AHGP Transcription Project

Crittenden County

Crittenden County, the 91st in order of formation, was erected out of the eastern part of Livingston County, in 1842, and named in honor of John J. Crittenden. It is watered by Crooked, Camp, Hurricane, Livingston and Pinery creeks, and is almost surrounded by rivers, the Ohio forming its entire northern, the Tradewater its entire eastern, and the Cumberland nearly half of its western boundary; on the east are Union and Webster Counties, on the south Caldwell and Lyon, and on the west Livingston. The surface is generally broken, high and rolling; well timbered, and with a generous soil, adapted to all the cereals, and remarkable for its tobacco and fruits; it is the finest fruit region in the state; apples, peaches, and grapes grow to perfection.

Marion, the county seat, named after Gen. Marion of the Revolution, and incorporated in 1844, has a population of about 300, and is situated near the center of the county; contains 5 dry goods, 2 drug, and 2 grocery stores, 2 hotels, 5 mechanic shops, a tobacco warehouse, church, male and female academy, 8 lawyers and 3 doctors.
Dycusburg, named after Wm. E. Dycus, its founder, and incorporated in 1847, is on the Cumberland River, 15 miles south west of Marion; does a large tobacco business, and has 4 stores, 4 coffee-houses, a drug store, and a church; population about 250.
Weston, on the Ohio River, 12 miles from Marion, incorporated 1868, is an important shipping point; has 2 stores, 2 hotels, a tobacco stemmery, blacksmith shop, and 100 population.
Ford's Ferry, on the Ohio River, 3 miles below Weston, has 4 stores, 2 hotels, and about 75 inhabitants.
Clementsburg, on the Ohio, half a mile above Ford's Ferry, is only a shipping point.
Bell's Mines, on Tradewater River, 18 miles nearly north east from Marion.
Shady Grove, in the extreme eastern part of the county, 15 miles from Marion, has 2 churches, 3 stores, and 2 hotels.

Members of the Legislature from Crittenden County

N. R. Black, 1863-67.

House of Representatives
Wm. Hughes, 1844;
John W. Headley, 1844;
Henry R. D. Coleman, 1846, '47, '50-51;
Wm. Wallace, 1848;
Sumner Marble, 1849;
Francis Ford, 1851-55;
James W. Wilson, 1853-55;
Isaac M. Clement, 1855-59;
R. Alex. Walker, 1859-61;
John W. Blue, 1861-63, '67-71;
J. L. Hill, 1863-65;
John A. Yandell, 1865-67;
J. N. Woods, 1871-73;
R. W. Wilson, 1873-75.

The citizens of Crittenden County were plundered by both sides during the civil war. The court house at Marion was burned by Gen. Lyon's forces, in January, 1865, on his last raid into the state. A new one was built, after the war; but in May, 1870, this was destroyed by an accidental fire. A handsome new court house, the third within seven years, upon the same spot, was completed in October, 1871.

Ancient Cavern

On the Illinois side of the Ohio River, only a few feet beyond the jurisdiction of the state of Kentucky, is a cavern, in a rock, or ledge of the mountain, a little above the water of the river when high, and close to the bank. It is about 200 feet long and 80 feet wide; its entrance 80 feet wide at the base, and 25 feet high. In 1836, the interior walls were smooth rocks. The floor was remarkable, being level through the whole length of its center, the sides rising in stony grades, in the manner of seats in the pit of a theatre. Close scrutiny of the walls made it evident that the ancient inhabitants of a remote period had used the cave as their council house. Upon the walls were many hieroglyphics, well executed, among them, representations of at least eight animals of a race now extinct, three of them resembling the elephant, the tails and tusks excepted. This cavern is connected with another more gloomy, immediately over it, united by an aperture about 14 feet, to ascend which was like passing up a chimney; while the mountain was yet far above. For more than 60 years, this has been known to boatmen as Cave-in-Rock.

