HISTORY OF HOLMES COUNTY -- The First Settlers of Holmes County --- The Ambrose Ira Gillman Family

Pioneers of the Leonia Community

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(From the book "Heart and History of Holmes County" by Anna Paget Wells (used by permission of the publisher, Sue Cronkite))  This book is chock full of pictures and what has been used within this web site is only a small about of the book.  It can still be ordered from Sue Cronkite or from the Holmes County Advertiser, 112 E Virginia Avenue, Bonifay FL 32425; phone 850-547-2270; fax 850-547-9200

Ambrose Ira Gillman was the son of George Gillman, born in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1800 - 1810.  He married Elizabeth Bush.

George W Gillman and Elizabeth had 10 children.  In order of their birth, they were:

    1.    Frances, married first to George Griffin and, second, to Bill Cobb;

    2.    Jabez, married Mary Cumbie;

    3.    Rebecca, married to Walt Tindell;

    4.    Boliver (called Cobb), married Linnie Maldin;

    5.    Florella (called Fel), married first William White; second, ? Holt; third,  ? Gilford;

    6.    Savannah, married ? Tindall;

    7.    Ambrose Ira, married Amanda Ellis;

    8.    Hosea, married Ellen Prescott;

    9.    Sabra Ann Emislee, married Roland Simmons; and,

    10.    John B, married Evelyn Johnson

Ambrose Ira was the 7th child in the family of 10 living children, (one or two died young), and he was born in Bibb County, Georgia, Oct 16, 1839.  His family moved from Bibb County, Georgia, to Macon, Georgia, before 1850 as they were listed there in the U S Census.  There is also a bounty land record listed in Marion County, Georgia, in 1855 giving land to George Gillman for his service in the Indian War of Florida in 1836.  In the Original Tract Book of Government Grants of 1855 and 1856 in Dale County, Alabama, he was listed also, and the family was still living there in 1860.  George Gillman was listed as age 50, born in Connecticut.  Legend has it that one or two of his sons were in the Civil War and were given a frisky horse when they went home.  George was riding the horse and was killed when he was thrown from it.  There was no trace of him in Dale County Census of 1866 when his widow was listed as head of the household.

Amanda Ellis was the daughter of Mahair B Ellis and Annie Teddar. Amanda Ellis Gillman died March 8, 1836, age 95 years. They were married in Dale County in 1869. Ambrose Ira Gillman died July 12, 1908. Their children:

        1. Josephine Gillman, married John Peterson. The children of the couple were:




                    Ellie J


    2. Jackson Monroe, married Queen Esther Smith. The couple’s eight children were:

Catherine, died in infancy

Lejina, married Frank Padgett

Alide, died 15 months

John Ambrose, married Willie May Greathouse

Annie, married Walter Drake

                Mamie, died 4 years old

3. Susan Eveline (no information)

4. George Washington, married Ellen Gillman. The couples nine children were:

Elmer, married ? Loden

Oscar, married first Maggie Upchurch, second Irene Robinson, third Flora Trant, fourth Dorothy ?

Annie Lee

Luther Leon, married Mae Vaughan


Audrey married ? Pittman

Odell, married William J (Bill) Whitesell

George Jr married Mary E James

5. Samantha Virginia (no information)

6. Rebecca Valone, married Jack Dean. The couple’s two children were:

Hortie, married George Hughes

Myra, married first ? Owens; second ?

7. John Angus, married Lee Stanley. The couple’s nine children were:

Arthur L, married Bessie Childres

Bascom S, married Dorothy Massey

Dollie, married Bert Pelham

Dallas, married J C Morgan

Angus, married Adeline Brannon

Addie Lee, married Cecil Williams

J D, married Elizabeth Diden

Vitral, married Mason Weekly

Homer, married first Syvil ?; second ??

