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 four 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.

If you’d like to take a DNA test, click here.


About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
This entry was posted in Shawnee. Bookmark the permalink.

56 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.

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

    • 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

      • Phillip Marcum says:

        My father has a copy of Jenny Wileys genealogy.
        Her family tree was researched & put to print yrs ago.
        If you would like a copy , feel free to contact me @
        My grandmother was a Williamson & my Great Grandmother was a Wiley

    • widow78 says:

      Her great great grandson. Is not happy with the lies about her life. He will be doing a true story book, and DNA to end all theories. Including this one in this story.

  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

    • sherry branscum says:

      I believe she was my 6th great grandma as well. I just had my DNA done by I am just now finding this email. If you will email me back I will share my account with you and you can take a look at what I have. We might be cousins.

      Sherry Branscum
      Timbo AR 72680

  9. Cheryl Prichard says:

    Hi Denise, my name is Cheryl Bayes Prichard. Jenny Wiley is my 5th great grandmother. I’ve always been interested in her and the history behind her captivity. I’m very honored to be related to her.

  10. widow78 says:

    I know Jenni great great grandson. None of what’s listed here is the truth. She was held captive for eleven months. No one fathered a child w her. Lmao. No one knows the true story. Your mixing up the fact she was 50 percent Cherokee Indian with she fathered a child w an Indian. In order to research properly, contact her family.

  11. widow78 says:

    The truth will be told very, very soon. DNA will be done. To prove she is Cherokee, it was hidden for a reason. As far as fathering another child. I’m possible. Mary was her next born. That wasn’t until after captivity. This postersstory makes no sense . How can she bare an Indian child in a few months. She returned alone. And not pregnate.

    • Denise Smith says:

      Exactly, it makes no sense. With 20 different versions of a true event, it makes no sense that more viable research has never been discovered to tell this amazing woman’s true story of what actually happened. Connelly’s version, which was the benchmark to tell the story has been questionable since he didn’t even know how short a time she had actually been in captivity, waited 30 years to write it, after his source passed away (her son) and he clearly made up a lot of her journey. Unless someone can find the actual ‘deposition” she is reported in the records to have given (and Connelly said he also used) to tell the story. No one that I know of to date has found the actual deposition she gave authorities when she returned. Part of the Captivity Narratives problem was that they sensationalized and fudged a quite a bit on facts of what happened. What if the child she supposedly had while she was held captive was not killed but was actually left with the captors? That might be one scenario. That’s why I’m appealing to all to comb all the records and use whatever methods we have available today to tell the true story of Jenny Wiley.

      • widow78 says:

        Information from the family is slowly coming in They had me very confussed. But, they do claim Mary Jane belonged to Chief Benge. They are in the process of confirming this. They have a photo of Mary Jane and several grand daughters born of her. They also have a book about six inches thick. They are very upset over the many stories. I don’t blame them. Benge is their descendent and they confirm this. 100 percent. Their DNA will shake history. As benge blood runs in their family. They are definitely Cherokee there is no way around it. They not only look it, they know it. Very very confussing tale. But the story on the dog. Her dog that followed. Never lived. Wait until the history books find out why.

      • widow78 says:

        Hang in there. The family knows the entire story. It’s close to what’s being told. But missing great detail. Big time. But Mary Jane was born in June. Exactly ten months from the time she was freed. Until her birth. Mary Jane story was hidden. There’s a distinct reason why the family never told. The truth will floor historians.

    • Kate W says:

      I’m a double direct descendant of Jenny. I’ve been researching for several years, and also have her story handed down by my great grandmother (Jenny’s great granddaughter through Mary Jane). Very little above matches my family story of Jenny’s ordeal. I’ve also corresponded with the Benge family of the Cherokee Nation, and I have seen a report of an mtDNA result from a direct descendant of Jenny’s from an unbroken female line. I would very much like to correspond with the gentleman to which you refer in this thread. Please let me know how I might get in touch with him.

      • Jen L says:

        This is an old thread, but I would just like to comment for Kate W and others. I am a direct female descendant of Jenny Sellands Wiley and Mary Jane Wiley. I have had my own mitochondrial DNA test – it’s all European, no Native American. So to that extent, it seems like an unlikely story to me. However, in this case I don’t believe that Native American DNA would appear in the mitochondrial DNA (of a female child of Jenny’s). There needs to be one of those ethnicity tests, which can be unreliable, and/or a Y DNA test of decedents of her male children. Personally, I believe that the Native American ancestry is a myth in this case, a “romanticization” of a historical tale with many versions.

