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 Welcome to Harrison County, KYGenWeb  

History of Kentucky

Lewis Collins - Original publication, 1847

Pages 340 -344

Harrison County was formed in 1793, and named after Colonel BENJAMIN HARRISON. It is situated in the north middle section of the State, lies on both sides of South Licking river, and is bounded on the north by Pendleton; east by Nicholas; south by Bourbon; and west by Scott county. Main Licking river runs through the northern portion of the county; and the principal creeks are, Cedar, West, Beaver and Richland, emptying into Main Licking; Indiana, Lilas, Mill, Twin and Raven, which put into South Licking. The face of the country is irregular. About one half of the county is gently undulating, rich and very productive--the other portion hilly and less productive--but the whole well adapted for grazing. Soil based on red clay, with limestone foundation. The principal productions are, hemp, corn, wheat, and life stock, consisting of horses, mules, cattle, sheep and hogs.

The taxable property of Harrison in 1846, was valued at $4,576,526; number of acres of land in the county, 202,601; average value of land per acre, $12.80; number of white males over twenty-one years old, 2,034; number of children between five and sixteen years old, 2, 533. Population in 1830, 13,180--in 1840, 12,472.

The towns and villages of the county are Cynthiana, Broadwell, Claysville, Colemansville, Havelandville and Leesburg. CYNTHIANA, the county seat and chief town, is situated on the right bank of the south fork of Licking, thirty-seven miles from Frankfort. It contains the usual county buildings, three churches (Methodist, Presbyterian and -----), five physicians, ten lawyers, thirteen stores, six groceries, two taverns, one academy, two common schools, one drug store, one auction store, one rope walk and bagging factory, one wool factory, on job printing office, two tanneries, one masonic lodge, 30 mechanics' shops, market house, &c., Population about 1,000. Incorporated in 1802, and named after Cynthia and Anna, two daughters of Mr. Robert Harrison, the original proprietor.

Claysville is situated at the mouth of Beaver creek, on Main Licking--contains a Republican church, two taverns, on physician, three stores, one merchant mill, three tobacco factories, one woolen factory and fulling mill, two warehouses, and about fifty inhabitants. Formerly called Marysville, but changed in 1821 to its present name, in honor of Henry Clay. Colemansville is thirteen miles north-west of Cynthiana--contains four stores and groceries, one church, one tavern, four physicians, eight mechanics' shops, and about one hundred inhabitants. Incorporated in 1831, and called after Robert Coleman, the original proprietor. Havelandville is a small manufacturing town, owned by a gentleman named Haveland, containing a cotton mill, and a large number of small residences. Leesburg is situated ten miles west of Cynthiana, and contains three churches (Episcopal, Reformed, and Republican), five stores and groceries, one tavern, one wool factor, seven mechanic's shops, and one bagging factory and rope walk.

In the summer of 1780, a formidable military force, consisting of six hundred Indians and Canadians, under the command of Colonel Byrd, an officer of the British army, accompanied by six pieces of artillery, made an incursion into Kentucky. The artillery was brought down the Big Miami, and thence up Licking as far as the present town of Falmouth, at the forks of Licking, where, with the stores and baggage, it was landed, and where Colonel Byrd ordered some huts to be constructed, to shelter them from the weather. From this point Colonel Byrd took up his line of march for Ruddell's station, with one thousand men. Such a force, accompanied by artillery, was resistless to the stockades of Kentucky, which were altogether destitute of ordnance. The approach of the enemy was totally undiscovered by our people until, on the 22d of June, 1780, the report of one of the field pieces announced their arrival before the station. This is the more extraordinary, as the British party were twelve days in marching from the Ohio river to Ruddell's station, and had cleared a wagon road the greater part of the way. This station had been settled the previous year, on the easterly bank of the south fork of the Licking river, three miles below the junction of Hinkston and Stoner's branches of the same stream. A summons to surrender at discretion to his Britannic majesty's arms, was immediately made by Col. Byrd--to which demand Captain Ruddell answered, that he could not consent to surrender but on certain conditions, one of which was, that the prisoners should be under the protection of the British, and not suffered to be prisoners to the Indiana. To these terms Colonel Byrd consented, and immediately the gates were opened to him. No sooner were the gates opened, than the Indians rushed into the station, and each Indian seized the first person they could lay their hands on, and claimed them as their own prisoner. In this way the members of every family were separated from each other; the husband from the wife, and the parents from their children. The piercing screams of the children when torn from their mothers--the distracted throes of the mothers when forced from their tender offspring, are indescribable. Ruddell remonstrated with the colonel against this barbarous conduct of the Indians, but to no effect. He confessed that it was out of his power to restraining them, their numbers being so much greater than the troops over which he had control, that he himself was completely in their power.

