John Gilley (c.1689 - 1813)

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Birthdate:
Birthplace: Castle Isle, Cork, Ireland
Death: Died in Augusta, Kennebec, Maine, USA
Managed by: Carl Weston, III
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Immediate Family

About John Gilley

Downeast Ancestry, Vol 16, #1, Oct-Nov 1992; Marriages and Deaths Listed in The National Intelligencer, 1800-1820: "1813... GILLEY, John, aged 124, died in Augusta, ME 6 July. He was born in the west of Ireland, a few miles from Cork and migrated to America 70 years ago. (27 July)." [Year John came to America: ca 1743?

Ripley's Believe It Or Not, © MCMLXXVI by Ripley International Limited, 1985 edition (no page number listed on photocopy of illustrated page) says: "The patriarch John Gilley (1718-1842) of Augusta, Maine, married a girl of 18 when he ws 80 and became the father of 10 children - the last when he ws 100 years of age. His hair turned black just before he died at the age of 124."

Daily Kennebec Journal, March 13, 1981, p. 5, "A Kennebec Journal" by Raymond Siegler: We hope someone will raise a glass to John Gilley Tuesday. He may not be Augusta's most illustrious Irish son but almost assuredly he's the only one who ever made it into a Ripley cartoon. Believe it or not.

Any way you looked at John Gilley he was one of a kind. Such a phenomenon, in fact, that skeptics may wonder where the real John left off and the legend begins. Ripley said John lived to be 124 years old. That ain't the hull of it - he also was siring children when he was 100.

John Gilley was strong and smart and quick on his feet. A little guy, he could "jump like a fox," says the account in North's History of Augusta, which is the source of most of what is known about the man. With the re-publication of North's History, John's fame might spread even more. The last time we wrote something bout him, the letters trickled in for months afterward from people who thought they were Gilley descendants, or hoped they were. Many of them said they treasured clippings of the Ripley cartoon.

Ol' John didn't marry until he was 80, but he got right down to the business of begetting and in due season accounted himself father of 10 children by his 24-year-old bride. But that's getting ahead of the story. He was born near Cork, Ireland, around 1690 - there is some dispute as to the year - and came to America in 1755.

Some time after that, he showed up at Fort Western. He was only five feet, three inches tall and weighed 124 pounds at best, although he was more often 10 pounds under that. John was already in his late middle years when he arrived in Augusta, but he tried to enlist as a solider [sic] at the Fort Western garrison.

Remember, this was an age when a soldier gouged as many eyes from among his mates as he did among his enemies. The leprechaun of a Gilley must have given Capt. James Howard, commander at the fort, some quiet amusement. At any rate, he told the bantam - quoting North - "you couldn't bring a barrel of bread from the shore," and declined to sign him on.

But as the North account continues, we find Gilley enlisted and serving. Obviously the captain changed his mind. We can suppose Gilley did not make his point by hurling Capt. Howard into the Kennebec, but he might very well skipped down to the shore and trotted back up the steep bank with the heaviest load he could lay a hand on.

That was John Gilley's style: He had pinache [sic], that little guy. At any rate, the record shows that middle-aged John, lugging a musket as long as himself, soldiered for some years under Howard, apparently living on at the garrison even when the formal Army ties were severed.

Sometime in those years he bought a farm, identified as "on the Bangor road" - which could have been North Belfast Avenue - and decided to settle down and raise a family. It was time, after all. He was 80; Dorcas Brown, the bride, was 24. She told a questioner on one occasion that although she didn't know her husband's age, he had been called Grandpapa Gilley from the first she knew him around the fort.

Country living seemed to agree with both of them and Dorcas proved as fruitful as the biblical flowering vine. Their 10th child was born when its father was over 100.

In between times ol' John farmed. North says "he held the plow to clear the land" when he was 100. That meant guiding a two-horse plow through stump-littered sod ground. A year later, he had his cattle mark registered, a practice in a time when stock roamed free. The mark was recorded as "a crop of the right ear, a slit in the top left ear, and a half-penny cut out of the under side of the left ear. As the old man's reputed age spread throughout the region it came under sharper questioning. North says (and North's reputation for caution and authenticity is high) that Capt. Howard - Fort Western's first and only commander - was also a native of Ireland. By "comparing dates, ages and various other circumstances," the historian relates, it was conceded that Gilley was seven or eight years older than the captain, who was born in 1702.

