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The History of Pioneer Lexington, 1779-1806

The History of Pioneer Lexington, 1779-1806

with a Foreword by Thomas D. Clark
Copyright Date: 1939
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    The History of Pioneer Lexington, 1779-1806
    Book Description:

    In this study of Kentucky pioneer life, Charles R. Staples creates a colorful record of Lexington's first twenty-seven years. He writes of the establishment of an urban center in the midst of the frontier expansion, and in the process documents Lexington's vanishing history. Staples begins with the settlement of the town, describing its early struggles and movement toward becoming the "capitol" of Fayette County. He also presents interesting pictures of the early pioneers and their livelihood: food, dress, houses, cooking utensils, "house raisings," religious meetings, horse races, and other types of entertainment.

    First published in 1939, this reprint provides those interested in the early history of Kentucky with a comprehensive look at Lexington's pioneer period. Staples recreates a time when downtown's busiest streets were still wilderness and a land rich with agricultural potential was developing commercial elements. Because he wrote during a period when much of pioneer Lexington remained, he provides a wealth of primary information that could not be assembled again.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5961-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xii)

    This history of pioneer Lexington, Kentucky, is the result of years of research by Charles Richard Staples. The book is, in fact, the offspring of a long and devoted love affair between a man and his town. Throughout his life the author cherished his Lexington birth, and through his research he vicariously experienced the seminal years when the first settlers felled the trees and cut back the cane to clear their way through the Bluegrass wilderness. No less than the initial explorers of the site of the original fort and cabins, Staples loved even the name of Lexington, inspired by...

    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. 1-6)

    THE Pioneers sleep in their narrow graves, many unmarked, their names almost forgotten, while their privations and adventures, steeped in the fiction of family tradition, have been handed down to us as facts. To these pioneers, Kentucky was the “promised land” and on the Point Pleasant campaign in October 1774, “Kentucky” had been a subject as exciting as the war itself.¹ The extravagant reports of the early surveyors and hunters were more than borne out by the first views of the dense woodlands of locust, black walnut, hickory, sugar maples, buckeyes and blue ash.

    Confirmation of the report of the...

    (pp. 7-16)

    IN November 1780 the Virginia Assembly divided Kentucky County by the establishment of the counties of Fayette, Lincoln and Jefferson, and Lexington became the “capital” of Fayette county which then included all of Kentucky north and east of the Kentucky River. “But Lexington was not built in a day. Many dreary days and months passed between the building of the stockade and the last Indian raids”, and, although the first blockhouse was erected in the spring of 1779, by March 8, 1785 only fifty five cabins had been built outside the walls of the fort.¹

    Just when the site of...

    (pp. 17-25)

    THE block house mentioned in statement of Josiah Collins was erected near what is now the southwest corner of Main and Mill streets; the selection of this spot was probably determined by the proximity to the spring. “When Lexington was first opened as a county seat, there was but one spring and altho’ forty or fifty persons only used to attend, the townsmen had to go and bring up all the water they would need before these persons would come, for the spring would be muddied then so as to be unfit for use. The seeps, however, gradually opened, and...

  8. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 26-36)

    THE growth of the Town of Lexington was necessarily very slow during the first few years. An early pioneer relates—“there were four cabins and a blockhouse in Lexington in the fall of 1779 when my father got there.”¹ With succeeding years and an increase in the number of cabins, mercantile establishments began to appear. William McConnell had a tan yard, the first in the new country, on Hunt’s row (now Water Street). There is a tradition that he was one of the footmen who responded to the call for assistance at the time of the attack on Bryan’s station....

  10. Early Days of the Settlement

    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 37-45)

      THE close of the year 1784 found Lexington with several stores, which provided a ready market for supplies produced by the farmers. Smith’s road, from Limestone to Lexington, by way of the Lower Blue Licks, became a much travelled road and a favorite with emigrants arriving in the Blue Grass. Statehood was talked about and the separation from Virginia much debated. An election was held in Lexington for delegates to represent the county at a convention to be held in Danville, and it resulted in the selection of Levi Todd, Caleb Wallace, Humphrey Marshall, John Fowler and William Ward. No...

    • EVENTS OF 1787.
      (pp. 46-50)

      EARLY in the year of 1787 William Morton, called “Lord” Morton, opened a general trading store on the southwest corner of Main and Upper streets, in which he carried drugs as a side line. Later, he operated a tanyard on the corner of Main and Lower (now Patterson) streets. In drawing for the out-lots he was awarded the property on North Limestone, from Fifth to Sixth streets, now a part of Duncan Park. His widow died July 25, 1830, aged 76 years.