After the people were entirely stripped of all their property, and the prisoners divided among their captors, the Indians proposed to Colonel Byrd to march to and take Martin's station, which was about five miles from Ruddell's; but Col. Byrd was so affected by the conduct of the Indians to the prisoners taken, that he peremptorily refused, unless the chiefs would pledge themselves in behalf of the Indians, that all the prisoners taken should be entirely under his control, and that the Indians should be entitled to the plunder. Upon these propositions being agreed to by the chiefs, the army marched to Martin's station, and took it without opposition. The Indians divided the spoils among themselves, and Colonel Byrd took charge of the prisoners.

The ease with which these two stations were taken, so animated the Indians that they pressed Colonel Byrd to go forward and assist them to take Bryant's station and Lexington. Byrd declined going, and urged as a reason, the improbability of success; and besides, the impossibility of procuring provisions to support the prisoners they already had, also the impracticability of transporting their artillery by land, to any part of the Ohio river--therefore the necessity of descending Licking before the waters fell, which might be expected to take place in a very few days.

Immediately after it was decided not to go forward to Bryant's station, the army commenced their retreat to the forks of Licking, where they had left their boats, and with all possible dispatch got their artillery and military stores on board and moved off. At this place the Indians separated from Byrd, and took with them the whole of the prisoners taken at Ruddell's station. Among the prisoners was Captain John Hinkston, a brave and an experienced woodsman. The second night after leaving the forks of Licking, the Indians encamped near the river; every thing was very wet, in consequence of which it was difficult to kindle a fire, and before a fire could be made it was quite dark. A guard was placed over the prisoners, and whilst part of them were employed in kindling the fire, Hinkston sprang from among them and was immediately out of sight. An alarm was instantly given, and the Indians ran in every direction, not being able to ascertain the course he had taken. Hinkston ran but a short distance before he lay down by the side of a log under the dark shade of a large beech tree, where he remained until the stir occasioned by his escape had subsided, when he moved off as silently as possible. The night was cloudy, and very dark, so that he had no mark to steer by, and after traveling some time towards Lexington, as he thought, he found himself close to the camp from which he had just before made his escape. In this dilemma he was obliged to tax his skill as a woodsman, to devise a method by which he should be enabled to steer his course without light enough to see the moss on the trees, or without the aid of sun, moon, or stars. Captain Hinkston ultimately adopted this method: He dipped his hand in the water, (which almost covered the whole country), and holding it upwards above his head, he instantly felt on side of his had cold; he immediately knew that from that point the wind came--he therefore steered the balance of the night to the cold side of his hand, that being the west he knew, and the course best suited to his purpose. After traveling several hours, he sat down at the root of a tree and fell asleep.

A few hours before day, there came on a very heavy dense fog, so that a man could not be seen at twenty yards distance. This circumstance was of infinite advantage to Hinkston, for as soon as daylight appeared, the howling of wolves, the gobbling of turkeys, the bleating of fawns, the cry of owls, and every other wild animal, was heard in almost every direction. Hinkston was too well acquainted with the customs of the Indians, not to know that it was Indians, and not beasts and birds that made these sounds--he therefore avoided approaching the places where he heard them, and notwithstanding he was several times within a few yards of them, with the aid of the fog he escaped, and arrived safe at Lexington, and brought the first news of that event.

