The Life and Times of Robert B. McAfee and His Family and Connections.

Written by Himself.

Commenced April 23rd, 1845.

Part 5: 1779 - 1781

1779 - This was an important year for the McAfee family and their friends as well as for the settlement of Kentucky. The Virginia Legislature passed a land law & Commissioners were appointed to sit as a court to examine and grant certificates of Settlements & Preemptions amounting to fourteen hundred acres of land, which met in Harrodsburg on the 13th day of October in this year, of course it became necessary for all those who had claims to land to come to the country and make their claims. My father and uncles & Grandfather McCoun & his family with the Adams, Currys, etc., consisting of three or four Patriarchal families having made extensive arrangements left their home in Bottetourt county Virginia on the 17th of August for Kentucky, leaving Geo. McAfees wife who had just been confined to follow on as soon as she was able to ride, which she was in three days after, the company moved slowly and halted at the Ford of New River for George McAfee to return for his wife, who to his great surprise he met coming the next morning. The company were all on packhorses and came by the Cumberland Gap, and after a long and painful march arrived in safety at Wilsons Station on Salt River about two & a half miles From Harrodsburgh on the 27th day of September & next day a part of the company went on to James McAfees station, my father stopt at Wilsons Station and put up a double cabbin for his family as he claimed the land adjoining. When the Commissioners met at Harrodsburgh, Wilson contested his claim and the Court decided in favor of Wilson. The surveyors office was kept by Mr. May in my fathers house and his brother taught a school part of that fall and winter, when my father lost his claim he entered his settlement right on the river about a mile below, his beginning corner stood on the East Bank of Salt River at the crossing of the old road, leading to Harbison's Station (now Perryville). Wilson's station stood on this high ridge on the East side of Salt River just below the mouth of the Dry Fork -- There being no good land adjoining my father's settlement he declined claiming his preemption of one thousand acres, which was an error which he afterwards had great cause to regret - & in the month of November he came down Salt River & built a cabbin on the Bank of the River near my present mill and moved to it as the winter set in having made an arrangement with John Magee his brother-in-law to divide his preemption with him, which afterwards gave him great trouble and expense.

The winter of 1779-80 proved to be one of great severity. It commenced the last of November & continued until the 15th or 20th February during which time the snow lay on the ground, and their [sic] was continued cold freezing weather. Salt River was frozen in many places to the Bottom, a large portion of the cattle & many of their horses perished my father lost ten head of his horses, so that he had but one yellow horse he called "Chicasaw" & one brown mare left in the spring, many buffaloes and wolves as well as beavers, otters & Turkies were frozen to death, and would frequently come up near the cabbins, at James McAfees Station, and where I live with the tame cattle. The people were reduced to the utmost extremity for bread, one "Johnny cake" (bread baked on a long board before the fire) had often to be divided according to size and number of the family & that only once or twice each day, and even this failed toward the close of winter and for many weeks nothing but meat could be obtained and that poor enough unless a Bear could be found in some hollow tree, which would furnish a feast with wild Turkey for bread. Thus their first winter was spent. James McAfees cabbins were considered Headquarters on Salt River, and among the persons who remained there that winter we find Robert Ewing and Baker Ewing, Joseph Lyon (1), beside James McAfees family and James McCoun Sen., his sons and sons in law ----

My Grandfather James McAfee declined moving with them to the country on account of his age, and difficulties of the road, his family made ample provision for (him) in the family of Mr. Montgomery (a relation) and a Mr. McDonald where he remained until his death in 1785. Cheerful and contented my Grand Mother would not separate from her children and came with them, living a part of her time with my father and a part with my aunt Mary Guant where she died in 1783 and lies buried with her son in law Thos. Guant on a high hill on the S. E. side of Salt River & about half a mile a little south of west from the mouth of the dry fork now in the farm of Archibald Adams and also a half a mile Northwestwardly from the Mudd meeting house (now so called). I am thus particular that the place may be identified. It is the only high ground near and Salt River runs around it on the west and North, commanding a fine view To the East, North & West, and there repose the Mother of the McAfee family in the new Western world to which she had brought her children. It is about three miles Southwest of Harrodsburgh. It may also be worthy of notice That when my father and uncles James McAfee reached their land in Sept. 1779 They found a good crop of peaches and a few apples on the Trees grown for [sic] the seed planted in the spring 1775, so rappid had been their growth, and I have now on my farm two apple trees of the same stock which never failed to bear every year since my recollection making good the old Scotchman's remark "when ever you can find nothing else to do, plant a tree of somekind, it will pay your or somebody else."

