Elvis Presley Family History : 1669-1935

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Johannes Valentin Bressler, the founder of the Presley family in America, was born in the Palatinate, Germany, 1669 in the village of Hochstadt (where the Preslar family was first mentioned in 1494); Valentine was employed there as a vine dresser; he married Anna Christiana Franse (Born Germany 1674) and immigrated to New York in 1710; In the early generations of the family, in America, the German surnames were often turned into English (in parenthesis); Preslar (Johannes was shortened to Johann and then John). After the mid-1800s many members of the family changed their last name to Pressley or Pressly.

This continued down Elvis Presleys ‘line’ to his grandfather Jessie D. McDowell Pressley (J. D. ). In June of 1710, approx. 2,400 Germans (Palatinate) arrived in New York and New Jersey from England. Johannes Bressler and family had left Germany looking for a better life in America. They arrived in London between May and November of 1709. On 14 June 1710 among those arriving on the ship ‘Fame’, (Captain Walter Houxton), were the following: Johann Valentin Bressler, 41, his wife, Anna Christiana, 36, and children; Anna Elisabetha, 14, Anna Gertrud, 12, Andreas, 6, Antoni, 4, and (son) 1-1/2.

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Andreas Preslar was born in Germany in 1704 and died 1759 in Anson, North Carolina, USA. He was to marry Antje (Anna) Wells of Staten Island, New York, in 1727, they moved through New York through PA to Maryland and then to Anson Co. NC. Antje Wills was born 1697 in Southold, Suffolk, New York, USA and died 1765 in Anson, North Carolina, USA. (Some sources list Andreas (Andrew) Preslars year of bith as 1701) There were two sets of Preslars living in Anson County, NC, they were not only the children of Andreas and Antje (Anna) Wells, but of Hans Jurie Preslar, (1713-1777) brother of Andreas.

It appears that the descendants of Hans Jurie kept the ‘Preslar’ surname while the descendants of Andreas seem to have shifted over to Pressley and Presley, perhaps to differentiate between the two families. Andreas (Andrew) and Antje (Anna) Preslar had five children born and baptized in St. Stephen’s Parish, Cecil County, MD; Christian Preslar b. 1725, John Valentine Preslar b. 1726, Sarah Preslar b. 1728, Thomas Preslar b. 1730 and Andrew Preslar, Jr younger brother of Thomas, was born 1732. Andrew Preslar Jr’s children, were: Charles, John, Andrew III, Peter, and Joseph.

John, born in Rowan County, NC in 1748, served in the American Revolutionary War for his brother, Peter, born in 1756. After the war, John relocated to Monroe County, TN, where he filed for a pension and received it beginning 1833. John was in Monroe County, TN, at the same time as Dunning Presley and Dunning, Jr. who was born in Monroe in 1827. However, John, it was said, moved there to be close to his children. Charles Presley also served in the American Revolution along with his wife, Polly Keziah. (Hereafter referred to as Presley). John Presley, son of Andrew, Jr. s the father of Dunning (Dunnan) Presley.

Dunning, Sr. is listed by himself on the 1810 Buncombe County Census, and on the 1820 census record for Buncombe County, NC, along with John Presley. It is now believed that John Presley may have been married to a Casiah/Keziah, daughter of Dunning Casiah, the neighbour of Andrew Prestley, and whose other daughter, Mary Polly Keziah, married Andrew’s eldest son, Charles. John’s son, Dunning John Presley, providing that his mother was a Casiah, would have been, in Tuscarora tradition, named for the maternal grandfather, in this case, DUNNING Casiah.

Interesting to note here are the census records and applications for Rev. War pensions that show us Andrew Presley/Priestly with Charles, John, and Anthony, and Andrew III, born in 1754, also a son of Andrew, Jr. , also had a son named John, both of who also moved to TN. Both Andrew Presley and his brother John were given Bounty-Land Warrants which is why they moved to SC and TN from NC. We have Charles Presley/Priestley who served of his own accord but also stepped in to serve in the stead of both Andrew and John, his brothers.

