Friday, June 5, 2015

Pioneer Exploration and Early Settlement in Bath County

When early pioneers trekked from Virginia into what was then the 'Far West', they were astounded by the natural beauty Kentucky offered. Most explorers entered Kentucky via the Cumberland Gap near present day Middlesboro and traveled the Wilderness Trail, which was forged by pioneers such as Daniel Boone. In fact, several well worn trails existed; forged by the Native Americans over generations. One trail, the Warrior's Path, led directly through what is now Bath and Montgomery Counties. It was used by the Native Americans as a hunting path and trade route between villages across the Ohio River and the central part of Kentucky, including nearby Blue Licks. The trail split into two paths just north of Sherburne at Upper Blue Licks; one continuing North to Blue Licks and Limestone, which is now Maysville, and the other path northeast to Chillicothe, Ohio where a large Shawnee village was located.
An early map of settler and native paths
Early Kentucky settlers heard stories of another great Shawnee village called Eskippakithiki that was located in what is now Clark County near the Powell and Montgomery County borders and was abandoned sometime around 1769. Early writings tell of the great village as early as 1670. This site was established as a fur trading post by early explorer John Finley until the outpost was attacked by a group of Ottawa raiders in 1753. During this era, what is now Bath County was largely untamed wilderness with open lowland areas that bordered the Licking River, Slate Creek and Flat Creek. Members of the Shawnee, Wyandot, and Iroquois  Tribes, along with small groups of Cherokee, hunted the region and gathered salt at the various mineral springs that gave the county its name. For the most part, Bath County was left untouched until around 1775.

 As the American Revolution drudged on between 1765 and 1789, the explorations into Kentucky had already been in full swing for a number of years. Known as Kentucky County, Virginia in 1776, early settlers were establishing homes, stockades and stations by the mid 1700's. It is said that the first white man to view Kentucky was James Salling, who was taken captive by natives around 1725 while on an hunting expedition. James Harrod established a stockade later known as Harrodsburg in 1774, making it the first known permanent settlement in Kentucky. Boonesborough followed the next year, and it was near this time that the first known treks into Bath County began. Daniel Boone and his company of settlers would follow the water ways of Hinkston Creek over to Slate Creek, into Bath County to the Licking River at Wyoming and up to Blue Licks to gather salt. Another route was via Flat Creek to its confluence with the Licking River at Sherburne. Either path would have been treacherous, as these were paths natives used on their expeditions. It was on one of Boone's trips to the salt licks that he and his party were captured by Shawnees, culminating in the 1778 Siege of Boonesborough. In 1776, Boone's daughter and two of Colonel Richard Calloway's daughters were abducted by a group of Cherokee and Shawnee raiders and force marched north toward the Ohio River. The alarm was quickly raised at Fort Boonesborough and a rescue party led by Daniel Boone gave chase. The captors and girls took a route that brought them across the Warrior's Path into northern Bath County where they camped for an evening.
A painting depicting the rescue of the Boone and Calloway girls
Boone and his party caught up to the raiders sometime before daybreak and waited. As the raiders prepared breakfast just prior to  sunrise, a shot rang out from the rescue party, wounding two of the natives. The others hastily ran away, leaving the girls at the camp site, which, by some accounts, was located  along Bald Eagle Creek just east of Sharpsburg.

According to John Richards' book A History of Bath County, Simon Kenton, John Strader and George Yader explored down the Licking River to the mouth of Salt Lick Creek in 1771, possibly the first explorers in the area. The earliest known settlement structure in what would become Bath County was a small cabin erected by Elias Tolin along Slate Creek near the Bourbon Iron Furnace site. Tolin was an Irish immigrant born in 1755 and served in the Revolutionary War with the 1st and 11th Virginia Regiments. After the war, Tolin was among those who migrated west into Kentucky and was granted land rights as a veteran through the Commonwealth of Virginia. In order to qualify for a land grant, settlers would have to build an 'improvement' on the property, stockade the property to defend against natives, and plant crops. John Allkire settled along the mouth of Slate Creek near the Wyoming community in 1777, being the second known settler in what was to be Bath County. Thomas French established a settlement along Prickly Ash Creek around 1778, about a half mile from where it empties into Slate Creek. That land and settlement would be absorbed into John Hensley's land grant of two thousand acres in 1780. This was a problem with many settlers of the time; overlapping land grants and confusing property lines would be debated in court for generations after the post Revolution migration period. Hugh Sidwell, Thomas Clark and his brother, along with a Ballard individual, built a settlement at the mouth of Naylor Creek around 1783; this being the first permanent settlement in Bath County. Today, a small white house stands at the junction of Naylor Road and Kentucky 111 on the approximate location of this settlement. Between 1784 and 1794, more settlers began moving into what is now Bath County and the Springfield Church was established in 1794.

