The Vance Migration

By Janette Vance Morgan
(see also The House That Jack Built)

The origin of my Vance ancestors goes back to England, Scotland, and Ireland, dating back as far as 1066. The name has been spelled variously as de Baux, de Vaux, Vans, and Vants. The earliest Vans appear in Northern Ireland during the early 1600’s, particularly in the counties of Londonderry and Antrim, and were likely part of the Scottish migration to this area after Ireland came under control of the British government. From their Scottish roots they brought the Presbyterian religion, first to Ireland and later to Newton County.

It is almost certain that the families were small flax farmers and land-owners, a farm in Ireland of 15 acres being considered as large. The circumstances of the family were modest by any standards, but they were literate and the few letters that have been saved from that period provide this evidence. They had some resources, however, in order to undertake the expense of moving so many family members to America without indenturing themselves, a common practice among poor immigrants of the time. The cost of passage during the long journey was significant. Additionally, the cost of locating in America, finding land and an occupation, meant additional expenses.James Jackson Vance Thumbnail

The Vances and their kin are believed to arrived in America via New Orleans and Mobile, first boarding a vessel that took them from Belfast, Ireland to Liverpool, England. Once in England they were placed on a small vessel with cargo aboard, similar to “tramp steamers” today. The trip to America was difficult and expected to take eight weeks or longer. James Jackson (Jack) Vance (shown at left) and his younger brother George Vance were among those we know who upon arrival worked for a time along the waterfront in New Orleans in order to have the money to buy land in Mississippi.

The story of migration was not simply a story about the Vances. It was also not just a spontaneous event. The story is also about the Dowdles, Frenches, Davisons, Mercers, Blackburns, Gaults, and other families who were part of a close-knit community in Ireland and who maintained this closeness after arriving in Newton County. Immigration was a planned event. Discussions were held at family gatherings and at church events. Money was raised and individuals were chosen who would be the first to come to America.

There has been much discussion as to why these ancestors of mine left their homeland, coming in great waves to a new land. Whether the potato famine, high rents, land sub-divided into portions too small to make a living, religious freedom, or hearing good news from other families who had come to Newton County, Mississippi—all these were factors in their immigration.

The Vances are known for their red hair, blue eyes, fiery tempers, and a twinkle of the eye. Imagine listening to a large family gathering perhaps before the family’s stone hearth (Ireland being nearly always damp and cold) with their fiery tempers and deep Irish brogue, discussing what was best for the whole family This discussion must have included talk about their prospects should they remain in Ireland and the difficulties that lay ahead. The discussions would also extend to such a large group of family members finding passage to a new country thousand of miles away and how this would be financed. From these discussions, one or two would be chosen to go first, to be the “scouts”.

I can just picture James Jackson (Jack) Vance, second son of Thomas James Vance, Sr., and Margaret Ann (Nancy) McCannon, insisting that he be the one chosen first to come to this new land. He was a teenager at this time, eager to prove himself, and prove himself he did.

James Jackson Vance arrived in America with his younger brother George Vance from County Derry, Ireland, through the Port of New Orleans, spending time after his arrival there to work on the waterfront in order to earn enough money to buy land in Mississippi.

Upon his arrival in Newton County, Jack Vance patented land, found a wife, Mary Caroline Castles, and began a family. His brother George settled in Kemper County, Mississippi. A sister Sarah would come later and settle also in Kemper County.

The first property of Jack and Mary Vance was just north of the town of Conehatta. On the second of his properties, Jack Vance built the house we now call “The House That Jack Built”, shortly after his patent of this land in 1853. The house and a barn still stand today, and are among the oldest structures still surviving in the county. The house is located on Highway 492, across from New Ireland Baptist Church which Jack also helped build. It is thought that Jack Vance lived in a small cabin on the property while the house was being built. Most of Jack and Mary’s children were not born in this house, but would live to their maturity there. This house is now home to Chester and Shirley Gomillion Estes who graciously opened the home to NCHGS for their December 2007 meeting. Shirley is a great-granddaughter of James Jackson and Mary Caroline Castles Vance

Mary Caroline Castles VanceJames Jackson Vance must have liked what he found in Newton County when he arrived. The word he was sent back to Ireland was good. Who wrote those letters of inspiration and invitation? None have been saved, to the best of our knowledge, but the record keeper in the family is known to have been Mary Caroline Castles Vance (shown above), so the letters may have come by her hand. The role that James Jackson Vance and his wife Mary played in helping resettle the new immigrants can not be understated. On many occasions their home is thought to be the first stop for weary travelers in the new land.