John had recalled in his pension that he had served in the stead of his brother, Peter. Dunning (Dunnan) Presley, Sr. was born 1780 in Lancaster County, South Carolina, and died at age 70 in 1850 in Polk County, Tennessee. He married (1) Mary. He married (2) Catherine on Abt. 1808 in Lancaster County, South Carolina. Dunning Presley Jr was born on July 1, 1827 in Monroe County, Tennessee. Dunning Jr was the son of John Presley, grandson of Dunning Presley Sr. and great grandson of Andrew (Andreas) Preslar, the first immigrant of the family to America.

On November 1, 1847 at the age of 20 he enlisted at Knoxville as a private in Captain Jno. C. Vaughn’s Company C of the 5th Regiment of Tennessee Volunteers. His regiment served in the War with Mexico, and between February and April of 1848 he was in San Juan, Mexico, and in May 1848 he was at National Bridge, Mexico. In Vera Cruz, he contracted a severe gastrointestinal disease which remained with him throughout his life. Dunning serves nobly and on July 2, 1848 he is back on ship for home where he is discharged from service on July 20, 1848 in Memphis, TN.

On November 7th he was issued a warrant for 160 acres of land based on his army service. It was sent to him in care of Rufus Smith in Madisonville, Tennessee – Read the Elvis Presley Family Lineage 1669-2008 Dunning returned home to his wife and eldest daughter whom he had left in Tennessee. He had married Elizabeth in 1845 in North Carolina or Tennessee and to this union were finally born five children: Elvira E. in 1846, Elizabeth in 1848, Joshua in 1851, Dunning (III) in 1852, and Nancy Jane in 1854. In 1860, Dunning Presley’s life is touched by despair when his beloved, Elizabeth, died.

Left with five children , the oldest fifteen, the youngest six, Dunning leaves them in the care of relatives and sets out to claim land from his grant. He had heard that land in Mississippi was fairly cheap and so he headed into northern MS. While in MS, Dunning meets a young lady, Martha Jane Wesson several years his junior, whom he marries on August 15, 1861. His first wife is gone over a year and Dunning is in need of companionship. The joy of their marriage is overshadowed by a new and different war which began in April of 1861.

Martha Jane Wesson, the daughter of Edward Wesson and Emily Ferguson of Itawamba County, MS, , is young and vibrant, and ready for marriage and motherhood. In February of 1862, the couples first child, Rosella Elizabeth Presley, is born. As in his first marriage, he soon went off to war again. The 1900 US Federal Census for Itawamba, Mississippi states that Rosella’s middle Initial was M. She is listed with several of her children. However other sources list it as Elizabeth. Suffering still from his colon malady, Dunning was 37 years old during the War of Northern Aggression.

He had already served in a previous war and was still adjusting from the effects of that service when he chose to enlist again. On May 11, 1863 he enlisted at Grenada, Mississippi, in Company E, Hamm’s Regiment, Mississippi Cavalry. Perhaps, like many other Civil War soldiers, he was concerned about his family back home and temporarily deserted in order to investigate their circumstances, because from January 18 to June 30, 1864 he was listed as deserted and absent without leave. Martha Jane gives birth to the couple’s second daughter, Mary Jane ‘Rosalinda’ Presley in 1864.

Dunning goes back to his unit in 1864, probably after Rosalinda’s birth. He returned to his unit for the final roll call and stays there until the end of the war, 1865. (Some sources list Mary Jane ‘Rosalinda’ Presleys birth as 1865. ) After Dunning’s return there are problems in the household. On a Sunday while Martha Jane and his daughters attend Mass, Dunning walks away from that family, never to see them again. We are told that he had gone back to TN and assume it was to check on his family there. Reports vary, (It has been over 100 years) .

Martha Jane married William Steele between 1866 and 1867. She died in 1868, during childbirth. The two daughters of Dunnan and Martha Jane, named Rosella (Elvis’ great-grandmother) and Mary Jane, found themselves being reared by their maternal grandmother, Millie Wesson. Though neither daughter was educated or ever married, they reared thirteen children – who all took the Presley name. The 1880 Federal census for Independance Arkansas states that Dunnan Presley Jr’s last name was in fact Presley. Dunning Presley applied for a service pension from the Mexican War from his residence in Washburn Twp.

