Jenny Wiley, Captive White Woman

Denise Smith has researched the story of Jenny Wiley, a white woman who was captured and held by the Shawnee Indians.  How long Jenny was held and what happened is a story that has many versions.  Denise tells the story, attempts to sort out the facts utilizing traditional genealogical research methods and shares her extremely indepth research in a series of articles on her website.  Thank you Denise.

Denise says:

The story of Jenny Sellards Wiley is one of great Appalachian lore. She was a pioneer woman who with her husband Thomas Wiley resided in Bland County, Virginia, was taken captive by American Indians in 1789 and taken to Kentucky. According to the story, several of her children and her brother were killed at the time. She then lost 2 more children while in captivity before she could escape.

There are even those that believe that Jenny Wiley had a Native American child by Black Wolf, when she returned from captivity.  This part of the story in the day of DNA testing would not be hard to prove or disprove. I would love for the descendants of Jenny Wiley to get their DNA tested for their common ancestor.

In the story of Jenny Wiley, the length of her captivity is going to play a role as to when this would have happened. Very few cite the true amount of time she was held captive.  In reality it was only a few months. In that short time period she had one baby and became pregnant again? If these two groups have a DNA test or begin a Thomas and Jenny Sellards Wiley DNA data bank, that could weed out the truth and also show how they are related.

Shifting now to the Cornstalk family website, we find the following:

Black Wolf fathered a child with Jenny Sellard Wiley, captive white woman. She reportedly gave their son to Black Wolf as ransom to return to the whites, then reported the Indians had tomahawked the child. That child is Chief John Black Wiley, Wiley’s Cove now Leslie, Arkansas.

There is a bit of confusion here.  If Jenny Sellard Wiley was referenced in a letter in 1790 as being released from captivity, her son cannot be Chief John Black Wiley, alive today.  He might well be her descendant.

Let’s look at the possibilities that DNA testing offers.

There are three kinds of DNA testing that apply.

The first, Y chromosome does not apply here because women don’t have or give a Y chromosome.

The second, mitochondrial DNA is given by women to all of their children, but only passed on my female children to their offspring.  So Jenny’s female children would be passing on her mitochondrial DNA, but a male child would not.  Unless a male or female in the current generation is descended from Jenny through all females between the current generation and Jenny, mitochondrial DNA will not be of use.  If a male or female in the current generation is descended through all females from Jenny, then DNA testing would tell us a haplogroup even with no one to compare to.  If there are others of Jenny’s descendants who carry her mitochondrial DNA, they can be compared against to see if the mitochondrial DNA matches.

Lastly, autosomal DNA could show common segments between Jenny’s known children and Chief John Black Wiley or other purported descendants through Black Wolf.  If these common segments don’t show through traditional means, utilizing and lowering the match threshold could be useful.  Also, the minority admixture mapping technique utilized in “The Autosomal Me” series can be utilized.

I agree with Denise, I’d love to see the life and times of Jenny Wiley confirmed, especially whether or not she had a child with Black Wolf.  I hope that the descendants will indeed proceed with DNA testing to verify the truth, whatever it is. It’s the least we can do for the memory of the captive white woman who lost so much.  Family Tree DNA offers both mitochondrial DNA testing and autosomal and it’s easy to download their raw data files after testing to utilize other tools.

Here is a link to all of Denise Smith’s Jenny Wiley research.

About robertajestes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
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11 Responses to Jenny Wiley, Captive White Woman

  1. Karen Marcum says:

    My husband’s direct line ancestor, Catherine Elizabeth Sellards, was the sister of Jenny Sellards Wiley. Catherine married John Borders. He was the one who warned Jenny that Indians were in the area but they invaded her cabin before she could go to her sister’s. Both sister’s later settled where I now live. It is not far from here to the place where Jenny crossed the river to safety with Mathias Harmon. My husband descends through Michael Borders, son of Catherine. So that knocks out the MtDNA for him. I can look around to see if I can find a female family who kept descending through females. Just let me know.

    • malissa lemley says:

      My name is Malissa Lemley. I recently had to do a genealogy project for college, and while researching my family line I found out that i am related to Mrs. Jenny on down the line. I am emailing you because i would love to know more about my family; who they are where they came from and so forth. I hope to hear from you soon, my email is

    • I think that would be very interesting. Perhaps the family would as well.

  2. Don Collins says:

    Very interesting post. My Collins line lived on Jenny’s Creek in Johnson Co. KY for a good number of years in the 1800’s, and on in to the 1900’s. In fact they lived there before it was Johnson Co. when it was Floyd Co. So I’m always glad to read about Jenny Wiley.
    Don Collins

  3. Denise Smith says:

    Thank YOU Roberta. I passed this post on to other Jenny Wiley researchers with the particulars on the DNA. I am so excited to renew the interest in the Jenny Wiley story. Her story, just like many others, has the ability to shine a light to give us a clearer picture on a very difficult time period in U.S. history. Especially if we use the tools we have available to us today to research the actual event ….and get the truth.

  4. Janis Comstock-Jones says:

    I hope people will take up your challenge. I’ve confirmed many wonderful things with my autosomal results. Jenny is in my family, but I can’t help: 1st great grand aunt of husband of 1st cousin 5x removed. She is linked through several of my ancestors who had similar experiences with the Natives. The most similar was the See family who were in captivity in Ohio for years. One of the daughters also had a child from this encounter.

  5. amy reel (green) says:

    I read the book when I was a teenage my aunt gave it to to read when I got to back of the book there was a list of decendents and my grandfathers name was there Clinton Green

  6. samantha Wiley says:

    I am not sure if I am what you are looking for but I am a descendent of jenny Wiley I am daughter of Richard Wiley granddaughter of Emory Wiley and I also have a brother and sister and we are from bland county Virginia if I could be of any help please let me know.

    • malissa lemley says:

      My name is Malissa Lemley. I recently had to do a genealogy project for college, and while researching my family line I found out that i am related to Mrs. Jenny on down the line. I am emailing you because i would love to know more about my family; who they are where they came from and so forth. I hope to hear from you soon,my email is

  7. Melissa Nester says:

    I have also found Jenny in my family tree. She is a 6th Great Grandmother. I can be reached at My father will be taking a DNA test to validate my findings. Any information would be more than welcome.

  8. Christina says:

    Just found her in my tree when I was doing search she is my 6th Great Grandmother still looking for more info

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