AHGP Transcription Project


Breckinridge County


Breckinridge County was established out of part of Hardin County, in 1799, the 39th in order of formation, and was named in honor of the distinguished lawyer and statesman, John Breckinridge. It is situated in the western middle part of the state, on the Ohio River, by which it is bounded on the north, by Hardin County on the east, Grayson on the south, and Hancock on the west. The face of the country is generally rolling, high, dry, and well watered. The climate is pleasant and healthy; the soil fertile, with a basis of red clay and limestone. The principal water courses are Sinking, Clover, and Rough creeks, and the North fork of the latter. Tobacco, corn, wheat, and oats are the principal products; 4,500 hogsheads of tobacco being raised in 184.6, and the product latterly is greatly increased.

Towns
Hardinsburg, the county seat, named after Capt. Wm. Hardin, was laid out in town lots in 1782, incorporated in 1800; has a new and handsome court house, built in 1869, at a cost of §137,000; population in 1870, 455.
Cloverport (originally Joesville), established in 1828, on the Ohio River, 12 miles north west of Hardinsburg, is a place of considerable business; population 849.
Stephensport, on the Ohio, 10 miles above Cloverport, incorporated in 1825, population 160.
Union Star, 4 m. east of Stephensport, incorporated in 1868, population 104.
Bewleyville, 14 miles, north east of Hardinsburg, population 96.
Hudsonville, Constantine, Webster, and Cross Roads.


Members of the Legislature from Breckinridge County, since 1859

Senate
John B. Bruner, 1857-61, and 1865-69.

House of Representatives
David C. Ganaway, 1859-61;
Alfred Allen, 1861-67, but elected State Treasurer in 1866, and succeeded by Chas. Alexander, 1866-67;
John Allen Murray, 1867-69;
Dudley Hambleton, 1869-71;
Jonas D. Wilson, 1871-73;
Thos. Miller, 187.3-75.

Minerals
Extensive banks of coal of fine quality are in the north west part of the county, near Cloverport. Lead ore has been discovered, which is said to yield lead 6 per cent, more pure than the most noted Missouri mines.

Springs
Four miles from Cloverport are the Breckinridge Tar and White Sulphur Springs, which have been at times fashionable as a watering place.

Curiosities
Six or seven miles from the source of Sinking creek, a considerable stream, which supplies water for machinery during the entire year, the creek suddenly sinks, showing for five or six miles no trace of its existence; it then re-appears above ground and flows into the Ohio. On this creek is a natural mill-dam of rock, 8 feet high and 40 feet wide, which answers all the purposes of a dam to a mill erected there by Mr. Huston, before 1847.

Cave
Near Sinking creek is a large cave, never fully explored, called Penitentiary cave. Some of the apartments, in the splendor and magnificence of their scenery, are claimed to rival the celebrated Mammoth cave in Edmonson County. The roof of one room, about 100 yards from the mouth of the cave, is 60 to 70 feet high; and there are three natural basins, elevated above the level of the floor in the form of troughs, 15 feet long, 4 feet wide, and 12 inches deep, of remarkable construction and appearance, and filled with cool, clear water. The stone which formed the sides and ends of the basins, do not exceed in thickness the blade of a table knife.

Indian Graves
In April, 1858, at Cloverport, the rise in the Ohio River caused a portion of the bank to cave in, which disclosed three Indian graves, filled with bones, tomahawks, beads, etc.

One of the earliest settlers in that portion of Kentucky which now forms the county of Breckinridge, was Capt. William Hardin, a noted hunter and Indian fighter, a man of dauntless courage and resolution, cool, calm, and self-possessed in the midst of most appalling dangers, and perfectly skilled in all the wiles and arts of border warfare. Soon after Capt. Hardin had erected a station in what is now the county of Breckinridge, intelligence was received that the Indians were building a town on Saline creek, in the present state of Illinois. Hardin, not well pleased that the savages should establish themselves in such close vicinity to his little settlement, determined to dislodge them. He soon had collected around him a force of eighty select men; the hardiest and boldest of those noted hunters whose lives were passed in a continual round of perilous adventure. When this force reached the vicinity of the lick, they discovered Indian signs, and approaching the town cautiously, they found it in the possession of three warriors who had been left to guard the camp. Hardin ordered his men to fire on them, which they did, killing two. The third attempted to make his escape, but he was shot down as he ran. He succeeded, however, in regaining his feet, and ran fifty yards, leaped up a perpendicular bank, six feet high, and fell dead. In the meantime, Hardin, correctly supposing that the main body of the Indians were out on a hunting expedition, and would shortly return, made immediate preparation for battle. He accordingly selected a place where a few acres of timbered land were surrounded on all sides by the prairie. Here he posted his men with orders to conceal themselves behind the trees, and reserve their fire until the Indians should approach within twenty-five yards. Soon after the little band had taken their position, they discovered the Indians rapidly approaching on their trail and numbering apparently between eighty and one hundred men. When the savages had arrived within one hundred yards of the position of the Kentuckians, one of the men, in his impatience to begin the battle, forgot the order of the captain, and fired his gun. Immediately the Indians charged, and the fight commenced in earnest.