1780 -- As already remarked the spring of this year opened early, about the 20th of February, after which a succession of fine pleasant weather inspired them with new life and hopes. The first thing attended to was my Father's and uncles went to the falls of Ohio having heard of the arrival of some corn from "Red Stone" old Fort. It was important to procure seed and some bread for their families, and on their arrival they procured some indifferent corn at sixty dollars per Bushel continental money, my father purchased seven bushels & packed on his two horses home all he had for Bread and seed until he could raise it, and this was ground on handmills constructed by themselves, tin cups were a luxury and gourds they had none until they were grown, and my father who was a good self made mechanic contrived with the few tools he had to supply the deficiency by making what was called "noggins" which he hollowed out of a knot of a tree or with small staves and hoops to hold about a pint of which each child had one, then "necessity the Mother of invention" found means to provide the necessary family utensils, yet will all this deprivation they were happy and contented, and at the station of James McAfee they enjoyed themselves with dancing several times each week. It was not then considered criminal, & it kept up their spirits and cheerfulness in the wilds of the West, and it must be admitted that it added to the health & happiness of the young people and indeed It was not believed to be inconsistent with their religious duties, But after times proved the necessity of limiting this amusement.

As soon as they possibly could each family moved to their land and commenced clearing land, my father and John Magee lived for some time together in a cabbin in which I was afterwards born. My father cleared and planted some five or six acres North of the Elm spring on which my Orchard now grows, and early in June of this year James Thompson, surveyor of Lincoln county surveyed the settlements & preemptions on the river belonging to the McAfee company. But a difficulty took place which involved my father and John Magee in a tedious law suit with Mr. Vincent Williams, who this spring claimed before the Court of Commissioners a preemption by virtue of an improvement made in 1774 as one of Harrods Company by his brother David, But the court decided that having already granted a preemption to John Magee for the same land they could not grant one to him. It was unfortunate That John Magee when he claimed his preemption made on the faith of an improvement in 1775 instead of 1773 under an impression that the improvements made in that year were void as well as their surveys which was a great mistake & gave cause for much trouble thereafter, indeed all the McAfee company had made their claims in the same way, believing that Harrods company had not interfered with them, which not the fact altho John Higgins & Poulson had notified them of the McAfee improvements in 1775 which nted all other interference except by Williams and Isaac Hite the latter of whom wisely compromised with Sam'l Adams while Williams finally failed as will be seen in the sequel after expending ten times the value of the land in that day.

The Indians during this year annoyed the station by killing & scalping stragglers and stealing horses on the North bank of the Kentucky river, while those on Salt river were comparatively left in peace on account of Harrodsburg containing a respectable population and a company of soldiers, yet occasionally that section of the country was assailed. It may be a matter of some curiosity to give the census of Harrodsburgh at this place taken from the Journal of John Cowan in the year 1777, which will prove its importance at that time & since taken on the 1st day of May in that year after the arrival of Col. Bowman --- viz

Men in service .............. 81
Do not in service .............. 4
Women .............. 24
Children above 10 years old .............. 12
Children under 10 years .............. 58
Slaves above 10 years .............. 12
Negro children under 10 .............. 7

In the year this population had greatly increased, which in addition to continual influx of Temporary & travellers looking for land made it even in that day the principal town of the state.

