AHGP Transcription Project

Woodford County

Woodford county was formed in 1788, and named after Gen. William Woodford. It was the last of the nine counties organized by Virginia previous to the separation of Kentucky, and her admission into the Union. It is situated in the heart of the state; is bounded north by Franklin and Scott counties, east and south east by Fayette and Jessamine, south and south west by Mercer, and west by Anderson; the Kentucky river forms its entire south and west boundary line, and South Elkhorn its north east boundary; the other streams are Glenn's, Holman's, Tanner's, and Clear creeks, and Buck run. The county is triangular in shape, and comprises about 185 square miles. The face of the country is generally level or gently undulating, except near the banks of streams; the soil equal to any in the world in fertility, based on limestone, deep, rich, and triable. The timber is luxuriant and of the finest quality-embracing black walnut, blue and black ash, black locust, hickory, sugar-tree, etc. Woodford has been not inappropriately termed the "asparagus bed" of the garden of Kentucky; the farms are generally large, and in a high state of cultivation; the population intelligent, refined, and independent. Hemp, corn, oats, wheat, rye, and barley, are the staple products-part of which are exported, and also bagging and bale rope, blooded horses, mules, cattle, and hogs.

Versailles, the county seat, a beautiful town, near the center of the county, 12 miles west of Lexington, 14 south east of Frankfort, 18 south west of Georgetown, and 12 north west of Nicholasville; seven macadamized roads lead through the town; besides the usual county buildings, are 5 churches, 8 lawyers, 6 physicians, 1 national bank, 1 broker, 1 academy for boys and 1 for girls, 1 hotel, 4 dry goods stores, and 6 groceries; established in 1792, and named after the city of Versailles in France; population 172 in 1800, and 1,407 in 1870.
Midway, is a handsome town, 9 miles east of north of Versailles, and on the Louisville and Lexington railroad (which passes through the north east corner of the county); has 3 churches, and the large state "Orphan School" of the Reformed or Christian denomination; is a place of considerable business; took its name from its central position on the railroad between Frankfort and Lexington, 14 miles from the latter and 15 from the former; was not incorporated until Feb. 1, 1846; population in 1870, 532.
Mortonsville, 5 miles south of Versailles, and 2 miles from the Kentucky river; population about 250; incorporated Feb. 28, 1835.
Clifton, on the Kentucky river, 6 miles north of west of Versailles; population about 130.
Troy, population about 80.
Millville, on Glenn's creek, north west of Versailles; population about 50.

Members of the Legislature from Woodford County

Robert Johnson, 1792-95;
Robert Alexander, 1795-1802;
Wm. Vawter, 1806-10;
Herman Bowmar, 1814-17, '20-22;
Wm. B. Blackburn, 1818-20, '22-24, '34-38;
Andrew Muldrow, 1824-29;
David Thornton, 1846-50;
Thos. P. Porter, 1857-61;
John K. Goodloe, 1861-65. [See Jessamine county.]

House of Representatives
John Watkins, Col. Wm. Steele, John Grant, 1792;
Richard Young, 1792, '95, 1803;
Humphrey Marshall, Bennett Pemberton, 1793;
Marquis Calmes, 1795;
John Jouett, 1795, '96, '97;
Tunstall Quarles, 1796;
Wm. Vawter, 1797, '99, 1800;
Lewis Young, 1799, 1800;
Jas. Liggett, 1801, '02;
Thos. Bullock, 1801, '03, '05, '06, '08, '09;
Preston Brown, 1802;
William B. Blackburn, 1804, '05, '06, '07, '11. '12, '13, '14, '15, '16, '25, '26, '27, '2S;
Chas. Buck, 1808, '09;
Peter Buck, 1810;
Virgil McCracken, 1810, '11;
Wm. S. Hunter, 1812, '13, '14, '15, '17, '18, '20;
Thos. Stevenson, 1816, '19, '20;
Willis Field, 1817, '18, '29;
Wm. B. Long, 1819;
Percival Butler, 1821, '22;
Andrew Muldrow, 1822;
Jas. McConnell, 1824;
John Buford, 1824, '27;
Alex. Dunlap, 1825, '26;
Southey Whittington, 1830;
Chas. Railey, 1831;
Thos. F. Marshall, 1832, '38, '39, '51-53;
John Watkins, 1833;
Wm. Agun, 1834;
Samuel M. Wallace, 1835;
Francis K. Buford, 1836;
Wm. Buford, Jr., 1837;
Zachariah White, 1840;
Wm. B. Kinkead, 1841;
Medley Shelton, 1842;
Luke P. Blackburn, 1843;
David Thornton, 1844;
Richard G. Jackson, 1845;
John Steele, 1846;
Lewis A. Barry, 1847;
Jesse Hayden, 1848;
Ezekiel H. Field, 1849;
Robert H. Campbell, 1850;
Thos. P. Porter, 1853-55;
John K. Goodloe, 1855-61;
Zeb. Ward, 1861-63;
Henry C. McLeod, 1863-65;
Jas. P. Ford, 1865-67, '69-71;
Hart Gibson, 1867-69;
Joseph C. S. Blackburn, 1871-73, '73-75.

