HISTORY OF CHRISTIAN COUNTY KENTUCKY
charles m. meacham
FROM 1825 TO 1850
The Development Period; From 1825 to 1850; Leaders of the Day; Political Alignments; Early Religious History; Three Noted Pioneers.
Christian County by 1825 was getting well settled and generally prosperous. Hopkinsville had about 1500 population. The streets were but crudely improved and sidewalks were scarce. The county roads were unimproved and the neighborhoods were beginning to form villages, and country stores, doctors and churches appeared. In the census of 1820 the county had shown a population of 10,459, and in 1830 it had grown to 12,684. In Hopkinsville, a town government was functioning and continued to do so until 1870, when it obtained a city charter.
The circuit court judge was Benjamin Shackelford, the county clerk Abraham Stites, and the sheriff was Matthew Wilson. The territory of the county was the same as it is now.
The county during this period was represented in succession by James Gholson, Ninian E. Gray and Ben Edwards Gray in the State Senate. The representatives included Daniel Mayes, John P. Campbell, William
Davenport, Chas. S. Morehead, David S. Patton, Gustavus A. Henry, Jas. C. Clarke, John Pendleton, Joseph Crockett, William Morrow, George Morris, Ninian E. Gray, Benjamin Bradshaw, Jas. F. Buckner and finally
Winston J. Davie in 1850.
Many of these men were leaders in affairs. Chas. S. Morehead’s wife died while he lived here and is buried in the Pioneer Graveyard. He removed to the central part of the State and became Governor in 1855. The Grays were both men of ability and prominence; Campbell and Patton were pioneers who helped to make the town and county; Henry moved to Tennessee and became famous as “The Eagle Orator”; Buckner and Davie were young men who became leaders in the county for many years afterwards. The only paper in 1825 was the Republican, started in 1821 and then edited by David S. Patton. In 1829 he sold it to Livingston Lindsay, who changed the name to the Spy. In 1834 the Gazette was started by John and A. C. Goodall and this paper was sold in 1844 to Robt. Thomas, who changed it to the Green River Whig and it ran until about 1851.
The bar contained many men of conspicuous talents and historical prominence. Joseph B. Crockett, born in Jessamine County in 1808, came to Hopkinsville in 1827 and began the study of law in the office of Chas.
S. Morehead, afterwards Governor. In 1830 he formed a partnership with Gustavus A. Henry. Two years later Mr. Henry removed to Tennessee. He married a daughter of John Bryan and in 1833 began a brilliant public career as representative in the Legislature. He was Commonwealth’s attorney in 1836, but resigned to resume private practice in 1838 and in 1840 removed to St. Louis. In 1852 he went to San Francisco and served as Supreme Court Judge of California from 1868 to 1880. He died in 1884.
James Breathitt was a brother of Gov. John Breathitt. Born in Virginia, he came to Kentucky in 1800 and to Christian County in the first decade following its formation and entered upon the practice of law. He was representative in the Legislature and filled other offices, but was cut down in early life, dying in 1839. One of his children was John W. Breathitt, whose son, Judge James Breathitt, and grandson, Lieut. Gov. James Breathitt, Jr., are members of the present bar, practicing under the firm name of Breathitt & Breathitt.
Fidelio C. Sharp was one of the early lawyers and became a leader at the bar when it was noted for his strength. He spent the years of a busy and successful career in the city, reared a family and his descendants are still among the prominent people of the city of Hopkinsville.
Edward Rumsey, another leader of that period, was not only a great lawyer, but was a statesman who served’ his district in Congress and filled other positions of honor. He moved to Greenville, but practiced here as well as in other counties in this part of the State. He died in 1868. Benjamin W. Patton, Davis S. Patton, Robert Coleman, John McLaming, Robt. L. Waddill, W. W. Fry, James W. Ewing, Robt. P. Henry, Gustavus A. Henry, Jas. L. Dozier, Robert McKee, Ninian E. Gray, Thomas Chilton, Geo. W. Barbour, Benjamin H. Bristow, Col. Jan’es F. Buckner, Henry J. Stites and Livingston Lindsay were all prominent in the second quarter century of the young county’s development.
Robert P. Henry was a brother of the Eagle Orator. He served in Congress in 1823 and was re-elected in 1825. He died during his second term and was buried in the Pioneer Graveyard. While in Congress he declined an appointment as Judge of the Court of Appeals.
