Tag Archives: Brownsville

“A bench for the Court to sit on”

Edmonson County, Kentucky’s story begins on January 12, 1825, when it was created from land carved out of surrounding Grayson, Hart and Warren counties.  By May 1825, as prescribed in the enabling statute, the county court had gone to work on the nuts and bolts of infrastructure, finance, and law enforcement, and its order book, held in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Special Collections Library, tells that story in detail.

The book’s first entries document the appointment of constables, tax commissioners and a jailer, after which the court turned to locating the “permanent seat of justice.”  A panel of commissioners recommended that the county seat be established on a 100-acre tract donated by patentees Joseph R. Underwood and Stephen T. Logan “on Green river and immediately above the mouth of big Beaver dam creek.”  The town was “to be called and known by the name of Brownville [sic] in Honour of Genl. Jacob Brown who distinguished himself during the late war with Great Britain” – not the Revolutionary War but the War of 1812, in which many Kentuckians served.  (Brownsville with an “s” was established in 1828 under legislation authorizing a town trustee-style of government.) 

The county court itself needed a place to conduct business, so it enlisted one John Rountree to provide a two-story house with “a Bench for the Court to sit on also a bench for the Lawyers and a bar and Jury Benches,” and two jury rooms upstairs.  A detailed plan for the county clerk’s office on the public square covered two pages: 25 by 14 feet, made of brick with a “good Chimney” on each end, the floors to be “good oak or ash plank,” the doors and window shutters to be “yellow poplar,” and all doors, window casings and sashes to be covered with three coats of white paint.  Additional public structures planned for the town were a warehouse and a stray pen.

The court appointed commissioners to complete other municipal tasks: letting a contract to build a jail, and viewing and marking out a network of roads to connect Brownsville with neighboring settlements.  Also appointed to calm ever-present fears of rebellion were slave patrols consisting of a captain and assistants who were to patrol twelve hours per month within five miles of the town south of Green River, “visiting all negroes quarters and suspected places of unlawfull assemblies of slaves.”

Other matters of public order addressed by the court included granting licenses to perform marriages, to practice law in the county, to keep a tavern (at specified rates for food, whiskey, lodging, and stabling horses) and to operate a ferry; one John Rhodes was doubly lucky to be granted a license to “retail spirits at his ferry.”

A finding aid and full-text scan of the Edmonson County Court order book can be accessed here.  This collection also features militia rolls, fee books, data on early school districts, and land records, including a memorial book of early recorded deeds.  The first page lists two deeds from 1830 (1829?), for 100 and 1000 acres respectively, from “Abraham Lincoln” to Thomas Ray, and to Abraham Lincoln from the Grayson County sheriff.  Is this the Abraham Lincoln?  More likely, it is the 16th president’s cousin and namesake, the son of his uncle Mordecai Lincoln who settled in Grayson County about 1811 and departed for Illinois about 1829.

For more collections of our county records, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

Comments Off on “A bench for the Court to sit on”

Filed under Manuscripts & Folklife Archives

The Fog of Civil War Kentucky

Civil War flagsIn a letter recently added to the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections, a Confederate cavalryman tells his father of the ambiguities of war that confronted his Tennessee regiment after it occupied Brownsville, Kentucky.

First to be deciphered were the loyalties of the local citizenry: “strongly Union & Lincoln,” wrote the Rebel, and some “few southern men.”  But he detected “a difference between a Kentucky Union man & a Lincoln or an abolitionist.”  The principles of the latter made him more willing to fight, while the former, if forced to shed his neutrality, would cast his lot with the South.

Next was the level of the threat facing the Confederates, camped on a hill overlooking the town.  Someone had taken a shot at one of them while he was watering his horse at the Green River, prompting him to empty his pistol and raise the alarm. His comrades saddled and assembled in minutes to meet any attack with “a true Southern reception,” but both sides appeared to avoid any escalation.

Then came the question of how the occupiers should assert their authority, and here our correspondent had great praise for the diplomatic skill of his captain, John Bell Hamilton, a Tennessee lawyer and Methodist clergyman.  The “old United States flag was waving here when we came,” he wrote, but Captain Hamilton “gave the citizens a chance to take it down and they did so.”  There was, however, “no shouting, when it fell, for the Capt had injoined upon us not to, thinking it the best policy.”  And likewise, “no demonstration” had accompanied the raising of the Confederate flag in camp.  This “cautious & prudent” commander, wrote his subordinate with evident relief, was “making friends, certainly no enemies.”

A finding aid and typescript of this Confederate soldier’s letter can be accessed here.  For more Civil War collections, browse here or search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

Comments Off on The Fog of Civil War Kentucky

Filed under Manuscripts & Folklife Archives