Interesting History Of Ohio County, 100 Years Ago
Going Back To The Early Days Of Kentucky
By R. T. Stevens - 1899
Kentucky was formerly a county of Virginia. In 1790 it was formed into a separate territory, and in1792 it was admitted into the Union as a state.
The glowing accounts that reached the older states, concerning Kentucky, the cheapness of the land, the fertility of the soil, and the abundance of game, stimulated hundreds of families in the older states, especially in Virginia and Maryland to seek a home in Kentucky.
Of this number there was a family of Stevenses then residing in Montgomery County, Maryland. Lydia Stevens, then a widow, was the head of the family. She had five sons: John, William, Thomas, Richard, and Henry; and two daughters, Elizabeth and Charlotte. Three of the sons and one daughter were married. John married a Miss Smith; William, a Miss Pigman; Thomas, a Miss Warfleld; and Elizabeth married John Duke. Richard, Henry, and Charlotte were single.
For some time they had been making preparations and directing all their efforts to one point, and that point was emigrate to Kentucky. In the fall of 1800, the entire family, being equipped for the journey, loaded their house-hold goods, such as could be taken on wagons, harnessed their teams, and started on their long and tedious journey.
By slow stages they journeyed on, until they had crossed the Allegheny Mountains and had arrived at Wheeling, a town on the Ohio River. Winter had then set in. They stopped here and built a family boat. When completed, they put their goods and families aboard, and, loosing from shore, they started again on their journey, this time by water. Two of the company came through by land, bringing their horses. They continued their voyage down the Ohio River, until they came to Cloverport, Breckinridge County, Kentucky. Here they landed their boat, and here those who had charge of the horses met them. It was now January 1801. From the above, one may learn something of the time required and the hardships to be borne, at that day, to come to Kentucky.
Here they reloaded their property and families into wagons, harnessed, their teams, and started again. They now traveled south or southwest until they came into Ohio County and into the vicinity of Hartford. Here they stopped, and after overlooking the county, they decided to settle. In selecting situations for homes, they divided. John Stevens, the eldest of the brothers, settled about five miles east of Hartford, on what was called Pigeon Creek. William, next in years, settled about seven miles northeast of Hartford, on Wolf Creek, and John Duke settled about seven miles east of Hartford, near where old Bethel Church now (1899) stands. Thomas settled three miles west of Hartford, in the No Creek neighborhood. Lydia Stevens, the mother of this family, with her two unmarried sons, Richard and Henry, and her single daughter, Charlotte, settled nearby where Thomas had located.
The country was then almost a wilderness, covered by a dense forest. The hills were covered with pea vines, and the lower lands with a heavy undergrowth of reeds, or cane, higher than one's head on horseback. Large numbers of wild animals roamed the forest. Wolves made the nights hideous with their howling. Bears, panthers, wildcats, and many other noxious animals infested the country. It was necessary to corral stock at night to save them from the depredations of those beasts of prey. The panther, when pinched by hunger, would not hesitate to attack the human.
On one occasion, my father, William Stevens, had gone out on a hunt. While walking along a small path, he was startled by a scream almost over his head. He looked up and there, lying stretched out on the limb of a tree, was a large panther. He instantly raised his rifle and fired, and the monster fell to the ground. Fortunately, it had received a death shot. If I am not mistaken, it was said to have measured nine feet from tip of nose to tip of tail.
A bear would sometimes create quite a sensation in the community by making a raid on domestic animals. Perhaps he had pulled down a yearling calf or a young heifer, Or, if he preferred, a porker. He may have taken one, even if he had to go in the pen to get it. The news spread rapidly through the community; men with their guns and dogs were soon on the ground, ready for chase. A search was made for the trail of the intruder. When found the dogs were put on it, and a merry chase ensued. The bear, when over-taken, generally gave battle. Dogs sometimes suffered in the fight, but the bear could not stand the unequal contest. The array of men, guns, and dogs was too much for him. He had to yield to the inevitable and give up his life to pay the penalty of his rashness. Those hunters not only enjoyed the chase and the capture of the intruder, but they would have a feast of bear meat, which by many was considered quite a luxury.
There were many other wild animals, deer, wild turkeys, and squirrels, any of which were very fine for table use. There remained of these a considerable number for 40 or more years after the coming of those pioneers to Kentucky.
After all, the early, pioneers of Kentucky had no very easy task. It took a great deal of hard labor to roll back the heavy forests and open up farms. As money was very scarce, something rarely seen, they kept up a kind of commerce among themselves by an exchange of one species of property for another. They were compelled, however, to have money to pay their taxes and buy their salt, but that amount they found very difficult to obtain. Besides, they had to go a long way to the saltworks to obtain salt and bring it home on packhorses, for there were no roads at that time suitable for wagons.
As far as clothing was concerned, they were quite independent. They had wool and raised cotton and flax. Our mothers, God bless their memory, had their spinning wheels, looms, scissors, thimbles, and needles and knew how to use them. They could make all clothing needed for their families, and they could make all their own bedding.
