A HISTORY OF CHRISTIAN COUNTY KENTUCKY
charles m. meacham
THE NINETEENTH COUNTY
Organized March 1, 1797; Locating the County Seat; Bartholomew T. Wood; The Very First Settlers; The River Pioneers.
On December 31, 1776, Fincastle County, Virginia, was divided into three counties, one of them called Kentucky. In 1781, by an act of the General Assembly of Virginia, Kentucky County, which had been explored and settled to some extent, was divided into three counties, Lincoln, Jefferson and Fayette. Jefferson was the western county, embracing all of the western part of the territory,, much of it unexplored. In 1784, further divisions were made, Jefferson being divided and the south and west part of it became Nelson County. In 1785, Fayette was divided and Bourbon formed and Mercer and Madison were created out of parts of Lincoln. In 1788, Mason was formed out of part of Bourbon and Woodford out of Fayette. These nine counties comprised the state of Kentucky when it was admitted in 1792. The same year Washington, Shelby, Clark, Scott and Logan were formed, the latter out of Nelson. In 1793, Harrison and in 1794 Franklin and Campbell were formed, bringing the number to seventeen. Logan remained the frontier county until 1796 when two more new counties were created. Edward Bullitt was speaker of the House of Representatives and one of the new counties, out of Jefferson, was named Bullitt, and the other, probably through his influence, was named Christian, in honor of his kinsman, Col. William Christian, whose oldest daughter was the wife of Alexander S. Bullitt. Col. Christian had been killed in Indian warfare ten years before. The new county relieved Logan of her vast frontier and as the nineteenth county its history began. The act creating the county was approved December 13, 1796, being signed by Edward Bullitt, speaker of the House of Representatives; John Campbell, speaker of the Senate pro tern, and James Garrard, governor, who had succeeded Isaac Shelby, the first governor.
Though passed in 1796, the act did not take effect until March 1, 1797. It provided that courts of Quarter Sessions for the new county would be held on the third Monday in April, June, September and February, April being the first to be held. It provided “that the Justices to be named in the commission of the peace for said county” should meet at the house of Brewer Reeves and organize for business. They were required to take the oath of office and, after the sheriff was legally qualified, a place was to be fixed upon to hold said courts, a place “deemed most central and convenient for the people.” Thereafter the county court was to proceed to erect public buildings at such place. Until such buildings were completed, the courts were empowered to meet at such places as deemed proper.
The act further provided for the collection of taxes by the sheriff, along with the performance of other duties pertaining to his office. The justices of the peace composing the county court lost no time in getting together. On March 21, three weeks after the act became effective, they met, Brewer Reeves, Jacob Barnett, Moses Shelby, Hugh Knox and Jonathan Logan constituting the court. They appointed John Clark, clerk, and Charles Logan, sheriff. Young Ewing presented a deed from Peter Tardwin and brother, which was ordered “to be certified.” This was the first business transaction after organization. The next item was the appointment of “James Henderson, commissioner of tax for the present year, 1797.”
Other business transacted as shown by the musty record, was authorizing James Shaw to view and condemn a mill site on Big Eddy and Robert Cravens another on the Barren Fork of Little River. The first of these was probably on a creek thirty or more miles west of Hopkinsville still known as Eddy Creek. The other was on the east fork of Little River, evidently called barren because it left the hill country to the north and approached Hopkinsville from the barrens, or untimbered plains, to within a mile of the main stream upon which the town was subsequently located. The first mill site is not in the present county. The second is important, and just where it was is a matter of intere$. For one hundred years there has been a mill on this fork of the river in the eastern suburbs of the present city. This may be the first mill in the county. In the thirties of the nineteenth century it was known as Gipson’s Mill and for many years thereafter. It was then known as Wood’s Mill and after the Civil War was operated by L. G. and E. Wood, lineal descendants of Bartholomew Wood and nephews of Sevier Wood, who bought out Press Gipson. Still later and more recently it was known as Cate’s Mill, operated by the late J. H. Cate. At the present time it is known as the Christian County Mill, Bernard Edwards, manager. E. W. C. Edwards’ father at one time had some connection with the mill, but sold his interest and built another mill east of town several miles, on the same fork, still known as Edwards’ Mill. At the same meeting Obadiah Roberts was licensed “to keep a public house.”
But the real and important business was the following action:
“Ordered that Moses Shelby, Jonathan Logan, Brewer Reeves, Young Ewing and Joseph Kuykendall, gents, or a majority of them, meet at the house of Capt. Wood, where Col. Starling now lives, on the first Friday in April next, and proceed to view the most suitable and convenient place for the seat of justice of Christian County, and make a return to our next court.”
