HISTORY OF ALLEN COUNTY BY B.Y. DeWITT

Since the time the daring Anglo-Saxon first stood upon the summit of Cumberland Mountains and, gazing across the regal wilderness that stretches westward toward the Father of Waters, claimed it as his own, the portion of that imperial domain now known as Allen County has borne various designations.

Best loved of all the Indian’s hunting-lands as it was, the "Dark and Bloody Ground" was first christened by the all-conquering Pale Face a part of the Royal Colony of Virginia. Then, in 1777, the Legislature of that rebelling province formed the territory west of the mountains into "Kentucky county." In 1780 this "district" was divided into three counties, Lincoln being the one that embraced the southern part of the region. Immediately after Kentucky was admitted into the Union as a separate State, in 1792, seven new counties were formed. Of these, Logan included most of the area between Green river and the Tennessee border.

Out of Logan, Warren was formed in 1796, while Barren was organized two years later out of parts of Warren and Green.

By legislative enactment, parts of Warren and Barren counties were united to make Allen county, January 11, 1815. Thus, since the white man assumed to dominate the land, it had been an integral part of seven different political divisions before becoming the civil unit it now is.

Of the other counties now bounding Allen, Simpson was formed in 1819 – a strip of Allen being taken for its benefit – and Monroe was created in the year following.

But little that is specifically definite is known of Allen county’s history previous to its formation. Accepted records state that it was first settled in 1797, at various points north and east of the present county seat, by JOSEPH FICKLIN, TOLLIVER CRAIG, HENRY COLLINS, DANIEL MONROE and others. JOHN CAMPBELL and LON HAGAN came from Virginia between 1801 and 1805. FEB CARPENTER, TED CHAMBERS and TOM OLIVER built a mill in 1803 and 1804. THOMAS CHAMBERS, JOHN CARPENTER and JOHN WRIGHT came from Virginia in 1805.

The fertile soil, the pure water that gushed from the foot of almost every hill, and the rank wild vegetation made it an ideal spot for the hardy pioneer. The abundant mast in the woods furnished all that was needed for fattening his hogs; the wild pea vines on every ridge gave luxurient summer pasture for his cattle, and the cane brakes that flourished along every stream afforded his stock abundant green forage through the winter. Such conditions brought a steady influx of immigrants; and through we find their names by hundreds in the later records, it is impossible to ascertain just when or from where the majority of them came. However, the rapid growth of the pioneer settlement is shown by the Federal census of 1820 – the earliest record – wherein the population of the county is given as 5,327.

But when we come to the organization of the county, our knowledge is full and definite; for, preserved in the County Clerk’s office is the original Minute Book of the Allen County Court, from its first session in April, 1815 to that of June, 1819. Small and unpretentious looking beside the more modern volumes, it nevertheless contains the very cream of the county’s annals.

DINGY WITH AGE

Its board packs, of conventional mottled design, are dingy with age, and the leaves are a dull cream color. But the ink, for the most part, has retained its original black, or has faded only to a rich brown. The records are entered in a number of different handwritings, a few of them poor, more of them good, and some really beautiful; while the smoothness of the ink flow attests the excellence of the goose quill as a writing medium. The spelling, with few exceptions, is correct; only in punctuation are there serious inaccuracies; and, on the whole, the entries testify to a degree of scholarship that was hardly to be expected of the pioneers of a century ago. All quotations from the minutes given in this article are "verbatim et literatim." Only the punctuation has been changed, in some instances, to make the meaning clear.

From this venerable record we learn that on January 11, 1815 – three days after the battle of New Orleans – the Kentucky Legislature passed an act creating the new county out of parts of Warren and Barren; but it did not become effective until April 10, following, when the appointed officials of the new division met and formally organized the county. They assembled at the house of one WILLIS MITCHELL, four miles northwest of where Scottsberg was afterward located. The barn of the Mitchell homestead stood by the side of the road just across from where D. R. GARDNER’s store now is. The residence was a little farther back. It was torn down about twenty years ago.

