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The Gilliland Family
Thomas Gilliland | James Gilliland


Thomas Gilliland is the earliest known member of the Gilliland family from whom we are descended. He was born about 1755 His place of birth is unknown but it is probable that he was a native of Virginia or Pennsylvania and that his mother and father were immigrants from Ireland.

Although we cannot be certain of their origins, we do know that by the 1770s the Gilliland family was living in that portion of what is now southwestern Pennsylvania, then claimed by both Virginia and Pennsylvania. Along with the Balsingers, Overturfs, and Keener families, they resided in what is now Fayette County, Pennsylvania, near the headwaters of Brown's Run.

Our first record of Thomas Gilliland as an individual dates from 1775, when he enlisted for service in Capt. Michael Creasup's company of Maryland militia, for service in the Revolutionary War. Here is what one modern-day historian has written about how this company of volunteers was raised and about their service in the patriot cause:

During the first few years of the Revolution the border controversy with Virginia was almost as important to the settlers [of the contested region] as the war with the British. It was also a convenient excuse for evading military service away from home. When Pennsylvania recruiting officers came down from Fort Pitt the inhabitants claimed Virginia allegiance, while if Virginia officers came into the district, they would claim allegiance to Pennsylvania. The same held true in the furnishing of supplies. Not wishing to take depreciated currency, the settlers would evade the foraging officers with the same excuse. It was bitterly complained of by the officers of the Continental line.

In spite of all this, patriotism was not lacking, and while was of a selfish type, in that the men sought only to protect their homes and loved ones, at a time when the new nation was unable to help, it nonetheless made possible the complete utilization of Washington's forces in the East. War had hardly been declared before companies were organized and men left to volunteer in the Eastern forces. Recruiting officers were here [in the southwestern part of Pennsylvania] as early as 1775. Captain Michael Creasup of Frederick County, Maryland, sent one of his lieutenants over the mountains to pick up as many frontiersmen as he could get, and it is reliably reported that some twenty or more from this section marched to Cumberland to join him, and then went on to Boston to join Washington there. [It was said] that Creasup's Rifle Company numbered some one hundred and thirty men, who were armed with tomahawks and rifles, painted like Indians, and dressed in hunting shirts and moccasins. [Historians] recall that the settlers of Cumberland and Frederick [counties] turned out to watch their skill with the rifle, when the men would hold a target in their hand for another to shoot at. An eye witness watching them at Boston also reports their skill at this game. When their term was out at Boston, these men returned home, but were saddened by the death of the Captain while at New York. Creasup was buried there in Trinity Church Yard, having died at that place in October 1775. When the men from the West of the mountains returned home they quickly took up the defense of the frontier, a number of them, because of their known experiences, being elected captains of the militia.

Our next record of Thomas Gilliland reveals that in 1775, the same year in which he returned from serving under Gen. George Washington in Boston, he was granted 400 acres of land in Monongalia County, Virginia (now West Virginia) "on Hughe's River adjoyning [sic] lands of Robert Cavins In right of Ressadence [sic] to Include an Improvement made thereon." Immediately adjacent to his property was another 400 acre tract belonging to Hugh Gilliland, probably Thomas' brother.

Another source, Boyd Cumrine's History of Washington County, Pennsylvania, identifies the location of Thomas Gilliland's property in what is now West Virginia as lying adjacent to land owned by Charles McRoberts, Sr., Kenneth McClellan, and James and William McRoberts, on or near Buffalo Creek.

Court records in what was then called Ohio County, Virginia include several references to both Thomas and Hugh Gilliland. The first of these, dated Monday, June 2, 1777, reveals that Thomas Gilliland took an oath as lieutenant of the local militia. A year later, on November 2, he served on an Ohio County grand jury. The next entry, dated Monday, November 1, 1779 concerns the sale of a tract of land that was "formerly proved by Thomas Gilliland and now proved by Hugh Gilliland." On the same date, Thomas served on the grand jury.

On Monday, May 1, 1780, Thomas Gilliland bought a piece of property (price and acreage not stated) from Zephania Dunn. On the same day he and several other men were fined by court authorities "in the amount of 200 pounds of tobacco for not appearing agreeable to summons as Grandjurymen." This breach of his civic duty seems to not to have harmed his status in the community, however. On June 5, 1780 he and two other men were "recommended to this Excellency the Governor as Captains [of the militia]." On the same date another record reads, "Assignment on a Bill of Sale Dunn to Gilliland is acknowledged by Thomas Gilliland to Hugh Gilliland and O. R. [ordered read?]"

About 1780, Thomas Gilliland was married to a woman named Priscilla, whose parentage is unknown to us. Together, they had twelve children, not necessarily in this order: Sinaith (a girl); James, born about 1783; Hugh; Aaron; Thomas; William; Sarah; Hannah; Mary Priscilla; Rebecca; Rachel; and John. We may be reasonably sure that the eldest were born within the boundaries of what is now the state of Pennsylvania.

By January 1793, we find Thomas Gilliland in Nelson County, Kentucky, where he was a property owner and taxpayer. In 1800, he was included on the tax list for Hardin County, which was formed from a portion of Nelson County.

On October 8, 1808, Thomas Gilliland's eldest son James married Polly Morrison, probably a sister of Isaac Morrison, from whom we are also descended. (See James Gilliland below and Morrison Family.) At the time of their marriage, Polly was somewhere between the ages of fourteen and twenty-four (born sometime between 1784-1794).

Both Thomas Gilliland and his son James were enumerated in the 1810 census for Hardin County, Kentucky. At that time, Thomas still had five sons (Hugh, Aaron, Thomas, William, and John) at home and two daughters (probably Rachel and Rebecca). The older girls were probably married by that time.

Our final record of Thomas Gilliland is his will, dated April 5, 1813 and proved in court at the Hardin County courthouse in Elizabethtown on December 12, 1814. It reveals that by the time of his death, he owned 1,525 acres of land, which included the 250-acre "plantation I now live on." This land was divided among his sons, with James getting the largest share (350 acres). Thomas' daughters, with the exception of Sinaith, received nothing, having "got their shares before this time" (obviously, when they married). Sinaith was given a "horse and saddle, two cows, and a feather bed." Thomas' wife Priscilla, who survived him, was bequeathed "one third part of this dwelling place as long as she lives and all the moveable property (except what was granted to Sinaith)."

We do not know where Thomas Gilliland was buried after his death nor do we know when Priscilla Gilliland died or where she was buried.

The Gilliland Family
Thomas Gilliland | James Gilliland

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