The court convened again July 18, 1797, and after some more orders to condemn mill sites in various parts of the county, then covering about one-fifth of the state, attended to some routine matters such as receiving several deeds and the will of James Davis. Davis’ widow, Mrs. Deborah Davis, was appointed to look after the estate, and Moses Shelby, Jonathan Logan, Brewer Reeves, George Bell and James Davis, Jr., were appointed to appraise it.
Davis, of whom more appears in this history, was one of the two first actual settlers in the county, the other being his brother-in-law, John Montgomery. He died March 29, 1797, less than a month after the county was formed. His estate was a fine tract of 2,200 acres of what is now known as South Christian farm land and his descendants still live upon a part of it, where the old pioneer was buried.
Another entry showing some of the early settlers’ names was an order that James Richey, George Robinson, Sr., Samuel Kinkeade, Julius Saunders, James Decon, Charles Staton and James Kerr be appointed to locate the nearest and best way from “James Waddleton’s (probably Wadlington) on the Big Eddy to the big spring on Lewiston and from there to the Clay Lick Settlement.”
Young Ewing presented his commission from the Governor as surveyor of Christian County, and he was directed to meet the surveyor of Logan County in order to run the boundary line between the said counties agreeable to law.
It appears that Jacob Barnett and Hugh Knox, two of the commissioners to select a county seat, were absent and the sheriff was ordered to summon them to attend the next court “to proceed to view the most suitable place for the seat of justice, in order to erect the public buildings.”
The court met again August 15, 1797. At this meeting it was ordered that the seat of justice be first at the Sinking Fork of Little River and that Young Ewing, Jonathan Logan and Samuel Hardin, gents, or a majority of them, take up the work that had first been entrusted to a larger commission. Young Ewing, who was made chairman, was a leader who believed in doing things and evidently the other commissioners were men who did not have to be summoned by the sheriff. They reported November 21, 1797, their report was adopted and the town then called Elizabeth was located where it now is.
LOCATING THE COUNTY SEAT
On November 21, 1797, Commissioners Young Ewing, Jonathan Logan and Samuel Hardin, at a term of county court held “at the Sinking Fork of Little River,” submitted a report which was adopted locating the seat of government for the new county of Christian where Hopkinsville now stands. Bartholomew T. Wood, who then owned the lands between the east and west branches of Little River, agreed to donate five acres “upon which he now lives” and a half interest in the Rock Spring. In addition he donated timber to erect public buildings. The tract of land as laid off extended from the valley at Ninth Street, north, in an oblong shape over the hill to the valley at Fifth Street, and from what is now Main Street westward to the river. Just where the original house of Bartholomew Wood was located is not now known. Tradition has it that it was built on the north end of the tract, perhaps on the very site of the new public building erected in 1928. Another story is that it was about where the Odd Fellows’ building now stands (corner Ninth and Virginia Streets), which seems more reasonable, since it was closer to the spring. The spring itself was near where Virginia Street now is, in a deep valley that was afterwards raised many feet. The spring in time was moved close to the river bank one hundred yards west, and protected by a wall, behind which the ground was raised to the present level of Water Street. In 1891 the spring was turned into a well with a pump at the street level and the stream piped to the river fifty feet west. The valley around the spring was filled in and the Ohio Valley Railroad built a depot over it; the building is still maintained by the Illinois Central Railroad Company.
As has been stated there was quite a hill on the northern end of the public ground upon which the county built a courthouse, and back of it a jail. The county then comprised all of Kentucky west of Logan and Daviess Counties to the Mississippi River. As the new county needed funds, it sold lot after lot of the original five acres until it finally owned only about one acre upon which the courthouse and jail were located.
The first courthouse was of hewed logs twenty feet square and the jail near by was fourteen feet square and equipped with “one pair of stocks.” The original log courthouse was rebuilt several times. The second or third enlargement was a pretentious brick, but not large enough for the offices needed. Accordingly an office building was put up thirty feet north of the courthouse as it now stands. This building, known as the clerk’s office, was built in the summer of 1852, while John S. Bryan was county court clerk. The work was ordered at a session of the county court, held May 3, 1852, presided over by W. V. Bernard, county judge; commissioners, previously appointed at the April meeting, reported a plan with specifications and an estimate of the cost. The plan was promptly accepted and the commissioners authorized to advertise for bids for twenty days in two papers published in the city, and to let the contract to the lowest bidder, making such minor alterations as they deemed proper, provided they did not change the general plan. They were also empowered to employ an architect to be paid not more than S100. The estimated cost is not given. Payment was provided for by appropriating $1,600 from money on hand, $2,000 from the levy of 1852, and the “balance” from the levy of 1853. The commissioners were Abraham Stites, Robert R. Lansden, William E. Price, James F. Buckner and Robert McKee.
