Kentucky Trails

Breckinridge County Kentucky


Kentucky. A History of the State.

written by
William Henry Perrin

Breckinridge County, the thirty-ninth in the State, is one of those bordering on the Ohio River. It was formed in the year 1799 from a part of Hardin County, and named for Hon. John Breckinridge, the first of that illustrious family in Kentucky. It is bounded on the north by the State of Indiana, from which it is separated by the Ohio River; on the east by Meade and Hardin Counties; on the south by Grayson County; on the west by Hancock and Ohio Counties, and by the census of 1880 had a population of 17,486. The surface alternates between rich bottom lands, fertile valleys, high plains or "hickory flats," and hilly regions, poor, rocky and broken. The bottoms along the Ohio show some as fine farms as are in the State; the valleys are rich blue-grass lands, resting on red clay and underlaid with limestone; the hickory flats, as tobacco lands, are unsurpassed, while the hilly regions are better adapted to fruit growing than anything else. Along the water courses fine timber grows in profusion. Tobacco is the staple product, the last census showing this to be the fifteenth county in the State as. to quantity produced. Grain, however, is extensively grown in some sections of the county; also considerable attention is paid to stock raising. The principal streams of the county are Rough, Clover, Rock Lick, Hardin, North Fork of Rough, Buffalo, Jewel's, Lost Run, Doret's, Brushy Fork, Sinking Creek, etc. The latter stream is something of a natural wonder. Its peculiarity furnishes its name. It rises some fifteen miles east of Hardinsburg, and flows in a northerly direction. Eight or ten miles from its source it suddenly sinks into the ground, and for several miles no trace of it is seen, except in extreme high water, when it overflows and fills with a roaring torrent the ?dry bed,'' as it is called. Ten miles, perhaps, from where it sinks it breaks out again, flows on, a large stream, affording fine water-power for mills, etc., and empties into the Ohio at Stephens-port. Five or six miles from its mouth is a natural mill dam, producing the "falls," and which has long been utilized for mill purposes. The stream was originally known as Hardin's Creek, but the peculiarity above described led to its change of name and the name ?Hardin'' has been bestowed on the little stream that meanders through the northwest suburb of Hardinsburg.
In the northwestern part of the county, adjacent to Cloverport, are fine beds of cannel coal. Prior to the discovery of petroleum in Pennsylvania and other regions, it was manufactured from this coal. A factory was built at Cloverport before the civil war, and for several years produced large quantities of oil, but since the era of petroleum this process became slow and expensive, and the distillation of oil from cannel coal was discontinued. The coal is being mined, however, by an English company, and to facilitate transportation a railroad has been constructed from the mines to the river at Cloverport. Lead ore has been found, but never mined to any great extent. Four miles south of Cloverport are the Tar Springs A peculiar feature of these springs is that there are half a dozen or more within an area of a few square yards, and the waters are as different as though they were a thousand miles apart. They are supposed to possess strong medicinal properties, as well as many local advantages for a fashionable watering place.
The county, in common with every portion of the State, has its caves and other natural wonders. Along Sinking Creek particularly are a number of caves, some of them considerable in extent. Two or three miles above Clifton Mills, on the creek, is the "Penitentiary Cave,'' one of the most extensive in the county. It has never been fully explored, but so far as it has been, it is found rich in subterranean magnificence. Near Webster is another cave worthy of a description. Two or three hundred yards from the entrance a subterranean stream is reached, that is almost equal, in the sounds produced, to Echo River, in the Mammoth Cave.
Hardinsburg, the county seat of Breckinridge, is beautifully situated on a table-land near the center of the county, and was laid out in 1782 by Gen. Hardin, for whom it was named. It is small and its growth has been slow. Among its early and prominent citizens were Joseph Allen, Capt. Thomas Kincheloe, Rev. James Taylor, Philip Light-foot, Morris Hensly, Charles Hambleton, William Feaman, B. and R. M. Wathen, John McClarty, William Morton, Stanley Singleton, James and Williamson Cox, William Seaton, Francis Peyton, Joseph Thomas, Thornton Smith, Jefferson Jennings, Dr. S. B. Abel, John B. Bruner, Elijah Eskridge and Roland Hughes. These all sleep with their fathers, and when Judge Kincheloe, Col. All Allen, Mr. "Vivian Daniel and Rev R. G. Gardner die, the "old guard" will have passed away.
Hardinsburg is a little gem of a town. It is well supplied with churches, has a newspaper, the Journal, and a very fine school building. Its court house, for the sum it cost, is one of the best in the State.
Cloverport is the largest place in the county, and is an incorporated city. It is situated on the Ohio River, in the northwest part of the county, and is a fine shipping point and a place of considerable importance. It has a bank, a newspaper, the News, and a number of handsome churches and residences. Stevensport is situated on the Ohio River, ten miles above Cloverport, and is an important shipping point. Other towns, villages and postoffices are Hudsonville, Constantine, Custer, Bewleyville, Webster, Clifton Mills, Union Star, Lodi, Big Spring, Rosetta, Bennettsville, Planter's Hall, Mc-Daniel's, Garfield, etc.