      • Anyone who descends from a female through all female children, to the current generation, will carry her mitochondrial DNA. In the current generation, the tester can be a male, because women contribute their mitochondrial DNA to all children, but only females pass it on. Male children will pass on their father’s Y DNA. In both cases, the haplogroup will either rule in or rule out Native ancestry, but only on that direct line.

  12. Ada Wiley. says:

    My husband, Richard Thomas Wiley , father John Wiley , born Kentucky , originally South Carolina is supposed to be a descendant of Jenny Wiley , and yes , my husband is of Indian descent. He has traced his great,great,great. Grandfather ( Samuel) back to 1814. It would be interesting to trace back further.

    • kimwileysmith2 says:

      My sister tested on Ancestry and it says she is related by DNA matches to a John Quincy Wiley and a Chief John Black Wiley both born in 1789 or 1780. John Quincy Wiley is my GGG grandfather and Chief John Black Wiley probably a 1/2 2nd great uncle. Ancestry also shows that Chief John Black Wiley is the son of Black Wolf Cornstalk also known as “Moytoy.” I’m not 100 certain on the reliability though. My grandfather is the great grandson of John Q. Wiley and I believe Thomas was his father. But I think that Jenny may have left a son when she escaped based on what is showing up on our Ancestry or had a son after captivity that was fathered by Cornstalk. I would love to find out more information.

  13. I am the seventh great granddaughter of Jenny Sellards Wiley. I have a complete gedcom and have undergone autosomal dna testing. If you would like more information, please contact me (and yes, I have some native american dna as does my sister).

    GEDCOM Pedigree Chart
    Tammy (me) b. 30 SEP 1968, Charleston, West Virginia
    | George Washington Muncy, b. 28 MAR 1878
    | /
    | James Muncy, d. WVA
    | / \
    | | | Rece Messer, b. ABT 1865
    | | \ /
    | | Evaline Messer, b. 8 AUG 1881
    | | \
    | | | /Jennings/ Jennings
    | | \ /
    | | Mary Jennings, b. ABT 1874
    | | \
    | | //
    \ /
    Joanna Muncy, b. 12 SEP 1940, d. LIVING
    | Thomas Wiley, b. ABT 1741, d. 1810
    | /
    | Hezekiah Wiley, b. 1798, d. BEF 1850
    | / \
    | | Jean “Jenny” SELLARDS, b. 1760, d. 1831
    | /
    | William Wiley, b. 22 JAN 1821
    | / \
    | | | Emanuel Nelson, b. 1767, Snow Creek, Stokes, North Carolina, , d. 21 MAY 1866, Louisa, Lawrence, Kentucky, USA
    | | \ /
    | | Lucrecia Nelson, b. 1798
    | | \
    | | Frances “Fanny” Smith, b. 1770, Amhurst, Virginia, USA, d. 1848, Lawrence, Kentucky, USA
    | /
    | Winchester Wiley, b. 16 OCT 1848, d. 25 MAR 1918
    | / \
    | | Roxyanna “Roxy Ann” Adkins, b. 1827, d. 18 FEB 1873
    | /
    | John Henry Wiley, b. 21 MAY 1879, d. 3 OCT 1898
    | / \
    | | | Henry Queen
    | | \ /
    | | Sarah Queen, b. 1851
    | | \
    | | “M”
    \ /
    Parlie Wiley, b. SEP 1912
    | Aleck Browning
    \ /
    Emma Browning Wiley, b. 29 AUG 1892, d. 29 DEC 1948
    Margaret Mullens

    • kimwileysmith2 says:

      Tammy, how do I contact you? Can I get your email address?

      • sherry branscum says:

        I believe my 6th great grandmother was Jenny Wiley. I also had my DNA run by ancestry and all Western Europe, Ireland and Scotland. But according to my tree it goes to her. It may be that long ago there may be nothing shows up in DNA. Please email me at if we can share information.

        Sherry Branscum
        PO Box 44
        Timbo ARkansas 72680

  14. Phillip Marcum says:

    I am a direct descendant of Jenny Wiley.
    My grandmother was a Wiley.
    A geneaology was compiled by Joe Alley & copies sent to my grandmothers children, one being my father.
    She is my Great Grandmother x5.
    Growing up I heard several versions of Jenny Wiley’s capture & ultimate escape. Including the story of giving birth to a baby fathered by the cheif of that village.
    It was believed she left the baby & escaped. Not until recently did I hear she traded the baby for her freedom. If you understand the Indian culture of that time, that would have been highly unlikely. And if the current Cheif believes he is a direct descendant, DNA testing can prove or disprove that belief. Descendant still survive the Wiley & Sellers name.

