Did you know that Catherine Tennent, wife of William Tennent, Sr., and John F. Kennedy were related? Here’s their story.
Catherine’s maiden name was Kennedy. Her father, the Rev. Gilbert Kennedy, hailed from Scotland. He was a dissenting Presbyterian minister. In 1662, Gilbert was ejected for nonconformity. Accounts vary, but he somehow made his way from Scotland to Ireland. Once there, he faced persecution from the Anglican Church. Undaunted, he preached at night in the open air to groups of Presbyterians. Gilbert continued this clandestine ministry until 1670 when he and his family settled at a church in Dundonald.
Fast forward to July 16, 1999. On that fateful day, John F. Kennedy, Jr. and his wife perished in a plane crash. All of the TV networks covered the story. As my eyes were riveted to the TV screen, a news commentator mentioned that there was a Presbyterian minister in the Kennedy family tree. I thought that was interesting but didn’t think anything more of it.
The Neshaminy-Warwick Presbyterian Church was established in 1726 by the Rev. William Tennent, Sr. In 2001, this church celebrated its 275th Anniversary. I served on the 275th Anniversary Committee, which planned activities for a yearlong celebration.
For one of the planned activities, I was given the names and contact information of four direct descendants of William Tennent. I started corresponding with one of them, John Jowett, who lived in Bolton, England. John was born in the United States. His American mother and British father divorced when he was very young. The father gained custody of John and took him back to England never to see his mother again. Late in his life, John discovered that his mother was a Tennent and that he had a famous ancestor. With that, he delved into his genealogy. From his research, he uncovered the fact that the Kennedys of Hyannis Port are direct descendants of Catherine Tennent’s father, Gilbert Kennedy. I don’t know when the Kennedy clan converted to Catholicism. I often wonder if any of the modern-day Kennedys resemble Catherine Tennent.