At the first fire, Captain Hardin was shot through the thighs. Without, however, resigning his command, or yielding to the pain of his wound, he sat down on a large log, and during the whole action, continued to encourage his men and give forth his orders, with as much coolness, promptitude, and self-possession, as if engaged in the most ordinary avocation. This more than Spartan firmness and resolution, was not, however, anything very remarkable in the early history of Kentucky. Every battle field furnished many examples of similar heroism. The iron men of those times, seem, indeed, to have been born insensible to fear, and impregnable to pain. The coolness, courage, and unyielding determination of Hardin, in this trying situation, no doubt contributed greatly to the success of the day; and after a severe contest, in which some thirty of the savages fell, they were finally repulsed. The loss of the whites, in killed and wounded, was very considerable. During the action the parties were frequently engaged hand to hand.

This battle was never reported to the government, and it seems to have escaped the notice of the historians of early times in Kentucky; though it was, unquestionably, one of the most fiercely contested battles ever fought in the west.


The Honorable John Breckinridge, [for whom this county was named], was the second son of Colonel Robert Breckinridge, of Augusta County, Virginia, and was born on a farm, upon a part of which the town of Staunton now stands, on the 2nd day of December, 1760. His paternal ancestors were what were then called "Scotch Irish," that is, they were Presbyterians, from the north of Ireland, immediately, but originally from Scotland. After the restoration of Charles II., they were hotly persecuted in Ayrshire, their original seat, and being driven out from thence, spent half a century in the highlands of Braedalbane, and removed thence to Ireland, and early in the last century to Virginia; a portion of the persecuted remnant of the Scotch Covenanters, who suffered so long and so heroically for liberty and the reformed religion. His paternal and maternal grand-fathers both lie buried in the grave yard of the Tinkling Springs congregation, in the county of Augusta, of which both of them were ruling elders. His mother, Lettice Preston, was the oldest child of John Preston and Elizabeth Patton, and was the second wife of his father. General James Breckinridge, of Virginia, was his younger, and a full brother; General Robert Breckinridge, of Kentucky, was his elder, and a half-brother. At a very early age, he was carried by his father to the neighborhood of Fincastle, in Bottetourt County, Virginia, whither he removed, and where he died, when his son was about eleven years of age; leaving a widow, and seven children, in circumstances which we should now consider narrow: and exposed, upon what was then almost the extreme limit of the white settlements, to all the dangers of an Indian frontier; and this only a few years before the commencement of our long and bloody struggle for National Independence, which was ended about the time the subject of this notice arrived at man's estate.

Raised in the midst of dangers, hardships, and privations; the tradition of his family replete only with tales of suffering and exile, for conscience sake; and a widowed mother and orphan family, of which he became the head at the age of early boyhood, the objects of his constant care; it is by no means strange that his powerful character and uncommon talents should have been early and remarkably developed. A calm, simple, correct man, gentle to those he loved, stern and open to those he could not trust, always true, always brave, always self -dependent, it is just in such a way, that such circumstances would mold and develop such a nature as his. But it is not so easy to ascertain how it was, that in his circumstances, there should have been implanted in him, from earliest childhood, a thirst for knowledge that seemed to the end of his life, insatiable; nor could anything less than the highest mental endowments, directed with energy that never flagged, explain the extent, the variety, and the richness of the acquisitions which he was enabled to make. His education, both preparatory and professional, was privately conducted, and so far as is now known, chiefly without other aid than books, except about two years, which he spent at the college of William and Mary, in Virginia. During the latter part of his attendance at this ancient seal of learning, and when he was about nineteen years of age, he was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses, from the county of Bottetourt, without his having even suspected that such a matter was in agitation. On account of his youth, the election was twice set aside, and it was only on the third return, and against his own wishes and remonstrances, that he took his seat. From this time to the period of his death, he lived constantly, as a lawyer and a statesman, in the public eye.