We will let the first entry of the minutes tell the story: "Pursuant to an act of the General Assembly of the State of Kentucky passed the 11th day of January, in the year of our Lord 1815 and in the – year of the Commonwealth, establishing a new county out of the counties of Warren and Barren, WALTER THOMAS, EDWARD MARTIN, DAVID HARRIS, WILLIAM JACKSON, JON RAGLAND, HUGH BROWN and ELIAS PITCHFORD, Gentlemen, met at the house of WILLIA MITCHELL, in the County of Allen mentioned in the aforesaid act, and severally produced commissions from his Excellence, the Governor (Isaac Shelby) appointing Justices of the Peace in and for the aforesaid county of Allen. Whereupon the following Certificate was filed, to wit:

"Allen County, ss. – I do hereby certify that WALTER THOMAS, a Magistrate of this county, came personally before me, JOHN RAGLAND , a Justice of the Peace for said county, and took the oath of office, required by the Constitution and several laws of this Commonwealth.

"’Given under my hand this 10th day of April, 1815. "’JOHN RAGLAND , J. P. A. C.’ "And the said WALTER THOMAS administered the several oaths required by the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution and laws of this Commonwealth to this said Magistrates.

"And THOMAS COOKE produced a commission from His Excellency the Governor, appointing him Sheriff of the aforesaid county of Allen, and entered into bonds with JOHN W. COOKE, WM. R. PAYNE, JAMES HARNEY, ALFRED PAYNE and WILLIAM BOREN his securities, conditioned as the law directs and was sworn into office."

"The court then proceeded to the appointment of their clerk, and appointed DAVID WALKER, Jr., to that office, who was sworn into said office as the law directs and entered into bond." His securities were SAMUEL WICKWARE, ELIJA CUSHENBERRY, EDWARD MARTIN, WALTER THOMAS and JOHN B. SMITH.

"Thereupon the court was held in and for the county aforesaid." ALFRED PAYNE and HUGH BROWN were recommended to the Governor as "proper and fit persons to fill the office of Surveyor of this county." That officer selected Payne, making Brown his deputy.

A similar recommendation was made for THOMAS GATTON and JOHN BUCKHANNON for the office of Coroner, the former being chosen. JOHNSON J. COCKRILL was appointed "Joaler," his bondsmen being SAMUEL WICKWARE and DAVID WALKER, Jr. JACOB WALKER was chosen "Commonwealth’s Attorney for this County."

The county was divived into five districts, the boundries of each being set forth, and a constable was appointed for each. These officers and their bondsmen were:

WELL ESTABLISHED MILITIA

The next item shows how well established was the militia organization of that day. It was Ordered that the following persons be appointed Commissioners of the Tax within the county to have several captains’ companies herein named:

At the June session, it was "ordered by the Court that the bounds laid off by the Court as Districts for the Constables of this County be assigned as Districts for the patrolers of this County."

"First District. – EDWARD LEWIS, captain; HENRY DERRYBERRY, JOHN SPENCER and PATRICK MAHAN be appointed to patrol the first district according to law, to ride twelve hours at least in every month."

The appointment for the second districts were, WILLIAM R. JACKSON, captain; THOMAS SUTTON, CHAS. WRIGHT and JOHN HAGAN. For the fourth and fifth districts, JOHN PULLIAM, captain; WM. DAVIS, JOSHUA BUCKHANNON and JAMES ADAMS.

The court of Claims, in December following, allowed these "captains" $4.00 each for six months’ service, and the "privates" $3.00 each.

On July 8, 1816, JOHN HARBEY, GEO. CLAYTON, FIELDING DUFF and ALEX MANSFIELD were appointed "patrolers," for Scottsville, their territory extending one mile from the public square. And JOHN BUCKHANNON was appointed surveyor of the main streets in the town of Scottsville, and all the public highways coming in and going out of said town, one-half mile from the public square, and that all hands in said town subject to work on roads who live in one-half mile of said square are alloted to him to assist in keeping the said roads and streets in repair."

NAMED FOR COL. ALLEN

The county was named for Col. JOHN ALLEN, who was killed by Indians at the disastrous battle of the River Raisen two years before while gallantly trying to reform the broken regulars under cover of the Kentucky riflemen.

