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A Founding Family Part 1: The Senior Kinckles

February 3, 2017


Kinckle Family Tree

Virginia owes a lot to John Henry Kinckle Sr. and his wife Rachael Smith Kinckle, even if this is the very first time you have heard their names. This couple persevered through slavery and reconstruction, made the best life they possibly could for their three children and those three children, in turn, became integral parts of Virginia Union University and the world, before passing the mantle to their children and so forth.

The most well-known descendant of John Henry and Rachael Kinckle is their grandson, Eugene Kinckle Jones, a founding member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and long-time Executive Secretary of the National Urban League (NUL) but Eugene’s grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins have remarkable stories as well.

This is the first part of a four part series in honor of Black History Month and VUU’s Founder’s Day (February 3rd) about the Kinckle family (and their kin the Jones and Vassars). Please visit our exhibit in the lobby of the L. Douglas Wilder Library and Learning Resource Center to view some of their photographs and letters.

The earliest events of John Henry Kinckle Sr. and his wife Rachael Smith are only available to use through family stories. According to their descendants, Rachael Smith was born a slave around 1835, the child of an all too common violent crime of a white slave-owner forcing himself on a slave woman. Rachael remained with her mother, a slave working for her biological father. According to family stories, a strange stipulation in her father’s will set her free. Upon his death, her biological father agreed she could go free with five hundred dollars but only if she married a free black man. As one biographer of her grandson, Eugene Kinckle Jones puts it, “John Kinckle seemed a likely suitor.”1

Since we don’t know the names of Rachael’s parents, it’s hard to substantiate this story


John Kinckle’s emancipation document (Courtesy of the Library of Virginia)

and it does not quite fit the timeline of John Kinckle’s life. John Kinckle was born in 1810 but no record of him exists until he and his family were sold to Rev. William Henry Kinckle of Lynchburg’s St. Paul’s Episcopal Church as a way to pay off the debts of his previous owner.

John Kinckle himself is quoted to have said that Rev. Kinckle married him to Rachael and baptized their children (which does not fit with Rachael marrying John only after he was free) and then having freed John and his family.2 An emancipation document signed by Rev. Kinckle in 1859 for John (Christian) Kinckle does not mention any family. Since his children were all born free, the “family” referred to in stories might have been siblings, of which he had at least one who subsequently moved North. An 1882 Southern Workman, the newspaper of Hampton Institute, mentions a sister-in-law of Rachael Kinckle working in Hartford, CT at a boarding house frequented by Harriet Beecher Stowe and Isabella Hooker.3

At some point John and Rachael met, married, and settled in Lynchburg, Virginia. As freed Blacks right before the Civil War, in a city which drew its name from the same family that gave their name to the term “lynching”, their options for employment were few. However, John Kinckle found reliable work as a baggage handler or porter at Lynchburg’s Union Railroad Station and eventually paid Rev. Kinckle the price of his emancipation.

As baggage handler during the Civil War, Kinckle was in charge of many deliveries to hospitalized soldiers. The Lynchburg Hospital Association urged people to address donations to “A Porter, (familiarly known as John Kinckle,) [who] will be regularly at the Depots and Boat Landing, to receive anything entrusted to him…”4


Union Station in Lynchburg, VA

Kinckle also seemed to be involved in local politics. A book titled Lynchburg and It’s People notes that when Gilbert C. Walker ran for governor of Virginia, Kinckle “threw out the Walker flag and worked for him.”5
Many people did not agree with his choice and at least once his “stable and several valuable horses were burned” by people who believed he had sold out and disparagingly called him part of the aristocracy. But he was also considered by many as a “business man…who has entirely the confidence of the community” and “thoroughly deserve[d] it”.6

Rachael is listed on her death certificate as having worked as a housekeeper and was known to keep her own house, “a flower-embosomed cottage” neat and surrounded by “book, pictures, and musical instruments” on the corner of 8th and Harrison in Lynchburg.7

The Kinckles raised three children to adulthood. Alice Walker Kinckle Vassar, Rosa Daniel Kinckle Jones, and John Henry Kinckle Jr. (A third daughter, Annie James seems to have died at age 15). All three graduated from Howard University and went on to have professional careers. The daughters, Alice and Rosa married VUU professors and John Henry Jr. graduated from VUU before attending Howard. We will be exploring their stories in the coming weeks.

John and Rachael are buried in the Old City Cemetery in Lynchburg, Virginia. Rachael died in 1885, at home, from consumption. She was 49 years old. She lived to see both her daughters get married on the same day in a double wedding in 1882 but even then the newspaper reported her in “very feeble health” though “extremely ladylike with in black silk with lace about her neck”7

It is unclear whether John may have married again after Rachael died, however he died a few years after her in 1889 of heart disease at the age of 79.7 Their children provided them with a joint headstone.

This is Part 1 of a 4 part series. Check out Part 2 on the Vassar family here.


1. Armfield, Felix L. Eugene Kinckle Jones: the National Urban League and Black social work, 1910-1940. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2012.
2. “A Wedding at the African Chuch.” Southern Workman (Hampton, VA), September 1882, Vol. XI, No. 9 ed. Accessed February 3, 2017.
3. Ibid.
4. “Lynchburg Hospital Association.” Virignia Center for Digital History. Accessed February 3, 2017.
5. Christian, W. Asbury. Lynchburg and its people. Lynchburg: J.P. Bell Company, printers, 1900.
6. “A Wedding at the African Chuch.” Southern Workman (Hampton, VA), September 1882, Vol. XI, No. 9 ed. Accessed February 3, 2017.
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid.
9. “Old City Cemetery Burial Records.” Old City Cemetery. Accessed February 3, 2017.

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