Robert S. James

Rev. Robert Salle James (July 17, 1818 – August 18, 1850), a Baptist minister, was one of the founders of William Jewell College in 1849 in Liberty, Missouri[1] and father of the outlaws Frank and Jesse James.

Robert James
Robert Sallee James.JPG
daguerreotype of Robert James. before 1923
Robert Salle James

(1818-07-17)July 17, 1818
DiedAugust 18, 1850(1850-08-18) (aged 32)
Spouse(s)Zerelda James
ChildrenFrank James
Robert James
Jesse James
Susan James


Robert Salle James was born near Big Whippoorwill Creek at Lickskillet, Logan County, Kentucky.[2] He was the son of John M. James (1775-1827) and Mary "Polly" James (née Poor, 1790-1827).[3] His grandfather, William James (1754-1805), came to Goochland County, Virginia, from England in the late 18th century.[4] Through his mother Robert was also a descendant of Jamestowne Society qualifying ancestor Dr. John Woodson.[5] Woodson, an Oxford-educated surgeon, arrived at Jamestown, Virginia in April 1619 from Devon in the service of Colony of Virginia Governor George Yeardley.[6] Robert's maternal grandfather Robert Poor served as a Cornet (military rank) in the Revolutionary War.[7][8]

Robert married Zerelda Cole on December 28, 1841. His children were Alexander Franklin, Robert, Jesse and Susan Lavenia. He attended Georgetown College in Georgetown, Kentucky, graduating in 1843 with honors and a Bachelor of Arts. The family soon relocated to Clay County, Missouri, where Zerelda's mother and stepfather were living, but Robert commuted back to Kentucky and eventually received a Master of Arts from Georgetown.[9] He was considered a gifted student and a skilled orator.

James was a noted revivalist. He was among the founders of William Jewell College in 1849. In April 1850, James left his family for California to visit his brother Drury Woodson James, who had already relocated to the state.[10] He also planned to prospect for gold and preach to the crowds of goldminers during the California gold rush. Shortly after arriving in California in August 1850, he contracted cholera and died on August 18, 1850, in the Hangtown Gold Camp[citation needed], later known as Placerville. He was buried there in an unmarked grave. Probate records show that at his death he owned six slaves and was a commercial hemp farmer.

James's death left his family saddled with debts and many of his possessions, including one of the slaves, were auctioned off to pay them. His widow Zerelda married Benjamin Simms, a wealthy farmer, on September 30, 1852. This, however, did not last and they soon separated.


  1. ^ History of Jewell College Archived 2007-04-16 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ Steele, Philip W. "Jesse and Frank James: The Family History". Pelican Publishing, 1987, p. 27.
  3. ^ Steele 1987, p. 24.
  4. ^ "William James (1754-1805) - Find A Grave Memorial". Find a Grave. Archived from the original on 2020-02-04.
  5. ^ Dornan, John Frederick. "Adventurers of Purse and Person: Virginia, 1607-1624/25", Fourth Edition, Volume 2. Genealogical Publishing Company of Baltimore, 2007, p. 841.
  6. ^ McCartney, Martha W. "Virginia Immigrants and Adventurers, 1607-1635: A Biographical Dictionary". Genealogical Publishing Company of Baltimore, 2007, p. 763.
  7. ^ Gwathmey, John H. "Historical Register of Virginians in the Revolution", orig. 1938. Reprinted Genealogical Publishing Company of Baltimore, 1979. P. 631.
  8. ^ "DAR Genealogical Research Databases".
  9. ^ Yeatman, Ted P. "Frank and Jesse James: The Story Behind the Legend". Cumberland House Publishing, 2003, p. 26.
  10. ^[bare URL]