Biography of John J. Jenness

John J. Jenness, of the Solomon City community, was one of the early pioneers of Ottawa County. Mr. Jenness knows Kansas from the standpoint of over half a century’s residence therein.

He was born at Hermon, Penobscot County, Maine, January 2, 1839, a son of David L. and Martha (York) Jenness. His father was born in New Hampshire and his mother in Maine, and both were descendants of early New England families. David L. Jenness’ father, in company with two of his brothers, came from France to the United States, locating in New Hampshire, and there he became prominently identified with the interests of New England. Some members of the family became noted ship builders.

After roaching years of maturity David L. Jenness moved to Maine, where he followed the trade of carpenter. He married there and later in life located on a farm, where he lived until his death in 1847. His wife survived him many years, passing away in 1860. Her father was a sea captain and died while at sea. Martha York was one of the following children: Jerusha, William, Solomon, John and Martha E. David L. Jenness was a stanch democrat and an influential and active worker in his party, though never an aspirant for political homors. The only office he would ever consent to accept was as justice of the peace. He was a man of sturdy habits, strong in his opinions concerning right and wrong, and was honored and respected by all with whom he had basiness or social intercourse. His only brother was named Francis Jenness.

David and Martha (York) Jenness had the following children: Esther, who married G. W. Webber, of Maine; John J.; Walter B., who became a resident of Colorado; Abby, who first married Mr. Stuyvesant and afterwards Mr. Rolf; and Mark C., who died in New York. The parents were members of the Universalist Church.

John J. Jenness remained in his native state until sixteen years of age. He then removed with his uncle, Solomon York, to Illinois. Solomon York was a sea captain and in Illinois owned many boats on the old Hennepin Canal. Mr. Jenness remained in his employ for a number of years, and frequently accompanied boats over the old Illinois and Michigan Canal to Chicago. In 1859 he made a journey overland to the Pike’s Peak gold district of Colorado, and subsequently made a second visit to that region and engaged in mining. From there he went into New Mexico, and in 1861 came to Kansas, locating first at Indianola. For two years he engaged in driving stage to Saint Mary’s Mission, after which he followed the same occupation for another firm between Abilene and Junction City. In 1864 Mr. Jenness enlisted for 100 days’ service in the Civil war, being stationed at Fort Leavenworth until the following fall, when he received an honorable discharge. Then at Junction City he sold goods at auction during the winter and for a short time was engaged in the saloon business at Wyandotte. At Lawrence, Kansas, he manufactured the brick which entered into the construction of the Eldridge Hotel, which replaced the hotel destroyed by Quantrell and his band. After that he was a stage driver from Lawrence to Topeka, later station agent at Pritchard, west of Salina, for the Overland Stage Company, and in 1866 was employed by that company to erect its stables.

In August, 1866, Mr. Jenness married and soon afterward he came to Ottawa County, where for a time he was employed in haymaking for T. C. Hersey, a well known early settler of Kansas. In 1867 he bought a squatter’s claim to the land which he yet owned, the northeast quarter of seetion 24, Buckeye Township. A log cabin had been erected and he made other improvements from time to time. The log cabin was soon replaced by a more comfortable dwelling, but after a few years it and its contents were destroyed by fire, the loss being covered with only a small amount of insurance. Mr. Jenness later had a pleasant and commodious two-story residence, situated on a natural building site and overlooking the valley of Cole Creek. There were also good barns, a beautiful grove and orchard, and he brought his fields under a fine state of cultivation, annually yielding to the owner a good financial return. Besides raising the cereals best adapted to the soil and climate he was extensively engaged in the handling of stock. At one time he was the largest stock dealer in Ottawa County. He raised cattle, hogs and horses, and shipped many horses to Tennessee. Mr. Jenness proved himself an enterprising and public spirited man, endowed with New England push and cnterprise and always willing and ready to lend his aid and co-operation to any movement or measure intended for the public good. He had become widely and favorably known throughout Cantral Kansas and had commanded the respect and confidence of all who have had the pleasure of his acquaintance.

In politics he became quite prominent. He was originally a Democrat, but in 1860 allied his interests with those of the republican party and attained influence in its rank in Ottawa County. He attended many conventions and on its ticket was elected to positions of honor and trust. He finally returned to the democratic party and had done much to build up and sustain that organization in Ottawa County. He had filled the office of township trustee and assessor, was for eight years a justice of the peace, and for many years served as clerk of his school district. In all these various positions he served with efflciency, ever discharging the duties entrusted to his care with the utmost fidelity and honor.

Mr. Jenness married Miss Mary Carr, a lady of superior intelligence and culture and member of one of the honored pioneer families of Ottawa County. She was born March 5, 1845, a daughter of F. V. and Anna Bell (Stevens) Carr, the former a native of New York and the latter of Ireland. Her parents were married in Michigan and after a number of removals located in Ottawa County, Kansas, in 1861, before the organization of the county and while the Indians and buffaloes were still numerous. Only four familiss were then living in the Valley of Solomon. Mr. Carr selected his land, and after the establishment of the land office pre-empted it, making many improvements and putting his fields in a fine state of cultivation. He often indulged his fondness for hunting the buffalo. He was a plain, honest farmer and was well and favorably known throughout his locality. Politically he was a stanch democrat and on the party ticket was elected county commissioner and held other places of trust. He died February 13, 1875, at the age of fifty-seven. His widow survived him many years and spent the rest of her life on the old homestead. The Carr children were: Mrs. Jane Huffman; Mrs. Martha Lamb; Francis, a resident of Oklahoma; Mary J. Jenness; Mrs. Julia Lamib; Hannah, who died ummarried; Henry, a resident of Colorado; Mrs. Clara Clewell; and Mrs. Flora Hoffmann.

Nine children were born to Mr. and Mrs. Jenness; Carry, born September 27, 1867, married W. Spencer; Walter, born December 30, 1868, died in Colorado in 1890; John, born August 31, 1870, became a railway agent at Abilene; Clarence and Willis, twins, born June 24, 1872, the former dying the same year and the latter in 1875; Esther, born February 26, 1874, died in 1875; Grace, born April 8, 1876, married in November, 1901, T. Sullivan Niles; Nelly, born March 12, 1878, married December 25, 1901, Claude A. Roberts of Randolph, Kansas; and Ray, born February 5, 1881, married February 12, 1902, Miss Maggie Parks. Mr. Jenness is a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and had filled all the chairs in the lodge and had been a delegate to the grand Lodge.


Connelley, William E. A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans. Chicago : Lewis, 1918. 5v. Biographies can be accessed from this page: Kansas and Kansans Biographies.

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