Henry W. Grantland, A Vintage Vignette

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Henry W. Grantland
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
August 26, 2008

Two Henry W. Grantlands were born and lived in the 1800s in southwestern Madison County. One was born in 1832, whereas the other was born around 1858. The older Henry married first to Maria F. Owen, a daughter of Thomas J. and Mary E. Jamar Owen. Maria died in 1859. The next year Henry married Elizabeth P. Edwards, and the 1870 census shows them living in an area served by the Triana post office. The 1920 census of Nashville showed Henry (age 87) with his wife (age 74) and daughter Beulah as a widow at age 59. Henry died in Nashville in 1926. Beulah was the mother of Henry Grantland Rice, who was the first to apply the famous title “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” to Notre Dame football. He was the foremost sportswriter and sportscaster in America until his death in New York in 1954. He was likewise the namesake of the college national championship game as the Grantland Rice Bowl, which awared the Grantland Rice Trophy annually.

The other Henry W. Grantland of early Madison County was identified as a son of John R. Grantland in the 1850 census. John was a son of William and Susanna Draper Grantland, as was the older Henry. John was their fourth child, born in 1814 Virginia. John’s brother Henry was their eleventh child. The younger Henry was living with a wife and child across the river in Morgan County in 1880. In 1838 his father John married Harriet Looney, a daughter of John Warren Looney, son of Revolutionary War patriot Absolom Looney who died in Madison County. In 1853 John married Hardenia Cleveland, a daughter of Oliver F. Cleveland. She was the mother of the younger Henry Grantland and two daughters who married into the local Arnett family. Harriet Amanda Grantland married Albert R. Arnett, son of William Cole Arnett and Minerva J. Campbell. Harriet’s sister Susan C. Grantland married Pembroke Ward Arnett Jr., a grandson of James A. Arnett who lived near Dr. George R. Sullivan in Madison and for whom Madison’s Arnett Street is probably named.

Data found on Ancestry.com for Henry W. Grantland shows that his family bloodline links to a number of notables in history. These include the wife of President James Monroe and “Bess”, the wife of President Harry Truman. There are also links to the wife of President Woodrow Wilson, as well as to Mr. Wilson himself and to Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. The local Grantlands are even connected to Dr. Wernher von Braun (Father of the U.S. space program) and to John Glenn, the third American (and later the oldest) to fly in space. There are links to Norman Rockwell, Mae West, Walt Disney, Stephen Crane, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia.

However, perhaps the most intriguing historical connection of the Grantlands is to John Billington (1580-1630), passenger on the famous voyage of the Mayflower in 1620 that established Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts. He had eleven wives that produced 31 children, and it was noted that he had two “other children”. Billington was in frequent trouble with his fellow colonists, having fled England to avoid creditors and being notorious for a foul mouth. After a violent argument over hunting rights, Billington was reported to have waylaid, shot and killed fellow colonist John Newcomen. He became the first Englishman to be convicted of murder in the new country that became the United States, and he was hanged on September 30, 1630 at Plymouth, Massachusetts. In addition to the Grantland descendants, President James Garfield was a descendant of John Billington, according to data posted in the on-line encyclopedia Wikipedia and other internet sources. Some descendants claim that Billington was “railroaded” by an embryonic justice system on circumstantial evidence before the railroad was invented. Primarily though, the Grantland history and connections are to prominent people who have shaped the United States throughout its generations.

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