Timberlake, Mary Jane – Kentucky & Ohio

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Mary Jane Timberlake French on each end and her death certificate in center.

This is my 4th year participating in the A-Z Challenge.  I am writing about people who were born into slavery and  lived to be free and their descendants. Today I am going to write about Mary Jane Timberlake.  Note: ages given are what was reported on the census form that year. They aren’t always accurate or true.


Mary Jane Timberlake was born into slavery in 1825 in Boone County Kentucky.  Her parents were Adelia Yager and Anthony Parker, who were both owned by different slaveholders. While enslaved, Mary Jane was a house girl for the Timberlakes and later the Stevensons. Both the Timberlakes and the Stevensons were part of the same family and lived in the same house.

Mary Jane’s brother Gabriel Timberlake was born in 1828. He made a daring escape from slavery as part of  group in the spring of 1847. After many weeks of travel and a fight and a trial in Cassopolis, Michigan, between Kentucky slave catchers, the escaped slaves and local citizens, Gabriel ended up free in Essex Canada where he changed his name to John Johnson, farmed and raised a family. Some of his descendants still live there.  Click this link for more information 1847 Kentucky Raid. I chose to tell his sister Mary Jane’s less dramatic story.

Mary Jane married John French while still enslaved, in 1846. They lived on different plantations. When Gabriel escaped in 1847, Mary Jane, her husband and her mother stayed behind. When Mary Jane found out she was free after the Civil War, she was wary about leaving the life she knew with the Stevensons when she had no money. She overcame her fears and left Kentucky with her children and mother. I do not know what happened to her husband John.

In 1870 she lived in College Hill Ohio, a few houses from Margaret Lane Alley, who also left Kentucky for Ohio after freedom. Mary Jane was 41 years old, keeping house and unable to read or write. Her eight year old daughters, Emma and Ida were attending school. Six year old Albert was too young for school. Also living in the household was Agnes Gaines who was literate. Relationships are not given in the 1870 census and i do not know who Agnes Gaines was.

Mary Jane was able to visit her brother once in Canada, about 1871. She afterwards returned to Ohio.

By 1880, Adelia Yager, 76 years old, had joined her daughter Mary Jane in College Hill.  Two of her children, Emma and Albert were home. Ida was living away. Both Emma and Ida were in service. Albert was 16 and at home. Five year old nephew James Yaeger was living there too.  I noticed that there were two cases of consumption on that census page, one of them was Margaret Lane Alley’s 30 year old  brother Thomas. Right next door to the French household was a bedridden 17 year old laborer with consumption.  On the other side lived a 48 year old man bedridden with rheumatism.

In the 1900 census Mary Jane Timberlake French was 74 years old. She owned her own home free from mortgage. She said she had birthed three children and one was still living. A 62 year old woman identified as her daughter, Anna Warren, lived there. She worked as a washerwoman.  One year old Mary Warren lived with them.  Neither of the other women was literate.

In 1910 Mary Jane was 84 years old living in the same house. She stated that she had given birth to eight children and one was still alive. Her daughter Emma’s husband, Charles Morris is identified as the head of the home, which is owned free and clear. He worked as a houseman for a private family. Emma worked as a cook for a private family. Mary Warren who was one year old in the 1900 census, was eleven and attended school.  Both Charles and Emma were literate. Emma had borne no children.

Mary Jane Timberlake French died of a cerebral hemorrhage March 8th, 1917. She was buried two days later in Mt. Healthy Cemetery.  Her daughter Emma was the informant on the death certificate.


I found the information in Census records on ancestry.com and  her death certificate on familysearch.com. Special thanks Lisa Schumann for sharing her Power Point Presentation about Gabriel and Mary Jane Timberlake with me.

14 thoughts on “Timberlake, Mary Jane – Kentucky & Ohio”

  1. Too bad Gabriel felt compelled to give up a beautiful and dramatic name like Gabriel Timberlake for the lackluster John Johnson. I’m sure his story could make a good movie. While Mary Jane’s story is not full of intrigue, it’s a good one.

    1. Maybe he wanted to get rid of all reminders of slavery and he was free to chose his own name. I thought his story would make a good graphic novel or action comic but I didn’t have time to even try anything like that. Maybe if I start as soon as this challenge is over, I could have it ready for next year.

    1. On the positive side – they were able to keep in touch and 30 years later did not have to write ads in newspapers to find them. I wonder if Gabriel did write back later to let them know where he ended up and that was how they knew.

  2. This is a great presentation. Love your blog…easy to read and navigate, uncluttered, unlike so many others. I am now following. Blog hopping from North Carolina during the #Challenge. I started WAY down the participant list figuring they wouldn’t get as much traffic. I look forward to catching up with your posts. I have been writing about hotels and inns, come and have TEA on the letter T day if you have time or interest.

    1. I chose a theme that would give me an uncluttered look, glad you like it. I will stop by for tea, and today is T day so I’ll be over in a sec.

  3. Hi Kristin…I am returning your visit to my Letter ‘S’ post, ‘Sunbonnet Sue’. You mentioned your mother made a Sue quilt for your son…just wanted to let you know the boy was called, ‘Overall Bill’. I so enjoyed reading about Mary Jane Timberlake. I have a family tree on ancestry.com and am amazed at how much information one can glean from the Census. You certainly created a well written and interesting life story for Mary Jane. She was a woman of strength and character. Thanks for visiting.

    1. I went back and looked at the censuses and it looks like the “3” in the 1900 census could have been put over an erased “8”. The 8 in the 1910 census is crisp and clear so maybe the first enumerator did get confused.

  4. Wow, hard to know what comment to make when you have so many genealogy pros visiting your site. So impressed by your sleuthing skills. Just one question: that 62-year old “daughter” who was living with her when she was 74: surely she wasn’t her biological daughter? There was no mention of her earlier.
    Oh, another thought: trying to imagine her trip to Canada to visit her brother, after all those years. Nice to know that she had the means to do that. What a lot of ground she covered in her lifetime!

    1. Something was wrong with that entry. She might have been an older daughter, if she had 8 children. but then the age would have been wrong because I don’t believe she had a child when she was only 12 herself. A mystery that will probably never be solved. At least not by me.

      She could have caught a train to Canada, I think. An easier trip than her brother made years before. A lot of ground covered for sure.

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