Documenting my family's past for future generations. My family tree includes the Smith/Mansell families of Alabama and Oklahoma, the Castle/Day families of Kentucky and Oklahoma, the Wheat/Ming families of Texas and Oklahoma, and the Bell/Roberts families of Mississippi, Tennessee, and Oklahoma.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Jacob Castle the Longhunter

The parents of Goldman Davidson Castle were William Castle (1799-1859) and Margaret Cox (1799-1880).  Siblings of G.D. Castle were James, John, Sarah, William Henderson, Margaret, Henry, George Harvey, and Patton Robert.  Sometime after the birth of their children, William and Margaret moved to Pulaski County, Kentucky, and then to Morgan County, in a large migration of Castles, Days, Salyers, and others from the Copper Creek area of southwestern Virginia. Goldman Davidson is thought to have been named for men with those surnames that his parents knew in Virginia. William’s parents were Jacob Castle, Jr. (1749-1849—yes, 100 years!) and Mary Shane. 

My cousin Fred Castle, son of my grandmother’s youngest brother Tom, was the Castle historian.  He made several trips to Kentucky and southwest Virginia trying to tie our Castles to the families of Castlewood, Virginia.  I remember when he first had contact with Castle family members that still lived in Castlewood, and how excited he was when he felt he could finally prove our descent, through William Castle, from Jacob Castle, “the Longhunter.”

Jacob Castle Sr. was quite a character, and if Castle family researchers are correct in naming Peter Cassel as his father, he came from quite a family.  Peter Cassel was the son of Johannes Cassel, a Mennonite who came on the ship Jeffries to Philadelphia in 1682 after attending a meeting in Kriesham, Germany, in which William Penn himself spoke to the audience about religious freedom and the land that was available in America.  Johannes became one of the signers of the Germantown, Pennsylvania charter.

Jacob took a different path—he went native.  His first wife was Shawnee; her name Sowege means “gliding swan.”  They married about 1736, and she was the mother of Jacob Jr. and perhaps others.  Jacob may have had several other wives, reputedly all Cherokee, with whom he had other children.  He came to southwest Virginia when it was the frontier, and apparently traded with the natives for land that became known as “Castle’s woods.”  Because his name had been associated with the area long before Daniel Boone set foot there, it has been suggested that old Jacob may have been the one who pointed out the Cumberland Gap to Boone.

Jacob’s Indian name was “White Tassel,” and some have even gone so far as to describe him as an albino.  It is more probable that, with his German heritage, he was very fair-haired compared to his Indian neighbors.  As a longhunter, he would have ranged far from home, killing deer for meat and hides with his long-barreled rifle made by German gunsmiths in Pennsylvania.  He would have lived much as the Indians did.  In my mind, I see him as a blonde Daniel Day-Lewis in The Last of the Mohicans.

For this next part I am indebted to Mitchell Farish, a librarian at the University of Virginia, who has a great website with the title “Birth of American Frontier Culture.”  He put historical documents and traditions concerning Jacob Castle into a context that finally made sense to me.

In 1740 Jacob bought land on the New River from Jacob Stover.  When he was home from his travels, he seemed to have conflicts with his neighbors, particularly one named Adam Herman (or Harmon.)  In 1746 Jacob and other settlers were detailed to build a road from Adam Harmon’s to the river; Jacob objected.  In April 1749 Herman’s home was robbed of several deer and elk skins on three consecutive days.  Jacob became a suspect since he hunted with a party of Indians that had been known to steal horses and other livestock in the settlement.  Herman applied for a writ to arrest Jacob Castle and led a posse to Jacob’s hunting camp in Castle’s woods, but Jacob’s Indian friends chased the posse away.  Later in the month Adam and his brother were arrested because they had robbed Jacob.  By May 17 Adam was out of jail, charging Jacob with “threatening to aid and assist the French against his Majesty’s forces.”  Jacob was arrested, tried, and acquitted of the charge of treason.

Others have commented that Jacob probably did feel more loyalty to his Indian friends—and thus the French—than he did to the British.  I would like to think so, since my sympathies have always been with the Indians.  (Wait till you hear about my ancestor on the other side of the family, William Whitley.  He and Jacob Castle are my only claims to famous ancestors, and they couldn’t have been more different.)  In any case, Jacob was thought to have taken part in the Battle of Kings Mountain in the Revolutionary War—with the Americans.

My cousin Fred died several years ago, but I was pleased to recently find this post of his from a genealogy message board about the eventual resting place of Jacob Castle: “What an experience it was to visit the area where the old Jacob Castle was supposedly buried on a hill near a plot of land still called Castle's meadow, uphill from Copper Creek.”  It makes me think of the poem by Robert Louis Stevenson:

Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.


  1. Hi! Becky,
    My name is William Brent Castle Jr. Great Grandson of Patton Robert Castle. I too was a great admirer of Fred Castle. As a matter of fact, Patsy and I had a closer relationship than did Fred and Patsy.
    I just happened upon your magnificent web site yesterday. I am truly envious. Should you be interested, I have reams of Information to share.
    William Castle
    370 Kachina Circle
    Las Vegas, Nv. 89123
    Home 702 896 5849
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  2. i am looking for records documents on Jacob Castle and Sowege"gliding swan" if you can help it would be appreciated

    1. Some people show a marriage in 1736 in Lancaster Co. PA to a woman named Mary Elizabeth, supposedly the English name of Gliding Swan. I don't know if this record really exists, and if it does, I'm not sure how you would prove that Mary Elizabeth was really Gliding Swan. DNA has not been helpful to me personally on this point, because I don't show any native American ancestry. That doesn't mean I don't have any, but my DNA tests with two different companies don't show it.