Benjamin H. Bristow removed to Louisville and became very prominent and was Secretary of the Treasury. Col. Jas. F. Buckner was collector of Internal Revenue in Louisville. Livingston Lindsay became Chief Justice of Texas. Judge Henry J. Stites served as Circuit Judge and as Judge of the Court of Appeals and afterwards located in Louisville,
One of the great problems of this period, brought over from the earlier days, was the question of roads. No country can afford to ignore this question that was a vital and ever pressing one. Appius Claudius solved the problem in ancient Rome by the construction of the Appian Way, from the Imperial City to the sea. If the Kentuckians of a hundred years ago, enduring the hardships of a new country, without roads, bridges, telephones, railroads, and other public improvements and utilities that are now regarded as essentials of civilization, could build a great county in the wilderness and put it upon a prosperous basis in one generation, their descendants and their successors should be satisfied with nothing less than to bring to it an enduring success that will make Christian County a garden spot of Kentucky.
Kentucky in the first quarter of the past century naturally supported the policies of the three Virginia Presidents, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe, who were in office during the entire time. Political opposition in no way disturbed the peaceful growth of the new country. The year following the War of 1812 had left the country’s finances in a deplorable condition, and the clamor for relief from debt and hard times caused the Legislature to charter scores of State banks authorized to issue notes redeemable with the paper of the Bank of Kentucky. This scheme, of course, flooded the State with wildcat banks that soon left a dollar with only an uncertain and speculative value. The Legislature tried to remedy the situation by giving the power to replevy debts for two years. This enraged the creditors and put the State itself on the verge of bankruptcy. The people soon divided into “relief” and “anti-relief” parties. Gov. Adair was in sympathy with the “relief” party and it was led by such eminent lawyers as Solomon P. Sharp, Rezin Davidge, John Rowan and Wm. T. Barry. Nearly all of the creditor classes, including the merchants who sold largely on time, were in the “anti-relief” party. Also the majority of the bar and many of the wealthier farmers.
The right of the Legislature to pass relief laws, practically stopping the payment of just debts, was disputed. The Supreme Court decided that such laws were contrary to the Constitution of the United States, forbidding any State to enact laws impairing just obligations. The Legislature of 1824 was elected on the issue thus raised and Gen. Joseph Desha was chosen Governor by a large majority as a relief candidate. The three Judges who had held the act invalid—John Boyle, William Owsley and Benj. Mills—were summoned before the Legislature and vigorously upheld their decisions. They were replied to by Rowan, Bibb and Barry, opposition leaders, but the two-thirds majority to impeach the judges could not be secured. The Legislature, however, had the votes to repeal the act establishing the Court of Appeals, which it did, and then passed a new act creating a similar court. This was approved by the Governor and a new court was organized, consisting of Wm. T. Barry, Chief Justice; John Trimble, James Haggin and Rezin Davidge. They took forcible possession of the records, appointed a new clerk, and set up business as the Court of Appeals. All Kentucky was quickly divided into “Old Court” and “New Court” parties. Nearly all of the circuit judges recognized the old court and so did most of the lawyers. A few recognized the new court and some declined to express a preference in an effort to “play safe.’!
This was the condition of affairs in 1825 when the county elected a representative to the next Legislature. Daniel Mayes for the old court, and Nathan S. Dallam for the new court were the candidates. The contest was bitter in the extreme and the county’s peace was disrupted as it had never been before. The election was a victory for Mayes and the excitement subsided and the new State, in the end, settled its financial difficulties and normal conditions were restored. The political excitement of the years 1824 and 1825 was nation-wide and resulted in new party alignments.