1780 -- But to return to the event of this year (1780). In consequence of the depredation of the Indians Gen. George R. Clarke with Col. Ben Logan determined to attachk the Shawanoe Indians at Old Chilicothe on the little Miami (now in the State of Ohio) about three or four miles nort of Xenia, with this view Genl. Clarke was to move up the Ohio River in boats with the regular troop and Militia in the vicinity of the Falls of Ohio to the mouth of Licking River. Col.Logan was to descend the Kentucky river & meet him at the mouth of that river. The troops from Lexington, Bryants Station & other places North of the Kentucky were to go on direct to the mouth of Licking. In consequence of this arrangement, the troops from St. Azaphs, Harrodsburgh, McGary's, & James & Wm. McAfees stations met at various points on the Kentucky River, the main rendezvous was at a place called Warwick in the first large bottom above the mouth of Landing run (Harrods landing of 1774) and prepared canoes and collected provisions for that purpose, with this expedition the men from James McAfees station generally went leaving only enough to cultivate a field of corn of about two acres which had been cleared in common in the valley East of the station and to defend the station which reduced them to six or seven men only besides their women and children, my uncle William McAfee commanded the company thus raised from Harrodsburgh & this and the other stations. This Expedition started about the first of July, Capt. Elliston also commanded another company from the other stations. These troops laid in provisions to last until they reached the mouth of Licking expecting to get a supply then from Genl. Clarke at the Public expense, But when about to march from that point, two poinds of flour per man and a small quantity of meat was all that could be had, nothwithstanding they were in high spirits and made no complaints as Genl Clarke had done the best he could. The only draw back on the army, was that one man deserted before they crossed the Ohio and went to the Indian Twon and gave them information of the approach of Clarkes army, so that when they arrived at Old Chilicothe They found the town deserted and burnt and still smoking in its ruins but as the army pushed on to another town called Piqua a few miles distant they found that the Indians had taken refuge in a block house and a small stockade fort. It was about ten o'clock in the morning and Genl. Clarke divided his army into four divisions and directed the leader of each to march so as to enclose the town on four sides. The Indians perceiving this movement sallied out and formed in the timbers on the west side of the town and were ready to receive the whites, a severe battle now commenced, and a running tree firing was kept up The Indians still retreating as the second division of Genl. Clarke army joined in the combat, the other two division which were to cross opposite the town could not get down the Banks of the river and went up nearly three miles to cross & of course did not get engaged in the battle, after the first and second division had kept a running fight for nearly two hours they lost sight of the Indians entirely and not hearing of anything of the other portion of the army they collected together and marched round towards the river above the town & discovered an Indian in a Tree top Capt. William McAfee & Elliston took the same tree, McAfee being outside turned round to look for another tree to shelter himself when the Indian fired and shot him through the breast he did not fall immediately but sat down when a Mr. James McBride discovering the Indian by the smoke of his gun fired at him and killed him on the spot, which closed is exultation. A portion of Capt. McAfees company being left to take care of him The balance marched round the point of a ridge and halted & sat down to listen for the ballance of the army, but all was silence for near half an hour, when suddenly a body of Indians came down the bottom of the Miami below them and commenced Tremendous war whoop yelling, both parties apparently about equal, The white troops immediately rushed down upon them and each party taking a tree a heavy fire commenced, but the Indians soon retreated towards their town and block house pursued by the whites, who for two miles followed them so that when the whites reached to top of one ridge the Indians were ascending another. When the Indians reached the high ground above the bottom where their town was located they formed in line of battle & took trees and here the main battle realy commenced as the Indians in the fort united with their brethren, and the renewed firing having been heard by the detached company they arrived in time to aid in the conflict, after the battle had continued some time and several had been killed on both sides the Indians broke and ran down the hill into their fort and cabbins where the conflict was renewed, Genl. Clarke now ordered up a small three pounder cannon, which he taken with him on a pack horse and opened his fire upon their block house, from a point below the town while the other troops fired upon the Indians as they could occasionally he seen running from their cabbins towards the river, and in this way the firing was kept up until after sun down when it was ascertained that nearly all the Indians had made their escape to the river & ascended under its bank up to a small branch that put in above the town, and in this way got off, and some of them were met by the other division of them were met by the other division of the army which was all the share they had in the conflict -- some fifteen or twenty Indains were killed in this last conflict and nearly as many white men, and a great many wounded. The army encamped in the vicinity of the town & next day destroyed all their corn & houses. Capt. William McAfee altho shot through the breast did not appear to be mortally wounded, he was carried part of the way on a litter between two horses to the Ohio at the mouth of Licking and thence down to the falls of Ohio and out to Floyd Station where (he) remained alive until his wife went from his station near Harrodsburgh to see him, his wound at last produced mortification and he died in August 1780 leaving his wife ensient with a third daughter (afterwards Mrs. Mary Lee). Thus closed the life of a second uncle by the hands of the Indians, and a braver spirit never lived, he was beloved by all his friends, while his loss was deeply felt by his family, consisting of a wife and three infant daughters. My uncle George McAfee who had married Capt. Wm. McAfees wifes sister became the Guardian of the children and the protector of the widow (2), such were the difficulties incident to the first settling of Kentucky which have been deeply impressed on my mind and very probably influenced many of my opinions & feelings during a long and eventful life. The south side of the Kentucky river had peace the ballance of this year. Some time this fall my uncle John Magee moved to his cabbin about one mile below my fathers on Salt river, and no other event of importance took place the ballance of this year, in connection with my family.