Early in the present century, a man named Wilson brought his family to the cave, and fitted it up as a dwelling and tavern, erecting on a sign-post at the water's edge these words, "Wilson's Liquor Vault and House of Entertainment." It’s very novelty attracted the attention of the boats descending the river, and the crews generally landed for refreshments and amusements. Idle characters after awhile gathered here, and it soon became infamous for its licentiousness and blasphemy. Wilson, out of such customers in their necessities, formed a band of robbers, and laid plans of the deepest villainy, no less than the murder of the entire crews of each boat that landed, and the forwarding of the boats and cargoes to New Orleans for sale for cash, which was to be conveyed to the cave by land, through Tennessee and Kentucky. Months elapsed before any serious suspicion was created, and other months before the vague suspicions grew into shape and definiteness. But as no returns of shipments were reported, and not one of many honorable men entrusted with cargoes of produce came back to pay over the proceeds and tell the perils of the trip, it first came out that no tidings were received of any boat after it passed this point; and then that "Wilson's gang," of about 45 men, at their station at Hurricane Island, had arrested every boat which passed by the mouth of the cavern; and through business agents at New Orleans converted into specie the boats and cargoes obtained through wholesale murder and robbery. Some of the gang escaped as soon as they found public vengeance aroused against them, a few were taken prisoners; the chief himself lost his life at the hands of one of his own men, who was tempted by the large reward offered for Wilson's head. Not long after, in the upper room of this mysterious cavern, were found about sixty skeletons, which confirmed the tale of systematic confidence, betrayal and murder.

John Jordan Crittenden, in honor of whom this county was named, was born in the county of Woodford, within a few miles of the town of Versailles, on the 10th of September, 1786. He is the son of John Crittenden, a revolutionary officer, who immigrated to Kentucky soon after the conclusion of the war. The character of the father may be judged of from the virtues of the children; and applying this rule to the present instance, no man could wish a prouder eulogium than is due to the elder Mr. Crittenden. His four sons, John, Thomas, Robert, and Henry, were all distinguished men, the three first were eminent at the bar, and in public life; and the last, who devoted himself to agricultural pursuits, was nevertheless so conspicuous for talent that his countrymen insisted on their right occasionally to withdraw him from the labors of the farm to those of the public councils. They were all remarkable for those personal qualities that constitute the perfect gentleman. Brave and gallant as the sire from whom they descended, accomplished in mind and manners, men without fear and without reproach, they have made their name a part and parcel of the glory of this commonwealth.

Of the early boyhood of Mr. Crittenden, there is but little that needs to be recorded in as hurried a sketch as this must necessarily be. He received as good an education as could be obtained in the Kentucky schools of that day, and completed his scholastic studies at Washington academy, in Virginia, and at the college of William and Mary, in the same State. On his return to Kentucky, he became a student of law in the office of the honorable George M. Bibb, and under the care of that renowned jurist, he became thoroughly prepared for the practice of his profession. At that period the Green River country was the attractive field for the enterprise of the State, affording to the youth of Kentucky similar inducements to those that the west still continues to offer to the citizens of the older States. Mr. Crittenden commenced the practice of the law in Russellville, in the midst of a host of brilliant competitors. He went there unknown to fame, he left it with a fame as extended as the limits of this great nation.

All the honors of his profession were soon his, and while his accurate and thorough knowledge of the law gained for him hosts of clients, his brilliant oratory filled the land with his praise, and the pride of that section of the State demanded that he should serve in the legislative assembly. He was accordingly elected to the legislature from the county of Logan, in 1811; and that noble county conferred the same honor upon him, in six consecutive elections. In 1817, and while a representative from Logan, he was elected speaker of the House of Representatives, having thus attained the highest distinction in the popular branch of the legislature of his native State. That same honest pride which had impelled the Green River people to press him into public life, had spread throughout the State, and the people of Kentucky resolved to place him where the eyes of the nation might be upon him, confident that he would win honor for himself and advance the fame of those he represented. He was accordingly, in 1817, elected a senator in the congress of the United States, and although the youngest member of that body, no sooner had occasion presented, when it was meet for him to speak, than by the universal acclaim of the American people, he was hailed as among the foremost of our orators—as a fit colleague for Henry Clay himself, and as one who must take rank with our ablest statesmen. His private affairs requiring his unremitted attention, he withdrew from this theatre where he was winning golden opinions from all, to enter more vigorously upon the practice of his profession. In order that he might be enabled to do this in the most favorable manner, he removed to Frankfort, in 1819, at which place the federal court and supreme court of the State are held. But here, again, the same popular love and enthusiasm followed him, and he was compelled to yield a reluctant assent to the wishes of his friends, who desired him to serve them in the legislature. He was elected from Franklin, in 1825, a period memorable in the history of Kentucky. In the Old and New Court controversy, no man occupied a more conspicuous point than Mr. Crittenden, and as the advocate of the laws and constitution of Kentucky, and in the maintenance of a sound private and public faith, no man was more distinguished. He was three times elected to the legislature from Franklin, and during one of the periods, he was again chosen speaker of the House of Representatives.