The Presidential contest of 1824 was the first real fight for that office. There were four candidates voted for—Henry Clay, Gen. Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams and Wm. H. Crawford. With Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia each with a candidate, the Southern vote was divided and no candidate received enough votes to elect in the Electoral College and the election was thrown into the Lower House of Congress. Gen. Jackson had a few more votes than Mr. Adams, of Massachusetts. Mr. Clay was last in the race, but he had the advantage of being Speaker of the House. While he could not win himself, he could decide the election and through his influence the Congressmen from Kentucky and Ohio, which State had also voted for Clay, threw their votes to Adams and he was elected. This caused a permanent division in politics and resulted in the organization of a new party, known as the Whig party, that opposed the Democratic party for the next thirty years. Mr. Clay became Secretary of State under the new President, but the triumph was only a temporary one. Four years later, “Old Hickory” ran again and on the issues raised by his defeat in 1824, Gen. Jackson swept the country and was re elected at the end of his term of four years. Mr. Adams went down in history as the first one-term President since the defeat of the elder Adams by Thomas Jefferson in 1800. Mr. Clay’s ambition to be President was never realized. He remained a popular idol in Kentucky and at the close of the Adams administration was sent to the United States Senate, where he became one of the greatest Senators in the history of American politics.
The Whig party, with Clay as its leader, dominated in Christian County. The followers of Gen. Jackson became the Democratic party, as it is still known. The Whig party in 1854 was succeeded by the Republican party, which came into power in 1860, when the Democratic party had two tickets in the field. With this outline of political conditions in the nation, the state and the country, the second era in the County’s history, covering the period from 1825 to 1850, will be taken up in another chapter.
EARLY RELIGOUS HISTORY
The early settlers of Kentucky brought their religion with them into the wilderness. Elder William Hickman, a Baptist minister, came to Kentucky as early as 1776 and preached to the scattered posts. Five years later the first church was organized at Lancaster. In 1783, Rev. David Rice, a Presbyterian minister, came to Harrodsburg. The same year Rev. Francis Clark led the Methodist advance guard, settling at Danville. As early as 1794, an Episcopal church was organized and in 1787 the Catholics were established at Bardstown.
It is a matter of tradition—there being no record—that a “Hardshell” Baptist Church held services near West Fork before 1800, and that there was one of the same faith at East’s schoolhouse a few years later. Elder Williams, who came in 1806, was the pastor. He removed to Missouri, in 1815, and the church died out. Elder Isaac Todevine, it is said, preached to the West Fork Church. He lived over the state line in Montgomery County, Tennessee. Lorenzo Dow, a famous itinerant preacher, was here as ear’y as 1814. The Missionary Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, early in the last century, organized churches that have lived and multiplied for more than a hundred years. Bethel Baptist Church, near Pembroke, was organized in 1816. The first church of those still in existence was Little River, dating back to 1804.
The First Baptist Church of Hopkinsville was organized June 6, 1818, in the house of John Pursley, grandfather of John W. Pursley, one of its present members. The first meeting house was on the former site of Ferrell’s High School on 13th Street. Later a brick house was built on Main Street, corner of 11th, and used until 1894, when the present stone building was erected, corner Main and 14th. It was organized with 10 members and the present membership is 1,300. In 1910, the Second Baptist Church was organized with 50 members and now has 461. There are 23 other Baptist churches in the county with more than 4,500 members.
There were many Methodists in Hopkinsville before 1820 who were periodically visited by preachers, and services were held in the Court House and other buildings. On October 21, 1822, George Kirkman sold for $170 a lot to erect a house of worship upon. The building later erected was used until 1849, when a new building was erected, on Ninth and Clay Street, on a lot conveyed by Wm. E. Price and wife. This house was remodeled in 1883 and in 1916 was sold for the site of a business house, when the present beautiful building on Main and 13th was occupied, which is the largest and finest church in the city. The present membership is about 1,200 and there are numerous other Methodist churches in all parts of the county.
The First Presbyterian Church in Hopkinsville was organized in 1813, and the first meeting house erected about 1820, on the lot where a larger
house still stands, corner Ninth and Liberty Streets. In 1867, the original body divided and the two branches used the house jointly until 1879, when the Northern assembly branch erected a house of its own and was called the First Presbyterian Church, while the other took the name of Westminster Church.
About 1825, the Cumberland Presbyterians organized a church in Hopkinsville, using jointly a house owned by the Unitarians, who at that time were represented in the town. The Cumberland Presbyterians now worship in a pretty little brick church on Seventh Street.
Grace Episcopal Church was organized in October, 1831, with Rev. Geo. P. Giddings as the first rector. The first edifice was a frame house on Virginia Street, which was succeeded in 1882, by a handsome and much larger building with a parish house adjacent, on Sixth Street. It is now a flourishing body. Rev. Geo. C. Abbitt was the rector for twenty-five years, and died in 1929. Rev. B. W. Gaither succeeded him.