The men were generally engaged in tending & gathering their crops surveying their land and killing meat to feed their families, having to bring what salt they used from the falls of Ohio at an exorbitant price. My mother and elder sisters gathered nettles in the fall from which she manufactured a piece of linen enough to clothe some of the children, and an old black woman by the name of Frank & a negro boy called Cornelius the former he had purchased of my Grandfather McCoun and the latter he had purchased when a child & brought both to Kentucky with him, which was his whole stock of servants he ever owned.

1781 -- The winter of 1780-81 was comparative a mild one & the people on Salt River had plenty of provisions for themselves and families. My father had increased his stock of horses he also procured some sows and pigs from Whitleys Station, and everything appeared to prosper reound him, but a reverse was at hand. My mothers youngest Brother Joseph McCoun, a youth about eighteen years of age on the 6th day of March (1781) early in the morning went out to look after his fathers milk cows, & concluded to go to some traps he had set the evening before at a cave high up on the Bank in a clift of Salt River above his fathers cabbin. The Indians discovered him and purused him he ran down Salt River on the west side, and crossed over the Indians keeping between him & his fathers cabbin he ran nearly a mile before they caught him in a small glade now near the Turnpike road North of the Road leading from Vandike's mill to Armstrong's old ferry on the Kentucky river now inside of Robert McAfees wood pasture (formerly Meaux) no(t) returning The family suspected some mischief & took his trail and followed It until they found where he had been taken and tyed with hickory bark. It was in the evening before the alarm was given, and when my father heard at His cabbins where I live he only had time to pack up his household stuff and his children and reach James McAfees station about dark, burying a large chunk of led in his yard, which he never afterward could find. John Magee, Saml McAfee and my Grandfathers family all took shelter in the Station that night, and next morning a party of men made pursuit under the direction of my father. The Indians had retreated with great rapidity & could not be overtaken before they crossed the Ohio above the mouth of Kentucky some distance & the company returned, indulging hopes that as they had not killed him this side of the Ohio that his life would be spared. but it turned out a vain hope, as certain information was obtained a few years afterward from other prisoners that he was taken to a small Indian town on the head waters of Mad River (a few miles beyond where Springfield now stands in the State of Ohio) where he was tyed to a tree and burnt to death. This was a heavy blow to my Grandmother (for he was her darling son), as well as the youngest, she seldom afterwards was seen to smile and in a few years afterward sank to her grave.