Barry County, MO, in the late 1880’s which he received and was awarded the sum of $8. 00 monthly. Dunning died soon after, on March 10, 1900 in Mississippi, at 73 years of age. Elvis’ paternal line continued through Rosella’s son, Jessie D. McDowell (J. D. ) Presley (1896-1973), (Elvis’ grandfather) who was born on April 9, 1896 in Itawamba County, Mississippi, to Rosella Presley, unmarried, and John Wallace (Elvis’ great-grandfather). Though the rightful (traditional) surname should have been Wallace, Rosella gave her children her own name, her maiden name of Presley. Pressley) As did Martha.

Rosella bore nine illegitimate children, never once identifying to her children who their fathers were. Rosella stubbornly, and resourcefully, supported them through sharecropping. Mrs. Doshia Steele, one of Rosella’s daughters, said this of her plight. ‘I can’t remember anyone ever talking about who our father was … It was a big mystery when we were children. My mother just didn’t talk about it’. Rosella, internalised the abandonment and re-enacted it throughout her life. Beginning at age nineteen and continuing over 28 years.

One can imagine that without a father figure (Jessie was effectively abandoned by his father, the result could potentially be a troubled child and that Jessie Presley re-enacted his fathers ‘abandonment’ by making weak bonds with his own children. And thus Vernon after him! His brother, Calhoun Presley, had this to say about J. D. ‘For most of his life Jessie drifted from one job to another all over Mississippi, Kentucky, and Missouri. He was a sharecropper in the summer and a lumberjack in the winter. Jessie worked hard and played hard. He was an honest man, but he enjoyed drinking whiskey and was often involved in drunken bar brawls.

JD was a slim, handsome man about six feet tall with raven black hair. He was also a dapper dresser. Clothes were one of the most important things in his life. People used to call him ‘the lawyer’ because he dressed so smart. He loved fine clothes. His favourite suit was a tailor-made brown one with pearl buttons. He saved up for months to buy it. Twenty-four dollars. ‘He paraded around town like a peacock, with his head in the air and a cane in his hand. Owning expensive clothes was his only ambition in life. He hated poverty and he didn’t want to people to know he was poor.

He felt that if he wore a tailor-made suit, people would look up to him’. If I could be you, if you could be me For just one hour, if we could find a way To get inside each other’s mind If you could see you through my eyes Instead your own ego I believe you’d be I believe you’d be surprised to see That you’ve been blind Walk a mile in my shoes just walk a mile in my shoes Before you abuse, criticize and accuse Then walk a mile in my shoes On July 20, 1913 J. D. Pressley married Minnie Mae Hood. Jessie served in the U. S. Army (Stateside) during World War I.

On April 10, 1916 in Fulton, Mississippi their first child was born, Vernon Presley (1916-1978), Elvis Presley’s father. It was toward Vernon that much of Jessie’s abandoning was directed. Vernon was scared of J. D. , any transgression of his father’s rules could provoke a beating. This, combined with Jessie’s drunken and philandering ways, caused permanent harm to their relationship. In many respects it was as if Vernon had no father as Jessie repeated his own fathers abandonment on his children. This theme of father abandonment reverberates throughout Elvis’ paternal lineage.

It is a strong clue to the ‘abandonment’ that Elvis felt, and perpetrated, in his own life. Jessie fathered five children during his marriage to Minnie Mae; Vester, Vernon, Delta Mae, Nashville (Nash) and Lorene. Around 1945/6, J. D. suddenly took off again. This time for good. He left Tupelo, working his way northwards, ending up in Kentucky where he later became a night watchman at a Pepsi Cola plant in Louisville. In 1946, claiming Minnie Mae had deserted him, Jessie Presley filed for divorce. Fighting back, Minnie Mae, who Elvis hung the nickname ‘Dodger’ on, claimed, ‘I didn’t desert my husband.

He deserted me and has been living with another woman. He hasn’t sent me any money in over a year. I am not able to make a living’, the judge listened to both sides, then granted Jessie the divorce. No alimony for Minnie Mae. The divorce was finalised on August 3, 1954 in Lee County, Mississippi. J. D then married Vera (Kinnaird) Leftwich. Minnie Mae never remarried. She moved in with her son and daughter-in-law at their Berry Street home. Later, she would live in the Graceland mansion until her death in 1980.