  15. Darrell Browning says:

    Jenny Wiley Sellards was my gggg grandmother and Jane was my ggg grandmother. Janes son Wiley williamson was my gg grandfather whose daughter was Polly williamson.polly was my Great grandmother. Polly had a son named Robert E Lee Browning who was my grandfather and my dads father. We have always been told we have native American in our bloodline. Many confusing sides because I have been told mingo, shawnee and even Cherokee. I will probably never know

  16. My husband is Vashti Wiley great great grandson, will help in anyway.

  17. Brenda Perry says:

    I love this article!! Has anyone in genetic genealogy taken up this project since this was written?

  18. Vance Wiley says:

    Two descendants of Jenny Sellards Wiley and her husband,Thomas Wiley, have tested their DNA at FTDNA. The female tested autosomal Family Finder, and the male (her cousin) tested for Y-DNA. They are members of the Wiley Surname Project on FTDNA.
    Perhaps this will advance the level of understanding on this issue.
    Of course this will not confirm the issue of possible NA – that would require testing of a descendant of the possible NA connection.

    • sherry branscum says:

      I believe Jenny was my 6th great grandmother. I recently had my DNA tested on I was All western Europe, Ireland and Scotland. If you have an account with we can compare the two.

  19. Nancy L. Jarosik says:

    My name is Nancy L. Smith Hand Jarosik. My DNA line is Hezekiah Sellards. Jenny and Thomas Wiley, Mary Jane Wiley Williamson, Amy EmmaDora Williamson Smith Richard Smith Owen Smith Robert L Smith and myself and brother. No Indian blood showed up.

  20. Christina Thompson says:

    Hello I was hoping maybe someone could help me I bought this picture at a auction i done so much research i still not sure who could have drew this if anyone could help that would be so grateful we’ll if you can email me at i have picture the artist says Roy g sixkiller 83 by chief J.A.W thank you

  21. Craig Booth says:

    I’ve always been told that the child that Jenny had was Jane who was born in ca. April 1791 six months after Jenny’s escape in October 1790; descendants of Jane also claim this

  22. Maureen Baisden says:

    I’m a direct descent of Jenny Wiley. I’m needing the birth, death and/or marriage license for Wiley Williamson the son of Richard and Mary Jane “Little Jenny” Wiley. I am so close to becoming a member of DAR but must cross this hurdle to link these two. Any info you can help me with is greatly appreciated. Maureen Baisden

    • got2bjb says:

      I have his Marriage license for Wiley Williamson. Not sure if this is the exact person that your referring to? But, here is what I have

      Wiley Williamson
      Event Type:
      Event Date:
      15 Sep 1853
      Event Place:
      Randolph, North Carolina, United States
      Spouse’s Name:
      Susanah Moffitt
      Spouse’s Gender:

      • Maureen Baisden says:

        He was married to a Lettie (Cook) Williamson. Does it say who he married? He was born in VA. I’m not sure this is the one I’m looking for but thank you so much for your quick response.

      • got2bjb says:

        Crazy how we both have different names. if you look at the Find a grave memorial there is actual pictures of the tombstones. Different woman as well. born in Virginia. I know that he did in Virginia. Let me do some more digging

      • Keep in mind that many memorials are created with the best intentions, but aren’t accurate.

    • got2bjb says:

      There is also a find a grave memorial for him as well MEMORIAL ID 13161958

    • got2bjb says:

      . Go to family search website and filter your resultsI See that he was in the 1812 War North Carolina 1812-1815 Go to the family search and filter your results you will be able to get the document for your DAR

  23. Maureen Baisden says:

    Would anyone have a marriage license for Richard and Mary Jane WIley AND Thomas Wiley and Virginia Jean “Jenny” Sellards?

  24. Nancy L. Smith Jsrosik says:

    I am a direct dependent from Jenny Wiley. Theough her daughter Mary Jane Wiley Williamson. My brother and two cousins took our DNA. There is no Indian. Jane was her first child after she returned. Also the only I.D. on an Indian that kidnapped her was called Red Shirt. No other names comes up. We have an association site online. No other direct line comes up with Indian. I did my DNA with Ancestry.