    8. Maryann Arvonia, married ? Commander

    9. Ambrose Murdock, married Laura Watson. The couple’s eight children were:

Vessie, married Porter Padgett

Meddie, married Cecil Stanley

Melvin, married Letha Spears

Alvis, married Ella Heath

Leon, married Frances Walden

Teresa, married Buford Hudson

Vera, married first Gene Williams and second Aubrey Lee

                Velma, married Max Smith


Ambrose Ira and Amanda Ellis Gillman moved into the Leonia area in 1869 before it had acquired the name Leonia. There were only four other families living in the area at the time. I know one of the four was the Paget family. This was 40 years before my time, but I remember "Grandma Gillman", as she was affectionately called by many who were not related. My Aunt Sue Paget Vaughn was said to have been the first white woman to visit her after she moved to Florida. I know that my grandfather, Daniel Morrison, lived there, for my mother, Ella Morrison Paget, was born there on Feb 14, 1870. The Tom Broxson family was there, for I found that he acquired land in the community in 1854. Then, too, the oldest cemetery in the community is the Broxson Cemetery. I do not know who the fourth family was. I think it was the William F Green family.


The Gillman family moved from Alabama to Florida on an ox cart. One of "Grandma Gillman’s" favorite stories was about cutting a switch from a sycamore tree to encourage the oxen to move along. When they reached the spot where they planned to build, she planted the switch. It grew into a tree and her grandchildren were privileged to play under the sycamore tree in its shade.

The Gillman’s found an empty log cabin nearby and decided to live in it until they could build. In a few days, the Gillmans were frightened by a stranger who approached their cabin with a gun. "Peace?" they inquired. "Peace," the stranger answered. The Gillmans learned that the empty cabin was used as a schoolhouse when school was in session. At that time a term only lasted about three months a year. The stranger made them welcome, and in turn, Mrs Gillman promised to keep the cabin neat and clean.

Grandma Gillman was a midwife and made a wonderful contribution to the community. The nearest doctors lived in Geneva, Alabama, or DeFuniak Springs, Florida. Leonia is located about halfway between the two places. Before the days of automobiles, it took hours to get a doctor from either place. To have a midwife in the community was a source of comfort to expectant mothers.

After Grandma Gillman’s husband died and her children had all left, a granddaughter came to live with her. She was about my age. Her name was Hortie. We entered the first grade together. I loved to visit Hortie and hear her grandmother tell stories about earlier days. She told how a bear came into her yard and drank from a trough where she watered her chickens. She liked to tell about the hard times after the Civil War. Her husband was a veteran of that war. She told of a couple who attended Leonia Church that had only one coat between them. One would attend church on Saturday and wear the coat; the other would wear it on Sunday.

Once I had Sunday dinner with Hortie. Mrs Gillman cooked a vinegar pie. It was a delicious. A married son was having dinner with her. He said the pie had a "more-ish" taste. At first I didn’t know if it was a compliment or complaint until he passed his plate for another helping.

Hortie was a real help to her grandmother. My father had a grist mill. Someone would put the bag of corn on the horse’s back and Hortie would bring it to the mill. We would play while the corn was being ground. Then my brother, Charles, would divide the meal equally in the long cotton bag and balance it across the horse’s back. Next, he would lift Hortie into the saddle. Hortie was about eight years of age. We lived about a mile from her house.

A few years later Hortie and I were attending the Berlin School. We were really in the Leonia School District, but in those days when schools had progressed to a four-month term, neighboring communities would stagger the terms so that one would have a term in the summer and the other would have their four months in the winter. In that way, by walking three or four miles, we could attend school eight months in a year.

Hortie rode horseback to school on some days. I walked. One day she found where the saddle had rubbed the skin from the horse’s back. She went to the outdoor toilet and took off her slip and put it under the saddle to keep it from doing any more damage. We were about 12 years old.

Hortie lived with her grandmother until she married. Later her grandmother lived with her.

Ambrose Ira and Amanda Gillman are buried in the Leonia Cemetery. Amanda is probably the oldest person to be buried there. She lived to be 96.


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This page was last updated on:  17 June 2002 , 08:42 PM