This building was not burned when Gen. H. B. Lyon’s soldiers burned the courthouse in November, 1864, leaving only the walls standing. The courthouse was not rebuilt until 1868, and the clerk’s little brick office served as a temporary courthouse. When the new courthouse was erected, it contained four offices and all of those in the little building were not needed. It contained five rooms below and two above. The two rooms on the north side, from 1869 or thereabouts, were occupied by the Planters Bank for about fifteen years. After 1884 those rooms were used by the county attorney. The rooms on the south side for many years were used by the county school superintendent and the upper rooms by the county assessor. One of them at one time housed the first public library the city had, also the postoffice for a short while.
The building on the north corner of the square, known as the City Building, was erected much later. How and when the city acquired the ground from the county is not known. It was probably done gradually, early in the nineteenth century. The northwest corner of the public lot was at one time used as an old-fashioned markethouse and in the seventies a building was put up on the Main Street corner to hold the first fire engine the city owned. It was drawn by huge Norman ‘horses, kept in a stable where the markethouse had been. Between the two on Fifth Street, a small brick residence was occupied by Jordan Barker, the big mulatto who drove the fire horses. This building was one of those torn down in 1928. The fire building was enlarged about 1888 and a city hail built above it.
When the city fire department was moved in 1905, the whole building was remodeled and used for city offices. When the city council was succeeded by commission government in 1916, the council chamber was also cut up into offices. Back of this building was the city lock-up, where prisoners charged with minor offenses were taken when arrested.
All of these buildings, more or less historic, were razed and even the foundations dug up in 1928 to erect a county and city office building. The lot as cleared of all buildings, was the extreme north end of the orginal five acres and extends from Main to Water Streets, one hundred fifty-four feet, and fronts on Main Street one hundred thirty-six feet. The lot lies upon a steep hillside, so steep that a basement story is along Fifth Street from Main to Water Street and the basement on Water Street opens on the level. The main floor is on a level with the courthouse. This building stands as a fitting memorial to the generosity of the sturdy old pioneer, who built his cabin in the woods, when Kentucky was a wilderness, unsettled, and containing only a few counties.
Something should be said in this connection about the “first citizen of Hopkinsville,” whose generosity decided where the county seat should be located.
After a long search through the records of the county court, on page 633 of Record Book K, in 1852, appears a report submitted by B. T. Wood, Jr., at the request of the court, which gives information about him heretofore lacking. As administrator of his mother’s estate, Bartholomew Wood, Jr., reported that Bartholomew T. Wood died November 26, 1827, and was survived by his wife, Martha Wood, who remained his widow until her death November 9, 1846. She was survived by the following children: Curtis D. Wood, Hardin J. Wood, Bartholomew T. Wood, Jr., William Wood, Mrs. Temple Roberts, Charlotte Wood.
This record is interesting in that it gives the exact dates of the deaths of the pioneer and his wife and the names of all of their surviving children, but it does not give his age or the place of his birth.
Numerous descendants of Hardin J. Wood and Bartholomew T. Wood, Jr., are still living in the county. There may be descendants of others of his children not known to the historian.
THE FIRST SETTLERS
Nearly one hundred fifty years ago the first settlers came to Christian County, at that time Logan, one of the earlier counties of the territory. The time is not exactly known. Collins’ History of Kentucky says it was in 1785, but Perrin’s History of Christian County, written in 1884, puts the date as early as 1782. This information was obtained from very old people then living, who had known the earliest settlers. Daniel Boone had first explored Kentucky in 1769, and if the earlier date of the first settlement in the western part of the state may be accepted as correct, it was thirteen years later when James Davis and John Montgomery, two hardy pioneers from Augusta County, Virginia, came to the wilderness. They went to the present site of Pittsburgh, where the Ohio River is formed by other streams, and made the long journey in small boats. They came down to the mouth of the Cumberland River and then undertook the more difficult task of rowing up stream, following its sinuous course to the mouth of Red River, thence up that stream to what is now the southern part of Christian County. Details are lacking as to whether their families were with them or not. It is quite probable they did not bring their wives, but went back later for them, or had their families join them later, thus giving credence to Collins’ statement that the real settlement should date from 1785.
