When John Wesley Hunt came to Kentucky in 1794, his plan was to open a general store in Lexington. A canny judge of business opportunity, he soon expanded his activities and became one of the responsible figures of Kentucky banking and finance. In another kind of venture, he imported fine stallions from the East, significantly improving the bloodlines of thoroughbreds and trotters in the Bluegrass.John Wesley Hunttells the story of Hunt's business exploits against the background of life in frontier Lexington. James A. Ramage reveals how his innovative solutions to the financial problems of the frontier gave rise to the prosperity and culture of Lexington in the nineteenth century
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When John Wesley Hunt rode into the frontier town of Lexington, Kentucky, in July of 1795, he arrived at an excellent time and place to rise in American business, for Lexington was becoming a major commercial center for pioneers moving westward. At twenty-two he was well equipped to seize the opportunity which lay before him on the frontier. For three generations the Hunts had been merchants in New Jersey and John had learned merchandising from his father, Trenton’s most prominent merchant. Through the valuable experiences ahead in merchandising, horse breeding, hemp manufacturing, banking, and finance, he was to develop, to...
During the period in which the Hunt children grew up, education (except in New England) was primarily the responsibility of parents. More than likely, the boys and Theodosia received elementary and secondary training from private teachers. According to Mary Hunt, Theodosia’s dance teacher (Mr. Dilling) also taught other subjects and had scholars in Burlington in addition to the group of thirty-three at Trenton. The studies of the oldest boys were probably oriented toward mathematics and accounting, and it seems logical to suppose that they served periods of apprenticeship in the Hunt store, because all three entered the mercantile business when...
3 THE PIONEER MERCHANT
3 THE PIONEER MERCHANT
In the spring of 1795 John Wesley Hunt’s cousin, Abijah Hunt, offered a fresh start, a new beginning on the frontier. Abijah, a merchant in Cincinnati, proposed entering partnership with John in a general store to be established in Lexington, Kentucky. Abijah and other pioneer merchants were rising to prosperity on the crest of a wave of westward expansion. For twenty years settlers had migrated across the Alleghenies, but after the defeat of the Indians of the Northwest Territory in 1794 pioneers began streaming down the Ohio River and over the Wilderness Road in increasing numbers.
When the settlers disembarked...
During the years of the partnership with Abijah the people of Lexington learned to trust and respect John W. Hunt. In the winter of 1797 when one of his friends had to be out of town, he depended on John to care for his daughter, providing her proper clothing and a place to stay. In December 1798 Hunt was appointed postmaster. The first postmaster, Innes B. Brent, who was also county jailer, had been keeping the box holding the mail on the mantel above the fireplace in the public room of the log jail. Hunt moved the post office to...
At the same time that Hunt was making his contributions to the horse industry, he was becoming at least equally prominent as a manufacturer of hemp. As a merchant he had forwarded the development of Lexington as a commercial city; as a manufacturer he had a key role in making the town a center of the hemp industry. To be near the hemp factory which he established in 1803, John moved his family from the farm to a brick house on the southwest corner of Market and Second streets.
It was exhilarating living in Lexington in the early nineteenth century....
In the nineteenth century urban merchants and financiers often set the tone of society. Social leadership and paternalism had been recognized for centuries as part of the merchant’s role. Entrepreneurs such as John W. Hunt spread civilization and stimulated culture. They supported institutions of higher learning, patronized the arts, sustained philanthropies, and served the church. Often they set the example in taste, consumption, and manners.
Hunt contributed to the architectural splendor of early Lexington with the beautiful family home he constructed. In February 1814, at the age of forty, he purchased a lot at the northwest corner of Mill and...
Increasingly involved in community affairs, John Hunt came to be one of central Kentucky’s most prominent citizens. In 1814 James Morrison recommended him as “a Gentleman of great wealth, enterprise and respectability.” Perhaps John’s greatest community service was his part in the founding of the Eastern Kentucky Lunatic Asylum. Prior to the early nineteenth century, the insane in the United States were usually cared for in private dwellings or in jails and almshouses. In Kentucky the poor who became mentally ill were boarded in private homes at public expense, by order of justices of the peace or magistrates. After 1800...
By far the most valuable source on John Wesley Hunt’s life is the large collection of Hunt-Morgan Papers at the Margaret I. King Library, University of Kentucky. The collection contains accounts, invoices, receipts, bills of exchange, bills of lading, memorandums, and correspondence on nearly every aspect of Hunt’s life. Among the many detailed accounts are those for the Lexington-Cincinnati trade of the 1790s. There are many family letters, including several written by Catherine Hunt to John. Letters from John’s family in Trenton reveal a great deal about life in that city in the 1790s and early 1800s.