southern Educational Associations. Member of the National Historical Association, Association of Advanced Science, Classical Association of Middle South, The Society for the Promotion of the Aims and Objects of The Hague Conference, Society for Celebrating the Hundredth Anniversary of the Signing of the Treaty of Peace between England and the United States; a member of the Irving Club, University Club and a Knight of Columbus.

This is from a 1916 Who's Who-type of book called Builders of Our Nation, published in Chicago. I was immediately interested in, and also suspicious of, the reference to "Sir Nicholas White of Leixlip Castle, Ireland, who was a Knight of Malta, and a lieutenant in his uncle, Sir Arthur Dillon's Irish Regiment, that fought in the French Army in the American Revolution, 1778." While we do indeed have a Knight of Malta called Nicholas born in the mid-1750s in the family tree (we even have a contemporary document of his joining the Knights in the early 1770s), I thought that the Knights of Malta a) were celibate, b) didn't use the honorific "Sir and c) were still in Malta in 1778. Maybe I am wrong on those points - the circumstantial detail is remarkable, and I've seen elsewhere a reference to "le chevalier Nicholas Whyte Seyslip" who did fight with Dillon's Regiment in the War of Independence. And someone born in 1754 could quite reasonably have a great-grandson born in 1859, which is a 35-year gap between generations. (Thomas Warren White, William Thomas White's father, was apparently born in Rathkeale, Limerick, in 1825.)

Likewise the reference to the famous John White - while it would be thrilling to add him to the family tree, the fact is that we know that the direct ancestors of the 18th-century Knight of Malta alive at the time of the doomed Roanoke venture were the jurist Sir Nicholas White (who died in 1592), his son Andrew (who died very young in 1599) and Andrew's son, another Nicholas. And it is interesting that the White family of Knoxville claimed to have a copy of John White's will, given that according to Wikipedia his document trail evaporates in Munster in the early seventeenth century.

A new name to me was Senator Stephen Mallory White. His grandfather, Edward White, emigrated from Limerick to Binghamton NY in the 1820s, where he founded a college for women. The family were all Catholics. The Limerick connection does make this one a bit more plausible; Edward could well have been the uncle of Thomas Warren White.

I also had not heard of Chief Justice Edward White, appointed by President Taft in 1910 (and succeeded by ex-President Taft in 1921). His immediate ancestors were also notable - his father was a governor of Louisiana and his grandfather, James White, was the first US representative from what became Tennessee. His father is thought to have emigrated from Ireland (I haven't seen any more specific reference) to Philadelphia in the first half of the eighteenth century. Again, they were Catholics.

So there's a certain amount of suspicion in my mind that William Thomas White was pulling together prominent Catholic Irish-Americans with his surname to claim as relatives. But there may be a bit more to it than that.
Tags: genealogy
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