Written by Himself.
Commenced April 23rd, 1845.
The winter of 1781-2 was comparatively mild and my father cleared about ten acres of ground this winter and spring on the place where I now live (The field on the river adjoining the present bridge across the Salt River). It was heavily timbered with oak, elm and sugar trees, but having less underbrush he selected it on that account, cutting down the small timber and deading the large by belting.
(1782) -- This field he cultivated in corn in the year 1782, while he lived with his Family in the station, he always took his gun with him and set it against a tree about the middle of the row he was plowing in, he was however never molested by the Indians, who this year were very troublesome on the North side of the Kentucky River, stealing horses and attacking stations and murdering stragling Travellers, until in August a general attack was made on Bryant Station, which eventuated in the disastrous battle of the Blue Lick on the 19th of August in this year in which none of the men in James McAfees station did not participate as they did not get notice in time to overtake the troops.
The inhabitants of Jas McAfees station continued to reside in the station which they had stockaded after the attack already related, but cultivated their several farms returning every evening to their Fort, killing meat for their families on their rout; nothing of importance took place until about the middle or last of July, when a party of young people young men and girls with one or two of the heads of the McCoun family with whom I had two Sisters went down to my grandfathers place to pull a patch of flax and having completed their work started back to the Fort. After crossing the dry Branch near where they had been at work my uncle John McCoun proposed to go up its valley & hunt for plumbs to which they all agreed, after gathering as many Plumbs as they could find they returned to the station, through the woods passing to the East of N. Providence Church where all arrived in safety.
Next morning as my Father & uncle James McCoun with several others returned, to look after their flax, they found an Indian Blind made of Bushes cut down & stuck in the ground about a quarter of a mile from the Flax patch at a point where the patch crossed a narrow ridge obliquely so that any person approaching it from below would not see it until within a few steps of the place. Behind which they counted the prints of Eight Indians who having discovered the party pulling flax had gone to this place with a view of capturing or killing the whole party. This event was always thereafter regarded as an extraordinary interposition of Providence in their favor, for which many heartfelt thanks were returned to the Almighty by the Parents of these young people, who amidst all their dangers did not forget to dance and amuse themselves in the station when ever they could get the opportunity. Those who had no flax gathered nettles and made linnen of it, my uncle James McAfee had an Irish girl bound to him before he left Bottetourt by the name of Jane McMillins, who has often told me that she had upon many a dozen cuts from the lint of nettles which was as fine as flax but not so strong, she afterwards married a Mr. Joseph Lyon long known as a worthy good citizen which I will notice again.
I recollect of seeing the Brush of this Indian blind still remaining when I was a child in my parents arms as we went to Grandfather McCouns and my Father took special pains to impress the story on my mind & my mother observing "see how Good God was in preserving our lives."
During the Fall of this year Isaac Hite put up a small tub mill on the Fountain Blue Branch about half way Between the Spring and the river, in which he placed a pair of hand mill stones. This was the second mill ever built on the waters of Salt River, Mr. Andrew McConnell having built a mill of similar kind on The Town Branch in Harrodsburgh in October 1777 In which he also had a pair of Handmill stones, he would often set it to grinding and leave for hours to itself as it scarcely ground more in the day than half supplied the Fort, one morning McConnell having started his mill went to Breakfast and on his return found a large wild Turkey (Gobler) taking his breakfast out of the hopper in such earnest order That McConnell caught him in the act, and made his dinner out of him, The Turkey had no doubt been in the habit of helping himself, without regard to any of the laws of civilization which in any wise incroached on his natural rights to take what he could find.
It has not been my intention to enter into the details of the history of the First settlers of Kentucky beyond what may be incidentally connected with my own family hence I have not entered into the events connected with Col. Danl Boone beyond the year 1775 any farther than to show That Harrodsburgh has the right to claim the priority of actual settlement as decided by our Court of Appeals in 1813. 3rd Bibbs report page 128. In case of Thomas & others vs. Bowman, In which the Court says "Harrodsburgh is proven to have been settled as early as 1774 and its notoriety from that period to the date of the Appellees entry is clearly and abundantly proven." I do not intend to notice any other matters farther than I have already done except in connection with events necessary for me to investigate.