In the year 1785 he married Mary Hopkins Cabell, a daughter of Colonel Joseph Cabell, of Buckingham County, Virginia; and settled in the county of Albemarle, and practiced law in that region of Virginia, until the year 1793, in the spring of which he removed to Kentucky, and settled in Lexington; near to which place, at "Cabell's Dale," in the county of Fayette, he resided till the period of his death, which occurred on the 14th December, 1806, when he had just completed his 46th year.

As a lawyer, no man of his day excelled him, and very few could be compared with him. Profoundly acquainted with his profession, highly gifted as a public speaker, laborious and exact in the performance of all his professional duties and engagements, these great qualities, united to his exalted private character, gave him a position at the bar, which few men ever attained, or ever deserved; and enabled him, besides the great distinction he acquired, to accumulate a large fortune. An event extremely characteristic attended the disposition of his estate: for on his death bed, he absolutely refused to make a will, saying that he had done his best to have such provisions made by law for the distribution of estates, as seemed to him wise and just, and he would adhere to it for his own family. At the end of sixty years, it is not unworthy to be recorded, that his wisdom and foresight, in this remarkable transaction, did not lose their reward.

As a statesman, very few men of his generation occupied a more commanding position, or mingled more controllingly with all the great questions of the day; and not one enjoyed a more absolute popularity, or maintained a more spotless reputation. He look a leading, perhaps a decisive part in all the great questions of a local character that agitated Kentucky, from 1793 to 1806, and whose settlement still exerts a controlling influence upon the character of her people and institutions. The constitution of 1798-99, for fifty years preserved unaltered, was more the work of his hands than of any one single man. The question of negro slavery, as settled in that constitution, upon a moderate ground, the ground which Kentucky ever occupied, the systematizing, to some extent, the civil and criminal codes, the simplification of the land law, the law of descents, the penitentiary system, the abolition of the punishment of death, except for willful murder and treason, all these, and many other important subjects, of a kindred nature, fell under his molding labors at the forming period of the commonwealth, and remained till 1850 as they were adjusted half a century before, in those vital questions that involved the destiny of the whole west, and threatened the plan if not the continuance of the Union itself, no man took an earlier or more decided stand. It is capable of proof, that the free navigation of the Mississippi River, and subsequently the purchase of Louisiana (which latter act, though it covered Mr. Jefferson with glory, he hesitated to perform, upon doubts both as to its policy and constitutionality), were literally forced upon the general government by demonstrations from the west, in which the mind and the hand of this great patriot and far sighted statesman were conspicuous above all.

As a statesman, however, he is best known as one of the leading men—perhaps in the west, the undoubted leader of the old Democratic Party; which came into power with Mr. Jefferson, as president, under whose administration he was made attorney general of the United States. He was an ardent friend, personal and political, of Mr. Jefferson; he coincided with him upon the great principles of the old democracy; he concerted with him and Mr. Madison, and others of kindred views, the movements which brought the democratic party into power; he supported the interests of that party with pre-eminent ability, in the legislature of Kentucky, and in the senate of the United States; and died as much beloved, honored and trusted by it, as any man he left behind. Some twenty years after his death, it began to be whispered, and then to be intimated in a few newspapers, that the Kentucky resolutions of 1798-9, which he offered, and which was the first great movement against the alien and sedition laws and the general principles of the party that passed them, were in fact the production of Mr. Jefferson himself, and not of John Breckinridge; and it is painful to reflect that Mr. Jefferson did certainly connive at this mean calumny upon the memory of his friend. The family of Mr. Breckinridge have constantly asserted that their father was the sole and true author of these resolutions, and constantly defied the production of proof to the contrary; and there seems to be no question that they are right.

In stature, John Breckinridge was above the middle size of men; tall, slender and muscular; a man of great power and noble appearance. He had very clear gray eyes, and brown hair, inclining to a slight shade of red. He was extremely grave and silent in his ordinary intercourse; a man singularly courteous and gentle, and very tenderly loved by those who knew him. His family consisted of nine children; one of them only, Wm. L. Breckinridge, D.D., is living, December, 1873, but his descendants are numerous, both of his own and other names.


Source: History of Kentucky, Volume II, by Lewis Collins, Published by Collins & Company,
Covington, Kentucky, 1874


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