Knox County, Kentucky (1800-1835)



            Few settlers had moved into the region of present-day Kentucky prior to the completion of the western portion of the border survey between Virginia and North Carolina in 1748. When the French and Indian War ended, the Ohio River was designated as the boundary between settlers and native inhabitants. Kentucky was under the jurisdiction of Augusta County, Virginia. Fincastle County, Virginia, was organized in 1772 to include all of present-day Kentucky with Harrodsburg designated the county seat. The following year the McAfee brothers and others surveyed land along the Salt River.


           In the eighteenth century, settlers pressed beyond the Allegheny and Appalachian mountains into the new west. Men such as Dr. Thomas Walker, upon entering Kentucky in 1750, used these Indian trails to their advantage and often noted in their journals that they were traveling "Indian roads." Later, in 1775, Daniel Boone, on behalf of Colonel Richard Henderson, was employed to "...cut a path to Kentucky. This road, called the "Wilderness Road," often followed Native American trails. From the Cumberland Gap to Flat Lick, Kentucky, Boone's Trace followed a well-defined Indian road. From that point Boone followed what is believed to be, for the most part, a prehistoric trail which led northwest from Flat Lick, in Knox County, to the Bluegrass region. Boone departed from this trail in Rockcastle County and blazed a new trail northward toward the settlement of Boonesboro, in Madison County.

            In 1774, Harrodsburg was founded as the first permanent English settlement in Kentucky by a group that arrived via the Ohio River. That same year Richard Henderson purchased from the Native Americans all land lying between the Ohio, Kentucky, and Cumberland rivers for his Transylvania Company. John Finley's stories of Kentucky land precipitated Daniel Boone's subsequent exploration. Boone blazed the trail from the Cumberland Gap (at the junction of present-day Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee) to the interior. This path between the Cumberland Gap and central Kentucky became known, through the Transylvania Company's publicity, as the Wilderness Road. In 1775 Boonesborough was established as the headquarters of the Transylvania Company.

            During the Revolutionary War the settlements in Kentucky were virtually ignored by the Virginia government. Troubles with native tribes, lack of military assistance, and isolation from the eastern portion of Virginia precipitated agitation for Kentucky's own statehood. Between 1784 and 1790, nine conventions met at Danville demanding separation from Virginia, but none of these were successful in gaining a division.

            The Commonwealth of Kentucky was admitted to the Union as the fifteenth state on 1 June 1792 and its first capital was at Danville. Early settlers included Revolutionary War veterans, such as Alexander Stewart, staking claim to bounty-land grants. They were joined by Scots-Irish, German, and English individuals and families from Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee.


            In 1798, reflecting his restlessness (a trait still common among male Stewart descendants), Alexander and his family moved from Lee County, Virginia, to Knox County, Kentucky. Footnote This was little more than fifty miles away. He settled in the Cumberland River Valley in an area between Turkey and Stinking Creeks Footnote a few miles from the village of Flatlick. Footnote Decker notes that “Flat Lick was a famous old place on the Warrior's Path, Boone Trace, and the Old State Road. Almost all early explorers, pioneers, and settlers mention it. Captain Ambrose Arthur, who, with his father, Colonel Thomas Arthur, first settled near ‘the Flat Lick!' about 1800, told members of his family that there was, in reality, a large flat lick near the old village. Almost a half acre of flat rock had been licked bare by wild animals in quest of salt. Since that date the rock has disintegrated, and vegetation has sprung up.” Decker at page 45.

            Shortly after Alexander’s arrival, Barbourville became the county seat of the newly formed Knox County. Footnote Decker notes that “[t]he first trustees of Barbourville were John Logan, Jr., James Mahan, John Reddick, John Ballinger, James Johnson, Alexander Goodin, James Culton, Richard Ballinger, Thomas Johnson and Alexander Stewart.” Alexander is listed as one of the few land owners in the first Knox County tax list of 1800. Footnote

            Elmer Decker notes that  “[w]hen Knox County was first established there was but one main road, the Old State Road. . . . Other routes in use, as a rule, followed Indian trails and buffalo paths.” The first road order reads:


October 28, 1800. On the motion of George Brittain for to have a roadway viewed out from the top of Cumberland Mountain at Crank's Gap the nearest and best way to intersect where the road crosses S'd river and Alexander Stewarts--and be it further ordered that Vincent Hobbs, John Asher, Samuel Howard, William Spurlock and George Brittain and the same are hereby appointed to view out s'd road and make a report to our next court.