Read more about Jessie D. McDowell (J. D. ) Presley Including audio of two songs he recorded) Elvis’ maternal heritage through to his mother, Gladys Elvis’ great-great-great-grandmother, Morning White Dove (1800-1835), was a full-blooded Cherokee Indian. She married William Mansell, a settler in western Tennessee, in 1818. William’s father, Richard Mansell, had been a soldier in the Revolutionary War. Mansell is a French name–its literal translation is the man from Le Mans. The Mansells migrated from Norman France to Scotland, and then later to Ireland. In the 18th century the family came to the American Colonies.

The appellation ‘white’ in Morning Dove’s name refers to her status as a friendly Indian. Early American settlers called peaceable Indians ‘white’, while ‘red’ was the designation for warring Indians or those who sided with the British in the Revolutionary War. It was common for male settlers in the West to marry ‘white’ Indians as there was a scarcity of females on the American frontier. Like many young men in the American Southwest, William Mansell fought with Andrew Jackson in the Indian Wars of the early nineteenth century. He fought with Old Hickory in Alabama, at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, and later in Florida too.

Returning to Tennessee from the Indian Wars, William Mansell married Morning White Dove. Elaine Dundy says of the marriage, William Mansell gained ‘age-old Indian knowledge of the American terrain; of forests and parries; of crops and game; of protection against the climate; of medicine lore, healing plants as well as something in which the Indians were expert–the setting of broken bones’. Moreover, added to Elvis’ lineage were Morning White Dove’s ruddy Indian complexion and fine line of cheek. Like many other settlers, the newlyweds migrated to Alabama from Tennessee to claim lands garnered in the Indian Wars.

The Mansells settled in Marion County in northeast Alabama near the Mississippi border. Morning White Dove and William Mansell prospered in Alabama. Their land was fertile and they built a substantial house near the town of Hamilton. They had three offspring, the eldest of who was John Mansell, born in 1828, and Elvis’ great-great grandfather. John Mansell squandered the legacy of the family farm. In 1880 he abdicated to Oxford, Mississippi, changing his name to Colonel Lee Mansell. His sons left Hamilton to seek their fortunes in the town of Saltillo, Mississippi, near Tupelo, the birth place of Elvis Presley.

The third of John Mansell’s sons, White Mansell, became the patriarch of the family with John Mansell’s removal to Oxford. White Mansell was Elvis’ great-grandfather. White Mansell married Martha Tackett, a neighbour in Saltillo. Of note is the religion, Jewish, of Martha’s mother, Nancy Tackett. It was unusual to find a Jewish settler in Mississippi during this time. All accounts point to White Mansell as a hard-working, upright, provider for a clan increasingly besieged by economic factors beyond their control. The Civil War fractured the Southern economy and soul.

Cotton, the backbone of the South, was subject to financial depressions such as the Panic of 1890. After the devastation of Civil War, like many other Southern families, the Mansells were stretched to the breaking point. They sold their lands and became sharecroppers. The prosperity of the South, along with the fortunes of the family, had plummeted. However the life of a sharecropper was not unremittingly grim. They had music and dancing and the comfort of religion. Tenant farmers, sharecroppers, were often invited to the owner’s house on Saturday nights for square dancing and parties.

Sundays there were picnics on the ground after church. Although there was little hope of escaping poverty, it was a life of community with some gayety. Enter now Doll Mansell (1876-1935), Gladys Presley’s mother and Elvis’ grandmother, of whom Elaine Dundy had this to say. ‘And the gayest of all the girls at these gatherings, the acknowledged beauty, was the slim, exquisite, tubercular, porcelain-featured, spoiled third daughter of White Mansell … Doll’. She was a delicate beauty and the apple of her father’s eye. She did not marry until 27, and then to her first cousin, Robert Smith.

Gladys Presley’s Parents – Bob and Doll Smith – Day of Wedding September 19, 1903 Bob Smith (1873-1931) was the son of White Mansell’s sister, Ann. Ann Mansell was a striking woman of dignity and stature, a commanding presence until her death at eighty-six. Bob Smith and Doll Mansell, Elvis Presley’s maternal grandparents, were first cousins. This was a genetic intensification, a doubling, of the family lineage. The marrying of first cousins, with its intensities and possibility for dysfunction, was common in insulated communities of the agrarian South.