The troubles of that period having subsided, and the public service not requiring the sacrifice of his time and business, he again returned to private life, but was permitted a very short respite from the political arena; for, in 1835, he was once more sent to the senate of the United States, and held the office by re-election until the coming in of the administration of President Harrison. By that patriot president he was appointed attorney general of the United States, and the appointment was hailed by men of all parties as the most appropriate that could have been made. The melancholy death of the president brought into power an administration that forfeited the respect of honorable minds. Mr. Crittenden left it, and resigned his office in a note which he sent to the President, that has been considered an admirable specimen of the manner in which a lofty mind can retire from place, when its possession cannot be held with self-respect.

He was elected to fill the vacancy occasioned by the resignation of Mr. Clay, and, at the next session of the Legislature, reelected for the full term of six years, from March 4, 1843. In 1843 he resigned, having accepted the nomination of the Whig Party to run for Governor of the State, to which office he was elected. He was appointed attorney-general by President Fillmore in 1850, and retired with that administration. In 1853 he was again returned to the Senate, for the full term ending in 1861. He was elected to the House of Representatives in Congress in June, 1861, and was a member thereof at the time of his death, which occurred in Louisville, Kentucky, July 25, 1863.

Mr. Crittenden was, during the greater part of his life, a devoted friend of Mr. Clay; but it is known that there was an interruption in their friendship, caused by the participation of Mr, Crittenden in the nomination of Gen. Taylor for President. Whatever may have been at one period the feelings of Mr. Clay towards his life-long; friend, when they met afterwards, Mr. Clay advanced and said, cordially as of old, "Crittenden, how are you? I am glad to see you."

After the dissolution of the old Whig party, Mr. Crittenden became identified with the "Know Nothing," or American, organization, which, however, had an ephemeral existence. Left, then, without a party, Mr. Crittenden yet uniformly opposed the measures of the Democracy.

But, conspicuous as was the whole of Mr. Crittenden's career, his latest efforts were his greatest. True to the conservative character of his nature, in his last term in the Senate he offered in that body a plan to adjust the difficulties between the North and South, known as the "Crittenden Propositions," which were discussed in the "Peace Convention" as well as in the Senate. He hoped, by this plan, to arrest the threatened secession of the Cotton States, and avert civil war. He proposed to renew the Missouri line of 36° 30'; to prohibit slavery north, and to permit it south of that line, as prescribed by the inhabitants thereof; to admit new States with or without slavery, as the constituents might provide; to prohibit Congress from abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia so long as it exists in Maryland or Virginia; and to pay for fugitive slaves rescued after arrest. These were the main provisions. He advocated them with characteristic earnestness, but his patriotic intentions were thwarted by their defeat.

