Source: "Memoirs of the Early Pioneer Settlers in Ohio"
by S.P. Hildreth, 1852
Submitted by Barb Ziegenmeyer
In examining the old county records we find many names of early citizens who are now lost sight of and have passed from the memory of the present generations. In fact, much of the early population was of a very migratory, transient character. It is amusing to look over the delinquent list returned by the sheriff in early days. “Gone to Logan County,” “Gone to Nelson County,” “Gone to Post Vincent,” “Gone to New Orleans,” “Gone to Spanish Dominion,” and various other places, known and unknown, followed the names of numerous delinquents. There are many other names whose descendants still constitute the bone and sinew of our present citizens and who are perpetuating the good qualities of their ancestors. The names of many of those early pioneers are now given, also, as far as can be ascertained, the country from which they came. This is done with the hope that their descendants who may know of any interesting facts in relation to their family record will make them known so that they may appear in this fragmentary history.
The Bairds, Barnetts, Statlers, and Browns were from Pennsylvania; the condits from New Jersey; the Crowes, Addingtons, Leaches, Ambroses, Bennetts, Griffiths, Stevenses, Millers, Phippses, and Barneses from Maryland; the Bells, Fields, Hayneses, Rowes, Renders, Mays, Thomases, Walkers, Hendersons, and Taylors from Virginia. Besides these there are many other names quite familiar, but, owing to the imperfect knowledge of the writer, the country from which they came cannot now be designated. Among them are the Mortons, McFarlands, Smiths, Handleys, Faiths, Glenns, Hustons, Maddoxes, Ashleys, Rileys, Tichenors, Showns, Rhoadses, Rowans, Shultzes, Barnards, Shanks, Moselys, Wallaces, and others.
Perhaps the Bennett family has the most numerous descendants of any of the early settlers of Ohio County. Old John Bennett, called “Governor” perhaps from his numerous family, with his Sons Jeffries, John, Samuel, Reuben, Asa, Titus, Obed, and George Bennett, were among the first settlers on No Creek. The old man and most of his sons were very industrious, frugal, sober, honest farmers. the descendants of the Bennett family are now intermarried and mixed with most of our population, and, withvery few exceptions perpetute the virtues of their ancestors.
During the War of 1812 Reuben Bennett was, by seniority, entitled to the office of lieutenant in the company which went to New Orleans, but when the regiment rendezvoused at Henderson, by some legerdemain of superior officers, a more pert and showy youth was placed above him. Reuben was not to be bulldozed in that way, and instead of resigning and coming home, he went south as a high private. At New Orleans his regiment happened to be among that Kentucky force that General Jackson branded with “inglorious flight,” and in which the young lieutenant who had supplanted him was said to have made two-forty speed in retreat, but Reuben Bennett was the last man to leave the field, and gallantly bore off a wounded officer under the fire of the enemy.
The Presbyterian and the Methodist camp meetings were located for many years in the No Creek neighborhood, and the hospitality of the Bennett family is still fresh in the memory of many survivors of those days.
The next most numerous family is Stevens. John, William, Thomas, Richard, and Henry Stevens all settled in this county in about 1800. They had two sisters; one married John Duke and the other Higginson Belt. Richard Stevens removed West at an early period. AU the others lived and died citizens of the county, sober, honest, liberal, industrious farmers. Thomas Stevens was remarkable for his portly form and beaming, benevolent countenance. He was a class leader in his church from time unknown. “Uncle Henry” Stevens and his sister Mrs. Belt are still fresh in the memory of the writer. His strong sense and his stronger will made him as firm as a rock and as obstinate as a mule. He always sought the right and when he thought he bad found it, he went ahead, like Davy Crockett. Honesty, frugality, benevolence, and industry were the rules of his life, which was prolonged in unusual mental and physical vigor to an extremely old age.
The writer has but an indistinct recollection of the head of the Render family in Ohio County. As far back as his recollection extends, he sees a large, portly old gentleman [Joshua Render, Sr.] whose bead was silvered over with grey, and who rode a fat horse. Joshua, George, and Robert Render were his sons and the early settlers of those once thrifty farms in the vicinity of the Render and McHenry coal mines. All were strict members of the Baptist church and industrious, honest, and peaceable members of the society.
Colonel Joshua Render died at about middle age, leaving a family of children, and grandchildren, all of whom, as far as known, are doing well.
