John Renfro was born about 1785 in North Carolina and resided in Gibson County, Tennessee where he is found on the 1850 census with his wife. All of his children, beginning with Joseph D. Renfro in 1813, seem to have been born in Tennessee. This entry, however, is about his wife.
No, your eyes do not deceive you. I titled this piece, Hortence Tinsley, the mythical wife of John Renfro. "Mythical wife" is not really accurate. "Mythical person" is more appropriate. In order to prove that Hortence Tinsley never existed, first allow me to examine her genesis.
Hortence Tinsley does not appear in any primary sources to date.
Hortence's first appearance in a secondary source is Josie Baird's William Renfro, 1734-1830: Some Descendants, Relatives, and Allied Families, published in 1973. That text references her in this way: "He [John Renfro] married Hortence (Tinsey) ______. Tincey was born ca. 1796, N.C." Notice that the manner in which this is written indicates that Hortence's surname is unknown. Baird notes that this information was from Coy and Barbara Yarberry of Ajo, Arizona. The Yarberry's must have provided this information to her at some time prior to 1973.
I was corresponding with Barbara Yarberry by 1975/76. At that time, I purchased from her a few photocopied pages that she had written on the Renfro, Yarberry, and Sexton families. In that text she wrote that "John Renfro borned about 1785 married Hortence (Tinsey) ______." Penned below that is the notation "b. ca. 1796 in N.C."
In the 1970s researchers had not consistently adopted the convention of putting nicknames in quotation marks and maiden named in parenthesis. At that time Barbara Yarberry consistently placed nicknames in parenthesis. From the same text, Barbara recorded the following names: Martha (Mattie) Ann Ross, Winona (Pat) Boyd, Marthy (Mat) Elizabeth, Joseph Meairle (Bob), Mary (Polly) Lavaney. All of the names in parenthesis are nicknames. At no time did Barbara Yarberry place maiden names in parenthesis in that text. Therefore, "Tinsey" seems to be a nickname for Hortence. It would also seem that Barbara Yarberry assumed that Tinsey was the nickname for Hortence since the name Hortence never appears in a primary document.
In the mid-1970s, Barbara Yarberry and the other John Renfro researchers that I was corresponding with believed that John Renfro only had one wife, the one with him on the 1850 census and that she was the mother of all of his children. Take a peek at the 1850 Gibson County, Tennessee census:
See how difficult John Renfro's wife's name is to read? It could be Tinsey or Sinsey or Linsey or Jinsey. If the name is Tinsey, then couldn't that be a short form of Hortence? That might be a reasonable assumption, but it is only an assumption.
By early 1991/92, several Renfro researchers, myself included, had discovered that Tinsey was really Jinsey Briant, the daughter of John and Frances (Nance) Briant. We still believed that Jinsey was the mother of all of John Renfro's children. During that time, we eagerly researched Briants and Nances.
In March of 1997, I contacted Jere Cox who is an expert on the Briant family. He was more than willing to help, but posed the following question:
"Kathy, I worked this line with Barbara Yarberry some years ago. Take a look at these marriages and let me know what you think. Joshua Wilburn to Jane Bryant Feb. 19, 1829, Cabb Wilburn BM. Gibson Co., Tn marriages. John Renfroe to Jincy Wilborn Mar. 11, 1845 Thomas Gray J.P. Carroll Co. Tn. Have you corresponded with Barbara Yarberry of Phoenix, Arizona? Jere"
Given that John Renfro's eldest son Joseph D. Renfro was born about 1813 and his youngest child was born well before 1845, my reaction was that I had obviously wasted five years researching Briants and Nances. Back to the drawing board. Jere said I took the news better than Barbara Yarberry had.
My quest for John Renfro's wife began over in 1997. However, in 2001 I was seeing internet posts that John Renfro's first wife was probably Hortence Tinsley. Not only had Hortence not gone away, but her nickname "Tinsey" had morphed into the surname Tinsley. When I asked what the source for her was, I was told that the source was Barbara Green Yarberry and Betty Yarberry Crawford's book, Yarberry & Renfro: A Genealogical Research of the Families of Thomas Newton Yarberry and Elizabeth Renfro, published in 1998.
In 2003, I was sent a copy of a letter written from Betty Yarberry Crawford to Mr. Treas on February 6, 1997. Crawford writes, "I am sending you the Renfroes from Tennessee that Barbara shared with me and also you questioned about John's wife? She was Hortence (Jinsey) Briant/Bryant. Her father's grandmother was the daughter of an Indian Chief and Jinsey is an Indian name. I don't know why Barbara didn't tell you this." From this comment it seems clear that in 1997 Crawford is still under the impression that John Renfro had only one wife: Jinsey and that Hortence was her formal given name.
However, when Crawford and Yarberry's book was published in 1998, this statement was clearly made in at least two places: "Elizabeth Renfro was born January 27, 1815 in Gipson County, Tennessee to parents John Renfro and mother unknown. John Renfro's second wife was Jincy Briant Wilburn and not the mother of his children."
What is needed is a previous wife or wives for John Renfro. In has stepped "Hortence Tinsley," who evolved over a period or thirty years from early research regarding Jinsey Briant's name. Hortence Tinsley is the purely mythical wife John Renfro. Not a previous wife. Not the mother of any of this children. Purely mythical.
Certainly, John Renfro had at least two wives, maybe more. However, Hortence Tinsley is not one of them. As a collective, the Renfro researchers need to get serious about uncovering the identity of John Renfro's wife/wives prior to Jinsey Briant. When we find her, we may also find a wealth of additional information about John Renfro.
Revised June 21, 2015.
Revised June 21, 2015.