Decker at 18.

            The committee reported that:


Agreeable to an order of last court directing George Brittain, William Spurlock, Samuel Howard, Vincent Hobbs and John Asher appointing them to view out a road way from Crank's Gap on the top of Cumberland Mountain to intersect the wilderness road between the Ford of Cumberland and Alexander Stewart whereupon three of the said Commissioners returned that they had viewed out a way to start from said Gap and to run on or near the old trace to the junction of the three forks of said river, thence crossing the Piney Mountain so as to fall on the head of Principal Branch of Strait Creek and down the said creek to the mouth. It is ordered that the above road be established. This road is in the present Bell and Harlan counties.

Decker at 18.



           Apparently, the road was finally completed:


Road from Barbourville to intersect the Wilderness Road the nearest and best way between John Gordan's and Alexander Stewart's, beginning at the ford of the branch of Fighting Creek near John Gordan's from thence to the Quaker Camp on the Old Trace, from thence a straight course to the old crossing on Fighting Creek, thence with the Old Trace to the first left hand path turns out, and thence with that path to where it leaves the hills, as close on the right as the nature of the ground will admit of until it intersects the trace leading from Barbourville to Sneed's from thence a straight course to Barbourville.

Decker at 46-47.

            The Kentucky Court of Appeals has provided a good description of the Wilderness Road. It stated:


From history we know that all immigration to Kentucky came over one of two routes. That from Pennsylvania and other points north and east came into Kentucky down the Ohio river, while the immigration from Virginia and the Carolinas came over the Wilderness Road through Cumberland Gap. That road, an old buffalo trail, utilized by the Indians as a part of one of their numerous ‘Warriors' Paths’ into and through Kentucky, crossed Cumberland river at the only available ford in all that country. The city of Pineville in Bell county is located on the river now where the Wilderness Road crossed. The Cumberland river crossing was one of the points almost universally noted and commented upon in the diaries and journals of the early explorers of and immigrants to Kentucky from which the details of our state's earliest history have been taken. The next point on the Wilderness Road after crossing the river given notice by the early explorers was ‘Flat Lick.’ The village by that name now in Knox county and about halfway between Pineville and Barbourville occupies its site. From Cumberland Gap to Flat Lick the old buffalo trail, one of the Indian Warriors' Paths and the Wilderness Road were over the same route. At Flat Lick the immigrant trail to Kentucky, the Wilderness Road, diverged to the west, passing through Blue Lick and thence to Boonesboro, while from Flat Lick the "Warriors' Path" diverged to the north and traversed the state to the Ohio river at Old Shawneetown. In preparing this opinion we have had access to the first map of Kentucky made by John Filson and published in 1784. It lays down the Wilderness Road from Virginia into Kentucky through Cumberland Gap and shows that road to have crossed Cumberland river some 8 miles above the mouth of Stinking creek, that creek being located on the map and being given that name. By an inscription found upon the map, its author acknowledges and expresses his gratitude for the assistance rendered him in its preparation by such early distinguished Kentuckians as Daniel Boone, Levi Todd, James Harrod, Capt. Christopher Greenhoop, In. Cowan, and William Kennedy. The location of Flat Lick is shown on the map. Two other early maps of Kentucky--that by J. Russell made in 1794, and that by Elihu Barker made in 1795--likewise lay down the Wilderness Road into Kentucky as it ran through Cumberland Gap and across Cumberland river, locating it with reference to Flat Lick and Stinking creek as did the Filson map.” Boreing v. Garrard, 275 S.W. 374, 376-377 (1925).