Davis and Montgomery came as Revolutionary soldiers, at any rate Davis did, for his descendants are still living upon a part of the war grant of 2,200 acres allotted to him and Montgomery. Davis selected his claim in what is still one of the finest farming sections of Kentucky. Here the pioneers constructed a cabin and a block house for protection from the Indians. As other settlers came in, this block house was used as a kind of refuge and fort to which settlers fled in times of danger. Montgomery’s wife was a sister of Davis and the brothers-in-law lived together for a while, though Montgomery later moved to another place on the creek, not far away, still known as Montgomery Creek. The presumption is that Montgomery County, Tennessee, just over the state line, was named in his honor. Whether Montgomery was related to the Revolutionary War general of that name is not known. Montgomery was a surveyor, and several years after settling in the county he was killed by the Indians while making a survey on Eddy Creek in what is now Lyon County, probably about where Eddyville now is. Returning to Davis, we find that he lived in Christian County until 1797—the year Hopkinsville was made the county seat—when he died or was killed. At any rate his grave is upon the same land that he built upon, well marked by a tombstone upon which is inscribed:
Born April, 1755
Died March 29, 1797
So far as known this is the oldest marked grave of a white man in Christian County. A part of the Davis grant was sold to Dr. John F. Bell, father of Capt. Darwin Bell, Capt. C. D. Bell and other sons and daughters, who have numerous descendants in Kentucky and other states. Capt. Darwin Bell was authority for the statement that his father bought his land from Davis and that Davis told him he settled it in 1782. The story is told that a man named Carpenter, who had a cabin near Trenton, a few miles away, was attacked by Indians while in his woods and fled to Davis’ block house, which he barely reached before the pursuing Indians caught him. His wife and children were left in his cabin. A squad was gotten together to go and see what fate had overtaken them and Carpenter was overjoyed to find that they had not been molested. He then became indignant and urged that the Indians be pursued and killed. Davis, an experienced hunter and Indian fighter, not only advised against it, but refused to go. He told them the Indians would surely provide an ambuscade, expecting to be followed. His son, however, went with the party smarting under the intimation that his father was afraid to go. It cost him his life, for it turned out just as the old pioneer had predicted and Davis was killed and others wounded. This incident probably accounts for the story that Davis, the pioneer, like Montgomery, was killed. Davis mourned for his son, but consoled himself, with a kind of fatalism, believing that it was something that had to happen.
There is a family tradition that James Davis was killed March 29, 1797, by a roving band of Indians. He was riding on his horse when attacked and undertook to escape through the woods, in an effort to reach the fort. He ran into a swinging grapevine that pulled him from his horse and before he could remount the Indians came upon him and slew him. If this happened his body was recovered and buried in the family graveyard where two other Davises—Alfred and William—are also buried. W. H. Jones, a descendant, thinks they were brothers of James Davis, though one of them may have been his son. The headstones were put up at a later date and give but little information. The tombstone shows that James Davis died at the comparatively early age of 52. This part is inconsistent with the statement in Perrin’s history that as game grew scarcer and having no fondness for ‘tilling the soil, he followed Boone’s example and went further west to Missouri, where one of his sons, Jo Davis, became very prominent. It is more likely that one of his sons went to Missouri. I have been unable to learn how many children he had. One of his daughters, Sallie Davis, married Robert Harrison and Naomi Harrison, her daughter, in turn became the wife of William H. Fortson. The Fortsons inherited the part of the original grant upon which Davis lived and it is now known as the Fortson place. It is about one mile from the Dixie Bee Line, about half way between Pembroke and Trenton, in the edge of Christian County, near the Todd County line. Lineal descendants of James Davis in 1929 are his great-great-grandchildren, William H. Jones and his sisters, Mrs. J. W. Cross, of Pembroke, Mrs. Eustice A. Hail, of Houston, Texas, and Mrs. D. C. Williams, now of Woodbury, Georgia. Mrs. Hail formerly lived in Nashville, the widow of a wealthy capitalist. Mrs. Cross owns the homestead, where the pioneer’s grave is located. Her mother was Lizzie Fortson, who married Caleb H. Jones, who died in 1915, aged 75 years. There were other lines of descent, besides the Jones family, but this investigation is dealing only with the local descendants of the pioneer. Those who have been mentioned have numerous sons and daughters, all of whom are eligible to membership in the patriotic societies growing out of the Revolutionary War, since it is a well-established fact that John Davis received a grant of land as a Revolutionary soldier.
THE RIVER PIONEERS
Perhaps the very earliest settlers in western Kentucky came down the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers on flatboats, even before James Davis and John Montgomery came to Christian County in 1782. It is probable that hardy adventurers may have erected temporary huts along the banks of these streams even before 1780, when Dr. Thomas Walker and Daniel Smith came as Virginia commissioners to survey the line between the then states of Virginia and North Carolina. This line between the future states of Kentucky and Tennessee was not permanently established until many years after they were settled and had been admitted as states. Dr. Walker ran the line from the mountains westward until it crossed the Tennessee River. In the final settlement, Kentucky was given a considerable strip of territory claimed by both states west of. the Tennessee River, parts of Calloway and other border counties. They made a map of the Cumberland
Return to Book Index of Contents
All Rights Reserved