George Render, the oldest son, was a preacher, well accepted where he was known, but spent most of his time on his farm. He preached only at such suitable times as occurred, receiving no pay or salary from the churches. He was a man remarkable for his strength and melody of voice, which was pleasing and enchanting to the hearer. The following story is told of an old sister’s description of one of his sermons:
“Well, Sister H, did you hear Brother Render preach last Sunday?”
“Yes indeed I did.”
“Well, what for a sermon did you have?”
“Oh, a most excellent one.”
“Well, what was the text?”
“Now, I don’t remember the text, but it was one of the best sermons I ever heard.”
“Well, what was the subject?”
“Now, I can’t tell you that, but I do believe it was the best sermon I ever heard; it bad such a heavenly tone to it.”
George Render’s children, so far as recollected, died early in life. Green and George Render, and Reverend James Austin, his only grandchildren, rank among our best citizens.
Robert Render would have been a model citizen in any community; thoroughly modest and unassuming almost to a fault, he was a man of unusual good sense sand sound judgment. He was seldom passed by when a juror, road viewer, commissioner, or arbitrator was needed, for his good, practical sense and scrupulous honesty always pointed him out as the best person. He left a long line of descend. ants, none of whom has ever tarnished the name of so good a man.
Largely intermingled with the population of our county is the Rowe family George, Edmund, and Robert Rowe were among the first settlers and best farmers. Walton’s Creek. Industrious in their habits, honest in their dealings, social and jovial in their intercourse with others, and fond of all kinds of jokes, they never failed to have some good-humored story to tell on each other.
George Rowe was a remarkable man in various respects, possessing a splendid physique, fine, intellectual head and face, and sound practical sense. He, like many of the other earliest pioneers, could neither read nor write, yet his powers of mental arithmetic or calculation were remarkable. For many years he sold the greater amount of the meats and vegetables that were bought by the citizens of Hartford. He was never known to fail in filling his engagements. Regardless of the state of the weather or of how dark the previous night, he would be in town with his marketing and ready to sell before his customers were fairly out of their beds. No matter how many different articles the purchaser might buy, Rowe, without slate or pencil, could tell to a cent the amount of the bill, and with equal facility he could perform almost any ordinary calculation involving addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division. His marketing was always equal to what he represented it. With a proper education he might have become a leader among men.
George and Edmund Rowe left large families, and a large portion of their descendants are frugal, industrious, and punctual in their dealings, and remarkable for the good quality of their marketing.
The memory of no old settler occurs more vividly to the writer than that of old Elijah Williams, living near Hartford on the south side of Muddy Creek Mild, modest, and unassuming; never involved in any family, church, or neighborhood feuds, he and his good old lady died at a ripe old age, leaving untarnished memories. Other parents pointed out as an example to their children the quiet good order and affectionate harmony of this family of children. It was, no doubt, a misfortune to our community that all the sons, save one, died in early life; for all those sons, unless they had been unfortunate in selecting wives, might have reared equally respectable families The only surviving son, Mr. Jerry Williams, seems to have walked in the footsteps of his father.
There is perhaps no period in social life more agreeable than the midway point between the deprivations and hardships of pioneer days and the advanced stages of wealth and fashion. Hartford and Ohio County enjoyed this midway point between the years of 1820 and 1840. The most conservative families had acquired all the comforts and conveniences of life, not knowing or caring for its luxuries and fashionable fooleries. They had means to acquire an abundance of wholesome, substantial food and neat and decent apparel. All lived and dressed and entertained as their fancy dictated. In some of the homes there was substantial mahogany furniture which was purchased by the merchants either in New Orleans or in Philadelphia. It came by river to Owensboro and in wagons to Hartford for the more well-to-do citizens. Some of their cherished possessions had been brought with them from old Virginia. The writer well remembers an “old blue schooner” wagon, brought by the Taylor family from their home near Winchester, Virginia, in which they had hauled their household goods.
During the most of the period from 1820 to 1840 there were among the principal householders: Dr. Charles McCreery, Richard Elliott, Dr. Benjamin Smith, Charles Henderson, John McHenry, William B. Charles, Reuben Bennett, Harrison Taylor, and Reverend Thomas Taylor. All were fond of social enjoyment, and always kept their doors open, or at least the latch string out, to young and old. All these families, as well as many others in the county, were of quiet, refined habits and literary taste. AU of them were of our pioneer families.
