Chenault Family National Association



There are many descendants of Stephen Chenault who have distinguished themselves through their courage, sense of purpose, creative ability, and service to their fellow man as artists, scholars, poets, authors, physicians, judges, military leaders, and  religious leaders.  Below are profiles of just a few of these individuals including General Claire Lee Chennault of Flying Tiger fame, poet Ogden Nash, Professor Joseph Walker Chenault, early Kentucky settler William Chenault,  Reverend John Cabell Chenault III, Charles Bernard Rogers III, Dr. John Murphy Chenault and his wife Belle Montgomery Chenault of Alabama, Colonel Charles Joseph Chenault, and Erle Chenault Galbraith, wife of Al Jolson.

Gen. Claire Lee Chennault
b. 6 Sep 1893, Commerce, TX
d. 27 Jul 1958, New Orleans, LA

Many writers over the years have penned the story of Claire Lee Chennault, of the legendary Flying Tigers of WWII.  In 1990 the U. S. Postal Service issued a stamp which honored him.  He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery and enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame.  In the vicinity of many airports around the country, a street is named in his honor and the list could go on.  He was not an ordinary man.

The first son of John Stonewall Jackson Chennault and Jessie Beatrice Lee. Claire was born shortly after the young couple had moved to Commerce from Louisiana. With a father who loved to hunt and fish, he developed a deep love of the outdoors.  As a young boy, he often went out into the wilds alone to hunt and fish for several days relying on his own judgment for survival.  Perhaps this was responsible for the development of the strong character and self-reliance that was so much a part of who he was.

Claire was educated in Louisiana and was commissioned in the Infantry Reserve as a first lieutenant in 1917.  Almost immediately, he transferred into the Signal Reserve Corps aviation section where he remained through WWI.  Subsequent to the end of the war, he was stationed at Kelly Field in Texas where he learned to fly, earning his wings in 1919.  Although he was honorably discharged in 1920, he returned to the service as a first lieutenant flying in the Army.  Even while flying to deliver mail for the Army during the early 1930's, Claire found time to enjoy is passion for hunting and fishing.  He used to tell a story about landing his plane on one such trip along the Gila River in New Mexico, catching a string of trout, and then attempting to resume his flight.  On his takeoff attempt, his plane was unable to clear the boulders around his landing sight.  Crashing the plane, he ended up having to hike out and then explain how he had ended up at the bottom of the gorge.

While stationed at Maxwell Field in Alabama in the mid-1930's, Claire formed an acrobatic flying team called the "Three Men on a Trapeze."  Their routine was a demonstration of pursuit tactics, and when performed at the National Air Races in 1934 and 1935, made them the hit of the show.

Although Claire retired from the Army in 1937, he found himself being invited to begin a grand adventure.  Madame Chiang Kai-shek invited him to make a three-month survey of the Chinese Air Force.  Upon arriving in China, he began training pursuit units to participate in the Sino-Japanese War.  The three-month assignment turned into a four-year endeavor, at the end of which Claire was made a brigadier general in the Chinese Air Force.  After Pearl Harbor, he was put in charge of recruiting what was initially called The American Volunteer Group, a team of pursuit pilots and ground crew to support them.  The "Flying Tigers" were born, their mission...keep the Burma Road supply line open and the Japanese out.  The story of this effort is truly one of great heroism.  By the end of 1945 when the Japanese surrendered, Claire was a major general in the 14th U.S. Army Air Force and his men had written a bit of history equal to any in WWII.

After the war, Claire retired and returned to China to organize a relief effort to help millions of starving Chinese.  Ever the sportsman, he managed to find time for hunting and fishing while there. In 1957, Claire was diagnosed with lung cancer.  This was the one battle he ended up losing in July 1958.  "The General" as he was most familiarly known, was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Claire married Nell Thompson December 24, 1911, and they had eight children...six sons and two daughters. They were divorced in 1946.  Claire married Anna Chan, December 21, 1947 in Shanghai.  They were the parents of  two daughters.

Ogden Nash
b. 19 Aug 1902, Rye, NY
d. 19 May 1971, Baltimore, MD

In recognition of the 100th anniversary of his birthday, the US Postal Service selected American humorist, writer, and poet, Ogden Nash to be honored as the subject of its new first-class 37-cent stamp on August 19, 2002.