            Pioneers made money any way they could. Decker notes that Alexander made some money from killing wolves.


The county court in 1800, and for many years thereafter, allowed out of the county levy, bounties for Wolf Scalps. John Akeman, William Pearl Sr., William Pearl Jr., James Hale, George Farris, Charles Gatliff, Jesse Pace, John Asher, Stephen Taylor, William Martin, Walter Burnis, Alexander Stewart, Jesse Cox, Joseph Johnson, William Thomas, Issiah Sallyers, Thomas and John Goodin were paid for killing wolves at the rate of 8 shillings for each grown wolf.

At the time, eight shillings equaled about a dollar and one half.

            Alexander was one of the few prominent settlers of this wilderness area. One commentator observed:


[Alexander] was in Knox county as early as 1802, when his name was on a tax list with John, Joseph, William Stewart. William Stewart was granted [on] Aug. 3, 1802, by the Knox county court a license to conduct a tavern, which he located at the foot of Cumberland mountain, according to Pioneer Taverns on the Wilderness Road, in the Corbin Tribune, 1934. This sketch states that the Stewarts were a noted pioneer family of the mountains and that “Alexander Stewart was one of the leading citizens and one of the wealthiest in the early days.”

He was a member of the Knox County Grand Jury on August 24, 1800. He served as the foreman of the Knox Grand Jury on November 24, 1800. Footnote The following day, “ . . . he testified he had sundry accounts against David Finley, who was being sued by James Culton, assignee. See Stewart Clan Magazine, page 313 (March 1943). James Culton would marry Alexander’s daughter, Euphemia.

            Knox County, which at the time included most of southeastern Kentucky had a small population in 1800. Decker states that:


Census records for 1800 of Knox County shows 1109 residents, 1044 whites, 3 free blacks, and 62 slaves. There were no towns. Settlers lived at Flat Lick, Cumberland Ford (Pineville), Hazel Patch, on the Cumberland, Rockcastle, and Laurel Rivers, on the Richlands, Lynn Camp, Robinson, Marsh, Watts, Poplar, Indian, Maple, Meadow, Yellow, Cannon, Straight, Greasy, Stinking, and Turkey Creeks. Several families lived in the vicinity of the salt works at the mouth of White's Branch on Goose Creek.

Justice of the Peace

            At the Knox County court held at John Logan’s house on January 26, 1801, he presented a commission given to him by Governor James Girrard appointing him to be a Justice of the Peace for Knox County. Footnote On the same day, “on motion of James John to have a road viewed out from the town of Barbourville to intersect the Wilderness road the nearest and the best way between John Gordon’s and Alexander Stewart’s [it is] ordered that a committee of viewers be appointed for that purpose.” See Stewart Clan Magazine, page 313 (March 1943). The maintenance of the Wilderness Road was a constant concern. According to the Corbin Daily Tribune’s 75th Anniversary Edition of February 23, 1967:


Records stored in the Knox County Courthouse show that the Knox Co. part of the Old Wilderness Road began at Cumberland Gap, passed through what is now Pineville, through Flat Lick, Barbourville, and on to the Rockcastle River. The Knox part of the road was divided into sections, and a surveyor was appointed by the fiscal court to maintain the road. Failure of citizens to work was a violation of the law, and there are many reported cases in which the surveyor was called into court to answer such charges as allowing it to be fenced or allowing fallen trees to block the way. A toll was charged persons traveling the road, but records show that the toll was paid with everything from buttons to deer meat to whiskey.

            On April 28, 1801, the Knox County Court authorized him to perform marriage ceremonies. Footnote During the subsequent years, he officiated at numerous weddings including those of his children. Footnote He performed approximately fifty-one marriages. See Kozee, Pioneer Families of Eastern and Southeastern Kentucky.