Among the resident belles were the Misses Ferguson, Henderson, McCreery, Crutcher, Shanks, and Davis, besides a great accession of frequent visitors from Daviess, Muhlenberg, and other counties.
Among the single men and youths and widowers in Hartford at that time, 1820 to 1840, were William M. Davis, Dillis Dyer, Samuel O. Peyton, John M. Austin, Ben Duncan, James Smith, Joshua Ferguson, Martin D. McHenry, and Harold McCreery. All of these I have mentioned were endowed with a high degree of social, intellectual, and moral virtues, and were of pioneer parentage.
One or more social parties occurred every week at different private homes. The heads of the families justly believed that their company preferred “brains to bacon” and put themselves to no further trouble than that of furnishing house room, fuel, and light. They joined with a zest in the social intercourse and amusement, which consisted in discussing the news and literature of the day, telling jokes and anecdotes, singing songs, and - sub rosa - occasional love making. The writer cannot recall to mind a single incident that marred the social intercourse of those days of “auld lang syne” This happiness grew mainly out of the fact that the miss in her calico felt as well dressed as the madam in her silks; and the boy in homespun never thought of casting a glance of envy at the broadcloth of the gentleman.
SOME EARLY MERCHANTS
(Transcribed and submitted by Rita Bergendahl)
The first mercantile transaction of which tradition gives any account is the story of a Yankee peddler who came to Hartford with a barrel of whiskey - a story which we will retell presently. The next to come to this section was the peddler whose story is told in "Early Experiences of Ralph Ringwood." Whether "Ralph Ringwood's" peddler was a myth or not, he was at least a representative character of his trade of the day. It was to such itinerant "merchants" or peddlers as "Ringwood's" that the early pioneers looked for their few supplies. Besides, the early pioneer's means of purchasing were too scant to justify the permanent location of a store in any one special place.
Previous to Anthony Wayne's complete and decisive victory over the Indians in 1794, very few settlements were made below Elizabethtown, Kentucky, with a view of opening and cultivating farms. Forts and stations were erected in various localities; small parcels of land were cleared and cultivated by placing wary, expert riflemen as sentinels while others worked.
A few bushels of corn, with the aid of hand mills and hominy mortars, furnished their daily bread. The buffalo, elk, bear, and deer not only furnished them with an abundant supply of meat but also with bed clothes and wearing apparel. Geese, turkeys, and other wild fowls supplied them with meat more delicious than the chicken of the present day. Feathers, furs, skins, tallow, and wild honey formed the basis of trade and commerce.
Tradition does not give the palm of shrewdness and cunning always to the peddler of those days, as will be illustrated by the following story of transactions involving whiskey and coonskins.
Some enterprising Yankee peddler had managed to get a barrel of whiskey into Hartford. With it he proposed to accommodate the citizens, selling a gill for a coonskin, or nine pence in silver - the principal coins in circulation under a whole dollar being dollars cut in halves, quarters, eighths, and sixteenths. To save paying rent, he, with the aid of some poles and boards, erected a shanty around his whiskey barrel, and, with a partition in the middle, he had the front for a salesroom and the back part for a storeroom. Business was not brisk the first day; only a few old loafers, who were too infirm or too lazy to hunt, or an occasional old lady who wanted a little spirits in her camphor bottle, came to the shanty to trade.
But after dark the scene changed: Scouts, hunters, loafers, and boys gathered around the whiskey; skins were pouring in as fast as the liquor could be poured out. The scene became absolutely uproarious with fifes and drums, songs and shouts of laughter, making a medley of sounds that might have prostrated the walls of Jericho. The peddler would hand out the liquor, seize the skin, and throw it back into his storeroom with an air of triumph. He became weary of success, and felt relieved when the crowd, or as many of them as could walk, retired. Mr. Peddler slept but little and reckoned much on the gains of the night, and, as soon as it was light enough, proceeded to count his enormous pile. To his bitter disappointment and utter astonishment, the pile seemed very little larger than it had been early the evening before. On further inspection he saw that a board had been removed from the back part of his shanty. A long pole with a hook at the end told the story - all night he had been buying his own skins over and over again.