Like Doll, Bob Smith was very handsome, his Indian blood evidenced in a noble brow, good bone structure, even features and dark, deep-set eyes. His black hair was dark as coal. Doll would be bedridden from tuberculosis throughout the marriage. Like his uncle and father-in-law, White Mansell, Bob Smith laboured long and hard as a sharecropper, and occasional moonshiner, to support his invalid wife and eight children. The noose of poverty tightened on the family, and on Elvis’ mother, Gladys Love Smith (1912-1958) who was born on April 25, 1912.

In 1931, when Gladys was 19 her father Bob Smith died. It was completely sudden and unexpected. Everyone had expected the sick ‘Doll’ to die first. As was his request he was buried in an unmarked grave. So Gladys did not have a strong role model in a mother, and Vernon did not have a strong bond with his father. Both these facts would impact heavily on Elvis Presleys life. Vernon and Gladys Presley Vernon & Gladys Presley Vernon was but seventeen when he married Gladys Love Smith, four years his elder, in 1933. Like his relatives before him, Vernon worked at any odd job that came along.

For a while, he and Vester, his older brother, farmed together, raising cotton, com, soybeans and a few hogs. Later, he took a job with the WPA, a federal government make – work program during the Depression. Next, he drove a delivery truck for McCarty’s, a Tupelo wholesale grocer, delivering grocery items to stores throughout northeast Mississippi. These, then, were the Presley genes, passed along from generation to generation, some of which undoubtedly were inherited by the infant born in that two-room house in the hills of East Tupelo.

Gladys sister Clettes married Vester, Veron’s older brother. Thus, two brothers married two sisters. Few know it, but in the beginning, their roles were reversed. Vester started out dating Gladys. Vernon, eighteen months younger, originally dated Clettes, ‘Yeah’, recalls Vester, ‘I dated Gladys a few times and Vernon dated Clettes. Gladys didn’t like my attitude much. As I have always told you, I was too wild, in those days. So, Gladys quit seeing me and we quit seeing the Smith girls for awhile. Then, Vernon started dating Gladys and soon there was only one object of his affection – Gladys.

June 17, 1933, Gladys Smith and Vernon Presley eloped and were married in the County of Pontotoc, where Vernon was not known, both lying about their ages. Vernon gave his age as 22, Gladys 19. While Gladys was of legal age Vernon was not at age 17. Gladys would hide her real age for much of her life. In her book, Elvis and Gladys, Elaine Dundy says ‘Impetuosity and impulsiveness played a large part in Gladys make up. She knew nothing of half measures, nor was there anything half-heated or self-protective about her’. Elvis would inherit from Gladys his unpredictable impulses. About the end of June 1934, Gladys knew she was pregnant.

Some time around her fifth month she was sure she was having twins – she was unusually large, could feel two babies kicking and had a family history of twins on both sides of the family. Gladys was earning $2 a day at the Tupelo Garment Company, while Vernon worked at various odd jobs, including one on the dairy farm of Orville S. Bean. With $180 that he borrowed from Bean after Gladys became pregnant in the spring of 1934, Vernon set about constructing a family home, and he and Gladys moved in that December.

Elvis’ birthplace was built by his father, Vernon, with help from Vernon’s brother Vester and father, Jessie, hose relatively ‘spacious’ four-room house sat next door. Located above a highway that transported locals between Tupelo and Birmingham, Alabama, and nestled among a group of small, rough-hewn homes along Old Saltillo Road.

The house had no electricity (It was connected but it was not used due to the cost) or indoor plumbing, and was similar to housing constructed for mill villages around that time. Read more about Vernon and Gladys Presley (Including audio of the one Vernon recorded) Elvis Presley Gladys, Elvis & Vernon January 8, 1935, not long before dawn, Elvis Aaron Presley was born.

Gladys delivered a second son earlier that morning, a stillborn identical twin named Jesse Garon. Elvis would be their only child. After the birth Gladys was close to death and both her and Elvis were taken to Tupelo Hospital. After Gladys and Elvis returned home, it was noticed by family members and friends that she was overprotective of her new born son. Paranoid that something bad would happen to him. Gladys’ mother, ‘Doll’ Smith died in 1935 and was buried next to her husband Bob Smith, again in an unmarked grave. So like Elvis, Gladys lost her mother at a young age. Gladys was 23, Elvis 22.

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