The fourth of five children born to Edmund Strudwick Nash and Mattie Chenault, Ogden grew up in a family that highly valued education.  His mother, the eldest daughter of Prof. Joseph Walker Chenault, an educator of renown in the state of Kentucky, was directly responsible for his early schooling. Later, he attended St. George's School in Rhode Island and spent a short time at Harvard.

Ogden's first published poem Spring Comes to Murray Hill appeared in New Yorker magazine in 1930.   Subsequently, he published 19 books of poetry, wrote lyrics for several musical comedies in collaboration with other humorists, and composed advertising verses for a number of companies.  His light verses and humorous wit in describing everyday life are well-known, respected, and enjoyed by a grateful nation.  In 1950, Ogden was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters.

Married to Frances Rider Leonard on June 6, 1931, Ogden soon became the father of two daughters, Linell and Isabel.  His poetry often reflects his love and great devotion to Frances and his girls.  His other love was living in Baltimore, where he was known to be a true fan of the Orioles and the Colts.  It was there that he spent his final years.

Prof. Joseph Walker Chenault
b. 31 Aug 1841,
    Richmond County, KY
d. 1896

Joseph Walker Chenault was the fourth son of Josiah Phelps Chenault, a prominent land owner near Danville, Kentucky.  In 1859 Josiah bought 754 acres of land from Evan Shelby.  A beautiful brick house called "Millwood" had been built by Isaac Shelby, Kentucky's first governor, on the land.  It was Millwood that Harriet Beecher Stowe while visiting the Shelby's in the late 1850's, chose as the locale for her first novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin.  Eventually, the place became known as the "old Chenault place."  This was the place where Joseph grew into manhood.

One of Joseph's older brothers received his law degree from Dartmouth College and was one of the ten founders of the Filson Club of Louisville.  Joseph, too,  was a well-educated man.  He received his A.B. from Centre College in 1861.  He was on that faculty when he received his M.A.  Later, he received his PhD at Princeton.  He married Ellen Thomson of Clark County, Kentucky, May 17, 1865.  They had three daughters, Mattie, Shirley, and Linell.  Mattie married into the Nash family and gave us humorist/poet Ogden Nash.  Although Shirley died young, her firstborn, Franklin Watkins, Jr. was a highly esteemed artist who was in Italy for the presentation and hanging of one of his paintings in the Vatican when he collapsed and died in 1973. Linell was described by her son Charlton B. Rogers as a true Chenault, beautiful, brilliant, charming.  She attended her father's school in Louisville and wrote of her experiences there.  These stories are treasured by her family. 

William Chenault
b. 30 Dec 1749,
    Albemarle County, VA
d. 1813

William Chenault was the great grandson of Estienne Chenault, who arrived in Yorktown aboard the Nassau in 1701.  In 1770 he married Elizabeth Mullins, who was born in 1752 in Goochland County, Virginia.  She was the daughter of Matthew Mullins and Mary Maupin, a descendant of Amer Via, an early Huguenot emigrant.

William served as a Revolutionary War soldier in Captain Henry Terrill's company of Col. Josiah Parker's 5th Regiment of Virginia Continental Line.  He spent the winter at Valley Forge, was in Washington's march in pursuit of the British in 1778 through New Jersey to New York.  He was in the battles of Stillwater, Brandywine, and Saratoga.  In 1779, William was a signer of the Albemarle Declaration of Independence.

In 1786 William emigrated to Kentucky and settled in Madison County on a farm purchased from Josiah Phelps, who had bought it from George Boone, brother of Daniel Boone.  He and Elizabeth are listed on a monument at Ft. Boonesboro State Park, Kentucky, as being among those who were with Daniel Boone at the old fort and fought the Indians.

William and Elizabeth had eleven children.  He died in 1813 of "the cold plague," which was tuberculosis.

Constable Elijah Chenault
b. 1765-1775, Caroline Co., VA
d. 4 Aug 1823, Alexandria, DC
Elijah Chenault, believed to be the fourth and youngest son of John Chenault and Sarah Martin, was the grandson of Stephen Chenault, first-born son of the immigrant Estienne Chenau, also known as Stephen Chenault.  Little is known about his early years other than he grew up in Caroline County and married Molley Graves on 5 Nov 1796 in that county.