      In June, 1787, James Wilkinson took a cargo of hams, flour and tobacco from central Kentucky, which he...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
    • EVENTS OF 1788.
      (pp. 51-60)

      AT the beginning of the year of 1788 the little town of Lexington was passing through a time of unusual interest, and was a well established frontier village gradually developing a healthy community life. “Not all the pictures of the town are attractive and several of the visitors, accustomed to correctly established society in the east and in Europe, complained of many difficult roads and poor accommodations, but the time of the visit, and the character of the traveler must be considered.” One traveler, however, has left a record of the favorable impression Lexington of that year made upon her:...

    • EVENTS OF 1789.
      (pp. 61-64)

      WITH the beginning of the year 1789, we find from the pages of the Gazette that the Lexington stores began to advertise more and undertook by that means to let the public know the variety of merchandise carried by them. But, with this increased activity the Gazette is strangely silent regarding the election for the electors of President and Vice President of the United States. Apparently no attention was given this election in the Town of Lexington.

      “Wilkinson’s expedition of Kentucky products to New Orleans this spring, consisted of twenty-five large boats, some of which carried three pounders and all...

    • EVENTS OF 1790.
      (pp. 65-69)

      WITH the opening of the year 1790 we find a number of changes taking place among the merchants of the Town of Lexington. Many new names appear among the advertisers in the Kentucky Gazette, all of whom proudly claimed a great variety in their stocks of merchandise and “just the items needed” in a growing frontier village.

      Robert Patterson, James Parker, Robert Barr, Robert Parker, Samuel Blair, John Coburn and Samuel McMillen were elected trustees of the town for that year, and their first efforts were directed towards correcting errors in titles of some of the in-lots. A number of...

    • EVENTS OF 1791.
      (pp. 70-75)

      THE year 1791 started with a severe spell of weather and also a shortage of news ”from the Eastern Mails. The local Board of War for the district of Kentucky was appointed with discretionary powers to provide for the prosecution of the war. The election of trustees for the town of Lexington for this year resulted in the choice of John Bradford, chairman: Henry Parker, clerk; Samuel McMillen, surveyor. The other members were John Coburn, Peyton Short and James Parker.

      On February 12, 1791, Byers and Kirkpatrick announce they have a new assortment of dry goods, groceries and hardware, at...

    • EVENTS OF 1792.
      (pp. 76-91)

      WITH the beginning of the year 1792, the Gazette mentions the severity of the weather, by reason of which “no mails have arrived from the eastern settlements for over ten days.” The impassable condition of the roads into Lexington and the total lack of communication with the outside world during the winter months was also mentioned in the files of the Gazette, alongside some recent acts of Congress. In the issue dated January 7, 1792, William Scott announces he has “started a Fulling Mill, six miles below Lexington,” and Isaac Telfair opens a store at upper (east) end of Lexington....

    • EVENTS OF 1793.
      (pp. 92-98)

      THE new year of 1793 opened with the Gazette complaining about the severe weather, the nonreceipt of mails “from the east,” and a total lack of news. The annual election for trustees resulted in the choice of John Bradford, Basil Duke, James Hughes, Daniel Weissiger, Samuel McMillan, Christopher Keiser and Alexander Parker. The members of this board selected Benjamin Bradford as clerk, with James Trotter and John Maxwell as town assessors.

      To the list of Lexington industries was added the earthenware manufacturing plant of John Carty, which gave employment to a number of hired slaves. Seitz and Lauman announce they...

    • EVENTS OF 1794.
      (pp. 99-102)

      THE arrival of 1794 found the little Town of Lexington well established as a commercial center and the largest depot for supplies in the Ohio valley. Every commodity used by settlers could be found for sale in Lexington stores. This year witnessed many new firms starting their commercial careers, while some of the firms that had been supplying the wants of the community sold out and the members joined the flood of emigrants to the Spanish territory west of the Mississippi, or “down the river” to Natchez or New Orleans.

      The trustees elected for this year were Cornelius Beatty, Alexander...

    • EVENTS OF 1795.
      (pp. 103-111)

      WITH the beginning of the year 1795 a long spell of rainy weather visited Lexington, and the Gazette comments upon the unpleasant business conditions in the state, alongside the proceedings of the United States Congress. The birth of a new industry was reflected in the advertisements—the first of a legion of its kind, which lasted until the automobile made its appearance—when John Kennedy “opens his livery stable,” but neglects to mention its stall capacity or its location.

      Some new faces appeared among the newly-elected trustees when Henry Marshall, John Smith, John Cocke, Robert Patterson, James Morrison, George Teagarden...

    • EVENTS OF 1796.
      (pp. 112-130)

      IN the first issue of the Gazette for the year of 1796, the usual complaint appears regarding “the nonreceipt of the mails from the east, and the consequent inability to supply the readers with any late news.” The Gazette announced the results of the recent election by which Hugh Mcllvaine, James Morrison, Robert Patterson, Thomas January, George Teagarden, James Hughes and Alexander Parker were chosen by the citizens as trustees for the year of 1796. This board appointed Benjamin Stout and John Maxwell as assessors, John Arthur as surveyor and Thomas Love clerk of the Market house. James Hughes and...