Mr. Crittenden retired from the Senate in March, 1861, but he did not cease his efforts to avert a collision between the people of the two sections. He was the president of the "Border States Convention," held in Frankfort, Kentucky, in May, 1861, in which it was sought to mediate between the hostile parties. An address was issued, but the time for conciliation had past; indeed, the war had already begun, and Mr. Crittenden avowed himself in favor of maintaining the integrity of the Union at all hazards. He was elected to Congress from the "Ashland" district, and took his seat at the extra session in July, 1861, and frequently participated in the debates. He denounced the Confiscation Act, the Emancipation proclamation, and the enlistment of Negroes as soldiers, as obnoxious, dangerous, if not unconstitutional, measures; yet these, he admitted, were minor considerations as compared with the suppression of the rebellion. In the House of Representatives, on the 22d day of July, 1861, the day after the battle of Manassas, Mr. Crittenden offered the following resolution:
Resolved, That the present deplorable civil war has been forced upon the country by the disunionists of the Southern States now in revolt against the constitutional government and in arms around the Capital, that in this national emergency, Congress, banishing all feeling of mere passion or resentment, will recollect only its duty to the whole country; that this war is not waged upon our part in any spirit of oppression, nor for any purpose of conquest or subjugation, nor purpose of overthrowing or interfering with the rights or established institutions of those States, but to defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution, and to preserve the Union with all the dignity, equality, and rights of the several States unimpaired; that as soon as these objects are accomplished, the war ought to cease.

This resolution was adopted in the House with but two dissenting votes, and in the Senate with but four, against it.

The abolition of slavery, the destruction of the South, and the subjugation of the liberties of its people, attest the unblushing hypocrisy of these professions of the Radical party. Mr. Crittenden offered them in good faith, and the Union men of the border slave States accepted them in the same spirit; but the faith of the Northern war party was Punic faith. Their purpose was to keep it sacredly if they were beaten, but repudiate it if they were victorious. During that and the succeeding session, Mr. Crittenden labored assiduously to mitigate the horrors of the fratricidal war. His wise and patriotic counsels were disregarded, for each successive measure adopted only augmented the bitterness and widened the gulf that separated the two peoples. In his latest moments, Mr. Crittenden spoke of and deplored the disasters that had befallen the country.

Mr. Crittenden's intellect was of a superior order. By profession a lawyer, yet the political field was more congenial to him. Or perhaps it would be more correct to say that he entered political life so young that he naturally acquired a taste for the one, to the exclusion of the other. As an advocate, he stood almost without a rival at the bar; yet he was never a profound lawyer. He did not claim to be. He could have mastered any subject, but it would have been at the sacrifice of his political duties. He was a generous, magnanimous, and brave man, clear, comprehensive, and decided in his convictions, and one who never shrank from the expression of them on any public question. His patriotism was never questioned by even the most bitter partisan enemy. Many of his countrymen entertained the hope that the highest office in the gift of the American people would be conferred upon him, but it was fated otherwise.

Mr. Crittenden was in two campaigns, in the War of 1812: as aid to Gen. Ramsey in the expedition commanded by Gen. Hopkins; and as aid to Gov. Shelby, served with distinguished gallantry at the battle of the Thames.

Crittenden Springs, 5 miles from Marion, are quite celebrated for their fine sulphur and other waters, regarded as superior to any in southern Kentucky.


Coal is inexhaustible, in veins from 3½ to 5½ feet thick, in quality said to be equal to Pittsburgh coal, and with only 1¼ per cent, of sulphur; four mines are worked. Dr. Peter's analysis of 5 limonite ores, called pipe, pot, block, brown, and honey-comb, from Crittenden furnace, showed from 50½ to 57 percent of iron. At the Hurricane furnace, 3 of the same varieties of iron ore proved to be from 1 to 3½ percent richer, and 3 other kinds not so rich. The analysis of the sulphuret of zinc, from the lead mines on Hurricane creek, 1½ miles south of Sulphur Springs, yielded over 40 per cent of zinc; if this proportion exists in large quantities, it could be worked profitably. Lead ore has been found with a liberal percent of silver.

Indian Murder

In 1799, four Shawnee Indians were loitering about what was then known as Lusk's ferry, in Crittenden County, opposite the present town of Golconda, Illinois. They came to the house of Mr. Lusk, examined him minutely, but did not molest him. Their movements were mysterious and boded harm. At length they killed a Mr. Duff, who resided at the mouth of Tradewater; and then suddenly disappeared. There was reason to believe that someone residing at Fort Massac, or Massacre, had employed the Indians to commit the crime.

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

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