All the famiilies on the river except Wm. McAfees having now collected at James McAfees Station they commenced clearing additional ground to plant corn for their families in common, several other families also came to the station. My uncle James McAfee occupied the N. E. corner of the station & my father the S. W. corner house next the River. As they were considered their main reliance in dangers James McAfees cabbin stood near the spot on which he afterwards built his stone house (in which my son William now lives) and the cabbins extended toward the near the head of his fine spring. In the __nth of April the Indians attempted to steal their horses out of a stable near my fathers cabbin when he in company with his brother James took their horses out of one end of the stable while the Indians were in the other with their halters, this was late in the night, and taking their horses into the yard of the Station saved them that time. But this effort was only preparatory to additional trouble, which resulted in a serious attack on the station which on the south side was partly open except a common rail fence. The attack was made on the 9th day of May 1781 in the morning about a half hour or hour after sun rise, at a time when there were only ___teen men in the station, and the Indians expected an easy prey. It appeared afterwards that about one hundred and fifty Indians had lay the night previous at a cabbin & corn crib built by James McCoun Junr, near a spring on the west side of Salt River about three fourths of a mile below the station where James Vanarsdale (formerly Peter Vanarsdale lived) and had before day next morning taken their posts on every side of the place, mostly on the East & South sides, one man passed out of the Station towards Harrods landing, he was advised by James McAfee to take the woods and strike the path some distance off, the Dogs and cattle exhibited some signs of uneasiness in the morning but as no attack was made all suspicion was lulled, Saml McAfee and a man by the name of Isaac Clunendike had taken a horse and a bag to go up to his place three fourths of a mile south for some corn, and Robert and James McAfee had gone out to clear some ground for a Turnip patch about one hundred and fifty yards from the station, taking their guns with them as usual setting them against a tree near where they were working. Saml McAfee & Clunendike had not gone more than a quarter of a mile when passing down into a hollow, the Indians fired on them and Clunendike fell dead and the horse he was leading broke loose and run [sic] off to the station. Saml. McAfee turned to make his escape, but he had not ran more than ten or fifteen steps before he met a huge Indian directly in his path, both rushed on towards each other with their guns at a level until within a few feet, and both attempted to fire at the same instant. My uncles gun made a clear fire and the Indians flashed as he fell and my uncle jumped over his body and made his escape amid the fire of several other guns, My father and Uncle James hearing the firing seized their guns and started toward it, my father being the most active got a head some distance, while my uncle discovered seven Indians rise from behind a brush heap and fired at him which cut close around his head & cut his clothes, he turned and took to a tree, but he had scarely got behind it before six or seven other guns were at him from another direction and cut up the dirt near his feet, he then turned and made good his retreat into the Station, my father ran on until he met his brother Saml, who told him that Clunendike had been shot and not to go there, he notwithstanding pushed on until he came to where the Indian lay, and he saw others scalping him, he then began to look round, to examine his own situation when he found that the Indians had intercepted his path, he then took to the woods and was closely pursued by a tall fine looking Indian with silver rings and moons in his nose and ears, after running some distance he turned upon his enemy who immediately halted & took a tree, my father then ran on & the Indian after him, upon whom he would again turn and the Indian would again take a tree and in this way he was several times closely pressed, both reserving their fire to the last extremity, at length my father reached the turnip patch fence in the flat South west of the station where he again wheeled and the Indian again treed, my father then threw himself over the fence and waited for a few minutes and the Indian put his head out to see what had become of him, when my father fired and shot the Indian in the head and then made his escape into the station to the great joy of his family and the others. For he had been given up as lost. The firing now became general and the Indians approached in every direction, the women ran bullets and prepared patches while the men kept up a constant fire whenever they could see an Indian. Finding that they made but little impression on the station & the horses and cattle all running up round the houses the Indians turned into killing them and several dogs who rushed out to aid their masters -- a portion of the Indians were stationed on the west side of Salt River to prevent any escape in that direction. The firing continued almost incessantly, the men in the station being protected by their cabbins received but little injury one man only being slightly wounded. The Indians made several attempts to rush upon the station but were invariably met with so hot a reception that they retired in order to draw the men out, but the disparity was so great that my father and uncle James McAfee who assumed the command, forbit it ordering the men to keep close and fire only when any Indian would show themselves. In this way John Magee killed an Indian and several others also saw Indians fall after firing. The Indian killed by my father was believed to be one of their chiefs from the number of silver ornaments found on him, and his death no doubt discouraged them, about ten o'clock A.M. Their firing began to slacken, when a sound like distant thunder was heard in the direction of Harrodsburgh, and in a little time a tremendous yelling commenced and Col. McGary at the head of about forty five men were seen approaching on Horseback at full speed, from his station, Harrodsburgh and Wm. McAfees station, several of them without their hats to the great joy of them men, women, & children, while the retiring yells of the retreating Indians were heard crossing to the West side of Salt River. A half of a few minutes was made until the men of the station could bridle their Horses (saddling scarcely thought of) when pursuit was made, crossing the Ford of the river below the station where the Indians killed one man and wounded another, the west bank of the river being very muddy one mans horse mired and he was thrown off which threw him in the rear which gave some cause for unmerited censure. The main body of the Indians were overtaken at James McCoun Junor [sic] cabbins on the west side of Salt River about a mile below the station, where they had camped the night previous, here the conflict again commenced, the Indians retreating and firing from behind trees. Two Indians were killed at the first onset, pursuit was made several miles, as far as George McAfees or Lyons run, near where the Bloomfield road now crosses where the Indians dispersed and could be followed no farther, the whites sustained no farther injury than was sustained at the crossing of the river.