Beginning in the mid-1840’s and extending into the mid-1850’s new immigrants now came. They resettled into adjoining communities that have come to be known as New Ireland, Erin, and Lucern, all names borrowed from their Irish heritage.

Ulster IrelandAll of the Vances who settled in Newton County represent four distinct and one less distinct lineages. They were, according to the research of Wayne Vance1, natives of the Ulster region of Ireland. Ulster was an area in Northern Ireland where the original Irish settlers, Catholic in orientation, were largely displaced by farmers, most of them from Scotland, when the British government took control of Ireland in the early 1600’s. These new settlers were largely Protestant and the animosities that developed between these two segments of the population have been maintained into modern times.

The Vances came from County Antrim and County Londonderry, the latter term often shortened to County Derry.

James Jackson Vance brought his father, Thomas James Vance, Sr., and his mother, Margaret Ann (Nancy) McCannon, about 1845, form County Derry. They would die in Newton County some time after the year 1850, but not before helping found Erin Cumberland Presbyterian Church. All of the children of Thomas James and Margaret would also follow. Thomas James Vance, Sr., and Margaret Ann McCannon were the parents of eight known children:

  1. John Vance (1815-1855); married Mary ________
  2. James Jackson Vance (1818-1879); married Mary Caroline Castles
  3. Thomas James Vance, Jr. (1819-1906); married Nancy Dowdle
  4. George Vance (1823-1887); married Mary Jane Page
  5. Sarah Vance (1824-1905); married William Moore
  6. David Franklin Vance, Sr. (1825-1911); married Margaret Vance
  7. Mary Ann Vance (1826-1860); first wife of William Cooksey (Billie) Sessums
  8. Margaret Jane (Peggy Ann) Vance (1827--); married William Thomas (Whisky Tom) Vance

Eliza Jane Vance, first wife of Richard Neil French, may also have been a child of Thomas James Vance, Sr., and Margaret Ann McCannon. She was born ca. 1817, Ireland, and according to family tradition, died at sea during the migration to America. Neil left some of their children with family and friends in Newton County, went back to Ireland, took a new wife, Isabella Doole, and returned to Newton County with her. Eliza and Richard Neil were the parents of the following children:

  1. Thomas French2 (1840, County Antrim, Ireland-1884, Bosque County, Texas); married Martha J. Reed
  2. James French (1840, County Antrim, Ireland-1927, Erin community, Newton County, Mississippi); married Matilda Vance
  3. George French (ca. 1843, County Antrim, Ireland—after 1880, Texas); married Mary Jane Heslen. George was one of two children left behind in Newton County while his father went back to Ireland to find a new bride. He lived with the family of William Cooksey Sessums and Mary Ann Vance Sessums during this time.
  4. Margaret French (1845--). No further information.

From County Antrim came Thomas Frank Vance. According to family tradition, Thomas Frank died in Jackson, Mississippi, in route to Newton County. His widow, shown by the census as Nancy, but known to descendants as Margaret or Mattie, brought the children on to Newton County. The maiden name of Nancy is shown in available sources as Vance or Nathan. She died some time after the year 1870 and is likely buried in Erin Cumberland Presbyterian Church Cemetery. Thomas Frank and Nancy were the parents of four children:

  1. Margaret Vance (1832-1925); married David Franklin Vance, Sr.
  2. James Vance (1835-1923); married Nancy Eliza Vance. James had to have one arm amputated from an injury suffered in the Civil War and was referred thereafter to as “One Armed Jimmie”.
  3. Martha Ann (Mattie) Vance (1840-1879); second wife of William Cooksey (Billie) Sessums
  4. Thomas Vance (1845-1866); married Sarah Ann Dowdle, who following his death married (2) James Rayburn Cooksey

Francis (Frank) Vance, Sr., born ca. 1790, Ireland, and his wife Elizabeth also arrived in Newton County prior to 1850, likely originating from County Derry. Elizabeth died not long after their arrival and Francis died some time after the year 1870. They are likely buried in Erin Cumberland Presbyterian Church Cemetery. Their marriage produced six known children:

  1. William Thomas (Whisky Tom) Vance (1822-1857); married Margaret Jane (Peggy Ann) Vance
  2. John A.Vance (1826--); married Lucy ________
  3. Alexander Vance (1830--); married Sarah A. ________
  4. Francis Vance, Jr. (1832--); married (1) Rebecca Mercer and (2) Martha (Mattie) Brunson
  5. Mary Eliza Vance (1833-1915); married Henry S. Massengale
  6. Matilda Vance (1834--); no further information.