Among the First White Visitors who are known to have hunted, surveyed, explored, or "improved" upon the soil of what is now Woodford county, were Jos. Lindsay, Andrew Steele, Col. Robert Patterson, Patrick Jordan, John Lee, Hugh Shannon, John Lowry, David Perry, and Col. John Floyd, in 1775. [See under Fayette, Mercer, and Scott counties.]

In July, 1774, Col. John Floyd, Hancock Taylor, and James Douglas, each made official surveys in now Woodford county, as assistants or deputy surveyors under Col. Wm. Preston, surveyor of Fincastle county, Va., of which the whole of the now state of Kentucky was then a part. Capt. Isaac Hite was with Douglas. Shortly after the date above, Hancock Taylor, while surveying land not far from the mouth of the Kentucky river for Col. Wm. Christian, was wounded by an Indian rifle-ball. Two of his surveying party, Gibson Taylor and Abram Haptonstall, attempted, with a small pocket knife, to extract the ball, but failed.* As the company was fleeing from the country, under the warning sent from Gov. Dunmore by Daniel Boone and Michael Stoner, when near what is now Richmond, in Madison county, the wound proved fatal; and Mr. Taylor was buried 1 3/4 miles nearly south of that town (see under Madison county, page 526).

Among the Early Settlers of Woodford county, in addition to the names mentioned elsewhere under this county, were Gen. Chas. Scott (who had a son killed by the Indians), Col. John Crittenden (father of John J. Crittenden), Gen. James McConnell, Col. Wm. Steele (who died Nov., 1826, aged 70), Ben. Berry, Lewis Sublett, Edmund Wooldridge, Henry Watkins and one or more of the families of Moss, Wilcox, Holeman, Stephenson, Craig, and Slaughter.

Antiquities. — Annexed is an exact representation of an ancient structure-probably erected for religious purposes by a pre-historic race-as it existed in 1819 near Lovedale, Woodford co., Ky. It was octagonal in form, measuring 150 feet on each side; was not quite 6 feet high; and had three graded ascents-one at each of the northern angles, and one at the middle of the western side.

Conch Shells-Before Dec, 1819, at a spring near Williams' mill, in Woodford co., five or six reversed conch shells were dug up. They retained their original composition and color. They were perfect conservata; in as good preservation as shells usually are when picked up on the sea beach. They were similar to a shell consecrated by the Hindoos to their god Mabadeva, whose character and attributes are the same as those of the Greek and Roman Neptune; it is highly venerated, and valued at a great price-being placed in the Hindoo temples as the instruments of music used by the attendants of Mabadeva.

Versailles-On the southern border of this beautiful town, about 100 yards from the court house, a large cave spring, of clear crystal water, issues from an abrupt break on gradually descending ground, and flows off in a stream of sufficient size to afford water-power for a small grist-mill or manufacturing establishment; a wool-carding factory, burnt down about 1835, was located upon it. This cave or natural conduit runs under the town, in a general direction from north to south. Immediately over it, in front of the court house, a public well was dug, many years ago, which affords at all seasons an abundant supply of water for the town.

