Written by Floyd L. Owsley


In April of 1846, Charity Barton Owsley, widow of John Owsley, filed a claim for a Revolutionary War widow's pension in Claiborne County, Tennessee. With the claim, Charity provided pages cut out of the family Bible, which contained the names and dates of birth of their children. Seven children were recorded in the Bible record. They were listed as follows: (1) Tobitha Owsley born March 15, 1780, (2) John Owsley born March 17, 1783, (3) Isaac Owsley born April 27, 1785, (4) Stephen Owsley born June 24, 1787, (5) Matthew Owsley born September 23, 1789, (6) Anna Owsley born December 28, 1792, and (7) William Owsley born April 9, 1796.


The book, The Owsley Family in England and America, was written by Harry Bryan Owsley (HBO) in 1890. On pages #146 and #147 of the book, HBO provided the names of the children of John Owsley and Charity Barton. The children's dates of birth were not written in the book. The children were listed in the following order: (1) Tabathia, (2) John, (3) Isaac, (4) Stephen, (5) Joseph, (6) Matthew, (7) Anna, (8) Robin, and (9) William. Therefore, HBO listed two sons (Joseph and Robin "Robert"), who were not recorded in the family Bible. In the book, HBO gave the name of Joseph's wife as Phoebe Meyer. Phoebe's maiden name was Longmire, according to the death certificate of James Ousley, son of Joseph and Phoebe.

In the book, HBO said he received information from "old Mr. Rice." The identity of Mr. Rice is not known. He is believed to have been a son of Mary Owsley Rice, sister of John Owsley. It also appears HBO corresponded with Pleasant Housley, grandson of Joseph Owsley, sometime between 1885 and 1890. Pleasant's second wife, Cynthia Lindamood, is listed in the book. Pleasant and Cynthia were married on April 12, 1885 in Campbell County, Tennessee. John H. Housley, son of Pleasant and Cynthia, was also listed in the book. John H. Housley was born May 30, 1888. Pleasant's father, John Housley, was still living at the time. It seems probable Pleasant would have correctly identified the names of his great grandparents at the time of his correspondence with HBO. It has long been told among the descendants of Joseph Owsley that he was disowned by his parents for marrying an Indian or part-Indian, Phoebe Longmire. The marriage occurred about 1812. Joseph's name was removed from the family Bible. Phoebe's alleged Indian heritage has not been proven. In 1811, John Owsley, son of John and Charity, was killed by Indians at the Battle of Tippecanoe in Indiana. Such a tragedy could have definitely caused John and Charity to have a hatred for Indians.


Descendants of Robert Owsley relate that he was also disowned by his parents. His name was removed from the family Bible for being present at a home where a dance was in progress. John and Charity were of the Primitive Baptist religion and were very strict in their beliefs. They disapproved of the practice of dancing. Robert Owsley resided in Claiborne County, Tennessee in the early part of his life and associated with other members of the family of John Owsley and Charity Barton. On May 12, 1823, Robert Ousley was appointed overseer of the road in place of Matthew Ousley (Claiborne County Minute Book, 1821-1824, page 227). On March 19, 1827, Robert Ousley was replaced as overseer of the road by William Ousley (Claiborne County Minute Book, 1826-1829, page 69). A biographical sketch of Robert Owsley's eldest son, Henry Owsley, can be found in the Historical Sketches of Walla Walla, Whitman, Columbia and Garfield Counties, Washington Territory, which was written by Frank T. Gilbert. In the sketch, Gilbert states Henry Owsley was born on December 3, 1818 in Claiborne County, Tennessee. According to census records, Robert Owsley was born about 1802. He was married to Nancy Miller. Robert and Nancy settled in Morgan and Hickory counties in Missouri.


Although he cannot be found in any records of Claiborne County, Tennessee, Joseph Owsley lived in Campbell County, Tennessee, just a few miles down the Powell River from John and Charity. They lived in the Sugar Hollow/Cedar Creek area of Campbell County for over thirty years, before moving to neighboring Union County in the 1850's. On June 11, 1860, in Union County, Tennessee, Joseph Ousley sold one hundred (100) acres of land on the Powell River to Andrew Anderson. This land transaction was witnessed by Eli Miller and William Ousley. This William Ousley is believed to have been the son of Matthew Owsley. Joseph's son, William, had already moved to Missouri. Therefore, there is proof of an association between Joseph Owsley and a member of the Owsley family. Also of importance is the fact that families of children of Joseph Owsley and Robert Owsley settled in the same area of Missouri in the 1840's and 1850's. These families settled in Crawford Township in Gasconade/Osage counties in Missouri. They were very close neighbors and definitely associated with each other.


In the 1860 census of Union County, Tennessee, Joseph Ousley's occupation was listed as a cooper. One may speculate that Joseph learned the cooper trade from his father. InReminiscences, 1880-1914, Rachel Owsley Barton said her great grandfather, John Owsley, was a cooper by trade.


Due to the fact Joseph and Robert were not recorded as children of John and Charity in the family Bible, their relationship in the Owsley family has always been in question. There is also circumstantial evidence that Joseph and Robert were closely related to Amy (Ann) Housley and Elizabeth Housley of Grainger County, Tennessee. The parents of these two Housley women have yet to be identified.


Before moving to Campbell County, Tennessee, Joseph Ousley is recorded as having lived in Grainger County, Tennessee. He was listed as head of household (living alone) in the 1810 census of Grainger County, Tennessee. Joseph was living in the Indian Ridge area on the north side of the Holston River. Close neighbors of Joseph were the Gilmore and Smith families. Samuel Gilmore was married to Amy (Ann) Housley on September 18, 1809 in Grainger County, Tennessee. Joseph Smith was married to Elizabeth Housley on August 31, 1811.