Judge Daniel Cony of Augusta began investigating Gilley's age as early as 1799. Cony was a physician who turned to public life and, after a period as judge of probate, was known forevermore as "judge." The judge questioned John Gilley extensively and applied comparative data that led him to conclude Gilley was 13 years older than Howard. Besides the conviction of substance as to ol' John's age, Dr. Benjamin Vaughan of Hallowell also lent his support. He examined John and "became satisfied that his age was not over-stated," as North puts it.

Gilley himself told his questioners that he was a man grown and lived in Ireland in the winter of "the hard frost" and that he helped bury the many dead. This was discounted as evidence, however, when Judge Cony learned there had been more than one hard winter in the Emerald Isle between 1711 and 1725. North refers to a manuscript account by Judge Cony of his talks with Gilley. One would like to think this will turn up some day in an Augusta attic.

At any rate, John Gilley lived until he died, as the feller said. He enjoyed robust health; never complained of illness, says one historian. He teeth were sound, his mind active. Another wrote that the old man's hair "which had been white for many years turned black as an Indian's in his last years. Asked once to what he attributed his longevity, John replied, "meat three times a day."

He died in 1813. Two doctors (with Doctor-Judge Cony kibitzing) conducted a post-mortem. North goes into gross detail of this organ-by-organ examination, lingering over the excellence of each. The reader has to wonder at last why the old man wasn't still alive and raising sons. But the world wasn't through with John Gilley. Those first-rate internal parts were packed off to America's leading medical school, to which one descendant commented wryly that John was the only Gilley who ever got to Harvard.

TIMELINE OF JOHN GILLEY'S LIFE FROM ARDELL PARKMAN LYNDS: See images of Martha Ballard's Diary entries for John Gilley and son, James Gilley, at www.dohistory.org 1766 RESIDENCE: Lincoln Co. Land Deeds at Kennebec Co. Courthouse, Vol. 2:210, John Gilley purchased from the Howards land on the east side of the Kennebec River.

1769 MARRIAGE: The History of Augusta, Maine First Settlements and Early Days As A Town, etc., [hereafter Nash's Augusta] p. 580, Solemnized by James Howard, Esq., Justice of the Peace in Hallowell, Province of Maine; Hohn (sic) [typo John] Gilley and Dorcas Brown (sic), m. August 3, 1769.

1770 RESIDENCE: The History of Augusta, Maine First Settlements and Early Days As A Town, Including The Diary Of Mrs. Martha Moore Ballard, by Charles Elventon Nash, Augusta, Maine, 1904, (hereafter Nash's Augusta) p., 108, To His Excelly [sic] Thomas Hutchinson, Esq., Captain-General, Governor and Commander-in-Chief in and over his Majesty's province of the Massachusetts Bay in New England; to the Honble [sic] his Majesty's Council and Honble House of Representatives...That your petitioners, the subscribers, Inhabitants of a plantation on Kennebec River in the County of Lincoln, within the Plymouth Purchase, are settled on the East and West side of sd River, and Labour [sic] under many hardships usually attending new settlements, being without the common privilidges[sic] of other people within this province -- having no Gospel Minister, School Master, or any officer whatever, which is absolutely necessary for the Good Order and well being both of us and our posterity, if we were invested with the power and privilidges [sic] of a Town it would greatly in courage the Settlement, Peace and good order of it...to Exempt us from paying Province Taxes in Ten years to come, or otherwise relieve your Petitioners...Kennebec River, Decr, 1770...James Howard, Pease Clark...John Gilley

1772 RESIDENCE: James W. North, The History of Augusta, Maine from the earliest settlement to the present time with notices of the Plymouth company and settlement of Kennebec together with biographical sketches and genealogical register, Augusta, Clapp and North, 1870, [hereafter North's Augusta] p. 108. John Gilley estate was accessed and he paid taxes in the amount of 3 shillings and 3 pence.

1783 RESIDENCE: North's Augusta, p. 186, Ratable Estates in 1783, John Gilley, in Hallowell, an area that would be come Augusta. Polls not ratable, 1, no dwelling house, no barn, Acres of Tillage 2, Acres engaged in mowing 1, 40 acres unimproved land, 7 acres of unimprovable land, 2 ozen 4 years old and upwards, 2 cows 4 years old and upwards, 3 swine six months old and upwards.