1783 -- In the Spring of this year my Father moved out of the station to his own land where I live, and he now assertained that Vincent Williams had filed a caveat against the issuing of the Patent for his land the year before. Thus he had the prospect of a long law suit, which was the second for the land on which he expected to raise his family and to which he belived he had clear and indisputable title, he however went to work clearing ground and planted his crop, and then went back to Bottetourt to see my Grandfather To whom his children sent clothing and other necessarys & after his return in the summer of this year My Grandmother McAfee departed this life while living with my aunt Mary Guant, who had lost her husband Thos. Guant, killed by the Indians while out hunting on the west side of Salt River opposite where (he) had built a cabbin four miles above Harrodsburgh on the same day of the Battle of the Blue Licks last year, and she was buried by the side of her son in law at the place I have already described.
In the fall of this year my father seeing and feeling the great difficulty in grinding their corn and wheat of which he had raised a fine crop he with the assistance of his brothers Saml. & James and one or two hired hands built a log dam across Salt River & put up a small Tub mill which afterwards done a good business for many years, and settlers from Benson near Frankfort often came to his mill with packhorses loaded with grain, yet the Inhabitants had no market for their produce except To emigrants who began to Flood the country who generally brought money with them which kept in brisk circulation & the preliminaries of Peace having been signed with England, the people of this then remote region began to hope that they would enoy [sic] the blessings of peace, but in this they were greatly deceaved as will appear in the sequel. It was now believed that Kentucky had at least thirty Thousand inhabitants which were rapidly augmenting by new arrivals anxious to secure a home in a land which they were told was "flowing with milk & honey." Land warrants called "Treasury warrants" had been issued to the amount of many millions of acres by which Virginia took her paper money which had issued during the Revolutionary war so that it was believed That a large portion of the State of Kentucky was covered three times over by different entrey of Warrants which involved the people in tedious and expensive law suits for many years, of which my father was destined to have his share. They however had abundance to live on and their stock of Hogs & cattle as well as horses increased rappidly. The cane, peavine, and Wild grass and clover called Buffalo clover (a large white kind) supplied them with pasturage with little feeding (excepting salting) both winter & summer. It was usual for those who had surplus stock to drive the same to the range (or wood) & cut down a large tree and cut down a large tree and cut small Troughs or notches in it, to salt their stock in, which they called a "lick log" and then once a week supply them with salt which was procured in small quantities from Bullitts lick in Bullitt Country at the price of three dollars per Bushell & sometimes as high as Five Dollars in silve (June 3d 1784 my Grandmother McCoun died & Revd. David Rice preached funeral next day).
1784 -- The winter of 1783-84 was a severe one with an unusual quantity of snow, my father being a thoroughing going, industrious, persevering man, assisted by my Eldest Brother Samuel & his negro boy Cornelius, attended to his mill & farm, and during this winter cleared and made about four acres of meadow on the south side of the valley running through my farm north of his cabbins and appeared propserous and contented, yet a sad blow awaited him, a second son born in 1778, took sick and died on the 6th day of February his name was Robert, and on the 18th day of the same month (Feb. 7, 1784) I was born and was destined to supply my brothers name and place & was called Robert B. in honor of a favorite young lawyer John Breckinridge, a favorite of my fathers in Bottetourt who a few years afterwards moved to Kentucky & settled in Lexington, and afterwards on North Elkhorn -- not long after I was born my Mother was attacked with fever and ague which added to the distress of the family and I had to be fed with milk from a bottle by my Eldest sister Margaret, to whom I was always attached afterwards. It was some months before my Mother recovered her health. My first recollections were my plays round my fathers cabbin as soon as I could walk and of sliding down as ash pile on which ice had formed and of slipping & cutting my head on a broken pot on its top as I slipped down, my next exploits were in my mothers safe or dairy which sat at the back of the house, when I helped myself to as much cream as I wanted and I have loved good cream ever since. I will now give a definite description of my birthplace where I now live as well as a personal description of my Father and Mother.
My Father Robt. McAfee was five feet and eleven inches and a quarter in height, remarkably large round and full breasted, well made in proportion indicating great strength & activity and endurance, he was considered the most athletic of his family, large, well proportioned face, with prominent square forehead & strong natural powers of mind very black hair thick set on his head & inclined to be curly which he always wore short, he was a good specimen of the Scotch race. Firm and decisive in his character and when his purposes were made up, he had the most unwearied perseverance, so that to decide, was to do, so that impossibility with him was seldom permitted to come within his calculations, his eyes were black or very dark hazel, which strongly indicated a Spanish cross of blood in some of his Ancestors during the intercourse of that nation with Scotland.