  25. I am a 3 G-Grandaughter of Thomas Wiley and (Virginia ? – yet to see proof of this) Jean “Jenny” Sellards.
    Marilyn Wiley Howard (me) > Clyde Everett Wiley/Dorothy Jean McClure > Edward Seymour Wiley/Fanny Hester Alley > Moses Wiley/Sarah Ann Riggs > Hezekiah Wiley/Lucretia Nelson > Thomas Wiley and Jean “Jenny” Sellards.
    I’ve been researching my genealogy (all lines) since 1972. My father died when I was 5 years old. Those left (his mother and my mother) seemed not to have any clear information about where he was born, nor any leads on his lineage. His mother had lost all of her children and husband to Tuberculosis and Undulent Fever, contracted from milk from Mrs. Farley’s untested cows on England Hill – an unicorporated community on the west side of the Big Sandy River, close to the city of Catlettsburg in Boyd County, Kentucky. The confusion began with my grandmother being bereaved at the time of his death and giving Catlettsburg, Boyd, Kentucky as his birth place. It is where he grew up. However, after a few years of research, I discovered a birth certificate for my father in Kenova, Wayne, West Virginia, where he was actually born. My grandmother had been across the river at her sister’s home and gave birth to my father on the kitchen table. So, I pushed forward in my research. When I had written a letter to the Clerk of the Court for Boyd County, my letter was accidentally handed off to a person who wrote me excitedly, telling me that Clayton Cox was putting together a book of the Sellards family, that I was indeed a descendant of Jenny Wiley and got me in contact with him. Some of my research findings are included in his book. Following that, my “then-husband” brought home a book from the University of Arizona library, Eastern Kentucky Papers,The Foundation of Harman’s Station and the Wiley Captivity, by William Elesy Connelley. When I read this book, I knew I had descended from her. In 1998, I purchased a copy that was in pristine condition from Abe Books.

    Back to 1972-73, I was frustrated at a family history center in Tucson, where I lived. The films I had ordered had not come in. I just decided to see what was already in the microfilm drawers and found a film that included all of Kentucky, listing Civil War soldiers. I just started at the beginning of the reel and kept searching until all of a sudden, a stream of light came over my shoulder and lit up a name – Mose Wiley. I copied down all of the information and wrote to the National Archives to get all paperwork associated. I received quite a bit. The exciting moment was when I saw my grandfather, Edward Seymour’s name on the list of children. Until then, I was going on scraps of information. This is a long entry to state that I have always, from the first reading of the Wiley Captivity book, thought that when Cherokee Chief Benge called out; “Honor, Jenny, Honor” (according to this rendition, it is often stated and recorded that it was because he had “saved her life” by purchasing her to take back to his wives to teach them to weave and make cloth and clothing) that this was a “white man’s” telling of the actual story. I have always felt like she was “taken back” in the “attack and captivity”, “something” that these white men pioneers had “stolen” from them (by having a child by one of their tribe. I’m sure my thoughts on this subject would make many laugh. I am still looking for evidence of the truth.

    I had grown up being told that I was part Cherokee – from both my mother and father’s lineage. I had a dentist in Tucson ask me if I was part Native American. He mentioned a feature of my cuspid teeth that are a feature of that lineage. I always quite easily tanned to a dark bronze – not so in my old age and the affects of damage to my body.

    Bottom line….there is absolutely NO record or source stating who Hezekiah Sellards was married to, nor who is the mother of Jean “Jenny” Sellards Wiley. It seems to me to be a concocted story that began long ago, to shun the possibility that her mother had any Native American lineage. I did the Ancestry DNA test in 2018. My first results indicated an area in North Africa, supposedly related to Cherokee. That disappeared from my DNA Summary a couple of years later. First, how can they compare the DNA if not many, if any, 100% Cherokee have done a DNA test and posted familial Information on Ancestry? Scientists have labeled the Cherokees not as Native Americans, but as a Middle Eastern-North African population. All this to state that I am STILL researching….

  26. Mary says:

    Many of Jenny’s descendants have had their DNA done. Go to the Facebook group Descendants of Jenny Wiley.

  27. Lorrie Miller says:

    I am Lorrie Miller and she is my 6th Great Grandmother on my mother’s s side through her son Hezekiah Wiley and I have had an Ancestry DNA test and I was found to be of entirely European descent.

  28. Linda says:

    Check Webb family of Bearwallow Ridge. They mention her in the family lineage as well

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