A chancery suit in 1810 indicated that Elijah was employed as an overseer for John Hord, who was in the brickmaking business and built public buildings in the Haymarket District including the courthouse and jail.  Subsequently, Elijah moved to Alexandria with his family and  census records there indicated Elijah was a brickmaker.

On 13 Jul 1809, United States Circuit Court of DC for the county of Alexandria acknowledge the bond of Elijah sworn to faithfully execute the office of Constable.  Over the next few years, public records confirm that he continued to serve as Constable and act as witness and bondsman in the affairs of different individuals in the community.  Also, during that time, he may have married a second time, for his wife's name is shown as Elizabeth at the time of his death, which occurred on 4 August 1823.

Newspaper accounts reflected that he got into a scuffle while in the process of discharging his duty and attempting to seize property of a Negro woman.  She reacted by striking the Constable on the head with a large stick, fracturing his skull.  He died within only a few minutes.  Betsey Williams, alias Betsey Chinquepin, was arrested in his death.  She was convicted on 7 November 1823 of manslaughter and sentenced to a year in jail and fine a total of $85.15, including court costs.

At the time of his death, Elijah owed a fine in the amount of $40 as a result of an altercation with a rowdy patron in a local drinking establishment co-owned by Elijah.  Elizabeth, Elijah's wife, appealed to President James Monroe requesting that the fine be dismissed as evidence existed that the man involved was of general bad character and known to be hostile toward her husband.  Witnesses to the altercation had come forward attesting to the favorable conduct of her now deceased husband.  President Monroe dismissed the fine later that year.  He also subsequently dismissed Betsey Williams' fine in the death of Elijah after she appealed to him in the matter having served more that a year in jail.  Claiming to be destitute and unable to pay the fine, she said her actions in striking Constable Chenault were not intended to cause his death and occurred in a state of extreme excitement.

While some of Elijah's children were of legal age at the time of his death, there were young children still at home.  Elizabeth apparently returned to Caroline County with the younger children after the death of their father.  Marriage records for two of their youngest sons reflect marriages in the county.

John Cabell Chenault, III
b. 1914
Formally recognized at the 2001 reunion as the "Spiritual Leader" of the Chenault Family National Association, Reverend John has long been held in high esteem by members of the organization.  It is obvious that his "family" spans far more, however, than those who share his lineage, for the new fellowship hall at the First Christian Church in Frankfort, Kentucky is named for John and Mary Elizabeth, his blushing bride as of September 8, 1939.  His many years of service as senior minister in the congregation endeared him to his church family.

John received his A.B. at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, followed by graduate work in religion at Lexington Theological Seminary and Vanderbilt University.  Later, he returned to the Seminary and received a Bachelor of Divinity degree.  He accepted posts in various Christian churches, arriving finally at First Christian Church in Frankfort.  Since his retirement, he has served many area churches as interim pastor.  He and Mary Elizabeth have traveled extensively, and he is considered an authority on the Kentucky branch of the Chenault family as a result of the many hours of research he has devoted to it over the years.

Having descended from "Kentucky David," a prominent Baptist preacher in Clark County, Kentucky in the early 1800's and justice of the peace for 20 years, John surely must have inherited many of his ancestors finest qualities.  He not only has been devoted to spreading God's Word but has been an active citizen of his community and state.  In addition, he is the devoted father of two sons and a daughter.

Charlton Bernard Rogers, III
b. 18 Apr 1907, Louisville, KY
d. 25 Dec 1989, St. Louis, MO

Perhaps Charlton is best know, especially among members of the Chenault clan, as the author of the first editions of the book, Descendants of Estienne Chenault.  A descendant in the distinguished family of educator Prof. Joseph Walker Chenault of Kentucky, Charlton stated in the 1978 edition that he found it even more difficult to write about himself than his family.  Having lived in St. Louis, Kansas City and Indianapolis, Charlton's family settled in Nashville where he met and married Anita Thurza Torrey August 14, 1931.

As so many others who married during the Great Depression, Charlton and his wife had to struggle, but by 1939, they were the parents of three sons.  They had relocated to Chicago when Charlton was called to the service and chose the Marine Corps.  Charlton earlier had attended the Naval Academy, but resigned, not liking the restrictions.  However, he was ordered to Quantico, VA as a 1st Lieutenant.  On December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, he was in Iceland with the 6th Marine Regiment.