The prompt relief obtained from Harrodsburgh and the other station six or seven miles distant was on account of the stillness of the morning with a gentle breeze from the north, the firing was heard at William McAfees station (now Jos. Morgans) about a mile below Harrodsburgh, an express was immediately sent to that place and McGarys station with orders to meet about three miles below. The men seized their arms and started instantly, such was the spirit and constant state of preparation by the early pioneers to aid their friends, no excuses were made all moved with one heart; several ludicrous scenes took place on their rapid march one of which I will relate, when approaching the station in full gallop the horse of Jeremiah Tilford (the father of John Tilford President of the Northern Bank of Ky) fell under him and tumbled him over his head in a cloud of dust, he held to the bridle of his horse and gun which cut his hand badly, but lost his hat. Nobody waited or looked after him, but Tilford remounted his horse and came in with the foremost in gallant style, bareheaded and covered with dust acting his part in the after conflict to the no little amusement of his companions, having only taken time to tye a handkerchief round his head. In the station during the attack every man and woman done their duty except one whose name was John Robertson afterward known as "little Johnny." He was at first parallized and hid himself but being reproached by his wife he was forced to join in running bullets, I give his name here in order to relieve others from suspicion, as the Rev. Mr. Davidson finding the statement in the Record of the N. Providence without a name supposed I had repressed it on account of his being a relation, not so, he had none of the blood of the McAfees or McCouns in his veins. (3)

After this attack on McAfees station very little injury was done to the station on this part of Salt River. The people of this station, raised their crops in peace and in abundance of the substantials of life such as bread, milk & meat & in the fall of the year were joined by Robt. and Alexander Armstrong the oldest son of John, and William Armstrong, afterwards known as pillars of the N. Providence Presbyterian church, John Armstrongs son being the Father-in-law of its present pastor, the Rev. Doct. Thomas Cleland, whose daughter Margaret he married about the year 1801.

Go to Part 6 - 1782 - 1789.

Transcriber's Notes:

1: According to a family group sheet posted by Don Giddens on the Logan Co., KY GenWeb site, Robert Ewing and his wife, Mary Baker, were the parents of Baker Ewing. This Robert was apparently the son of Findley Ewing and Jane Porter. I do not yet know if these Ewings were related to the Samuel Ewing whose descendants married into the McAfee/McMichael families multiple times. Joseph Lyons was the son of Stephen and Nancy Lyon. According to the book "The Descendants of Col. Thomas Carter" (author unknown), Joseph Lyons was "the earliest ancestor of the Kentucky family" in Mercer Co., settling on Lyon's Run as early as 1775. Apparently, he returned to Virginia soon after to fetch his family, settling for the last time in Mercer Co., near Salt River, in 1785. His son, Stephen, married Anne Curran, daughter of James Curran and Sarah "Sallie" McAfee, and granddaughter of Robert McAfee and Anne McCoun.

2: Rebecca (Curry) McAfee married again, this time to Robert Brown on June 29, 1790 in Mercer Co.

3: Italics are Robert B. McAfee's own. Incidentally, I have been unable to find any more information on John Robertson in the Mercer Co. records.

Updated June 14, 2005. This transcription is copyrighted by . It may be freely used for non-commercial purposes and family research, but must not be used for any other purpose without written permission from the transcriber.