The second day his sales were as dull as the day before, and when night came on, he gathered his skins into his salesroom, watching them closely, and refused to sell for anything but cash, which came in very slowly. Towards bedtime business revived and the Yankee thought that there might be a trick - counterfeit money about - and so rubbed each piece between his fingers. He found it too hard for pewter, and smelling it found it was not copper. Not until after he had deposited it in his leather purse did he hand out the liquor. Finally he retired to rest with the consolation that if he had not done a smashing business, he had at least done a safe one. He was aroused next morning by hearing a furious voice complaining behind the shanty, and upon walking out, saw a man's cross-cut saw despoiled of every tooth! With trembling and fear he stole back into his shanty, untied his purse, and poured out his receipts; then he discovered that he had scarcely anything but saw-teeth!
To return to the subject of our early merchants, or rather to begin it: The first store in Hartford of which we have any authentic account was that of Nathaniel Wickliffe. As already related, he seems to have drawn his supplies from Bardstown, as is shown by the old records of a suit he brought against William Wallace for damage done to a load of furs and hides Wallace had contracted to haul from Hartford to Bardstown. It appears that the firm of Rose and Fitzhugh also had a store of some note in the early days.
I remember Samuel Rose, who was a very popular man. He was also clerk of the court for a while. Some time previous to the War of 1812 he removed to Bardstown and was a soldier under General Samuel Hopkins in his march, in 1812, up the Wabash River, where Rose and his friends Murry and Dunn and others were caught in an ambush while on a reconnoitering party. They were slain and terribly mangled by the savages. Some Ohio County friends found Rose's body, recognized it, and had it decently buried. The Bardstown Repository of that period was full of eulogy of the three - Rose, Murry, and Dunn - all of whom were represented as men of sterling virtues and worth.
Perhaps the next store in Hartford was that of Lewis and Rogers, a branch probably of some Bardstown house; it was not of long duration. The writer recollects on his first visit to town of spending his first three fourpence, half pennies, for a small mustard cup, being, as he thought, the prettiest thing on the almost empty shelves.
Robert Moseley, Richard Taylor, and Harrison Taylor, as partners, at an early day bought a large stock of goods - large for that period - from Colonel Criss, of Bullitt's Lick. They traded largely in country produce. This speculation resulted in great loss, especially for the Taylor partners.
During the War of 1812, Samuel, Isaac, and David Morton built a storehouse and opened a very considerable stock of goods. Near their house stood the buildings that were burned to celebrate the Battle of New Orleans, of which we have written. William and Daniel McKenzie built a house which is still a part of the Lyon House [in earlier days Crowe House, later Commercial Hotel]. In it they opened a respectable stock. They, however, sold out in a few years and moved to parts unknown. Both were well esteemed while citizens of Hartford.
Up to the close of the War of 1812 the country needed but little, and had but little to buy with. Families made their own clothing and shoes. Such hats as they could not plait of straw or make of other home-made material, they bartered for with some country hatter. Nearly every family had a shoemaker at home, or, if not, exchanged work with some country cobbler. Most of the ladies had a Sunday dress of fine cotton for summer and a nice barred, or checkered, linsey-woolsey for winter. The most aristocratic seldom aspired to anything above calico.
At the close of the War of 1812 a period of credit and its concomitant extravagance and fashion set in. Pork which had sold from $1.50 to $2.00 rose to $5.00; tobacco to $10.00 and $12.00. It was supposed that any man able to work would be able at the end of the year to pay for everything that had been sold to him, hence, a system of almost universal credit sprang up, and Hartford became crowded with stores. Murry and Walker, Thompson and Moseley, Richard A. Jones, and the three Mortons, all had large and respectable stores for that period. Besides these there were smaller ones not now recollected. For several years all seemed to be on the high road to fortune. The merest country bumpkin was wrapped from head to foot in broadcloth. A clodhopper would mount his burrtailed pony, rigged out with a forty-dollar saddle and a twelve-dollar bridle.
This ignis fatuus with which the whole state was carried away led on to the Eldorado of a universal banking system. The legislature passed a law chartering a bank in nearly every county, and in some of them two, as in Ohio County. For this our then representative Major James Johnston was most terribly vilified and abused for a time. He was, however, later highly commended for his sound sense and good judgment, which created for him a fund of popularity which lasted for years. How this great air-bubble burst, bankrupting the community and leading to other blunders in legislation, to litigation and party excitement, would require an entire chapter to relate.
The great South Sea bubble of England was scarcely a more laughable farce than this Kentucky banking scheme proved to be. Everybody wanted bank stock. It was greedily taken. The banks organized, and their notes were put in circulation. The Battle of Waterloo had settled the peace of Europe, and the close of our war with England rendered the United States a tempting field for the long pent-up workshops of the world, and we were flooded and overstocked with foreign merchandise.