Charlton returned to San Diego with his regiment where it was reformed, and he was promoted to Major and transferred from commanding the weapons company to the division staff.  However, he requested troop duty and was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines in Guadalcanal.  While there, he contracted malaria, Jaundice and dengue fever.  He spent three months in the hospital in Wellingham, New Zealand and three more in the Naval Hospital in San Diego.  His third overseas duty was as Lieutenant Colonel on corps staff in the Pacific.

After the war, Charlton returned to St. Louis where he served as senior vice-president of a local department store for 20 years.  Then, with three associates, he bought a business in Tennessee, from which he retired in 1967 as president and general manager.  He and his wife spent five years on the East coast before returning to St. Louis.  A member of the Society of Colonial Wars, Society of the Cincinnati in the State of North Carolina and the Sons of the Revolution, Charlton was a dedicated researcher of family history and led the way for many of the most respected researchers today.

Franklin Watkins, Jr.
b.30 Dec 1894
d. 4 Dec 1973, Bologna, Italy
Franklin Watkins was an artist of great ability.  His paintings are widely acknowledged, and his portraits highly esteemed.  He turned to religion for many of his subjects, and one of his paintings is hanging in the Vatican.  He was in Italy to make this presentation when he died.  In 1972 he received the Philadelphia Award as the city's outstanding citizen of the year. 
John Murphy Chenault, M.D.
b. 21 Sep 1914, Decatur, AL
d. 23 Jul 1992, San Antonio, TX

Belle Montgomery Chenault
b. 23 Apr 1918,
    Tuscaloosa, AL
d. 21 Apr 2003, Decatur, AL

Dr. John Chenault's name is well-known among medical and health care professionals, especially in the state of Alabama, but nationally and internationally as well.  A member of the Board of Censors of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama for fifteen years, he served as Chairman for eight of those years.  This committee was also the State Board of Medical Examiners and the State Committee of Public Health.  He was instrumental in the development of the State Board of Mental Health and a member of that group then for many years.  He was Councilor from Alabama to the Southern Medical Association.

In 1962, he was elected a delegate from Alabama to the American Medical Association, later becoming a member of the Board of Trustees of that organization, serving for a brief time as Vice-Chairman of the Board.  He also was a delegate from the American Medical Association to the World Medical Association for several years and was part of an official delegation from the association to the Chinese Medical Association in 1974.  In recognition of his involvement in these activities and for his interest in civic affairs, he was elected to the Alabama Academy of Honor and was named a Paul Harris Fellow by the Decatur Rotary Club.

John was a graduate of the University of Alabama and received his medical training at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville as did his cousins and associates in the Chenault Clinic, Erskine and Sidney Chenault.  John was in active duty with the U.S. Army Medical Corps during WWII, from July 1943 until June 1946.  He was stationed for the most part at Keesler Field Regional Army Hospital in Biloxi, MS.

After discharge from the Army with the rank of Captain, John returned to Decatur and became associated with his uncle, Frank Leigh Chenault, M.D. and his two cousins Erskine M. Chenault, M.D. and Eugene Chenault, D.D.S.  He retired from practice in 1985.

August 9, 1941 John married Belle Richardson Montgomery, also a graduate of the University of Alabama, and together they raised their five children.  Belle shared her husband's medical interests and is accomplished in her own right.  She served as president of the county and state medical auxiliaries and of the Auxiliary to the Southern Medical Association.  For ten years she was a member of the American Medical Political Action Committee, and an award in her honor is given bi-annually to the physician's spouse who has made a significant contribution to political action.  In recent years, Belle's interest in genealogy culminated in her serving as editor of the 1991 edition of the book, Descendants of Estienne Chenault (The Red Book), and as Historian of the Chenault Family National Association, following in the footsteps of John's uncle, Dr. Frank Leigh Chenault, who was the official Historian of the family for many years.  She also served as a national officer of Colonial Dames XVII Century and was elected President General of that Society for the 1991-1993 term.

Belle lost her beloved John in San Antonio, Texas, while attending the annual Chenault Family Reunion in that city.  She died of breast cancer at the home of her daughter on April 21, 2003.