The Indians not only collected all of the horses belonging to Ruddell's and Martin's stations, but a great many from Bryant's station and Lexington, and with their booty crossed the Ohio river near the mouth of Licking, and there dispersed. The British descended Licking river to the Ohio, down the Ohio to the mouth of the Big Miami, and up the Miami as far as it was then navigable for their boats, where they hid their artillery, and marched by land to Detroit. The rains having ceased, and the weather being exceeding hot, the waters fell so low, that they were able to ascend the Miami but a short distance by water.

The following account of an adventure at Higgins' block-house, near Cynthiana, is from the notes of Mr. E.E. Williams, of Covington, Ky., an actor in the events which he records.

After the battle of Blue Licks, and in 1786, our family removed to Higgins' block-house on Licking river, one and a half miles above Cynthiana. Between those periods my father had been shot by the Indians, and my mother married Samuel Van hook, who had been one of the party engaged in the defence at Ruddell's station in 1780, and on its surrender was carried with the rest of the prisoners to Detroit.

Higgin's fort, or block-house, had been built at the bank of Licking, on precipitous rocks, at least thirty feet high, which served to protect us on every side but one. On the morning of the 12th of June, at day light, the fort, which consisted of six of seven houses, was attacked by a party of Indians, fifteen or twenty in number. There was a cabin outside, below the fort, where William M'Combs resided, although absent at that time. His son Andrew, and a man hired in the family, named Joseph McFall, on making their appearance at the door to wash themselves, were both shot down--M'Combs through the knee, and McFall in the pit of the stomach. McFall ran to the block-house, and M'Combs fell, unable to support himself longer, just after opening the door of his cabin, and was dragged in by his sisters, who barricaded the door instantly. On the level and only accessible side, there was a corn-field, and the season being favorable, and the soil rich as well as new, the corn was more than breast high. Here the main body of the Indians lay concealed, while three or four who made the attack attempted thereby to decoy the whites outside of the defences. Failing in this, they set fire to an old fence and corn-crib, and two stables, both long enough built to be thoroughly combustible. These had previously protected their approach in that direction. Captain Asa Reese was in command of our little fort. "Boys," said he, "some of you must run over to Hinkston's or Harrison's." These were one an a half and two miles off, but in different directions. Every man declined. I objected, alleging as my reason, that he would give up the fort before I could bring relief; but on his assurance that he would hold out, I agreed to go. I jumped off the bank through the thicket of trees, which broke my fall, while they scratched my face and limbs. I got to the ground with a limb clenched in my hands, which I had grasped unawares in getting through. I recovered from the jar in less than a minute, crossed the Licking, and ran up a cow-path on the opposite side, which the cows from one of those forts had beat down in their visits for water. As soon as I had gained the bank, I shouted, to assure my friends of my safety, and to discourage the enemy. In less than an hour, I was back, with a relief of ten horsemen, well armed, and driving in full chase after the Indians. But they had decamped immediately, upon hearing my signal, well knowing what it meant, and it was deemed imprudent to pursue them with so weak a party--the whole force in Higgins' block-house hardly sufficing to guard the women and children there. McFall, from whom the bullet could not be extracted, lingered two days and nights in great pain, when he died, as did M'Combs, on the ninth day, mortification then taking place.

This county was named in honor of Colonel BENJAMIN HARRISON, who moved to Kentucky from Pennsylvania at an early day. He was a member of the convention which met at Danville in 1787, from Bourbon county; was a member of the convention which met the succeeding year (1788) at the same place; and as also a member, from bourbon, of the convention which formed the first constitution of Kentucky, and which assembled at Danville in 1792. In the same year, after the adoption of the constitution, he was elected a senatorial elector from Bourbon county. In 1793, he was elected a representative from Bourbon county, being a member of the legislature when the county of Harrison was formed.

Transcribed and edited by Philip Naff, August, 1999.

Information previously posted by Jo Thiessen


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