AHGP Transcription Project

Jessamine County

Jessamine County, the 36th county erected in Kentucky, was formed, in 1798, out of the southern part of Fayette County; is situated in the middle section of the state, on the Kentucky River, which forms its south east, south, and south west boundary line. It is bounded north by Fayette, east by Madison, south by Garrard, and west by Garrard, Mercer, and Woodford counties. The part of the county north of Nicholasville is gently undulating, with a black, friable, and remarkably rich soil, over the fossiliferous beds of the blue limestone; that which lies to the south, over the chert beds and the Kentucky River marble, is not so good; along the river, it is quite hilly and broken, but productive. The leading products are hemp, corn, blue grass, and cattle.

Nicholasville, the county seat, is situated 12 miles south of Lexington, and 37 miles from Frankfort. It contains, besides the usual public buildings, 8 churches (Methodist, Baptist, Reform, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, and three for colored people), one male and one female academy, 2 schools, 2 hotels, 15 stores and groceries, 10 mechanics' shops, 1 bagging factory; 6 lawyers and 6 physicians; population in 1870, 1,089; established in 1812, and named in honor of Col. George Nicholas. In the heart of a fine country, and the terminus of the Kentucky Central railroad, Nicholasville is necessarily a place of considerable business.
Keene, the present name of the town established in 1813 as North Liberty, is situated in the north west part of the county; population about 300; it contains 3 stores, 1 church, and 3 physicians.

Members of the Legislature from Jessamine County, since 1815

George I. Brown, 1829-34;
Wm. Clarke, 1838-42;
Tucker Woodson, 1842-46, '53-57;
A. Lawson McAfee, 1869-73.
From Jessamine and Woodford counties
Wm. Vawter, 1808;
Richard C. Graves, 1850.

House of Representatives
Wm. Caldwell, 1815, '16, '18, '20, '22;
Wm. Walker, 1817;
Samuel H. Woodson, 1819, '25;
Jas. Clarke, 1820;
Richard E. Meade, 1822;
George I. Brown, 1824, '50;
Harrison Daniel, 1826, '27;
John Cunningham, 1828;
George W. Brown, 1829. '32;
Courtney R. Lewis, 1830;
David M. Woodson, 1831;
J. W. S. Mitchel, 1833, '34;
Tucker Woodson, 1835, '36, '37, '40;
George S. Shanklin, 1838. '44, '61-65;
Alex. Wake, 1839;
George T. Chrisman, 1841;
Jas. H. McCampbell, 1842, '45, '55-57;
Jas. H. Lowry, 1843;
Jos. W. Thompson, 1846;
Jos. C. Christopher, 1847, '49;
John M. Reynolds, 1848;
Jas. C. Wilmore, 1851-53;
Larkin Fain, 1853-55;
Allen L. McAfee, 1857-59;
Wm. Fisher, 1859-61, '65-67;
Thos. T. Cogar, 1867-71;
Jas. H. McCampbell, 1871-73, but died Dec. 25, 1872, and was succeeded by Wm. Brown, 1873, '73;
N. D. Miles, 1874-75.

Sinking Creek in Jessamine, rises near the Fayette line, about one mile north of old Providence church or station, on the Kentucky Central railroad, runs west, about 2 miles north of Keene, passing through the farms of Nat. Lafon, Nat. Blackford, and Jacob G. Sandusky, and unites in Woodford with a smaller sinking creek from the north, forming Clear creek. It sinks four times, running underground from one-fourth of a mile to a mile each time. At times in the winter and spring, when the water cannot sink as fast as it falls, it is 50 feet deep, and a mile wide; and furnishes fine duck-shooting.

Chimney Rock, Kentucky River

In July, 1824, a "Capillary Steam-Engine," invented by Dr. Joseph Buchanan, was used in working Mr. Jackson's cotton factory in Nicholasville. Among other advantages it was claimed that it was perfectly safe, and that one cord of wood would sustain a seven-horse power for 24 hours. Inducements were held out to owners of steamboats to avail of the capillary engine because of its great power in proportion to its weight and bulk, enabling boats to outrun all competitors, by changing the boiler for a "generator,'' thus converting the engines then in use into capillary engines.

