AHGP Transcription Project

Harlan County

Harlan County, the 60th formed in the state, was erected in 1819 out of parts of Floyd and Knox counties, and named in honor of Maj. Silas Harlan. From that date, for a period of 48 years, it was the extreme south-eastern county, until Josh Bell County was formed in 1867 out of its southern and south-eastern part; this took off about 200 voters. It is bounded n. by Perry and Letcher counties, east and south by the Virginia state line, and west by Josh Bell County. It is a high, rugged, and mountainous county, with a fertile soil, and heavily timbered with good timber of all kinds. On the southern border lies the great Stone or Cumberland mountain, surmounted by a stupendous rock one mile long and 600 feet high; on the northern border the Pine mountain, ranging nearly east and west, and separating this from Letcher and Perry counties; and in the eastern part the Black mountain, probably an arm of the Cumberland. The products are corn, wheat, oats, rye, and tobacco; stock raising is carried on to some extent.

Mount Pleasant is the county seat and only town; is 168 miles from Frankfort, 34 miles from Cumberland Ford or Pineville, in Josh Bell county, and 49 miles from Whitesburgh, in Letcher county; and contains a court house and 4 lawyers, 5 stores, grist and saw mill, tavern, and 4 mechanics' shops; population about 50. Elsewhere in the county are 1 lawyer, 1 doctor, 3 stores, 2 saw mills, and 7 grist mills.

Members of the Legislature from Harlan County

Thos. Jefferson Pereifull, 1851-53;
from the district of Harlan, Clay, Knox and Whitley
Robert George, 1829-33;
from same counties and Laurel
Franklin Ballinger, 1837-41.

House of Representatives
Jas. Farmer, 1824, '25, '26, '34;
Hiram Jones, 1833;
John Jones, 1844;
Jas. Sparks, 1845;
Jas. Culton, 1847, '55-57;
Carlo B. Brittain, 1850;
Hiram S. Powell, 1861-65;
Elijah C. Baker, 1865-67;
Elijah Hurst, 1869-71;
from Harlan and Knox counties,
Jas. Love, 1828, '29, '30;
Jas. Dorton, 1836, '38;
A. G. AV. Pogue, 1843;
Wm. Word, 1848;
Drury Tye, 1851-53;
from Harlan, Knox, and Lawrence,
Robert George, 1827;
from Harlan and Clay,
Thos. J. Buford, 1835.
From Harlan,
Geo. B. Turner, 1873-75.

The first court house in Harlan County was built upon a mound in Mount Pleasant, upon which, in 1808, the largest forest trees were growing. In August, 1838, a new court house was erected upon the same mound, requiring a deeper foundation and more digging, with these discoveries: Human bones, some small, others very large, indicating that the bodies had been buried in a sitting posture; several skulls, with most of the teeth fast in their sockets, and perfect; the skull of a female, with beads and other ornaments which apparently hung around the neck. Close by the larger bones was a half-gallon pot, superior in durability to any of modern ware; made of clay and of periwinkles pounded to powder; glazed on the inside, and the outside covered with little rough knots, nearly an inch in length. A neat and well-formed pipe, of the usual shape, and various other ornaments and tools evincing ingenuity and skill were found; also, charcoal in a perfect state apparently. The mound abounded in shells, bones, and fragments of bones, in all stages of decay. They were found from three to five feet below the surface.

In 1870, more human bones were dug from it, together with nicely polished weights, and some pipes, made of a hard blue stone.

Water Courses
Cumberland River runs a westward and south-westward course; its tributaries from the southward are Wallin's, Browney's, Puckett's, Catharine, and Crank's creeks. Beech fork, Greasy fork, and Wolf creeks run northwestward into Kentucky River.

During the Civil War
Harlan County suffered greatly in the loss of some of her best citizens, among them the clerk of the county court. The courthouse and many valuable papers and documents in the clerks' offices, the jail, and a number of other houses in Mount Pleasant and elsewhere were burned either by soldiers or guerrillas.

Coal and Sandstone
In the range of the Little Black Mountain, on the Clover fork, Clover Lick creek, Catron's, Meadow and Lick branches, the beds of coal vary from 3 to 6 feet, and one is reported to be 14 feet thick. Large blocks of cannel coal are found in some of the streams, indicating a good bed of cannel coal in the adjacent hills. On Tred's branch of Laurel, at the base of Lovely Mountain, is a bed of semi-cannel and cannel coal, 3 feet 5 inches thick. Near this bed, but on Laurel creek, remarkably thin-bedded sandstone comes out near the water level, which can be obtained in large slabs so thin that they have been employed for covering bee-hives.

Major Silas Harlan, in honor of whom this county received its name, was born in Berkley County, Virginia, near the town of Martinsburg. He came to Kentucky in 1774, and took a very active part in the battles and skirmishes with the Indians. He commanded a company of spies under General George Rogers Clark, in the Illinois campaigns in 1770, and proved himself a most active, energetic and efficient officer. General Clark said of him, that "he was one of the bravest and most accomplished soldiers that ever fought by his side." About the year 1778, he built a stockade fort on Salt River, 7 miles above Harrodsburg, which was called "Harlan's station." He was a major at the battle of the Blue Licks, and fell in that memorable contest at the head of the detachment commanded by him. He was never married. In stature he was about six feet two inches high, of fine personal appearance, and was about thirty years old when he was killed. He was universally regarded as a brave, generous and active man.

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

Be sure to add us to your favorites list and check back often.

This page was last updated Saturday, 21-Mar-2015 20:36:52 EDT.

Webspace for this site is generously provided by

Information contained on this website may be used for personal genealogical research only and not to be given to pay to view sites or used on any other web site without the express consent of the contributor.

Copyright © 2014~2024 by Paula Franklin & Judy White