The corporation limits of the town of Versailles extends just 660 yards every way from the court house, forming an exact circle with that building as the center. On June 23, 1792, the town was established, by act of the legislature, on the lands of Hezekiah Briscoe, an infant, and 100 acres thereof vested in John Watkins, Richard Young, Cave Johnson, Marquis Calmes, Richard Fox, John Cooke, and Parmenas Briscoe, gentlemen, as trustees, to lay off the same into lots and streets, dispose of the lots, execute deeds, adopt rules and regulations, etc. Richard Young and John Watkins were appointed commissioners to sell the lots and receive the money therefor, and pay the amount with lawful interest to the heir when he should come of age. By act of Feb. 8, 1809, it was provided that the trustees should be chosen from among the inhabitants of the town who were freeholders; non-resident lot- holders, if residents of the state, were entitled to vote at the election for trustees. John Williams, Thomas Reeves, and Maj. Charles Pelham each claimed an interest in young Briscoe's lands, and the act of Dec. 7, 1794, rested their title also in the above trustees, holding the proceeds of the sale of lots until the title should be adjusted between the claimants. By an act passed Dec. 15, 1795, John O'Bannon, John Crittenden, William Whittington, and John Jimms were appointed trustees, to fill vacancies.

The Newspapers published in Woodford county have been the following, at Versailles: In 1859, Woodford Pennant, edited by Coppage & Shrum; in 1866, Central Kentucklan, E. A. Routhe, editor, and in 1869, Woodford Weekly, edited by Greathouse & McLeod.

From the recollections of Major Herman Bowmar, senior, a venerable pioneer of Woodford, when over eighty years of age, active, sprightly, and intelligent, we glean the following facts, concerning the settlement of that county, sketches of character, incidents, &c. The father of Major Bowmar removed to Kentucky in 1779, and settled at Colonel Bowman's station in Mercer, and in 1789, removed to Woodford. In 1791, Major Herman Bowmar, then twenty-two years of age, was qualified as a deputy sheriff of Woodford-the county then embracing portions of the present counties of Franklin and Scott, being divided into two sheriff's districts. His acquaintance, consequently, became extensive, and his recollections, kindly furnished for this work, show a remarkable tenacity of memory.

As late as the year 1782, there were no settlements within the bounds of the present county of Woodford. In the winter of 1782-3, Captain Elijah Craig, who commanded the fort at Bryan's station, in 1782, removed to Woodford, and settled a station about five miles from Versailles, and ten miles from Lexington— the county of Woodford then composing a part of the territory of Fayette. The close of the revolutionary war caused an immense emigration to Kentucky, and during the years 1783-4-5-6-7 and 8, the increase of population in Woodford was so great, as to give the county, at the close of the year last mentioned, as many voters as there were in the year 1847 in her reduced territory. That portion of the original territory of Woodford, lying on the lower Elkhorn and the lower Mercer, on the north side of the Kentucky river, was an exposed and guarded frontier from 1783 to 1793.

On the opposite side of the river, in Mercer county, there was no man of his day who excelled Capt. James Ray, (the late Gen. James Ray,) in his activity, bravery and efficiency, as a pioneer commander and Indian fighter. But lower down, as the frontier extended, the most active and efficient was the late Capt. John Arnold, who settled a station on the waters of Little Benson creek in 1783, about seven or eight miles above the site of Frankfort. Several other stations were settled higher up than that of Arnold, his being the extreme frontier; but not having sufficient men to guard them with safety, against the apprehended incursions of the savages, they were abandoned in about a year, and the occupants returned to the older settlements, in Mercer. These settlements were re-occupied in the year 1786. Capt. John Arnold was the commandant of a company of spies for several years, and, with Samuel Hutton and others as his associates, ranged the country as far as Drennon's lick.

In 1792, Jacob Coffman, who owned and resided on the land on which Lawrenceburg, the county seat of Anderson, is now located, was killed and scalped. Maj. Bowmar was of the party raised to pursue the savages and avenge his death; but the pursuit was unsuccessful. During the same year, Capt. Todd, residing then in Woodford, but now embraced in the territory of Scott, was riding alone down the river hill where South Frankfort is situated, when he was fired at by several Indians, who waylaid his path, and killed and scalped him. Men in Frankfort heard the report of the guns and the scalp halloo, but were unable to cross the river in time to render him any assistance. Todd was an estimable man, and his death was greatly lamented.