            The Court Minutes of June Court 1801 state that Alexander’s “stock mark” is “a swallow fork in the left ear under keel and hole.” Footnote



Marriage of Children

            On April 1, 1801, Alexander’s daughter, Mary Polly, age seventeen, married Joseph Payne. Footnote Alexander’s son, Charles, age twenty-two, Footnote married Susannah Arthur, daughter of Thomas Arthur, Sr. on September 21, 1801. Footnote Alexander conducted both wedding ceremonies. On January 12, 1803, Alexander, John Arthur and Priscilla Arthur were witnesses to the will of Daniel Johnson. See Stewart Clan Magazine, page 313 (March 1943).

            On March 20, 1805, Alexander’s daughter, Anna, age nineteen, married James Alsop, the son of James Alsop and Jurya Potter. Footnote Alexander conducted the wedding ceremony.

            Alexander played a small role in the creation of the Knox County Circuit Court. According to Decker:


The Honorable Jonathan McNeil and John Cummin produced a certificate from under the hand and seal of Alexander Stewart. In the words following, to wit, State of Kentucky of the state aforesaid, past in the year 1804 establishing a circuit court in the County of Knox County Jonathan McNeil and John Cummin who produced their commissions as assistant judges for the oaths prescribed by law and the Constitution of the United States and Commonwealth of Kentucky. Given under my hand and seal this 1st April 1805.

                                              Alex Stewart (Seal)


The same is ordered to be recorded and the first Circuit court was holden for Knox County at the Courthouse July 1, 1805.


The court proceeded to appoint a clerk and Richard Ballinger was appointed their clerk pro tem. Whereupon he had the oath prescribed by the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of Kentucky and the laws of this state administered unto him and entered into bond with Alexander Stewart, Thomas Arthur, George W. Craig and Peter Engle, as his securities in the penalty of one thousand pounds and conditioned as the law directs and is ordered to be recorded, which if in the words following, to wit:


Know all men by these present that we, Richard Ballinger, Alexander Stewart, Thomas Arthur, George W. Craig and Peter Engle, of Knox County and State of Kentucky are held and firmly bound unto his Excellency, Christopher Greenup, Governor of this Commonwealth for the time being and his successors in office in the just and full sum of one thousand pounds, good and lawful money of this Commonwealth to which payment will and truly be made we bind ourselves, our heirs, executors and administrators jointly and severally by these present, as witness our hand and seal this 1 July 1805.


Acknowledged in open court Jonathan McNeil.


Richard Ballinger, Alex Stewart, Thomas Arthur, George W. Craig, Peter Engle

Decker at 20-21.

            On December 27, 1806, Alexander purchased a tract of 757 acres from Phillip Buckner on the banks of the Stinking and Turkey Creeks. Footnote

            On September 7, 1807, Alexander’s son, Isaac, age twenty-five, married Elizabeth Wyatt, Footnote the daughter of Samuel and Rebecca Bennett Wyatt. Footnote Samuel Wyatt fought in the revolutionary war and was born in North Carolina. Footnote Isaac’s daughter, Euphemia Stewart Pogue, wrote in a letter that.


My father, Isaac Stewart, was one of the early baptists of this country, and our large old log house used to be open to all travelers and about once every week the people of the surrounding neighborhood would come in for a meeting. Often numbers of them would stay all night. I remember one night, there was [sic] 80 people on horses besides those who came walking, to spend the night. My father would have his slaves and always had supper for everybody after the preaching was over. Old brother Billy Hickory, who lived in the neighborhood, said it always made him hungry to preach. My father built a large log church in Flat Lick at which we attended a meeting every second Saturday and Sunday.

Many of Alexander’s descendants were preachers. Indeed, in his last will and testament, Alexander identifies himself as a “Reverend.”

Sheriff Alexander Stewart

            Three months after his son’s Isaac’s marriage, on December 7, 1807, the Knox County Court appointed Alexander, at the age of fifty-two, to be the sheriff for the following two years. Footnote He took the oath and his bondsmen were Thomas Furgeson, Isaac Stewart, William Baker and Jarvis Mahan.

