Reminiscences of a Jefferson County Pioneer
published in the Madison Weekly Courier – Feb. 4, 1874
Editors Courier: I see you invite correspondence from early pioneers of Jefferson County. Believing that there are very few now living that came to Madison at an earlier date than I did, I concluded I would give the readers of the Courier, a brief sketch of my pioneer life in Madison, prefacing it with a few remarks respecting myself and my arrival.
I came to Madison in March 1821, in my 24th year, and now in my 77th year, which includes a lapse of 53 years next March. Purchasing fifty acres of land at the head of Crooked Creek, I built a log house the winter previous, before I brought my wife, having married the October previous. Here, I intended to unite the occupation of farmer and blacksmith, I soon found I had made a mistake in my location. I exchanged my land with Josiah Mead for a small, one-story brick house still standing near the Third Street Methodist church, Madison. Having but little money, and that only worth 66 cents to the dollar, I commenced business with V. and J. King, they building and stocking the shop and I doing the work, dividing the profits. Having been at Madison in1816 and 1818, I will here state that at one of these visits, I attended the first camp meeting ever I was at. It was held at a place known as the mouth of Dugan’s Hollow, near Henry Ristine’s tan-yard. I leave the reader to picture to himself the motley appearance of the persons and costumes of that primitive assembly.
I will now enumerate the names of some of the most prominent citizens who have passed away since and their occupations. I commence with Victor & John King, merchants; Richard Dearborn, Jacob Doyle, John Sering, the Lodges, the Doans, all merchants in a small way. Then there was John Paul, one of the proprietors; J&N Hunts, who had a log hotel, I think, where the Masonic Temple now stands; also a tan-yard near where Robbins’ furniture shop now stands. Of physicians, Doctors Howes, Canby, Hodges, Cravens, Goode &c. Of clergymen, Grandfather Jesse Vawter preached for the Baptists on the hill, west of the railroad, at the head of the deep cut; Thomas C. Searl of the Presbyterian church, near Presbyterian avenue, between Mulberry and West streets; Gamaliel Taylor, Methodist church, on East, near where the St. John‘s church now stands. So many names of old citizens come to my mind, I shall have to name them without designating their calling: William Robinson, James Cochran, Brook Bennett, John Haney, printer; Wm. Dutton, Nathan B. Palmer, James H. Wallace, William Wallace, Dawson Blackmore, James Ross; the last two, with Orren C. Hough, at different times were Associate Judges. The bar was represented by Jeremiah Sullivan, J.F. D. Lanier, William Carpenter, and others of less prominence. Hunt’s was the only hotel In the place, when I first came to Madison, but the deficiency was made up by Alois Bachman and John Buler, where for one of J.E. Lewis’ Cut pips you could get a common tumblerful of Monongahela. N.B. Palmer, Brook Bennet, and J.H. Wallace have represented the county in the Legislature.
Colonel John Paul had some two or three mills on Crooked Creek and Clifty beside teams running all the time. He spent many hours with me in the shop, and frequently proposed to sell me choice vacant lots, from one to a dozen, at fifty dollars each, and take it in my work. But I, having lived near Georgetown, Ky., an inland town, I did not think it would pay to invest in vacant lots in Madison, as I could only keep up family supplied and stock by taking produce for my work, and trade it in the stores, for such things as I needed.
There has been a great change in the price of produce since that time. I got my butter for two years from old Father Blankenship at 12 1/2 cents per lb. Eggs were only worth three cents per dozen, corn meal and potatoes from 20 to 25 cents per bushel. I have bought pork at $1.50 and $2 per hundred, chickens,75 cents, to $1 per dozen. Wood, I seldom bought, I could get some customers to cut and haul from the commons all I needed, it only cost me the cutting and hauling.
As my friend, and apprentice, has given an account of my shop being burned in 1824, I omit that, I would only add, that I forgot to name Andrew Collins among the merchants. His store was on the opposite side of the street from my shop. We dealt a great deal together in the exchange of goods and produce, and to his memory I will say I believe him to be the noblest work of God, an honest man. There are many other names of which I would like to make honorable mention, but would require more space in the Courier than I feel at liberty to occupy.
Before closing my communication I would like to review my friend James E. Lewis’ article in a previous number of the Courier. I think from my best recollection he has drawn slightly on his imagination, or taken some other’s person’s word, as he was raised several miles in the country and must have been too young to have a personal knowledge of the things spoken of. He speaks of J. Brown and C.B. Lewis being at the mouth of Crooked Creek fishing and hearing a report on the other side of the river, supposed it was Indians and fled to Madison to give the alarm, but it turned out to be the first steamboat that ever landed at Madison. He did not give the date. I don’t pretend to know in what year the first steamboat reached Madison, but I well remember that in 1818 a small boat call the Robert Burns ran up the Kentucky River as far as Cedar Riffle, 18 miles below Frankfort, and remained there a day or two to give the natives an opportunity to see the wonder of the age. He also speaks of a beaver dam on Crooked Creek where Colonel Paul’s mill afterward stood. If my memory serves me correct that mill was running at my first visit to the county in 1816. At all events, it is the first time I ever heard of a beaver dam in Jefferson County.
Dupont, January 1874