Maj. Anderson Miller, in 1805, made up a large lot of gunpowder, at his father's residence in the northern part of Jessamine county, hauled it by wagon to Louisville, bought a flatboat, and shipped it to New Orleans. The venture proved quite profitable.

The following account of some singular natural formations among the cliffs of the Kentucky River, the most remarkable of which is the Devil's Pulpit, was written for the first edition of this work in 1847, by Dr. Christopher Graham, who at the ripe age of 86 is still (February, 1873) as keenly appreciative of the beauties and curiosities of nature as ever:

"After much vexation and annoyance occasioned by the difficulties of the road, we arrived near the object of our visit, and quitting our horses, proceeded on foot. Upon approaching the break of the precipice, under the direction of our guide, we suddenly found ourselves standing on the verge of a yawning chasm, and immediately beyond, bottomed in darkness, the Devil's Pulpit was seen rearing its black, gigantic form, from amid the obscurity of the deep and silent valley. The back ground to this gloomy object presented a scene of unrelieved desolation. Cliff rose on cliff and crag surmounted crag, sweeping off on either hand in huge semicircles, until the wearied eye became unable to follow the countless and billowy-like mazes of that strange and awful scene. The prevailing character of the whole was that of savage grandeur and gloom. A profound silence broods over the place, broken only by the muffled rushing of the stream far down in its narrow passage, cleaving its way to its home in the ocean. Descending by a zigzag path to the shore of the river, while our companions were making preparations to cross, I strayed through the valley. The air was cool, refreshing and fragrant, and vocal with the voices of many birds. The bending trees, the winding stream with its clear and crystal waters, the flowering shrubs, and clustering vines walled in by these adamantine ramparts, which seem to tower to the skies, make this a place of rare and picturesque beauty. The dew drops still hung glittering on the leaves, the whispering winds played with soft music through the rustling foliage, and the sunbeams struggling through the overhanging forest kissed the opening flowers, and all combined made up a scene of rural loveliness and romance, which excited emotions of unmingled delight. The boat having arrived, the river was crossed without difficulty, and we commenced the ascent, and after measuring up two hundred and seventy feet, arrived at the base of the "Pulpit." Fifty paces from this point, and parallel with it, in the solid ledge of the cliff, is a cave of considerable extent. At its termination, there passes out like the neck of a funnel, an opening, not larger than a hogshead. Upon pitching rocks into this cave, a rumbling was heard at an immense distance below the earth. Some are of opinion that this cave contains a bottomless pit. We now ascended the cliffs some fifty feet further, clambering up through a fissure in the rocks, having the Pulpit on our right, and a range of cliffs on our left. To look up here makes the head dizzy. Huge and dark masses roll up above you, upon whose giddy heights vast crags jut out and overhang the valley, threatening destruction to all below. The floating clouds give these crags the appearance of swimming in midair. The ascent up these rocks, though somewhat, laborious, is perfectly safe, being protected by natural walls on either side, and forming a perfect stairway with steps from eight to ten feet thick. At the head of this passage, there is a hole through the river side of the wall, large enough to admit the body, and through which one may crawl, and look down

*. Vide Cist's Cincinnati Miscellany for 1845-6, and McAfee's History of the Late War.

upon the rushing stream below. At the foot of the stairway stands the Pulpit, rising from the very brink of the main ledge, at more than two hundred feet of an elevation above the river, but separated from the portion which towers up to the extreme heights. The space is twelve feet at bottom, and as the cliff retreats slightly at this point, the gap is perhaps thirty feet at the top. The best idea that can be formed of this rock is to suppose it to be a single column, standing in front of the continuous wall of some vast building or ruin, the shaft standing as colonnades are frequently built upon an elevated platform. From the platform to the capital of the shaft is not less than one hundred feet, making the whole elevation of the "Devil's Pulpit" three hundred feet. It is called by some the inverted candlestick, to which it has a striking resemblance. There are two swells, which form the base molding and occupy about forty feet of the shaft. It then narrows to an oblong of about three feet by six, at which point there are fifteen distinct projections. This narrow neck continues with some irregularity for eight or ten feet, winding off at an angle of more than one degree from the line of gravity. Then commences the increased swell, and craggy offsets, first overhanging one side, and then the other, till they reach the top or cap rock, which is not so wide as the one below it, but is still fifteen feet across.