It was no small responsibility and no light burden which these first magistrates assumed. A pioneer population, come together from many sources, had to be made an organized society. The primitive forest was rapidly being transformed into the abode of men, and the settlers wanted legal titles to their lands; they wanted roads, they wanted the law’s protection. All the complex necessities of a fast-developing civilization must be provided for. A county seat must be located and the various public buildings erected. And the court must find the funds to do this and meet the expense of organized government.

How faithful these old justices did their part is told not only in these pages of the dead past, but also in the living outcome of their labors – a county which for orderly, low-abiding citizenship and steady progressiveness has no superior in Kentucky.

It was inevitable that differrences of opinion should arise in the court. From the very first there was divergence of views as to the proper location for the county seat. Some wanted it on the lands of WILLIS MITCHELL, where the court first met, because that was the approximate center of the county. But the location was finally determined by the two magnificent springs, four miles southeast of that point on the ridge, between which the town was platted. This much is from other sources and not from the minute books.

WAS CHRISTENED SCOTTVILLE

The county seat was legally christened "Scottville," and by that name is almost always mentioned in the minutes. The possessive, "S" seems to have been a gratuity of the Post Office Department at Washington, which erroneously recorded the new post office as "Scottsville" – which form gradually superceded the other in all usages. The town was named after Gov. CHARLES SCOTT, and not, as often stated, for Gen. Winfield Scott, whose victory at Lundy’s Lane the previous year had made him a popular hero.

The first mention of Scottsville in the minute book is very abrupt: "The County Court of Allen under the act of Assembly establishing said county, do appoint the following persons as trustees of said town to be established: DAVID WALKER, Jr., WILLIAM ANDERSON, WALTER THOMAS, HUGH BROWN and SAMUEL GARRISON, as a body corporate to receive the deed of conveyance and do such other acts as said act of Assembly require." The odd part about this entry is that not a word had previously been said in the records about "said town." So, after such an introduction, we may not be surprised at the abruptness of the next sentence: "Ordered that the court adjourn until six of the clock tomorrow evening."

ON JOHN BROWN’S LAND

At the hour appointed there ……. magistates of said county and JOHN GODLEY, assistant judge under the act of Assembly;" and "upon a vote being taken, a majority of said court concur in fixing said seat upon the lands of JOHN BROWN on Bay’s Fork of said county." The tract later deeded by BROWN contained 100 acres, and for it he was to receive $200.00. "And the said land is to be vested in the said trustees, as a body corporate, for the benefit of said county."

The town site was laid off in "Lotts," the proceeds of whose sale became the fund relied upon for building the courthouse, etc. With reference to the amount realized, the last page of the old book contains an incomplete memorandum of accounts, in which these items appear:

Amount of sales for lots:

total = $8728.50

The Court of Claims for October allowed the lavish sum of $2 "for advertising the lotts."

The population of Scottsville must have grown quite rapidly, judging from the volume of lot sales and from other items here and there. On the 13th of November following its establishment three men – JOHNSON J. COCKRILL, JOHN BROWN and JOHN BUCKHANNON – were licenses to keep tavern in the new town – each under a bond of 1,000 lbs. By the end of 1818 half a dozen others had been launched in the same business.

LOW COST OF LIVING

In this connection it may e interesting to note that in August, 1815 "the court proceeded to fix the rates which is to govern the tavern keepers in this country" as follows:

The following year the item of "stableage" was advanced from 25 cents to 37 cents per night and in 1817 it was raised to fifty cents. Apple and peach brandies were added also, at 12 cents per quart. "Cyder oil" metamorphosed into "cyder royal."

ALLEN’S FIRST LAWYER

The first lawyer admitted to the bar was JACOB W. WALKER, on April 11, 1815. Within a few months HENDERSON LEWIS, DANIEL M. LEWIS, DAVID H. ROBERTSON, JOHN GAINES, JOSEPH R. UNDERWOOD and ROBERT P. BEAUCHAMP were admitted also. This was the process:

" ___ produced his license as attorney at law and took the oath required by the constitution of the United States, also the constitution and laws of this state, also the oath under the act of Assembly passed the 4th day of February, 1812, prohibiting deweling, and thereupon he is permitted to practice in this court."