1788 RESIDENCE: Robert R. McCausland & Cynthia MacAlman McCausland, The Diary of Martha Ballard, 1785-1812, Maine Genealogical Society Special Publication No. 10. Picton Press, Camden, Maine, 1992, (hereafter Martha Ballard), p. 98 p. 98, 9 Jul 1788, Mr. Gille & Partridge slept here. p. 100, 22 July 1788, Gille slept here. p. 104, 8 Sep 1788, Mr. Gille returned from Winthrop. p. 107, 12 Oct 1788, Mr. Gille went from here this morning. p. 108, 21 Oct 1788, Mr. Gille here.

1790 RESIDENCE: 1790 Census of Maine, Annotated Edition, Maine Genealogical Society Special Publication No. 20, Picton Press, Camden, Maine, 1995; John Gill (sic), 3 (free white males of 16 years and upwards including heads of family), 4 (free white males under sixteen years), 6 (free white females, including heads of family)

1791 RESIDENCE: ibid, p. 196, 3 June 1791, Mr. Ballard gone to Survey for Mr. Gilley.

1791 RESIDENCE: Nash's Augusta, p. 11; Hallowell, 12 May 1791, "Act dividing the Town of Hallowell into three Parishes," shall have liberty to continue to the Parish or Society to which they have joined themselves as aforesaid, so long as they may choose and no longer;.. John Gilley, test. J. Savage [do not understand this entry]...James Gilley...

1791 RESIDENCE: Lincoln Co. Land Deeds at Kennebec Co. Courthouse, Vol. 3:468, John Gilley purchased from James Clark lot #45 on the east side of the river.

1792 RESIDENCE: Nash's Augusta, p. 586, John Gilley's mark for cattle sheep and swine, is a crop off the right ear, a slit in the top of the left ear, and a half penny out of the under side of the left ear.

1794 RESIDENCE: Martha Ballard, p. 289, 8 Feb 1794, Mr. Ballard went to Survey Land for Mr. Gilley.

1797 RESIDENCE: North's Augusta, p. 307, John Gilley, had one dwelling, one barn, 234 acres of land, 4 acres of tillage, 8 acres of mowing, no horses, 2 ozen, 2 cows & 3 year olds, 3 cattle 1 & 3 years old.

1800 RESIDENCE: Martha Ballard, p. 504, 4 Jan 1800, Mr. Ballard, Gilley & Jack Pierce to meddow.

1803 RESIDENCE: Martha Ballard, p. 606, 5 May 1803, Mr. Ballard surveyed for Mr. Gilley

1803 RESIDENCE: Kennebec Co. Land Deeds, Vol. 5:327, John Gilley, yeoman, Augusta, buying from Henry Badcock of Augusta, a parcel of land situate in Augusta on the east side of Kennebec river, being part of front lot No. 45, according to Winslow's plan, beginning at the south west corner of lot No. 45 at Kennebec river, thence running east south east by the south line of said lot No. 45 about 96 rods to the county road leading to Vassalboro, thence southerly by said road thirteen rods & one third of a rod, thence west north west to Kennebec river, thence northerly by said river to the first mentioned bound; and contains eight acres and one quarter of an acre, be the same more or less, with all the privileges & appurtenances thereunto belonging. It is mutually understood by the grantor and grantee that he said Badcock is to continue to live in and improve the dwelling house.

1809 RESIDENCE: Kennebec Co. Land Deeds, Vol. 19:171, 23 Mar 1809, John Gilley gave the lot he purchased in 1791 from James Clark to his son, James, in exchange for life support.

1813 DEATH: 9 July 1813, American Advocate (Hallowell, Maine Newspaper) & Eastern Argus (Portland, Maine Newspaper).

Web Site for Old Fort Western where John Gilley tried to enlist in the Revolutionary War: http://www.oldfortwestern.org/

Notes for John & Dorcas (Family) From Ardell Parkman Lynds: 1769 MARRIAGE: The History of Augusta, Maine First Settlements and Early Days As A Town, etc., [hereafter Nash's Augusta] p. 580, Solemnized by James Howard, Esq., Justice of the Peace in Hallowell, Province of Maine; Hohn (sic) [typo John] Gilley and Dorcas Brown (sic), m. August 3, 1769. Hallowell Births, p. 115 (from microfilm #1033824 that Carmen obtained - need bibliographic info for the book that was microfilmed).

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John Gilley's Timeline

1689
1689
Castle Isle, Cork, Ireland
1769
August 3, 1769
Age 80
Hallowell, Kennebec, Maine, USA
1785
1785
Age 96
Hallowell, Kennebec, Maine, USA
1813
July 6, 1813
Age 124
Augusta, Kennebec, Maine, USA