My Mother was rather above the ordinary size with grey eyes, a round expansive forehead, dark auburn hair, straight and abundant and so long that she could sit on the end of it when hanging down her back, kind and affectionate to all her acquaintances, especially as to her children whom she regarded as her Jewells so much so that she could not rest long if she did not know where they were, I recollect being so mischevious that I have frequently crawled under the bed to hide, that I might hear her call & search for me when I was a mere child. This conduct I afterward considered as my first offense against the best of mothers, who regarded me as her idol, and for which I have often reflected on myself, she was always regarded as among the best of women, and my many acts of disobedience to her often rises in judgement against, and has ever made a deep impression on my mind, so much so, that no offense gives me more pain than disobedience or ingratitude to parents especially the mother. My fathers cabbin in which I was born stood on the East bank of Salt River not more than eight or ten yards from the same. It was on the site of one of the many Indian towns which existed perhaps five hundred years before in many places all over Kentucky. It is very certain that the Indians had been driven from this State many centuries before any European set his foot in this State, as no Indian village had been occupied for ages before any white man came here. It seems to have been long reserved as the hunting ground of the Northern & Souther aborigines without any acknowledged or exclusive owners In which they had their bloody conflicts as their various hunting parties met, but It is also certain, that it was once populated by some tribes as indicated by the appearance of their Fire places since the country has been cultivated by the whites. It is also certain that the Southern Indians from Mexico were the victors as the Shawanoe Indians were found on the North side of the Ohio who are of Southern origin as held in their Traditions but it is also certain that Kentucky all North of the Cumberland mountains & River and south of the Ohio river had been merely an Indian hunting ground from time immemorial even among the Indians. The sites of all their villages & the remains of several antient [sic] Fortifications on Salt River four or five miles above Harrodsburgh & on Elkhorn about Lexington & on North Elkhorn where some nation had dug for lead ore, were covered with timber of the same size & appearance as in any other place.
After my father began to plough & cultivate the ground North of his house and down the river & out from his cave Spring The remains of numerous Fireplaces or heaps of stone burnt into lip & sandstone were found from one to two feet below the soil & in several places large piles of muscle shells had been thrown out, and became petrified and conglomerated together, in various strata some of them full size & wholly turned into stone, the native seemed to have fed on them & thrown them out in piles by their lodges & fire places & as the upper soil was washed off the ground above the cave spring hundreds of flint arrow heads were found & some stone axes. These arrow heads I have often picked up when a child, and one of a remarkable shape was found a few days since (May the 25th, 1845) by one of my little daughters, which I have preserved with other specimens & fossils in my museum.
The people of Kentucky therefore cannot be charged (as they have been by some ignorant Philanthropists) with robbing and taking by force the lands of the innocent natives. They had driven each other off ages before and in addition to the purchases of the Pretended titles of the Northern Indians at Fort Stanwix in 1768 and by Henderson in 1775 of the Souther Indians we found the country unoccupied & the State of Virginia could have used by the best of titles, derived directly from the God of nature--
1785) -- My fathers land suit came on for Trial in the supreme Court for the district of Kentucky at Danville on the Caveat, a Jury was empannelled, a verdict was found that His improvement was the eldest & of course the caveat was dismissed, Harry Innis, Esq was the Lawyer of William & John Brown Esq for my Father & John Magee, Innis and Brown went on that fall to the Virginia Legislature, The former was instructed to file a new caveat, & the latter took with him the record of the Court ordering the dismissal of the suit, They Travelled in company until within two or three days journey of Richmond, when Mr. Brown suspecting that Innis intended to file a new caveat, hired an express and sent him on with instructions to present the Record and get out my fathers Patent as soon as he could. Mr. Brown was then in no great hurry to get on and when he and Innis arrived The Patent was issued to the no little chagrin of Mr. Innis, which finally secured the lands altho Williams by the advice of his counsel afterwards filed a Bill of chancery which cost my father and myself much money and trouble until it was finally settled in my favor in June, 1820. The spring 1785, New Providence Church was erected.
1786 -- My father continued to extend his farm, and raised an abundant crop which he sold to new settlers which poured into Kentucky every year.