TROUBLE OVER COURTHOUSE

Though the location of the county seat was thus early determined and the new town was prospering, a battle royal was being waged in the courthouse. In June, 1815, we find; "The County Court think it fit and proper to undertake upon themselves the erecting of public buildings of this county. They are to lay the plans of the courthouse and jail, and the money arising from the sale of the Lotts is to be applied to defray the expenses of the same." HUGH BROWN, WALTER THOMAS, WM. R. JACKSON, WILLIAM COLLINS and DAVID HARRIS were appointed a committee to superiated the building of the courthouse, the jail, a stray pen, and also "to cause a pare of stocks to be erected for the county aforesaid." And on November 14, ……….the Circuit Court of the county that the courthouse and jail is in readiness for their reception, and that said courts do henceforth be holden at the permanent seat of justice of this county."

Was the recording clerk a sly wag, or did he conscientiously certify to the court that the jail was ready for their reception? That this first courthouse building of logs, was designed to be only temporary is evidenced by the fact that the next day the court appointed DAVID WALKER, Jr., WALTER THOMAS, WILLIAM COLLINS and JOHNSON J. COCKRILL commissioners to "superintend the building of the courthouse for this county." WALKER, the County Clerk, was ordered to call upon the Board of Trustees of Scottsville of all moneys and notes derived from the sale of lots, and to use these to defray the expense of this building, not to exceed $8,000.

Everything went on amicably, so far as the minutes show, for several months. Much business was transacted, and at the march term it was voted to erect a cherk’s office upon a lot, 16X20 feet, "adjoining the lot of DAVID WALKER, Junior, and the Public Square," which had been donated for the purpose by THEOPHILIUS READ. The specifications of this building are minutely set forth, and include: Two rooms, stone foundation, brick walls, "two outward doors and an inward door," three windows with "Venltion" blinds; the doors, sash, blinks and casings to be of walnut timber; "two locks with brase knobs and a stock lock for the inward door;" two sets of joists – the lower to support a floor on which was to be placed a foot of sand (for protection against fire.)

But in April trouble began. Jest what started the revolt is not clear but, once begun, it was war to the knife. The five magistrates who were absent at the November term and had not participated in the provision for a new courthouse suddenly set about undoing that act.

UNDID THE ACT

The morning of April 8, 1816, found all nine of the Justices present – the original seven having been early augmented by the addition of WILLIAM COLLINS and WILLIAM F. HENDERSON as Magistrates. It was promptly ordered "by a majority of this court" that the act of the November session appointed commissioners to superintend the building of the courthouse be rescinded, "because there was not a majority of the Magistrates present, there being only four." They also rescinded the act empowering DAVID WALKER, Jr., to pay "the undertaker of the courthouse" out of the moneys in his hands, thus depriving the original contractors of the funds necessary to pay for the building.

They further appointed a new commission, composed of SAMUEL GARRISON, THOMAS GATTON, JOHN BUCKHANNON, RICHARD POPE and JOHN GODLEY, "vested with power and authority to contract for and et the building of a courthouse for this county," the house to be of brick, and not to cost exceeding $5,000.

The next day (Tuesday, April 9) WALTER THOMAS, WILLIAM COLLINS, HUGH BROWN, ELIAS PITCHFORD and JOHN RAGLAND met and proceeded to "rescind, annul, set aside and hold for naught" everything that had been done by the full court the day before to nullify the original provision for building a courthouse. The act was confirmed, as was also a contract previously made with one JOHN BIRD for erecting the building.

The record continues: "it appearing to the satisfaction of the Court that there was a clerical omission in not entering the presents of all the Magistrates who were on the bench at the time the order appointing DAVID WALKER, Jr., WALTER THOMAS, WILLIAM COLLINS and JOHNSON J. COCKRILL commissioners at the November term, 1815, ……. for the purpose of letting the courthouse in said county, ……… to insert the name of WILLIAM R. JACKSON who was present when said order was made and whose name was omitted, to be entered upon the record of said Court, this order is directed from the knowledge of the Court themselves of the fact of WILLIAM R. JACKSON’s presents."