In November, 1832, the Christians or Disciples, who followed Alexander Campbell in his movement out of the Baptist Church a few years before, organized a church in Hopkinsville with 16 members. It first met in the building used jointly by the Cumberland Presbyterians and “The adherents of Barton W. Stone, of the old Christian Church.” The Unitarians of a decade before were no longer in evidence. In 1840, the house was partially destroyed by a storm and the Disciples, as they were then called, bought the lot and repaired the building, and in 1850 tore it down and replaced it with a new and larger one. This has since been remodeled and added to and the Christian Church is now one of the strongest in the city, with about 1,200 members. The Men’s Bible Class, taught by Dr. Horace Kingsbury, the pastor, has more than 100 members.
The Catholic Church in Hopkinsville has maintained an organization for more than 70 years. The membership is not large. The church is located on East Ninth Street and has recently been rebuilt. Also the Church of Christ has an organization in the city. A new house on West Seventh Street has recently been erected.
The Universalists are also represented with a church of small membership, but it has a nice brick edifice on North Main Street.
The Salvation Army has maintained a body of workers here for the last twenty years.
In addition to these various white churches, the colored people have one Methodist church, one Episcopal church, and four or five Baptist churches in and around the city.
THREE NOTED PIONEERS
It is worthy of note that three outstanding pioneer leaders of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), were born in Christian County, Kentucky—John W. McGarvey, Isaiah Boone Grubbs, and Winthrop Hartly Hopson.
McGarvey spent most of his life in Lexington as professor of Sacred History in the College of Bible in Transylvania, and as President of the College. He had an international reputation as a Biblical scholar and was the author of many books.
Grubbs devoted himself almost exclusively to the work of the classroom, possessing an almost uncanny ability in the art of teaching. For nearly a half century he was a member of the faculty of the College of the Bible at Lexington, as professor of Hebrew and Exegetics. Thousands of ministers passed through his hands and felt ever afterwards the fine effects of his patient, kindly training.
Successful pastors and evangelists everywhere give McGarvey and Grubbs large credit for their own achievements.
Winthrop Hartly Hopson was born near Garrettsburg, Christian County, Kentucky, April 26, 1823, being the son of Dr. Samuel Hopson and Sally Clark Hopson. His father’s father was Col. Joseph Hopson and his mother’s father was Capt. John Clark, both officers in the army of the Revolution. Col. Hopson, with his wife (born Sally Boyd), came to Christian County in 1811, from Henry County, Virginia. Capt. Clark came from North Carolina and settled on a farm near Hopkinsville. When Christian County was organized in 1797, he was elected the first County and Circuit Clerk and removed to the county seat. His official records in excellent long-hand are still preserved in the archives of the court house.
Before Winthrop was two years old, his father removed to Montgomery County, Missouri. The little chap rode horseback in his mother’s lap while covered wagons conveyed the servants and household goods.
Young Winthrop was taught by the tutors and in private schools until he was ready for higher branches. He attended Illinois College at Jacksonville for two years and later was graduated from Columbia (Mo.) College, now Missouri University. At this time he had determined to enter the ministry. His father refused his consent unless he had a profession to fall back on, so he selected medicine and attended lectures in St. Louis for several years, being graduated in 1848, when Dr. Joseph N. McDowell was president of the college.
He did not practice long but was always known thereafter as Dr. Hop-son. His success in the ministry was marked from the beginning and his services were always in demand. He was State Evangelist of Missouri for a number of years and was very successful in winning converts and establishing churches. Afterwards he occupied noteworthy pastorates in Lexington, Ky., Richmond, Va., Louisville, Ky., and St. Louis, Mo. From the last he was called to the presidency of Christian University, Canton, Mo. While serving in that capacity, his rugged health gave way and he was invalided until his death in Nashville in 1888.
Dr. Hopson was married three times but had only one child, Sadie Fife Hopson. She became the wife of Rev. R. Lin Cave, for many years a noted minister of the Christian Church in Nashville, and at one time President of Transylvania College. A child of this union is Rev. Robert Lord Cave, of Hopkinsville, a grandson of Dr. W. H. Hopson and a greatgreat-grandson of Capt. John Clark, the first County and Circuit Clerk.
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