In the fall 1783 the Revd. David Rice Came to Kentucky & Revd. Adam Rankin the former settled near Danville and the latter in Lexington. Mr. Rice organized a Presbyterian Church on Cane Run three miles East of Harrodsburg and the latter another near Lexington, The Salt River people were included in the Cane Run church and in March 1784 Mr. Rice baptized three children, My grandfather James McCoun & uncle Geo. Buchanan were among the First Elders, and for several years afterwards the men always carried their Guns with them to church, ready to defend their wives & children.
In the fall of 1786 my father prepared Hewed logs to put himself up a house which he erected in the Spring 1787, 26 feet in the clear with neat dovetailed corners eight feet on the north side cut off by a log Petition for a shed one story high the main part two stories which he finished that fall & moved into it. It was then the best house in the country. The carpentry was done by Nathan Nield who afterward married my eldest sister, Margaret, in April 1787. The Indians came to my fathers place one dark rainy night and stole all his horses but one which he had in a pound near his house--They took them out of his meadow about one hundred & fifty yards north of his Cabbins. They also at the same time took Capt. Peter Caseys horses and my uncle John Magees. Next morning as soon as the horses were missed my father raised a company of ten or twelve men and made pursuit, as their trail could be easily followed. The Indians passed down west of Salt River and crossed below the mouth of Hammond about three quarters of a mile at a place afterwards called the Indian gap a low place in the ridge leading over to Indian Creek now in Anderson county and up that creek to its head over to Benson and down Benson to its mouth crossing the Kentucky River at the present Lock & Dam below Frankfort and thence to Eagle Creek in the direction of the Shawanoe tribe on the Miami. After crossing Eagle Creek in ascending a long ridge The Indians had passed along on the north side of the ridge near half a mile gradually approaching the Top when crossing directly over to the south side of the ridge, they had returned back near a quarter of a mile so that they could watch their back trail. About ten o'clock A.M. on the third monring my fathers company approached them and the sign of their trail being fresh one of the company who was on the flank rode near the top of the ridge discovered the Indians who had halted & taken off their packs, a charge was instantly ordered with the usual yells & the whole company rushed upon them, being about equal numbers, The Indians taken by suprise immediately fled, leaving one of their number killed, and all their plunder with the horses, These were soon gathered up as they were hobbled, and before night The company were many miles on their way back toward home where they arrived next night, all safe with their horses & the Indian packs in which they found many silver broaches, rings and other ornaments, This event I can distinctly recollect, particularly the congratulations on their return and seeing the silver ornaments spread out on the floor.
My father seldom took any part in the Political discussions of the day except as a private individual, he was a decided Whig, the friend of John Brown and Christopher Greenup, who often called to see him, his education did not justify him (as he thought) to aspire to any office altho he was popular & much beloved by all who knew him, as he was always sociable & cheerful under the most difficult & trying circumstances, as no person ever applied to him in distress without being aided to the extent of his power, and his word and honor was implicitly relied on, he was a great admirer of Patrick Henry, and I can recollect his attempted description of his eloquence as he had several times heard him speak, he always concluded, that he believed that he had not his equal in this world, and that no language he could use, could describe his powers. This year a family by the name of John Goudy moved on my fathers place.
1788 -- On the 21st January In this year my youngest Brother John was born and during this year my father a man by the name of Leary for a miller (his farm & other business all requiring his attention) whose wife was very fleshy and weighed at least three hundred, he lived in my fathers old cabbin near his mill, and the back door being very narrow, I often amused myself with watching the old woman in trying to pass out & in she always had to turn sideways. A little adventure took place at this time which altho a trifling matter in itself, always made me cautious in striking any living animal afterwards. My mother had made me a pair of leather breatches out of dressed deer skin which was the first pair I ever recollect of having after I had got them on I sallied out to show myself to old Mrs. Leary as proud as Julius Caesar. I sauntered along on the side of the hill toward the river, making a considerable noise, and at length got hold of a stick, five or six feet long (one end of a small fishing pole) and went on with it, striking right and left until I got among the old ladies hens, when swinging my stick around I struck one of them on the head & down it fell, looking at it and seeing that I had killed it, I took to my heels back to my mammy, with my pride all gone, expecting to get a good switching, the old woman came out as I ran & exclaimed, "o that bad boy." I received a sound lecture from my good mother, and never put on my breatches afterward without thinking of the old ladies chicken, and my foolish pride. I never was proud of fine clothes afterwards. This adventure always kept me humble--
1789 -- My elder brother, Sam'l, who was now sixteen years of age had not made very rapid advances in learning altho he learned well what he did learn yet he did not get along as fast as my father desired, who was impatient to have a son capable of attending to all his business now determined on giving me as good an Education as he was able, my brother could read, write & cypher all of which he done well, but he was too slow for my fathers temperant [sic]. Capt. John Thomas had been their teacher of my fathers elder children but his residence being two miles distant towards Harrodsburgh, my father & Capt. Peter Casey built a small schoolhouse at the side of the bottom on the East side of Salt River about one hundred and fifty yards below the mouth of the Fontain Blue Branch Rob't Pogue (afterwards Genl. Pogue of Mason County, Ky.,) Then a young man & brother to Mrs. Thomas took up school for a quarter and I was started to school with my youngest sister, Anne, being furnished with a paddle with my letters & Abs pasted on it, and to the great joy of my Father in two or three days, I had mastered my paddle & demanded a Primer or Dilworth spelling book, which were procured and before the quarter was out I could read tolerable well. This was my first school and I had acquired the character of a very promising boy.