Ere the next meeting of the Court, the nine Magistrates who had thus far battled over the courthouse were augmented by three others who had received the Governor’s commission. They were JOHN GODLEY, THOMAS GATTON, and R. H. PARIS – the two latter representing the town of Scottsville.

This next session – June 10 opened with WALTER THOMAS, WM. COLLINS, JOHN RAGLAND and HUGH BROWN on the bench. Routine business was transacted. Later the record notes the presence of WM. T. HENDERSON, WM. R. JACKSON, DAVID HARRIS and JOHN GODLEY. More regular business was dispatched till R. H. PARIS, THOMAS GATTON, EDWARD MARTIN and ELI PITCHFORD arrived. Then the following "protest" was recorded.

"Whereas, it appears to this court that the Order of the County Court at their November term, 1815, appointing D. WALKER, Jr., W. THOMAS, Wm. COLLINS and J. J. COCKRILL commissioners to superintend the building of a courthouse was illegal and unauthorized by the act of Assembly in such cases made and provided, because there was no courthouse previously contracted for by said court, and because there was not a majority of the Justices of the peace in commission and acting in said county on the bench at that time, as appears by the record. And whereas this court at their last term, all the members being present, dechared said order invalid and of none effect and ordered the same to be rescinded – and on the second day of the court 5 members thereof met and a majority of them rescinded the said Order and received and confirmed a contract made by said Commissioners for building a courthouse for said county, contrary to the powers invested in them by said Order – contrary to the known and expressed opinion of a majority of all the Justices, and the great majority of the people of said county. And whereas said court on said second day of last term, as appears to this court by mistake, ordered the clerk to insert the name of one of the justices of this court, to wit, WM. R. JACKSON, as present when the said order appointing commissioners was made, to make it appear as having been made when a majority of all the Justices were present; when in truth, and in fact, it appears to this court that the said WM. R. JACKSON, by oath of said JACKSON, was not present in court then but was at home. Under this view of the subject, this court do protest against said contract as binding and obligatory upon them or their successors."

Ordered of record that Justices COLLINS, THOMAS, RAGLAND, PARIS and BROWN dissented from the above.

As a further safeguard, it was "Ordered, that DAVID WALKER, Jr., enter into bond with W. THOMAS, J. J. COCKRILL and JNO. WALKER his securities to the Justices of the County Court of Allen in the penalty of twelve thousand dollars conditioned for the safe keeping and paying over all monies which he has or may receive for the sale of Lotts in Scottsville, subject to the future order of this court."

But the worthy justices were too level-headed and too sensible of their public duty to allow such a state of affairs to continue. The July record shows that they had laid aside their animosities and found peaceful solution for their difficulties. The contract with JOHN BIRD, the "undertaker of the courthouse," was canceled, the material he had accumulated was taken off his hands at a fair valuation, and it was "furtheragreed and ordered that the said BIRD be allowed the sum of $40 for his attention and trouble for the business relative to the said courthouse." Forty dollars for surrendering an $8,000 contract! Truly, the world moves. Fancy such amiability in a contractor of today! It was further ordered that "The Justices of Allen county, or a majority of the whole of them concurring, be appointed commissioners to form a plan for a courthouse and to make such arrangements, plans and contracts as they, or a majority of the whole of them concurring, may deem proper and expedient."

UNIQUE OLD BUILDING

The result was the unique two-story brick building, octagon in shape and surmounted by a cupola which was used by the county till it was torn down in 1903 to make room for the more commodious and modern courthouse which now occupies the center of Scottsville’s public square. The "undertaker" of the octagon structure was JOHN BIRKS, and the building was received by the court and the old log house ordered sold January 11, 1819.

The new house did not contain enough office room, and another brick building for clerks’ offices was erected on one side of the courthouse, facing East main street. It was this which burned in 1902, the original building escaping almost unharmed.

THE END  

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