The pioneer of Breckinridge County was Gen. William Hardin, a frontiersman of the true type. His first visit to the county was in 1780. Together with a few of his neighbors, among whom were the Claycombs, Brashears, Bruners, Bargers, Haynes, Rices, Jollys, Barrs, Deans, Spencers and others, he penetrated the wilderness of Kentucky. In the early spring of that year (1780), with three companions, the names of whom are forgotten, except one, Sinclair, Hardin descended the Wabasha (the Shawanese name of the Ohio) in search of a suitable location for his proposed colony. They arrived at the falls of the Ohio, where there was then a settlement, but not liking the swampy nature of the country, they re-embarked and floated down the Ohio to the mouth of Sinking Creek, where they landed with the intention of exploring the adjacent country. As it chanced, they disembarked almost in the midst of a band of hostile savages. The Indians allowed them to advance some three miles into the country, when they divided, one party taking possession of the boat, while the other pursued the whites. The latter, experienced borderers as they were, had discovered signs of Indians and were on the alert. They found that they were pursued by a largely superior body of savages, and realizing the folly of a fight, they resolved to push on to Hines' Fort, the present site of Elizabethtown, in Hardin County. They continued their flight during the night, guided by the stars, and in the early morning reached a large spring, where they stopped to rest and slake their thirst. From the description they gave of the spring afterward, it was doubtless where the town of Big Spring now stands. Here they were attacked by the savages, and Sinclair killed. The others, led by Hardin, succeeded in escaping, and finally reached Hines' Fort.
Hardin remained at the forts in what is now Hardin County, until the following spring, when, accompanied by Christopher Bush and Michael Leonard, he returned to the mouth of Sinking Creek, up which they proceeded to the falls, where they disembarked. It was daring a periodical overflow m the Ohio, and all the surrounding country was submerged. Hardin cut a "high water dark" on a tree, which is said to be still discernible. They explored the country in a southeasterly direction, and finally reached the present site of Hardinsburg, where, pleased with the location, Hardin determined to establish his colony. There they at once commenced the erection of a fort, which became known on the border as Hardin's Fort. It was similar to the rude frontier forts or stations, and was constructed of logs with loopholes to shoot from. This was surrounded by a number of cabins, occupied by those who had joined Hardin with the intention of settling the country, and above referred to as his colony. The whole was enclosed by a palisade, oblong in shape, and of heavy slabs firmly implanted in the earth, rendering it a formidable structure for those primitive days. As the war-cry of the retreating savages died away along the frontier of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, those hardy pioneers came forth from the protecting walls of the fort, and joined by others, made settlements in different parts of the county.
The Hardin family, of whom Gen. Hardin was a prominent member, is one of the noted and distinguished families of Kentucky. The Hardins are of French descent. They came to America after the massacre of St. Bartholomew, being forced to fly from France on account of their Huguenot principles. It is claimed by some who profess to be acquainted with the Hardin genealogy, that they are of Scotch or Scotch-Irish origin; and the name does appear in Scottish history far back, but with nothing definite to indicate the place of nativity. The most authentic account of the Hardins' settlement in America is as follows: Three brothers, French Huguenots of a pronounced type, about the close of the sixteenth or beginning of the seventeenth century, to escape religious persecutions in France, fled to Canada. The severity of the climate soon compelled them to leave Canada, and they joined the English colony in Virginia. Two of the brothers settled there permanently, while the other emigrated to South Carolina. From the brothers who remained in Virginia descended the Kentucky Hardins. Martin Hardin, a lineal descendant, emigrated from Fauquier County, Va., to Pennsylvania, about the year 1765, and settled on the Monongahela River. He had a family of four daughters and three sons, all of whom were born in Virginia. The sons were John, Martin and William, the last the pioneer settler of Breckinridge County. Martin died about 1849, in his ninety-second year. John, for whom Hardin County was named, was murdered by the Indians in 1792 while on a peaceful embassy to their country. [See historical sketch of Hardin County.] Lydia Hardin, a sister, married Charles Wickliffe, and was the mother of some distinguished men and eminent statesmen. Sarah Hardin, another sister, married her cousin, Ben Hardin, and was the mother of the great criminal lawyer, Ben Hardin. A daughter of John Hardin married the Rev. Barnabas McHenry, and was the ancestor of a noted family. Many distinguished families of Kentucky, among whom are the Wickliffes, Helms, McHenrys, Cofers, Ewings, Bufords, Caldwells, Estills, Fields, etc., trace their lineage back to the Hardin brothers, who, nearly 300 years ago, fled to the wilds of America, that unrestricted they might enjoy their religious opinions.
Gen. Hardin, the pioneer of Breckinridge County, as we have seen, was a Virginian, though brought up mostly in Pennsylvania, having removed to the latter State with his parents when quite young. Upon attaining his manhood he married Winifred Holtzclaw. The result of this union was eight children, as follows: Winney Ann, who married William Comstock, of Hardinsburg; Henry, a prominent farmer of this county, who died about 1855; Malinda, who married William Crawford, the brother of Mrs. Jo Allen; William, who served several terms in the Legislature, finally moved to Frankfort, and was postmaster of that city for several years; Elijah, who was killed at Houston's Spring in 1805; Amelia, who married Horace Merry; John, who died near Brownsville, Penn., in 1850, and Jehu, who died in Hardinsburg some years ago. In addition to his own children Gen. Hardin reared a nephew and niece, Daniel Hardin, and Mary, his sister. The latter married Ben Huff, the first sheriff of the county.