To vend these overstocks of goods, peddlers swarmed over the whole country. They took notes of these independent banks and made regular raids upon them until their small specie deposits were exhausted. Only two of these banks in the whole State proved solvent. The notes of the balance proved an entire loss to the country; the poor merchants were among the principal sufferers.
In the meantime our Hartford merchants had shipped the tobacco of the county at highly remunerative prices for several years. That, of course, increased its production. Skilled as well as unskilled labor everywhere was engaged in its culture, which resulted in a tremendous over-crop, much of which was of the lowest grade. This crop was eagerly bought by the merchants and shipped to New Orleans. Because of over-supply on the market prices fell to a most ruinous rate. In some cases the whole crop did not sell for enough to pay the expense of shipment, inspection, commission, and other expenses.
These heavy losses from broken banks and the low price of tobacco fell so heavily on the merchants in Hartford that every store in the town was closed, or suspended business, save that of Samuel, Isaac, and David Morton, who were the sole survivors of the panic. This firm was a striking example of the strange freaks of the fickle goddess of fortune.
The routine of merchandising in those days was to ship produce to New Orleans, sell it, buy bills of exchange on New York or Philadelphia, and then proceed on vessels to the eastern markets and there purchase goods. The year previous to the great decline in tobacco, the Mortons had been quite successful in their shipments to New Orleans. There they sold their goods and received a draft on some eastern house. They left immediately for the East to lay in a stock of merchandise, but on arriving there the house on which their draft was drawn had failed. The consequence was that the Mortons bought no goods that year. They returned to New Orleans, and got their money out of the drawer of the draft, but only after a long and tedious course of law had been followed. Thus while their means were locked up in the courts, they were no doubt fretting and fuming at their ill luck. In the meantime their fellow merchants in Hartford were chuckling at their own good fortune at having monopolized the trade, not seeing that they were greedily running into ruin and disaster.
The Mortons, chagrinned at their apparent ill luck, and fearing the ultimate loss of their suspended New Orleans debts, set about a vigorous and vigilant collection of their home accounts in Ohio County. Thus by the time the panic and pressure set in, they had collected or secured the most of their home debts, and were ready with this capital to take possession of the vanquished field. They monopolized the trade of the whole country for years afterwards; then they divided their means. Samuel Morton removed to Palmyra, Missouri, William Morton to Hardinsburg, and David Morton to Owensboro. Isaac Morton continued business in Hartford, where he had little or no opposition for a considerable period of time.
After the palmy days of the Mortons there were no large stores until one was opened by Richard Elliott. who had been the cashier of the old Commonwealth Bank of Hartford, from its commencement. [This building is now the residence of James H. Williams.] Elliott was an excellent financier of indefatigable industry, shrewd but pleasant in his manners. He proved to be the most successful merchant of his time. His health failed, however, and he died in a few years. It was a matter of doubt as to what his ultimate outcome might have been, whether he would have become a millionaire or a bankrupt, as the times were so uncertain that no one could predict. When he commenced his career, the period was a very prosperous one; property of all kinds continued to rise in value. The improvements in machinery, in manufacturing, and the great reduction in the tariff on foreign merchandise had so reduced the price of goods bought at wholesale that merchants could sell them at retail at a heavy profit, and yet have the credit of selling them "dirt cheap," as their customers thought and said. This prosperous period continued during the whole of Mr. Elliott's time of merchandising. His estate wound up with a very large surplus for his heirs, as well as a formidable list of insolvent debts which were an entire loss to his estate, although the strictest vigilance was used in making collections.
Mr. Elliott's death was much lamented by the community. He was highly esteemed as a citizen. He devoted much of his time to reading and had considerable literary taste and attainments. He was liberal and generous in his dealings. It is useless now to speculate what would have been his financial success had he lived to pass the panics and pressure of the years 1837, 1842, and 1860, which not only tried men's souls but also merchants' solvency.
During the time of and shortly after the close of Mr. Elliott's career, various other stores were started in Hartford. Among other merchants were Logan Walker, Larkin and John G. NaIl, John Phipps, W. W. Phipps, and Crowe and Taylor. They carried on a long career of merchandising with varied success. None of them became millionaires, but all escaped insolvency. All have given place to others whose operations are well-known to the present generation.