            On February 2, 1808, Alexander sold 505 acres of land to Thomas Johnson that he previously had purchased from Phillip Buckner. Alexander was then living on this 757-acre tract. He sold the other 252 acres of the tract to Christopher Horn. Footnote

            On February 21, 1809, Alexander’s daughter, Euphemia, age twenty, married John Culton. Footnote


            In the summer of 1809, his son, Charles, died at the age of twenty-nine. Charles had taken shelter under a tree during a storm while working on his farm and lightning struck the tree and he died. He had married on September 21, 1801 Susannah Arthur. She was the daughter of Col. Thomas Arthur and wife Sarah Arthur. Susannah was born in Virginia in 1785. An inventory of his estate returned to Court of Knox, County in November of 1809. His widow, Susannah and her brother, Ambrose Arthur, were named as administrators of his estate.


            Judging from old court records of Knox County, the Court was not satisfied with the management of the estate of Charles Stewart by Martin Miller, Susannah’s new husband. On "May 5, 1811, [a]n application of Ambrose Arthur, one of the administrators of Charles Stewart decd., the Court has thought proper to release him from the burden of administration, and have ordered Joseph Eve and Richard Ballinger to settle with the said Arthur any money on hand or accounts that in his possession, and report the same especially to next court as well as to return all monies on hand or account as shall be delivered to them and ordered that a subpoena do be issued against Martin Miller and Susannah Miller, late Susannah Stewart to show cause, if any, why the estate of Charles Stewart, decd., shall not be taken out of their hands and she removed from being administratrix.” On the following day, the Court (May 6, 1811) “[o]rdered that Thomas Arthur, Jr., be appointed administrator of Charles Stewart, decd., and he together with James Bailey and Arthur Nail acknowledge their bond in the penalty of $1000." Susannah and her husband, Martin 'Miller, and the Stewart children, moved from Knox County, Kentucky, to Perry County, Tennessee. Footnote

            On February 29, 1810, Alexander’s daughter, Mary Polly, age twenty-six, married John Wyatt, the son of Samuel and Rebecca Wyatt. Footnote Her first husband, Joseph Payne, had died.

            On August 11, 1811, Alexander and his wife conveyed 274 acres near the state road on the west side of Turkey Creek to Christopher Horn. Footnote On March 7, 1812, Alexander deeded a 98-acre tract on Stinking Creek to his son, Isaac. Footnote


Alexander Walker, son of Elizabeth Stewart and Christoper Walker, born in 1818.


            On December 2, 1813, Alexander’s daughter, Elizabeth, age twenty-eight, married Christopher Walker. He was twenty-one. In

an affidavit that he filed in Floyd County on September 19, 1852, in support of a bounty land warrant, he stated that he enlisted in Knox County, Kentucky on or about March 1, 1813, and served under Captain Ambrose Arthur. See Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Kentucky, Soldiers of the War of 1812 (1891). He served as a fifer. Knox County Deed Book B, at page 331. In the late 1850's, Christopher moved to Madison County, Arkansas. See Madison County Tax List. He filed an affidavit in the Madison County Court in support of a land bounty warrant dated April 26, 1855, stating that he fought under Captain Ambrose Arthur in the War of 1812.

            On March 27, 1814, Alexander and his wife conveyed 286 acres on Turkey and Stinking Creeks for $1200.00 to Samuel Wyatt. Samuel was the father-in-law of his daughter, Mary Polly, and his son, Isaac. Footnote On November 8, 1820, his daughter Margaret, age forty-three, married Benjamin John Edwards. (The 1850 Knox County Census lists Edwards as slave owner.)

            On August 8, 1821, Alexander’s youngest child, and my direct ancestor, William Charlie, age twenty-one, married Mary (Polly) Crank, age seventeen. She was the daughter of James and Ellender Taylor Crank of Knox County. Mary and William would name their oldest son born in 1822 after Mary’s father, James.

