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John Gray Kirk
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Birth: Oct. 4, 1825
Grayson County
Kentucky, USA
Death: May 3, 1899
Adair County
Missouri, USA

John Gray Kirk was the son of Jesse Kirk (1793-1846) who was born in Marion County, Kentucky and died in Adair County, Missouri; and Frances (Gray) Kirk who was born in Caswell County, North Carolina, and died in Junction City, Oregon. John's paternal grandparents were James Kirk (1759-1857); and Anne (Horton) Kirk (1762-1838), both of whom were born in Stafford County, Virginia, and died in Marion County, Kentucky.

John Gray Kirk had the following known siblings:

James Travis Kirk 1820-1907
Susan Ann Kirk 1823-1877
George M. Kirk 1827-1900
Charles Sylvester Kirk 1830-1911

In the 1830 census of Grayson County, Kentucky, Jesse Kirk is listed with a household that consisted of two adults (himself and his wife), 4 children, and 2 slaves. John's parents moved their family from Kentucky to northern Missouri between 1830 and 1840. The Kirks settled in a small developing community in the center of Adair County, Missouri, which at that time was described as "a vast unoccupied territory with only a few settlements."

John's father was an entrepreneur for his day. He realized what would be needed in a new pioneer community and he was able to develop that into an enterprise. He built a home, a hotel, post office and tavern out of hewed logs, near the center of what was an emerging town, as yet without a name. Whether all of these establishments occupied separate buildings or were operated out of one building is not clear. The town was called Long Point by some and later Hopkinsville, but it did not have an official name.

Jesse Kirk was the first Postmaster of the town and the Treasurer of Adair County. It appears that he immersed himself in the early politics of the day. When surveyers determined that this community was the center of Adair County, there was controversy over whether it should be the county seat. The County Judges settled the matter by deciding that if this was the center of the county, this is where the seat of government should be.

Surveyers came to officially lay out the town in 1841. Jessie Kirk treated them to a free dinner in his establishment. Names were tossed around as to what the town should be named. The Kirk family's neighbors a bit to the south of them were David and Mary Sloan who owned much of the land that was now to be included in the town, and were reportedly the first settlers here. Should the town be named Sloanville after the farmer with all the land, or perhaps Kirksville after the man with the vital businesses and post office in town? Some say the free dinner swayed the decision. But it was the county court judges who made the final decision (and not the surveyers) that the town should be named Kirksville. It officially became the town of Kirksville on May 18, 1842.

When John Gray Kirk was a young teen around 1840, the story is told of him hunting just south of the settlement that would later become Kirksville. He was in a ravine where the campus of the Normal School/Truman State University would later be; but of course nothing but woods was there then. He saw a deer, raised his musket, and shot. The deer fell. When he went to retreive it, to his astonishment, 2 deer lay dead. His shot had gone all the way through one deer and hit another one hidden behind the first. This feat of accidental markmanship caused quite a stir in the settlement, and attention on the Kirk family. Some say, it was really young John Gray Kirk's notoriety that caused the settlement to be named Kirksville, rather than his father's standing in the community and Jesse's free dinner to the town surveyers. However, it was probably a little of both.

Jesse Kirk threw a grand reception at his establishment in honor of the naming of the city in May 1842. He served a feast of venison, turkey, rye biscuits and cake, with honey. The county judges and county clerk attended as well as visitors in his hotel. The gracious hostess was John Kirk's mother/Jesse Kirk's wife, Frances "Fannie" (Gray) Kirk.

John Gray Kirk farmed in Adair County, Missouri all his life. On January 11, 1846, in Adair County, Missouri, he married one of the daughters of his Kirksville neighbors, Minerva Sloan. In describing her life to her granddaughter, Minerva said this about her marriage to John Kirk, "We launched out on life's seas together and for over half a century we have gone side by side. Nine children have gladdened our home, three of them dying when mere babes."

John and Minerva's children were:

Mary Francis (Kirk) Wisner 1847-1906
Perry Davis Kirk 1849-1941
Susan Cale (Kirk) Smith 1852-1933
James Harvey Kirk 1853-1938
Mary Martha Kirk 1856-1857
John Benton Clark Kirk 1858-1934
David S. Kirk 1860-
Lucy Cleaver (Kirk) Peel 1861-1938
Helen Lee Kirk 1863-1864

On the evening of April 27, 1899, a cyclone passed through Kirksville and the surrounding area of Adair County, cutting a path of destruction three blocks wide. It killed 32 people outright, injured many more, and destroyed hundreds of homes and buildings. John Gray Kirk sustained serious injuries during the catastrophe, which completely flattened the Kirk's home. He died from his injuries less than a week later. Minerva was also injured in the cyclone, but she survived.


(Note: John Gray Kirk should not be confused with John Robert Kirk (1851-1937) who was an educator and President of the First District Normal School in Kirksville, Missouri.)

- Information collected by Blytha (Dennis) Ellis
Family links: 
  Jesse Kirk (1793 - 1846)
  Frances Gray Kirk (1804 - 1867)
  Minerva Sloan Kirk (1825 - 1905)
  Perry Davis Kirk (1849 - 1941)*
  James Travis Kirk (1820 - 1907)*
  Susan Ann Kirk Adkins (1822 - 1877)*
  John Gray Kirk (1825 - 1899)
  George Madison Kirk (1827 - 1904)*
  Charles Sylvester Kirk (1830 - 1911)*
*Calculated relationship
Highland Park Cemetery
Adair County
Missouri, USA
Maintained by: Blytha & Donald Ellis
Originally Created by: Jan
Record added: Jun 03, 2010
Find A Grave Memorial# 53197543
John Gray Kirk
Added by: Blytha & Donald Ellis
John Gray Kirk
Cemetery Photo
Added by: Genealogy Bug Kate
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Kirksville - birthplace of my aunt...
- GeorgiaCA
 Added: Nov. 2, 2012

- Blytha & Donald Ellis
 Added: Aug. 6, 2011

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