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Audubon: The Kentucky Years

Copyright Date: 1976
Edition: 1
Pages: 108
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Kentucky attracted an amazing variety of would-be settlers in pioneer days, but none with brighter talent than John James Audubon. Although his years in the state came long before publication of the monumentalBirds of America, he was already painting the scenes from nature that were to make him famous.

    Audubon: The Kentucky Yearsis the captivating account of Audubon's sojourn in Kentucky from his arrival in in 1807 as a gregarious twenty-two-year-old storekeeper to his departure in 1819, when his failure in business was about to force him to seek a livelihood from his skill as an artist.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5023-9
    Subjects: History, Education, Language & Literature, Zoology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. 1-5)

    A great deal of energy has been expended in attempts to prove that Jean-Jacques Audubon was the lost dauphin of France, spirited out of the country during the Terror, to be brought up by loyal henchmen of the crown. Subsequently, the legend runs, he was sent quietly across the sea to America. There he grew up and finally settled on the frontier, where he always refused to confide in anyone the secret of his royal parentage. Thus the romantic tale, which Audubon did nothing to discourage. He was never frank about his origins and the stories he chose to tell...

    (pp. 6-11)

    On August 31, 1807, John James Audubon and Ferdinand Rozier left Mill Grove Farm for the town of Louisville, where they proposed to establish a general store. Their stock-in-trade, to be furnished them on credit by Benjamin Bakewell, was to be shipped to its destination in the usual fashion—by wagon to Pittsburgh and thence by flatboat down the Ohio River to Louisville.

    Neither of the partners had ever been in truly wild country before, whether in Kentucky or elsewhere, but though the prospect may have daunted Rozier somewhat, it held no terrors for Audubon. Within miles of Perkiomen Creek...

  6. 3 LOUISVILLE, 1807
    (pp. 12-19)

    Descriptions of early Louisville abound. They come from the pens of many observers and vary only in detail. All agree that the village of 1807 numbered some 1,300 souls. One writer described the town thus: “It consisted of one principal and handsome street, about half a mile long, tolerably compactly built, and the houses generally superior, many of three stories, with a parapet wall on top, which in front gives the appearance of having flat roofs.” In all directions except toward the river the settlement was surrounded by deep woods. Its situation on a promontory, overlooking a bend in the...

    (pp. 20-29)

    The wedding day of John James Audubon and Lucy Bakewell finally dawned. Not a pleasant day, it was foggy and windy. The ceremony took place on April 5, 1808, and was performed by the Reverend Mr. William Latta, minister of two nearby Chester County Presbyterian churches. The following announcement of the wedding appeared in theNorristown Weekly Register:“Married on Tues. the 5th inst., by the Rev. William Latta, Mr. J. Audubon of Louisville, to Miss Lucy Bakewell, eldest daughter of Mr. Bakewell, of Fatland Ford, in this county.”

    Audubon’s description of himself at about this time, composed later, gives...

    (pp. 30-37)

    By 1810 Audubov’s portfolios were bulging with more than two hundred bird portraits. He was no longer a novice painter, and he knew his own skill. In March of that year his famous meeting with Alexander Wilson took place. This Scottish ornithologist, who preceded him in the systematic study of American birds, was traveling about the country seeking new species. But as his publication was far advanced, he was also anxious to obtain subscriptions for his book.

    The encounter of the two naturalists was a historic occasion from every point of view. Accounts of the meeting conflict in many ways,...

    (pp. 38-49)

    About one hundred twenty-five miles downriver from Louisville stood the little town of Henderson. Like its larger neighbor it was located on a bluff overlooking the Ohio. It was flanked by an extensive canebrake in which wild birds and animals teemed—a naturalist’s paradise. Founded in 1792 by the Transylvania Land Company, the town had long been known as Red Banks, but it had recently been renamed in honor of Richard Henderson, the land company’s prominent member. Rozier wished to move the firm to this location. He was disappointed in their progress in Louisville and discouraged by the growing competition....

    (pp. 50-65)

    It was at about this time, to Audubon’s misfortune be it said, that Lucy’s brother, Thomas Bakewell, stopped by to pay an unannounced visit. He was an enthusiastic, even visionary young man who had not yet found his niche in the world, and on his arrival in Henderson he was brimming over with plans and purposes and talking excitedly of his latest dream. He was on his way to New Orleans, where he proposed to set himself up as a commission merchant. He had heard tales of fortunes made rapidly, and he could hardly wait to get started. In a...

    (pp. 66-79)

    Inseparable from any consideration of Audubon’s early career, and corresponding more or less precisely with his Kentucky years, is the story of his relationship with several picaresque characters and his participation in no few equally picturesque events. Interesting too is the varied and skillful use he made of both in his narratives. To understand this fully we must anticipate his later career a bit and realize that the image of the frontiersman that Audubon projected of himself in the eastern United States and in England was all part of his campaign to sell his great book. During his travels to...

    (pp. 80-89)

    Without a shadow of a doubt his last years in Kentucky were among the unhappiest of Audubon’s life. Old friends were passing away. James Berthoud, for example, died in the Audubon home while on a visit there from Shippingport. The naturalist’s business ventures, never under tight control, continued to crash about his head. What small profits his sales and services brought had always to go to help pay his debts. The mill was a perpetual source of difficulty. The outlook grew darker each day until at last he saw no way to raise the funds he needed except by the...

  13. 10 EPILOGUE
    (pp. 90-93)

    When in 1820 John James and Lucy Audubon made the hard decision to separate for a while so that he might pursue his nature studies on the Mississippi and in the southern states while she remained with their sons in Cincinnati, they were deciding more than they knew. Audubon’s life was about half over. The second half of that life was to bear little resemblance to the first. In the hotel in Louisville and the log houses in Henderson, whether actually the property of the Audubons or not, the family had always had a home together. Now for many years...