Gen. Hardin was a man of great personal courage, brave as a lion, cool and self-possessed in the midst of danger, and well skilled in all the arts of border warfare. Of giant stature, and a noted Indian fighter, he became a terror to the savages and was known among the tribes as "Big Bill." Every device and stratagem was practiced by the Indians to secure Hardin's scalp, so bitter was their hatred and so great their dread of him. One morning, preparatory to going on a hunt, he fired off his gun outside the stockade and began wiping it out. An Indian, who had been lying in concealment for the purpose of getting a shot at some venturesome white, now sprang from his covert, aimed his gun at Hardin, and tauntingly exclaimed: "Ugh! Big Bill.'' The pause was fatal to the savage ; Hardin knocked his gun aside, and with his own gun clubbed out the Indian's brains. But he did not always escape scathless. He was several times wounded. Once, in a skirmish with the savages, he was shot through both thighs and his horse killed under him. The Indians thought he too was killed, and reported in their towns that '' Big Bill'' was dead. When he recovered and was again seen by them, their superstitious fears got the better of them, and they fled panic-stricken, believing they were pursued by '' old Hardin's ghost." Once, while standing picket as was the custom on the frontier, over those who were at work in the field near his fort, he was fired on by Indians and severely wounded, and his life probably saved by a brave girl, named Sally McDonald, who was among those in the field planting corn, and bravely assisted him in reaching the fort after the others had fled.
Such was Gen. Hardin, the pioneer of Breckinridge County, and the founder of Hardinsburg, one of the oldest towns (1782) in Kentucky. He owned a great deal of land at one time in the present counties of Breckinridge, Hardin, Meade, Grayson, Ohio and Hancock, but his house was burned, and thus his deeds and patents were mostly destroyed. By this accident he lost much of the lands rightfully belonging to him, and to which his descendants are entitled, many of whom still live in the county and the State. His house, which he rebuilt, stood on the bluff, overlooking Hardin's Creek, in the western part of the town, and until within the last decade or two was a well known land mark. But the old hero and pioneer, the compeer of Daniel Boone, Benjamin Logan and Simon Kenton, sleeps in an obscure and neglected grave. Men sometimes achieve recognition and fame, as Enoch Arden did, after death; but Gen. Hardin lived out the measure of his days, died and rests in a grave unmarked even by a rude bolder, while his fast receding memory remains unhonored and unsung. He deserves better than this; he deserves better than this from us, for he, and those of his kind, wrought for us a rich and enduring legacy in the noblest civilization the world has ever known.
John Breckinridge, for whom this county was named, and the progenitor of the Breckinridge family in Kentucky, was born in 1760. He came to Kentucky in 1793, and settled in Fayette County, near Lexington. His paternal ancestors were Scotch-Irish Presbyterians, who, after the restoration of Charles II, were persecuted in their native country, and to escape which they finally immigrated to Virginia. His mother, Lettice Preston, who was the second wife of his father, was the oldest child of John and Elizabeth (Patton) Preston. When very young his father removed to Botetourt County (Virginia), then the frontier of civilization. There, exposed to all the dangers of a wilderness country infested with Indians, he grew to manhood. In 1785 he was married to Mary Hopkins Cabell, a daughter of Col. Joseph Cabell, of Buckingham County. He was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses from the county of Botetourt when only nineteen years of age. The election was twice set aside on account of his youth, and on the third time, against his own wishes and remonstrances, he was permitted to take his seat. As a lawyer no man of his day excelled him, and as a statesman, none of his day and generation occupied a more commanding position, or enjoyed a more absolute popularity. He took an active part in all the important questions that agitated Kentucky from 1793 to 1806, and the second constitution of the State (1799), for fifty years preserved unaltered, was more the work of his hand, perhaps, than of any other man. Says his biographer:
"He was the undoubted leader of the old Democratic party, which came into power with Mr. Jefferson, as President, and under whose administration he was made attorney-general of the United States. He was an ardent personal and political friend of Mr. Jefferson, and coincided with him upon the great principles of the old Democracy, concerting with him and Mr. Madison, and others with kindred views, the movements which brought the Democratic party into power. He supported the interests of that party with ability in the Legislature of Kentucky, and in the Senate of the United States; and died as much beloved, honored and trusted by it as any man he left behind."
Mr. Breckinridge died upon his farm, in Fayette County, December 14, 1806, in the forty-sixth year of his age. His family consisted of nine children, and among his descendants have been some illustrious and distinguished men?one of the most noted, John C. Breckinridge, Vice-President of the United States under James Buchanan.

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