The fourth Vance lineage is represented by Mary Vance, born ca. 1810, Ireland, and wife of Thomas Gault. She died after 1860 in Newton County, Mississippi, and was survived by five children of whom we have knowledge:

  1. Eliza Gault (1833-1888); married Thomas James Graham
  2. Nancy Gault (1835--). No further information
  3. Mary Gault (1839--) No further information
  4. Martha Gault (1843-1906); married William J. Brown
  5. Hannah Frances Gault (1851-1930); married Henry J. Phelps

The final Vance lineage, and for which little is known, appears in the personage of Margaret Vance, age 54, born Ireland, and living in 1850 in the household of Thomas James Vance, Sr. in Newton County. Listed following her entry is one for Thomas Vance, age 10.

There is much speculation as to their journey from New Orleans to Newton County. The best route would have been upriver on a steamboat to Natchez or Vicksburg, then overland over poorly-developed roads in wagons or even by foot. I do admire their courage and determination.

The descendants today of these strong, sturdy ancestors of mine owe a debt of gratitude to these pioneers, especially to James Jackson Vance and the others that followed, for taking the first step to making their lives better and ultimately ours. They faced many hardships, leaving many of their possessions, friends and loved ones behind, but they restored much of this family unity by building their homes and farms near one another upon their arrival in Newton County. Can you imagine the joy when a new group of arrivals would appear over the horizon? What a reunion, a time of excitement of being reunited mixed with an apprehension of what destinies lay ahead of them!

I descend from all three of the first generation Vances who came—from Thomas James Vance, Sr., Thomas Frank Vance, and Francis (Frank) Vance. Thomas James Vance, Sr., was my great-great-great-great grandfather in three different lineages. My ancestry, like that of other Vance descendants, is a tapestry with many patterns and threads that often interconnect. I have tried to piece this tapestry together, with the kind assistance of other researchers including Wayne Vance, Dr. Harold Graham, George and Sheila Mitchell, Chester Estes, Alice Thompson, and many others, for subsequent generations not simply to understand, but to treasure. Their legacy is my legacy.


1. Wayne Vance, “James Vance and Families of Ulster”, undated manuscript.

2. According to cemetery records, Thomas was born 29 June 1840 and his brother James born 22 November 1840. One is obviously incorrect, but it is not known which.

The House That Jack Built, Christmas 2005

James Jackson Vance house built in 1853

Photo and genealogy below courtesy of Chester Estes, Jr.

James Jackson (Jack) Vance built his house in the New Ireland community west of Union shortly after he patented a tract of land in this area in 1853. The house was constructed from pine timber that was sawed and planed at one of the earliest sawmills in the area, one owned jointly by William Thomas (Whisky Tom) Vance and his brother-in-law, William Cooksey Sessums. Although remodeled a number of times, it retains much of its original integrity. It was shelter to Sherman’s troops during the Civil War, but before this was a sanctuary for many of the immigrants newly arrived from Ireland. For generations it has experienced the tender loving care of James Jackson (Jack) Vance and his wife Mary Caroline Castles Vance and their descendants. Those generations are:

First Generation:

James Jackson (Jack) Vance and Mary Caroline Castles

William Thomas Vance (1838-1862)

David James Vance (1840-1860)

Sarah Vance (1842--)

Nancy Vance (1843--)

Letitia Vance (1846-)

Samuel P. Vance (1848-1916)

John Jackson Vance (1854-1949)

Henry Nicholson Vance (1857-1883)

Emily Eliza Vance (1860-1913)

Charlotte A. Vance (1862-1936

Ransom Vance

Second Generation:

John Jackson Vance and Mollie Elizabeth Germany:

Infant Vance (1892-1892)

Nettie Lenora Vance (1895-1993)

Henry Carl Vance (1898-1986)

Sammie Vance (1900-1901)

Bertha Mae Vance (1902-1990)

Mary Caroline Vance (1904-1996)

Queenie Elizabeth Vance (1907-2003)

Third Generation:

Mason M. Gomillion and Queenie Elizabeth Vance

Billy Jack Gomillion (1930--)

Shirley Gomillion, (1936--), wife of Chester Estes, Jr.

Donald Allen Gomillion (1942-2003)

“The Rest is History


[Home] [Archives] [NCHGS Info] [Newton County] [NCHGS Research] [Articles and Notes] [Culture & Traditions] [Families] [Military Records & Links] [Native Americans] [Newspapers] [Organizations] [Photos] [Remembering Citizens & Friends] [Research Links] [Guests]

Copyright © 2015 NCHGS
Designed & Maintained by George R Searcy