The Samuel Gilmore family moved from Grainger County, Tennessee to Gasconade County, Missouri in the late 1830's. They settled in Crawford Township. As stated earlier, the families of children of Joseph Owsley and Robert Owsley migrated in the 1840's and 1850's to Missouri and settled in the same area. They were very close neighbors with the Samuel Gilmore family.


One occurrence of major importance is the fact Samuel Gilmore was the Bondsman at the marriage of John Ousley (son of Joseph and Phoebe) in 1832 in Grainger County, Tennessee. This is proof of a definite connection between Joseph Owsley and Amy (Ann) Housley Gilmore.


The family of Joseph Smith and Elizabeth Housley moved from Grainger County, Tennessee to Campbell County, Tennessee by 1840. They settled in the Sugar Hollow/Cedar Creek area of Campbell County and were very close neighbors of the Joseph Owsley family. The families of Joseph Owsley, Robert Owsley, Amy (Ann) Housley Gilmore and Elizabeth Housley Smith were definitely connected. One could almost assume Joseph, Robert, Amy, and Elizabeth were siblings.


Another item of importance is the birthplace of Joseph Owsley. In numerous census records, Joseph and his children gave Joseph's birthplace as Tennessee. From the census records, it is easy to conclude Joseph was born about 1790. This presents another problem, due to the fact Charity Hously (Owsley) was listed in census records as living in Wilkes County, North Carolina in 1790. Her husband, John Owsley, was away from home at the time the census was taken. Two females (of all ages) were listed in the family while four males (under the age of 16) were listed. The females would have been Charity and her daughter, Tabathia. The males would have been Charity's sons: John, Isaac, Stephen, and Matthew.




Early in 2003, three Owsley descendants submitted to DNA testing. One participant in the testing was a (five-generation) direct male descendant of Matthew Ousley. (NOTE: Matthew was definitely a son of John Owsley and Charity Barton.) The other two participants were (five-generation) direct male descendants of Joseph Owsley and Robert Owsley. The participants utilized the DNA Y-Chromosome 25-marker test with Family Tree DNA.


The results of the DNA testing revealed the 25 markers of the three participants were exactly the same. According to FamilyTreeDNA, the results indicated a 99.9% chance that all three participants share a common male Owsley ancestor and a 50% chance the ancestor was within seven generations. 


The results of the DNA testing strongly support other evidence, such as HBO's book, identifying Joseph Owsley and Robert Owsley as sons of John Owsley of Claiborne County, Tennessee.


Due to the presence of Robert Owsley in Claiborne County, Tennessee in the early years of his life, it certainly appears he was a son of John Owsley.


Due to the closeness of the families of Joseph Owsley and Robert Owsley with the families of Amy (Ann) Housley Gilmore and Elizabeth Housley Smith, one may consider the possibility Amy and Elizabeth were also children of John Owsley. One may also speculate that John Owsley was the father of these children (Joseph, Amy, Elizabeth, and Robert), but that Charity Barton may not have been their mother. John Owsley could have been fathering children with his wife, Charity Barton, in Claiborne County, while also fathering children with another woman in neighboring Grainger County. This was a common occurrence among families in those days. John Housley, son of Joseph Owsley and Phoebe Longmire, fathered children with his wife, Caroline Hinshaw, while also fathering children with two other women (Rebecca Chapman and Caroline Woods) during the same time period. Crawford Ousley, another son of Joseph Owsley and Phoebe Longmire, fathered children with his second and third wives (Melinda Cox and Catherine Cox) during the same time period. Could John Housley and Crawford Housley have learned this practice from their grandfather, John Owsley? Where was John Owsley in 1790, while his wife (Charity) and children were in Wilkes County, North Carolina? Was he with another woman (possibly Joseph's mother) in Tennessee? I believe we must consider these possibilities.


There appears to have been only two Owsley families living in Tennessee during the early years of the state. They were the families of John Owsley and his brother, Robert Housley (Owsley). Robert was married to Lydia Ann. Robert lived in Sullivan County in far northeast Tennessee from 1796 through 1821, according to tax lists and deeds. No records have been found to indicate a close relationship between the family of Robert Housley and the families of Joseph Owsley, Amy (Ann) Housley Gilmore, or Elizabeth Housley Smith.


Considering all evidence stated above, it is easy to determine Joseph Owsley and Robert Owsley were sons of John Owsley of Claiborne County, Tennessee. Also, there is a good probability Amy (Ann) Housley Gilmore and Elizabeth Housley Smith were John's daughters.




Mitochondrial DNA tests conducted in 2007 showed that Amy Housley (wife of Samuel Gilmore) and Elizabeth Housley (wife of Joseph Smith) were sisters. The tests also revealed that Amy and Elizabeth were not daughters of Charity Barton, wife of John Owsley. I still consider it a strong possibility that Amy and Elizabeth were daughters of John Owsley. I believe the mother of Amy and Elizabeth (along with their brothers, Joseph and Robert) was a lady who resided in Grainger County, Tennessee. John Owsley was fathering children with this lady, while also fathering children with his wife, Charity Barton. John and Charity lived in neighboring Claiborne County, Tennessee.


GENERATION #3: John Owsley and Charity Barton

GENERATION #4: Joseph Owsley and Phoebe Longmire