            By 1824, Alexander owned six slaves. Footnote


            On December 15, 1829, Alexander deeded to Charles’ children for “one shilling and the love and affection from his son Charles” 98 acres near the old state road “and about two hundred yards from where [his son] Isaac Stewart now lives and the same whereon Charles . . . [had lived].” Footnote


 "This Indenture made and entered this 15th day of December, 1829, between Alexander Stewart of the County of Knox and State of Kentucky, of one part and Charles Stewart, Alexander Stewart, Jr. and Sarah Stewart (now Sarah Wardlaw and her husband James Wardlaw), of West Tennessee - Perry and Tipton Counties - of the other part, witness whereas said Alexander Stewart, Sr. in consideration of one shilling and love and affection toward his son, Charles Stewart, the father of the Donees in this deed, bargaining and sold unto them one certain tract of land or parcel of land lying and being in the County of Knox and State of Kentucky, in one hundred yards from where Isaac Stewart now lives-, and the same whereon Charles Stewart, deceased lived at or shortly after the sale aforesaid, and the same which Thomas Arthur, Jr., as Administrator of the estate of Charles Stewart, deceased, has rented to diverse persons for the last fifteen or twenty years, containing by estimate ninety- eight acres, in the same more or less and whereas Charles Stewart, Alexander Stewart, Sarah Stewart (now Wardlaw) as the only surviving heirs of Charles Stewart, decd., 'and grandchildren of Alexander Stewart, the donor of this land, heretofore in consideration of the sum aforesaid, good will and affection the said Alexander Stewart hath bargained and sold and by these present doth bargain and sell unto the said Charles Stewart, Jr., Alexander Stewart, Jr. and Sarah Stewart (now Wardlaw) the land aforesaid there belonging to him and to hold to them and their heirs and assignees forever free from claims of the said Alexander, Sr. and all persons whatever claiming by, through or under heirs of the said ------- wife of said Alexander Stewart.”

Knox County Deed Book C, Page 42.


In June of 1832, Alexander and a friend, Ambrose Y. Anderson, filed an affidavit in support of friend, Obediah Hammons, to secure a pension for military service in the Revolutionary War from the United States Congress. See Application.


Barbourville Mountain Advocate
November 5, 1948, page 10


Last week the old Woodson homestead, a few miles out on route 25 south, was bought from the heirs by Jim Mills, of Bimble. This deal passed almost unnoticed by most people hereabouts, but to some who've made a study of our early history it brought thoughts of the pioneers trudging along the earliest path into Kentucky; of an old army outpost, and raiding Indians; a kilted Scotsman, musket in arms, tramping over the newly-acquired acres and inspecting with pride his newly built log home. It was here about the year 1798 that Alex Stewart, a titled Scotsman, erected one of Knox County's earliest homes. He was an ancester of some of the Stewarts now living in the county. Within a few hundred yards of the edifice was Middleton stockade, an army outpost where travelers could safely spend the night free of fear from roving Indians.

One of the early Woodsons who came into this section about 1812 married a daughter of [actually a granddaughter of] Alex Stewart and in time acquired the title to the land and house.

About seventy years ago the original house was dismantled, and from its remains the present Woodson home was built, in large part. The original foundations and the heavy beams are in the newer house and an interesting relic of pioneer days is a rocking chair in which old Alec probably took his ease at the end of the busy day. It is related that the old Scotsman was buried in his full kilts regalia. The burial ground shows a number of ancient headstones and dates.

The Woodsons took a prominent part in the early history of this section. One member of the family, Silas, emigrated to Missouri, where he was elected Governor. Father of the present generation, W.S. Woodson, remembered by old timers, was for many years Democratic leader of the county and running under that party's device was elected and served for 12 years as county superintendent of schools.

Wade Woodson, present occupant and last of the family in Knox County, plans to remove to Cincinnati for the time being. Of the other children, Jack and Harry call Sioux City, Iowa, thier home; Will lives in Chicago; Lucille (Mrs. Witherspoon) and Bertie (Mrs. Corwin) live in Cincinnati, while Dora (Mrs. Fielding Moore) resides in Asheville, N.C.


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