 By 1780, Kentucky was divided into three counties; Lincoln, Jessamine and Fayette. The far western area of the state was known as Chickasaw Lands. The land that would become Bath County was part of Fayette County until 1786, when Bourbon County was formed and encompassed the land. Jacob Myers, a German immigrant, surveyed and entered into patent around ten-thousand acres of land along Slate Creek and Mill Creek in 1785. Talks of rich deposits of iron ore and other minerals led Myers to the area, and in 1791, he began to construct an iron smelting operation with a large stone blast furnace. This would be the first iron furnace to be constructed west of the Allegheny Mountains and would be called the Bourbon Iron Works. The furnace went into operation in 1792 and remained a primary source for iron materials for many years to follow. While the furnace was in operation and the area was being settled, Native Americans began to harass, and in one instance kill arriving settlers. Soon after Jacob Myers surveyed the land where the furnace was to be erected, a blockhouse was built to defend workers and residents. The blockhouse was a fortification located just above the site of the furnace
A typical pioneer blockhouse
and provided protection against attackers. It was garrisoned by seventeen men of the Kentucky State Militia from 1790-1796 to quell any further native attacks on the iron works. While the exact location of the blockhouse has been lost to history, there is an old spring next to a residence across from the Bourbon Iron Furnace Park entrance that allegedly was very near the site.

 During those early days of Bath County and the surrounding region, many settlers established what were called stations as a form of protection. Ralph Morgan built a station along Slate Creek in what is now Montgomery County near present day Howard's Mill in 1789. It originally consisted of three cabins facing each other. Because of a few isolated incidents between the settlers and natives, Morgan and the other settlers erected a large stone house and stockade around the cabins to protect themselves. Two miles northeast from Morgan's Station was Peter Fort's Station, which, geographically, would have been in or very near Bath County near the Peeled Oak community. About a mile from Fort's Station, John Troutman built a station, also somewhere near Peeled Oak. Between the two stations, Thomas Hansford built a station in 1792. These stations provided a network of protection along the Slate Creek region between Bath and Montgomery Counties. Another station, Gilmore's Station, was located twelve miles east of Mount Sterling and built in 1792; undoubtedly in Bath County, but at this time, I am unaware of the exact location. Older stations in neighboring Montgomery County, such as Fort Baker (1790), Anderson's Station (1779) and Bradshaw's Stockade (1791) were integral for the settlements east of Fort Boonesborough and Fort Harrod. Along Flat Creek near Bethel,settlers in the area built the Old Stone Fort around 1791 to better protect themselves against natives who traveled from Blue Licks into inner Kentucky. The 'fort' was a large stone two story house built similar to Morgan's Station in Montgomery County, with thick walls and small ports from which settlers could fire at incoming native attackers if needed. Today, the house is nothing more than a shell of stone standing in the forest; a reminder of one of Bath County's earliest settlements.
The Old Stone Fort from a 1961 publication
The Old Stone Fort site, May 2015
In 1792, the hostilities between the natives and settlers had calmed for the most part, but that all changed in April 1793. Morgan's Station was attacked by a group of Shawnees led by a Cherokee chieftain April 1, 1793. The attackers took nineteen captives of women and children and marched them toward Ohio; taking a route toward present day Hope, and briefly into Bath County. A party of men gave chase and found a woman and child who had been tomahawked dead along the path near the junction of present day Bath, Montgomery and Menifee Counties, close to Potterville Road in Means. The path led down to Beaver Creek near what is now Frenchburg, up the Licking River through what is now under Cave Run Lake. The rescuing party found horrific sights along the path; another child found dead along Beaver Creek and a total of nine captives massacred ten miles east of Frenchburg at what is now called Murder Branch. Morgan's Station was in ruins and the surviving captives were taken to Detroit and sold. This was the last major Native American raid into Kentucky.

Some of the earliest trade and stagecoach routes were established in Bath County. Early settlers and explorers found the mineral and salt springs in the southeast region near present day Mud Lick. The Olympian Springs became a renowned attraction for the 'medicinal values' of the springs that produced epsom, salt, black and white sulphur and soda water. Earliest mention of the Olympian Springs goes back between 1784 and 1790. The first stagecoach was established there in 1803 and ran to Lexington. Soon afterward, a resort hotel was built and was a widely popular stopping point for those who wished to recuperate or to heal from ailments of the day. Kentucky political leaders, including Henry Clay, often visited the resort. The resort survived the Battle of Mud Lick Springs during the Civil War, but the hotel burned down around 1920 and never rebuilt. Another early stagecoach route was the Mount Sterling-Maysville line that ran through Sharpsburg and Bethel along what is now Kentucky Route 11. This route was a vital link to the mighty Ohio River and trading stations along the way.   The advent of railroads and later vehicular travel put the stagecoach business into oblivion, but the route is still used as a state roadway and still a vital link through the region.