Jessamine County in 1789
From the first complete American geography, really a great work, written by Jedidiah Morse, and published in the spring of 1789 at Elizabethtown, New Jersey, we extract the following account of the lands at that early day in the region within 30 miles around Nicholasville:

"Elkhorn River, a branch of the Kentucky, from the southeast, waters a country fine beyond description. Indeed, the country east and south of this, including the head waters of Licking river, Hickman's and Jessamine creeks, and the remarkable bend in Kentucky river, may be called an extensive garden. The soil is deep and black, and the natural growth, large walnuts, honey and black locust, poplar, elm, oak, hickory, sugar tree, etc. Grapevines run to the tops of the trees; and the surface of the ground is covered with clover, blue grass, and wild rye. On this fertile tract, and the Licking River, and the head waters of Salt River, are the bulk of the settlements in this country. The soil within a mile or two of Kentucky River is generally of the third and fourth rates; and as you advance towards the Licking, the land is in large part poor and hilly."

"The banks, or rather precipices, of Kentucky and Dick's rivers are to be reckoned among the natural curiosities of this country. Here the astonished eye beholds 300 or 400 feet of solid perpendicular rocks, in some parts, of the limestone kind, and in others of fine white marble, curiously checkered with strata of astonishing regularity. These rivers have the appearance of deep artificial canals. Their high rocky banks are covered with red cedar groves."

"The accounts of the fertility of the soil have, in some instances, exceeded belief; and probably been exaggerated. The high grounds of Kentucky are remarkably good. The lands of the first rate are too rich for wheat, and will produce 50 and 60, and in some instances, 100 bushels or even more of good corn, an acre. In common, the land will produce 30 bushels of wheat or rye an acre. Barley, oats, cotton, flax, hemp, and vegetables of all kinds common in this climate, yield abundantly. The old Virginia planters say, that if the climate does not prove too moist, few soils known will yield more or better tobacco."

Camp Nelson
In the late war between the North and South, this county was the principal point for the concentration of Federal forces and munitions of war, on the Cumberland line. In 1863, Camp Nelson, so called in compliment to the late Major General Wm. Nelson, was established on the Kentucky River, at the mouth of Hickman creek, in Jessamine County, and occupied till the close of the war. It had a fortified circumference of about 10 miles, formed in great part by the high surrounding hills and cliffs of the Kentucky River, and partly by breastworks thrown up, that yet remain. The lands thus occupied had been heavily timbered, but were rendered a barren waste, though the county elsewhere was not materially damaged, there having been no battles of note fought therein. This was the principal camp in the state for the enlistment of colored troops, and the refuge of colored refugees from slavery. On these lands is now established a U. S. military cemetery, finely and substantially improved, and in which are interred thousands of Federal soldiers.

See sketch of Rev. Francis Poythress, in Vol. I. Wm. T. Barry (see sketch under Fayette county) and John Speed Smith, who became one of the most marked men of Madison county, were natives of Jessamine.

Jessamine County derives its name from Jessamine creek, which rises in the northwestern part of the county, and flows southwardly through it to the Kentucky River. The creek was named in honor of a beautiful young lady, Jessamine Douglass, whose father, a Scotchman, early settled at the head of the creek, entered the land around it, and selected its name. The creek is of good size, and as large near its source as at its termination. It rises at two points, about 10 feet apart; at one it boils up from a bed of gravel; at the other, gushes from between two large smooth rocks, and is very deep. Upon one of these rocks, the fair Jessamine was sitting, unconscious of danger, when an Indian's tomahawk crashed through her brain, and ended her young life there.

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

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