Col. Charles Joseph Chenault
b. 24 Oct 1918, Canon City, CO

Charles Joseph Chenault is the son of Josiah Lipscomb Chenault, a 5th cousin of General Clair Lee Chennault, and Viola Smith/Schmidt, who died in a flu epidemic immediately after giving birth to Charles.  In 1925, Josiah married Ethel White, who became the only mother Charles ever knew.  He grew up in Colorado and realized he was hooked on flying shortly after taking his first "spin" in 1936 with Boy Scout Scoutmaster.  In 1940, Charles got his pilot's license and married his high school sweetheart Amy Eileen Sage.  A year later, he was hired by the Civil Aviation Authority, a forerunner of the FAA, and became a contract flight instructor for the Army Air Corps.  In 1944 he was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the Corps while instructing at Randolph AFB, Texas.

After WWII ended, he was assigned to participate in the "Berlin Airlift" flying the renowned C-47 "gooney-bird" and the P-47 "Thunderbolt."  While there, he was an adjutant officer to Col. John Chennault, son of Gen. Chennault, and was assigned to assist Col. Charles Lindburgh when he went to Germany after the war.  Subsequently, while serving at Williams AFB in Arizona as a flight instructor for the USAF's first jet-powered aircraft, then-Captain Chenault volunteered for duty supporting ground troops in Korea where he flew the F-80 "Shooting Star" as part of the 8th Fighter Bomber Group at Itazuki, Japan.  On his 66th mission, Charles' plane was damaged by ground fire over communist-held territory.  After managing to get his aircraft back over US-occupied territory, he crash-landed in a field, breaking his back.  After a lengthy recuperation, Charles was reassigned to Williams AFB as Training Operations Officer and Squadron Commander.

In 1953, Major Chenault represented the USAF Air Training Command in the "Wings for America" goodwill tour of South America, becoming the first pilot to land a jet-powered aircraft in many of those countries.  Others on the tour included the famed "Thunderbirds" and a Major Chuck Yeager.  Other accomplishments included organizing and implementing an Advanced Gunnery Training Program, serving as part of the US Military Air Advisory Group to the Turkish Air Force as well as the 78th Fighter Interceptor Wing Operations Officer and a Squadron Commander with the USAF Air Defense Command, flying T-33's and the F-101B "Voodoo", a 1.7-Mach twin-jet-powered aircraft, and a temporary assignment during the Cuban Missile Crisis ferrying film from spy-planes carrying the new top-secret high resolution cameras to the Pentagon.

In 1963-64, Charles served in Da Nang, Vietnam in helicopter rescue operations and as Squadron Commander for the 1st Air Command Squadron at Bien Hoa.  He received numerous awards and Letters of Commendation from the General Officers of the US Army and US Marine Corps during his Vietnam tour.

Upon reassignment to Luke AFB, Arizona he was promoted to full Colonel and later became the Deputy Wing Commander and interim Wing Commander.  He personally feels better about his accomplishments during this three year tour of duty than any other part of his career for he was setting the course and being the example for all instructor pilot training for the Air Force at the time for the F-100 and F-104 fighters with 350+ jets and 500+ student pilots, simultaneously including their gunnery range training in Yuma.  He received the "Legion of Merit" for his exceptional accomplishments during this period and just talking about this period of his career brings a smile to his face.

In 1967 he served as Deputy Commander of Operations for the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing in Naha, Okinawa and as Director of Operations for the Okinawan Air Defense Sector, Pacific Region.  During the height of the "Cold War," Okinawa was one of the two western-most bases under US control delegated the responsibility of stopping an intrusion by an enemy bomber possibly carrying nuclear warheads.

Colonel Chenault is retired from the USAF and lives in Sacramento, California where he is currently in collaboration with co-author Beverly Powell, a former administrative assistant at Luke AFB, writing a book entitled "Memoirs of a Fighter Pilot."

Erle Chenault Galbraith
b. 1 Dec 1922,


Erle was the seventh child of her mother Robert Erle Chenault, who was also the seventh child of her father, Robert Chenault, a descendant of Revolutionary War soldier William Chenault.  On March 24. 1945, Erle married entertainer and star of vaudeville, stage and film, Al Jolson, who is especially remembered for his performance in the first talkie, The Jazz Singer (1927).  Subsequent to his death October 23, 1950, Erle married Norman Krasna, who co-authored the movie, White Christmas, while Irving Berlin wrote the music.