    • EVENTS OF 1797.
      (pp. 131-140)

      WITH the start of the year of 1797 we find the Gazette complaining at non-receipt of the mails “from the east” and expressing a hope from the Editor that some change that would guarantee more frequent delivery and more regular service would be effected. Early in January the Gazette announced the following appointments for Justices of the Peace by the Governor: Walker Baylor, Andrew McCalla, Robert Russell, John Richardson, Peter January and James Hord. John Hickman and John Moss were made inspectors of flour and hemp, at Kentucky river warehouses.

      The annual election for trustees for the Town of Lexington...

    • EVENTS OF 1798.
      (pp. 141-148)

      THE beginning of the year of 1798 found Fayette County again called upon to give up a portion of its area for the purpose of the establishment of a new county, when Jessamine county was formed out of the southern and southeastern portions of this county. The Jessamine creeks settlements had grown considerably by the acquisition of the Moravian settlers, who had been brought to this county from Hagerstown, Maryland, by Doctor Peter Trisler, and who occupied a commanding influence when the new county began to function as such on January 1, 1798. The energy and thrift of these German...

    • EVENTS OF 1799.
      (pp. 149-156)

      THE opening of the year of 1799 found the Gazette complaining of “the continued severe weather and the non-receipt of the mails from the east,” and praying “that the authorities will make some improvement in the service.” The trustees elected for this year were Robert Patterson, George Teagarden, Alexander Parker, Cornelius Beatty, Thomas January, Andrew McCalla and Samuel Postlethwait. Their minute book shows they met promptly after the first of the year, began to pay considerable attention to the condition of the streets and pavements, and directed many sections of the latter to be put down in brick, forbidding the...

    • EVENTS OF 1800.
      (pp. 157-167)

      THE year of 1800 opened with considerable political activity under the leadership of Mr. Breckinridge, as the death of Colonel George Nicholas during the previous year, left Mr. Clay and Mr. Breckinridge at the head of the opposition to John Adams in this state. “There was not half a dozen Federalists that dared to avow their opinions,”¹ and evidently the political complexion of Kentucky must have appeared very one-sided. The Gazette has many political cards during this period and devoted much space to “National Affairs.” It also refers to the “severe storm of snow” that visited the Town of Lexington...

    • EVENTS OF 1801.
      (pp. 168-175)

      THE year 1801 started with a severe spell of cold weather accompanied by a heavy snow, and also an election for town trustees, which resulted in the following “state of the polls”

      There was no editorial comment upon the result of this election, which was announced in the Gazette over the signature of John Arthur, clerk of the board. The editor, in this same issue, did comment upon the lack of news, saying “Three mails are now due from the East. What can be the occasion of this irregularity we cannot divine.”

      On January 12, 1801, Thomas Reed advertises “for...

    • EVENTS OF 1802.
      (pp. 176-188)

      “WITH the thermometer around zero for several days, and the weather extremely unpleasant,” the Gazette began the year of 1802 by announcing that “the town trustees were compelled to change the stable of the Oxen that were used on the streets.”

      On January 8, 1802, the “Presbyterian Church roof was set on fire by an unnamed negro who was shooting at pigeons, but little damage was done, and that only to the roof.” John Speed advertised “clean dry salt from Mann’s lick, for sale for cash.” The Gazette also published the following result of the election for town trusees:


    • EVENTS OF 1803.
      (pp. 189-201)

      THE year 1803 started out with a financial depression in the Town of Lexington and all over Central Kentucky by reason of the continued closing of the Port of New Orleans, and the Gazette comments upon the hardships of the local merchants and “those who export to the southward.” The “severe and unusual weather” and the “non-receipt of the mails from the Eastward” also come in for comment in the columns of the Gazette. It was during this month the merchants made some united efforts to relieve their condition but no permanent result seems to have been attained. On January...

    • EVENTS OF 1804.
      (pp. 202-211)

      THE new year was ushered in with the unual comments by the Gazette about “the unusual weather” and delay to the mails. The new trustees were presented to Thomas Lewis, who administered the oath of office, and their first meeting was devoted to procuring a “new supply of candles and glass lanterns to be hung in the market house.”

      County court orders for the January term mention Robert Kay and Joseph McChord as doing single and double weaving, Robert Holmes a wheel and chair maker, Archibald McIlvane a cabinet maker, and Peter Paul a stone cutter. Henry Hite was granted...