The Saturday before the first Monday in May, 1792, (the first election day under the government of Kentucky,) twenty-five Indians crossed the Lexington road about two miles above Frankfort, and fired at William Chinn, who was riding down the road. Chinn escaped unhurt, and gave the alarm. About a mile further in their progress, they took John Dimint prisoner. They then proceeded about five miles further up into Woodford, and encamped in a rocky cliff of main Glenn's creek, eight or nine miles from Versailles. Here they remained during the night and succeeding day (Sunday). The alarm being spread through the surrounding country, several hundred men were out during Sunday, scouring the neighborhood; twenty-five of whom lodged at Lewis Easterday's, about three miles above Frankfort, on Sunday night. The Indians, on the same night, were induced by Dimint to go to Easterday's still-house, where they were unsuccessful in obtaining whisky, but managed to steal the horses of the twenty-five whites, and by a rapid movement soon crossed main Elkhorn. A party under Col. John Grant, and another under captains Nathaniel Sanders and Anthony Bartlett,-the former from the neighborhood of Georgetown, and the latter from the south side of Elkhorn,-having been united, got upon the trail of the Indians, and commenced a rapid pursuit. As they approached the Eagle hills, the Indians were overtaken by the whites, several shots exchanged, and one of their number killed. The Indians abandoned their horses, and fled precipitately to the hills with their prisoner. Dimint effected his escape while the Indians were engaged in crossing the Ohio, and returned in safety to his family, bringing home the evidence of his captivity-the "buffalo tug" with which his arms had been confined.

Among the most active and reliable men in the defence of the North Elkhorn frontier, the settlement at the main forks of Elkhorn, and those at Frankfort and its immediate neighborhood, were Col. John K. Grant and Capt. Samuel Grant, with their brothers; Maj. Thomas Herndon and Jacob Tucker; the late Col. James Johnson and Capt. Lucket, as they grew up; Capt. Nathaniel Sanders, Capt. A. Bartlett, Capt. Pemberton, (the late Gen. Bennet Pemberton,) and William Haydon and sons. On the Elkhorn, below the forks, old Mr. Church and sons, Jeremiah Craig, and others, distinguished themselves by their bravery and zeal.

Woodford was principally settled by emigrants from eastern and western Virginia; but there were many families from the states of North Carolina, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and quite a respectable number from Ireland and Germany.

Capt. James Trimble was born in 1756, in Augusta county, Va., and reared among the exposures and dangers of the wildest frontier life. His grandfather was killed, and he made a prisoner by the Indians in 1770, when only 14 years old. He was immediately adopted as a son by the Indian chief, a half-breed Indian, named Dickson. A few days after, the prisoners were released, when near the now famous Greenbrier White Sulphur Springs, by a remarkably well directed attack upon their captors by a party of 18 men under Col. Geo. Moffit, an uncle of several of the prisoners-the 9 Indians being killed at the first fire, except Dickson, who escaped. Oct. 10, 1774, when only 18, young Trimble was a soldier in the terrible battle with the Indians at Point Pleasant, Va. In 1780 or 1781, he emigrated to what is now Woodford co., Ky., and was one of the first permanent settlers within its present bounds. In 1804, when about to remove to Hillsboro, Ohio, he died. His family removed thither, and his sons became prominent and honored men-Allen Trimble being the acting governor in 1822, and governor by election, 1826-30, 4 years; while Wm. A. (born in Woodford co. Ky., April 4, 1786), became a major in the war of 1812, brevet lieutenant colonel in the U. S. regular army until 1819, and was elected to the U. S. senate; but died while a member of that body, Dec. 13, 1821, aged only 35 years.

Thomas Francis Marshall, eldest son of Dr. Louis Marshall, was born in Frankfort, Ky., June 7, 1801. He was educated chiefly by his parents, both of whom were accomplished scholars. His studies in history, as the basis of jurisprudence and moral and political philosophy, were completed in Virginia, under the direction of James Marshall, a relative and a man of erudition. On his return to Kentucky, he studied law in the office of Hon. John J. Crittenden. He again made a visit to Virginia, to attend a convention called to form a new constitution of that state, that he might improve himself by witnessing the intellectual strife in which were engaged those master minds, Chief Justice Marshall, John Randolph, James Madison, James Monroe, and other kindred spirits who were members of that body. He remained in Richmond five months. Thenceforward his mind took a political direction, he studied the political questions of the day, and entered upon their discussions.

His political career commenced with his election, in 1832, to the Kentucky Legislature, from Woodford county, as a friend of Henry Clay. During that session he signalized himself by a very able report against "nullification," in answer to the communication on that subject addressed by South Carolina to the several states. In 1833, he removed to Louisville to practice his profession, but abandoned it to again enter the field of politics. He was elected to the Legislature for two terms. In 1837 he was beaten for Congress by Hon. Wm. J. Graves, and, mortified at the result, he once more returned to Woodford county, which sent him twice to the Legislature.