A little event took place at this school which I will relate because it had influence upon my after life and may be of service to others, not long after the school commenced my sister was taken with the ague & fever, and was permitted to return home at play time and I was left to go home in the evening by myself. It was then all in the woods and only a narrow path, with a small branch or a spring in sight of my fathers house (where I now live) Just before I reached the branch I cast my eyes into the bushes on the side of the path & saw something rolled up in a heap covered with whith & black stripes I turned out to pick it up. It rose up suddenly with its tail over its back & reared up on its hind legs to make battle & in a moment the most horrible smell assailed my olfactories and I soon took to my heels and the "Polecat" after me a short distance. I was dreadfully alarmed & never ceased running until I got home & told the alarming story to my father who only laughed at me, and said that I was a pretty soldier to be scared by a skink which if I had made battle at it would have ran from me, I was not satisfied that this would really have been the case, as it appeared very warlike bristling up at me most furiously--
The second day afterwards my sisters ague again came on and I began to think of some way by which I could get home with her. The cracks of the school were all open, we had a dirt floor on which was alternate strips of sunshine and shade. The day was very warm and (I) took a seat where I could put my feet in the shad & soon began to show symptoms of cold & shivering, and asked that I mighty accompany my sister home, The thoughts of having to go home by myself and perhaps encounter the "polecat" again were most distressing, But my counterfeit ague did not seem to effect Mr. Pogue as I suppose it was badly done, and having a fresh ruddy face the symptoms would not all show. Mr. Pogue told me that he thought he could cure my ague in a very short time, as he was very anxious for me to learn my book and beat all the bigger scholars. it being near play time, he took me with him to Salt River and we both stripped off our clothes & went in to swim, as he assured me it would effect a cure, I splashed about in shallow water and he washed and scrubbed me well, for near half an hour, and after dressing he took me to the race paths (which had been made by the larger boys from the river out to the foot of the hill), & putting me in one path, he took the other and directed me to do my best, away I went at full speed & he permitted me to beat him, and then praised me very much saying that "I ran like a buck" now says he do you feel much better! O yes Sir, I believe I am well. This being all done in the kindest spirit, not intimating even a suspicion, that I was playing oppossum in the whole matter, yet young as I was I thought I discovered from his eyes that he knew all about me, as I have no doubt he did. This at once determined me, never to attempt deception again and always to speak the Truth, If I spoke at all, and I have experienced immense advantages from this course in my after life. Thus even at four and five years of age I had imbibed two important maxims or lessons, which shows that children If they think at all, begin much earlier than their Parents suppose, yet it is true that there are thousands who do not trouble themselves with reflection. However, to conclude my story, on that evening and ever after when I had to go home by myself I always thought of the Polecat with an aching heart & passed the place at full speed, and never attempted to make any more excuses or pretexts under which were not true in order to obtain leave to go home, This simple narrative I hope will make other little boys think right---
In the fall of this year my Eldest sister to whom I was much attached was married to Nathan Nield, it was an unfortunate match he became intemperate, Treated her cruelly & brought her to her grave in ten years afterwards, after she had four children, one daughter & three sons (1)-- I was much distressed when my sister left the family as next to Mother she was my best friend.
Go to Part 7 - 1790 - 1795.
Updated April 28, 2000. 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.