    • EVENTS OF 1805.
      (pp. 212-231)

      THE Town of Lexington experienced some severe weather with the beginning of the year of 1805, and in the issue of the Gazette dated January 1, the editor says, “The cold weather still continues. By yesterday’s post we received Philadelphia papers up to the 13th ulto., but Washington City papers only to the 7th ulto. Our accounts from Europe are twenty days later than before received. London dates only to the 13th of October. By them it appears the War between England and Spain had actually commenced, although no declaration had been made, and the British had captured some Spanish...

    • EVENTS OF 1806.
      (pp. 232-251)

      WHEN 1806 arrived the Town of Lexington was approaching the zenith of its manufacturing prosperity. The capital of the Blue Grass country had enjoyed remarkable trade to the South and West, and it was natural there should spring up those local establishments for the manufacture of such easily made goods as the excessive cost of transportation from the sea coast made attractive. “Any article that could be made locally, with raw products and the local labor, and then sold at all, could bring its producer enormous profit, as he was saving the cost of transportation, which in many cases, ranged...

    (pp. 252-260)

    DURING the year of 1806, Lexington received its first printed Directory, published by Joseph Charless, the Irishman. Fleeing from the Emerald Isle, because of his activities in the political riots of 1798, he settled in Philadelphia, and after a stay of a few years came to Lexington and started a newspaper with Francis Peniston as his partner. This directory was published as a part of his Almanac for that year, and the only copies now known are to be found bound in a volume of Almanacs in the Louisville Public Library and in records of the Wisconsin Historical Society.


    (pp. 261-267)

    IN addition to the Charless directory and the sketch of Lexington by Thomas Ashe, the most elaborate and thorough description of the capital of the Blue Grass for the year of 1806 is to be found in “Sketches of a Tour to the Western Country, through the States of Ohio and Kentucky,” by Fortesque Cuming, which was published in Pittsburg in 1810. He approached Lexington by way of the Russell Cave pike, through Bourbon County, and when crossing North Elkhorn creek met General William Russell, who was returning homeward from the trial of Aaron Burr at Richmond, Virginia. Cuming says:...

    (pp. 268-286)

    PREACHERS were slow settling in Kentucky, but a few missionaries came through “the Gap,” on their own account, to proclaim the “riches of the life hereafter.”

    Many of the churches were started by a few faithful adherents gathering together, meeting around in the various cabins until they were strong enough to organize a congregation and secure a permanent place of worship. Some of the itinerant preachers who visited these meetings mention the cordial reception and avid interest with which they were received by the pioneers. “The field was ready for the reapers,” and Lexington was not long in acquiring a...

    (pp. 287-296)

    THE first court held in Lexington used one of the cabins inside the stockade until it was provided with a log building that stood on the north west corner of Broadway and Main, which had been erected with money supplied by the Town Trustees. On March 20, 1780, they voted “the sum of thirty pounds gold, and granted one acre of ground to build a court house, prison and office, provided that court was to be held in Lexington.” The jail was a log hut, standing just west of Broadway on north side of Main street. The court house was...

    (pp. 297-306)

    THERE may have been a school for the children of the Lexington settlement but no record has been found for any period until the year 1782 when John McKinney was installed as instructor in a cabin that stood on what is now the east side of Cheapside. “The children used to be in a hurry to get to school in the morning so they could get a drink from the spring. They used a horn spoon and the flow of water was slow, so they could get only a spoonful at a time.”¹ McKinney had been in the Battle of...

    (pp. 307-317)

    THE Town of Lexington was governed by a Board of Trustees as provided in the Act of the Virginia Assembly establishing the town. This method of government was continued until Lexington was incorporated in 1832. The first trustees were named in the act, and after that the trustees were chosen by popular vote at elections held the last of each year or, at the beginning of the new year (Gazette, April 30, 1791 and December 10, 1801).

    The personnel of the board usually comprised men of varied interests, all were prominent in the affairs of the town, and their actions...

    (pp. 318-324)

    FOR many months after the erection of the first block house there was no person within many miles who was properly entitled to call himself a doctor. Just who was the first physician to settle in Lexington remains a matter of doubt. Two regularly graduated physicians early appeared in the town of Lexington, but so far as is known did not appear in their medical capacity. William Fleming, a member of the First Land Court spent parts of the winter of 1779-1780 in and around Lexington attending sessions of that court.

    James Wilkinson came to Lexington in 1784 and opened...

    (pp. 325-330)

    THE confusion incident to the organization of the Federal Government, after the Revolutionary War, caused the postal authorities to neglect the area west of the Alleghany mountains for a number of years. With the unsettled conditions and the dangers incident to the “Wilderness Road” the early settlers of Lexington and the surroundings had to avail themselves of the services of traders and such travelers as journeyed to the eastern settlements to have their letters carried over the mountains “back home.” This was, at best, a very uncertain service, but it was all that was available to the pioneers. Some of...

  19. INDEX
    (pp. 331-362)