Kentucky separated from Virginia and became a state in 1792; Bath County would be part of Montgomery County from 1797 until it was established as a county in 1811. By that time, settlements became small towns and thriving farms. Harrison Conner established a settlement in what would become Owingsville sometime around 1810-1811. The first county seat was located at a place called Catlett's Flat but moved to the present location soon afterward. The location of Catlett's Flat has remained a mystery to me; the area where Save A Lot grocery store was once owned by the Catlett family I have been told, and an old cemetery behind Creekside Mobile Home Park bears the name of Catlett/Shrout Cemetery. The proximity of that property to Slate Creek and the Bourbon Furnace would seem logical as an early location for the county seat. Two towns outdated Owingsville by two years, but have since been covered with the waters of Cave Run. Yale and Licking Union were prosperous towns along the Licking River in southeastern Bath County that boasted railroads, hotels, taverns and other amenities. The towns thrived on the abundant natural resources, with the lumber mills being the the primary sources for employment.  Later, oil and natural gas wells were struck and added to the region's commerce.  When the Cave Run Lake and dam project began, the towns disappeared completely and the area was flooded, erasing one of Bath County's earliest industrial hubs.

 By the early nineteenth century, the tales of early explorers had become that of legend. The wild days of settlers fighting off Shawnee attackers were gone, but the stories lingered with the elder residents and in tavern talk. Exaggerations were often made to these stories as the years passed, some reaching mythological heights. There are so many other stories about the early exploration of Bath County and Kentucky yet to be told and I am sure there are more stories I have passed up while researching this writing. It is important to preserve these stories and pass them onto generations to come; so that those who come after us will know what it took to get where we are now.

A great resource for information regarding old settler and native trails in Kentucky is at  This site also has a detailed eye witness account of the Morgan's Station attack and search for the station's captives.


  1. Just read this, and I'm surprised there aren't any comments at this point. Well written and very informative! I'm just starting my trek into finding out about previous generations of my fathers family, who lived for a generation in Bath County. I've noticed in census records that my George family lived either East or West of Slate Creek in the 1820-1840s. My direct line was a Bailey George and his son Henry George. There was also a William George in Owensville. I've wondered how they would have traveled from Fauqier County, Virginia to that area in 1814-1815, and your guidance was helpful. Mike George.

  2. Thank you for posting this bit of information: Hugh Sidwell, Thomas Clark and his brother, along with a Ballard individual, built a settlement at the mouth of Naylor Creek around 1783; this being the first permanent settlement in Bath County. Today, a small white house stands at the junction of Naylor Road and Kentucky 111 on the approximate location of this settlement.

    I am researching Thomas Clark and would be most interested in knowing how you were able to locate the settlement.

  3. In regards to the following statement, I would really like to know your sources especially the biographic sketch of Elias Tobin/Tolin:

    "The earliest known settlement structure in what would become Bath County was a small cabin erected by Elias Tolin along Slate Creek near the Bourbon Iron Furnace site. Tolin was an Irish immigrant born in 1755 and served in the Revolutionary War with the 1st and 11th Virginia Regiments. After the war, Tolin was among those who migrated west into Kentucky and was granted land rights as a veteran through the Commonwealth of Virginia. In order to qualify for a land grant, settlers would have to build an 'improvement' on the property, stockade the property to defend against natives, and plant crops."

  4. In an effort to recreate the burned records of Fayette County a number of depositions were obtained from early settlers. Elias Tolin was one of those who was deposed as follows:

    Fayette Co KY Records Vol I p 160‐161.
    "P.478, Deposition of ELIAS TOLIN (taken at WILLIAM FARROW's improvement in Montgomery County, on Feb 27, 1806): On July 23, 1775 deponent joined the company with WILLIAM LYNN, THOMAS CLARK , ANDREW LYNN, THOMAS BRAZER and JOHN CRITTENDEN at Wheeling fort to come to Kentucky to improve and take up land and on the Ohio River, near the mouth of the Little Kanawha, was overtaken by THORNTON FARROW, LUKE CANNON, WILLIAM BENNETT and others who in formed us they were coming to Kentucky to take up lands for themselves
    in Virginia and informed us that the hands they had under their direction were sent by those gentlemen in Virginia as assistant in taking up land for those gentlemen in Virginia, and we proceeded on in company to the mouth of the Kentucky where Cannon and Bennett and their hands parted with us and proceeded up the Kentucky to Leestown which place GEORGE ROGERS CLARK joined our company and we proceeded to Boonesborough, from thence to Sommerset ... and in the time we lay in that camp Thornton Farrow, John Crittenden and George Rogers Clark was absent from camp some few days and when they returned they informed us they had been making improvements
    while they were absent.....In a few days afterwards we concluded to divide the company. Then John Crittenden, George Rogers Clark, Thornton Farrow, a man named Guy, Andrew Lynn, Thomas Clark, Thomas Brannon and this deponent formed the other company and about the time of parting the two companys concluded to meet again about three weeks after at or near the forks of Somerset and Buck Lick in order to travel to Boonesborough together and at the appointed time the company withe this deponent came to the appointed place and found a written paper fastened to a buckeye informing us that the company of Farrow and Crittenden was under the necessity of going to Boonesborough before the appointed time by reason of one of their company being badly scalded. We then proceeded on to Boonesborough and their trail and came up to Buck Lick and found improvement above this lick.........."
    The rest explains how they marked improvements and how places were called different names by different people.
    My ancestor was this Thomas Clark. Some say that he was later is listed as Sheriff of Fayette County but I am still searching for records to support these claims. Any sources that you recommend would be appreciated.