Not a great while after the Stevens family came to Kentucky, all those members of the family that were single when they came had married. Richard married a Miss Henman; Charlotte, married Higginson Belt; and Henry, the youngest, married a Miss Bennett, daughter of John Bennett, Sr., commonly called Governor Bennett. Richard, soon after his marriage, moved to Indiana and settled in Warrick County near Boonville, the county seat. Higginson and Henry both settled in the No Creek neighborhood. All the branches of this family reared a family of children, except Charlotte. She had no children, but she and her husband reared several orphaned children. From the original stock, there are many scions. In almost any direction, one may find those in Ohio County who have descended from the original Stevens family that emigrated from Maryland to Kentucky at an early day. Indeed their descendants are not confined alone to Ohio County, but may be found in Daviess, McLean, and Muhlenberg counties and in different states of the Union.
In a few years time, all the branches of the original family, by industry and frugality, had gathered around them the necessities, as well as many of the comforts of life. When old age came upon them, they were in easy circumstances and had means sufficient to raise them above the fear of want when they should become too old to work.
It would be improper to close this sketch without making some allusion to the standing of those early pioneers as citizens of the new commonwealth. We are safe in saying that they had a very considerable influence in molding the community in which they lived. They were Methodists before they came to Kentucky, old-time Methodists, and therefore the staunch supporters of order and good morals. They were of those who took a leading part in the building of Old Bethel Church, about the first, if not the first, church that was built in Ohio County. Goshen Church was built about the same time, and a few years afterwards No Creek Church was built. There was a campground at Old Bethel Church and also at No Creek. The Stevenses were among the leaders in building those camps and in making all necessary preparations for those annual camp meetings that were kept up for so many years.
They were not office seekers. They seemed to have practiced the principle of "let the office seek the man and not the man the office." They were, however, called to fill important positions in the church, as well as in the state. In the church there were those of the family (I refer to the original family) who filled the office of class leader, of steward and trustee of church property, and other responsible positions in the church. In the county, they held responsible positions.
The magistrates of the county at that day, constituted the county court. Three of the brothers served a full term each as a magistrate of the county. A full term meant from the time they were commissioned until by seniority they were entitled to the office of sheriff. The constitution then provided that at the end of every two years the oldest magistrate of the county should come in as sheriff of the county, hence three of the brothers served as sheriff of the county.
At one time, John Stevens, the eldest of the brothers, was strongly solicited to become a candidate for the legislature, but he refused. His friends were so sanguine of success that they insisted On him permitting them to have his name put On the poll book, urging that if he would consent to that, his election would be assured. This he respectfully but positively declined to do. Of this circumstance I was informed by one who took part in the matter.
To show the sympathy and generosity of the early settlers of Ohio County toward one whom they believed to have been greatly wronged, I relate a remarkable circum-stance that occurred in the early settlement of the county. Twill give it as well as I can from memory, having heard it related by the early settlers in my boyhood days.
There resided in the county, and near neighbor to some of the Stevens family, a man with a family. (I regret that I have forgotten the name) who was recognized by all his acquaintances and especially by his immediate neighbors as a strictly honest, upright man. No one questioned his moral honesty. Suddenly the whole community was stunned by the report that this man had stolen a. horse. He was arrested, brought into court, tried, found guilty, and sentenced to the penitentiary. The whole proceeding rested on circum-stantial testimony. His acquaintances believed him innocent, and those best acquainted with him were the most sanguine in this belief. The horse had been stolen, no one doubted that, and was found in this man's possession, or on his premises. This could not be denied. He had no way of proving that he had not stolen the horse, nor of how the horse happened to be there.
Might it not be that the real thief, being hotly pursued, left, the horse with this man or on his premises, for the purpose of eluding his pursuers, throwing them off his track, and gaining time to make his escape? This man's acquaintances were still decidedly of opinion that he was an innocent man, that it was by some trick or misfortune that he had been brought into this trouble. They therefore determined to use all legitimate means to relieve him. They got up a strong petition to the Governor, asking him to use the pardoning power in his behalf. William Steven was chosen by the petitioners to go before the Governor with the petition and present the case. This he did, and lx the gratification of a large number of his friends, the unfortunate man was pardoned. He proved in after life to be all that his friends claimed of him, an honest and upright man.
I have gone beyond what I anticipated when I commenced to sketch the coming to and settlement of those pioneers in Kentucky. I will say in conclusion that if anyone ever expressed doubt of the integrity or moral honesty of any one of them, I have never heard of it. They filled well their place in life and left the world the better by having lived in it.
It is ardently hoped that the descendants of so worthy an ancestry will guard well the heritage that has been bequeathed to them, and see that it is transmitted unsullied to their children, as it has come to them from the original family.
There were several other families that came from Maryland and settled in Ohio County. The Barnes, Millers, Dukes, Belts, Boswells, Actons, and Bennetts, and perhaps others.
Those named were all good families and therefore made good citizens.
The Kentucky Explorer February 2012