Jenny Wiley (born Jean "Jenny" Sellards in 1760 in Pennsylvania – 1831) was a legendary pioneer woman who was taken captive by Native Americans in 1789. Wiley endured the slaying of her brother and children and then escaped after 11 months of captivity. Jenny Wiley State Resort Park in Prestonsburg, Kentucky is named in her honor.
Jenny Wiley was born to Hezekiah Sellards and Jean Brevard. Her family moved to Walkers Creek, in what is now Bland County, Virginia. It was here in 1778 that Jenny met and married Thomas Wiley, a Scotts/Irish immigrant.
Soon after, they built a home (cabin) in which the young couple started to raise a family and caring for their land. They lived like most all settlers, modest, and simple. Using what nature gave them to survive, they tilled the fertile fields and lived well.
On October 1, 1789, Thomas set out for a trading post with a horse heavy laden with ginseng to barter for domestic necessaries. That afternoon, Jenny's brother-in-law, John Borders, heard owl-call signals in the woods that made him suspect Indians were in the area and planning an attack. He warned his sister-in-law to pack up her children and leave the cabin, but Jenny wanted to finish some household chores before leaving.
A group of eleven Indians, composed of two Cherokees, three Shawnees, three Wyandots, and three Delawares stormed the cabin. This was common place on the frontier, and would result in retaliatory attacks on Indian villages, as the savagery would shock even veteran soldiers. Jenny and her brother heard the Indians coming and tried to barricade the door, and also attempted to fight them off. They killed her younger brother of about fifteen years of age and her children, with the exception of her youngest child of about fifteen months. Jenny, who was expecting her fifth child, and the surviving child were then taken captive. There was some dispute amongst her captors about whether or not to kill her and her baby as they were slowing the party down, but they kept her and her baby alive until the baby became ill. At that point the captors killed the child while Jenny slept. She gave birth shortly thereafter, but that child was also murdered from scalping. The test was to put the baby on a piece of wood and send it down the river; if it cried, they would scalp it. If it did not cry, it'd live.
Jenny was held captive by these Indians for several months in what is presently Little Mud Lick Creek, Johnson County, Kentucky. She managed to escape to Harman's Blockhouse in what was then Floyd County (now Johnson County), aided in crossing a major river by longhunter Henry Skaggs. With the help of the settlers at Harman's Blockhouse, Jenny made her way back to Walker's Creek, where she began a new family with her husband, Thomas. The Indian bands had raided settlements all along this area killing many innocent women and children in a bestial way. The result was an indignation that caused many men to volunteer, along with militia units, to rid the area of these raiding parties so no more settlers would be murdered. In approximately 1800, the Wiley family crossed the Big Sandy River, and settled in what is currently Johnson County, Kentucky. Jenny and her husband Thomas started a new family and had five children consisting of the following:
- Jane Wiley, married Richard Williamson, son of American Revolutionary War patriot at the Battle of Point Pleasant also settled on Twelve Pole Creek;
- Sarah "Sally" Wiley, married twice (1) Christian Yost; (2) Samuel Murray and resided in Wayne County;
- Hezekiah Wiley, married Christine Nelson and settled on Twelve Pole Creek, Wayne County, (West) Virginia;
- Willaim Stapleton and Sarah Wiley married and
- Adam Brevard Wiley married Neely Dillon, both left families in Johnson County Kentucky.
Jenny Wiley lived in Johnson County with her family until her death in 1831. She was buried near the farm in River where she spent her final years.
Jenny Wiley State Resort Park was established in her honor just northeast of Prestonsburg near highway Route 23 . The park is centered around 1,100-acre Dewey Lake, and features the Jenny Wiley Theatre.
Jenny is also honored by a Thoroughbred horse race named in her honor and run each year at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Kentucky. An event for fillies and mares, the race is called the Jenny Wiley Stakes and attracts some of the best female horses in American horse racing.