Mr. Marshall was elected to the lower branch of Congress from the "Ashland district," in 1841. He spoke often in that body, but only two of his speeches were reported. Disgusted at the manner his speeches had been reported, he unwisely said to the reporters, they "must not pass on the public their infernal gibberish for my English." They took him at his word. Mr. Marshall had been elected as a friend of Mr. Clay, but took issue with that eminent statesman on the United States Bank charter and the Bankrupt bill, as he did subsequently on the question of annexation of Texas. The district he represented was devoted to Mr. Clay, and hence Mr. Marshall declined to offer for Congress for the next term, as his defeat was certain. He, however, "took the stump," and canvassed the state for Mr. Polk, for president. In 1845, he ran for Congress, but was beaten by Hon. Garret Davis. He next served one year as captain of a cavalry company in the Mexican war. Some time after his return home, he was beaten for the convention to frame a new constitution for the State. He advocated the election of Gen. Scott for President in 1852, and was elected to the Legislature from Woodford county in 1853, which was his last public service.

Mr. Marshall never again aspired to public position, but devoted his time to the law. Occasionally he delivered a political address, but was hardly recognized as a politician. He gave a series of "Discourses on History," in various cities, and charmed his hearers by his wit, genius, eloquence, and learning. Civil war ensued. Its events followed each other in rapid succession, and Marshall, like all other civilians, was overshadowed by their tremendous importance. He appeared no more in public excepting in the courts. He died at the home farm near Versailles, Woodford county, Ky., on September 22, 1864.

As a part of Mr. Marshall's personal history, it is not improper to state that he acquired no inconsiderable notoriety as a duelist. He was engaged in an affair of this kind with John Rowan, of Nelson county, who was justly reputed a "dead shot;" Rowan shot him in the leg within a half inch of where he declared he would hit him. His next duel was with Col. James Watson Webb, editor of the New York Courier and Enquirer, in 1842. Mr. Marshall was engaged by that notorious forger and magnificent rascal, Monroe Edwards, to defend him, and Webb severely criticized the conduct of Marshall in so doing, as he was then a member of Congress. Marshall, in his speech, retorted in that bitter style of invective of which he was the master. It led to a challenge, and Marshall shot Webb in the knee, laming him for life. He also met Gen. James S. Jackson (who was afterward killed at the battle of Perryville, Ky.), "on the field of honor," in Mexico, but that event was bloodless.

It would be improper, if it were possible, in a sketch like this, to attempt an analysis of the character of Thomas F. Marshall. His intellect was of the highest order, and capable of mighty efforts. He was brilliant alike at the bar, on the stump, and in the forum. His powers of oratory and eloquence were unrivaled, matchless, and yet he was withal a preeminent logician. He has been described as a "literary politician," yet the political economist may find in his public efforts thoughts of great practical value. There was scarcely any position beyond his reach, but he chose not to strive for it. In spite of his great weakness-a weakness which often made him disagreeable and unwelcome to his best friends, the weakness most common among men of brilliant promise-he was in truth a remarkable man, and such as we may "not look upon his like again."

For biographical sketches of several natives or residents of Woodford co., see as follows:
Gov. Chas. Scott, under Scott co;
John J. Crittenden, under Crittenden co.;
John J. Marshall, and his brother, Thos. A. Marshall, under Jefferson co.;
Capt. Virgil McCracken, under McCracken co.;
Capt. Jas. Meade, under Meade county.

Gen. William Woodford, in honor of whom this county received its name, a Revolutionary officer of high merit, was born in Caroline county, Virginia. He early distinguished himself in the French and Indian war. Upon the assembling of the Virginia troops in Williamsburg, in 1775, consequent upon the hostile attitude of Lord Dunmore, he was appointed colonel of the second regiment. At the battle of Great Bridge, Dec. 9th, he had the chief command, and gained a signal victory over the enemy. He was finally promoted to the command of the first brigade, in which station he served through the Revolutionary war. He was in various actions and in the battle of Brandywine was wounded. He was made prisoner in 1780, during the siege of Charleston, and taken to New York, where he died Nov. 13, 1780, aged 45.

* Communicated to the author by Mrs. Col. Thos. L. Jones, of Newport, Ky., who learned it from papers of her grandfather, Gen. James Taylor, of that place.

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

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