Henry Clay
Perhaps Kentucky’s most cel­e­brat­ed states­man, Henry Clay was once the Clark County Attorney. Image by John Alexander McDougall, licensed under CC-CC0 1.0

Many Kentucky coun­ties lost their ear­ly court records due to fires, floods, theft, and oth­er caus­es.  However, we are for­tu­nate that the Clark County Courthouse has a remark­ably com­plete set of records begin­ning in 1793.  These include mar­riage books, deed books, order books (record­ing actions involv­ing roads, appro­pri­a­tions, tax­a­tion, elec­tions, guardians, fer­ries, tav­erns, etc.), pro­bate records (wills and estate set­tle­ments), judi­cial records (coun­ty court and cir­cuit court), and many more.  These basic cour­t­house resources are essen­tial to any study of the county’s history.

I’ve spent many hours comb­ing through these old records at the cour­t­house.  A sur­pris­ing bonus of this pas­time has been fre­quent encoun­ters with famous per­sons who turn up in events that occurred in Clark County.  The list of names would be long indeed, but I thought per­haps a small sam­pling might be of inter­est to readers.

Chief Justice John Marshall

John Marshall (1755−1835) was born in the Blue Ridge Mountain region of Virginia.  He was one of 13 chil­dren of Col. Thomas Marshall, who removed to Kentucky and became a large land­hold­er.  Son John acquired sev­er­al tracts of land in Clark County.  One of these, 1,794 acres, was locat­ed near Strode’s Station, a lit­tle west of present-day Winchester.  He sold this tract to John McCreery in 1796 (a por­tion of the deed is shown below).  At that time, Marshall was liv­ing in Richmond, VA, and serv­ing in the Virginia leg­is­la­ture.  In 1801 President John Adams nom­i­nat­ed Marshall to be the chief jus­tice of the U.S. Supreme Court.  During his 34-year tenure on the court, he par­tic­i­pat­ed in more than 1,000 deci­sions and is cred­it­ed as the prin­ci­pal founder of the U.S. sys­tem of con­sti­tu­tion­al law.

John Marshall deed. (Source: Clark County Deed Book 4, p. 220.)
John Marshall’s deed for a large par­cel of land near Winchester. (Source: Clark County Deed Book 4, p. 220.)

The Honorable Henry Clay

Henry Clay (1777−1852) came to Kentucky in the win­ter of 1797 and set­tled in Lexington.  He was admit­ted to the bar in Clark County on February 27, 1798, with a brief entry, “Henry Clay, Gentleman, Qualified an attor­ney” (see below).  This occurred before Clay was admit­ted to prac­tice in Fayette County on March 20, 1798. 

Henry Clay appointed to practice law in Clark County, 1798 (Source: Clark County Court of Quarter Sessions Minute Book, 1798, p. 1.)
Henry Clay was appoint­ed to prac­tice law in Clark County in 1798. (Source: Clark County Court of Quarter Sessions Minute Book, 1798, p. 1.)

The court order books give results of Clay’s numer­ous cas­es as an attor­ney in Clark County.  His over­all record in the cas­es I could find was 22 wins and 13 loss­es.  Most of the loss­es came when rep­re­sent­ing the defen­dant in a case.  Plaintiffs won a large major­i­ty of the time in ear­ly Kentucky courts.

Clay was appoint­ed deputy state attor­ney for Clark in April 1801 (see below) and served for one year.  The posi­tion was the equiv­a­lent of today’s coun­ty attor­ney.  His record in that job was two wins, one loss and sev­en dis­missals.  All the cas­es were heard in the county’s sec­ond cour­t­house, a two-sto­ry brick edifice.

Henry Clay was appointed deputy state attorney for Clark in 1801 (Source: Clark County Court of Quarter Sessions Order Book 3, p. 61.)
Henry Clay was appoint­ed deputy state attor­ney for Clark in 1801. (Source: Clark County Court of Quarter Sessions Order Book 3, p. 61.)

According to Richard H. Collins’ History of Kentucky, “By a remark­able coin­ci­dence Henry Clay made his first speech in a law case in the cour­t­house at Winchester, and also his last in a case tried there just before he went to Washington city for the last time.” 

This is sup­port­ed by James Flanagan, a local judge and ear­ly his­to­ri­an of Clark County.  According to Judge Flanagan, Clay made his last speech at court in 1847 in the cel­e­brat­ed con­test to break the will of Joel Quisenberry.  After a long and bit­ter legal dis­pute, the case was set­tled out of court.

While the “sig­na­tures” that appear in the record books were copied by the court clerks, orig­i­nal sig­na­tures have been found among the loose papers stored in the cour­t­house attic.  The exam­ple below is a receipt from Clay:  “Received of Fielding L. Combs, Executor of Cuthbert Combs, Ten dol­lars for my opin­ion on the Case of the deed of gift of Cuthbert Bullitt &c respect­ing Slaves.  25 April 1822.  H. Clay.”

Receipt signed by Henry Clay (Source: Loose papers in the courthouse attic.)
Receipt for $10 for legal ser­vices, signed by Henry Clay (Source: Loose papers in the cour­t­house attic.)

Simon Kenton

Simon Kenton (1755−1836) was the famous pio­neer who, at age six­teen — after a fight in which he feared he had killed his rival — ran away to Kentucky and assumed the name “Simon Butler.”  Kenton fought Indians on the fron­tier for many years and is cred­it­ed with sav­ing Daniel Boone’s life dur­ing an attack at Fort Boonesborough.  He man­aged finan­cial mat­ters poor­ly, was jailed for debt in Kentucky, and lat­er moved to Ohio.

Kenton estab­lished a sta­tion in Mason County in 1784, about 3 miles south of Limestone (now Maysville), a fre­quent stop­ping point of ear­ly Kentucky set­tlers com­ing down the Ohio River.  In 1796 Kenton and his wife Martha sold John Baker 100 acres of land he owned at the head of Somerset Creek (a por­tion of the deed is shown below).  The land was near the Clark-Montgomery bor­der between US 60 and Ecton Road.  John Baker is rec­og­nized as the “founder” of Winchester by virtue of donat­ing the land for the cour­t­house and oth­er coun­ty facilities.

Simon Kenton deed. (Source: Clark County Deed Book 2, p. 213.)
Simon Kenton’s deed for 100 acres in Clark County, 1796. (Source: Clark County Deed Book 2, p. 213.)

General George Rogers Clark

George Rogers Clark (1752−1818) was a sur­vey­or, sol­dier, and mili­tia offi­cer from Virginia who became the high­est-rank­ing mil­i­tary offi­cer on the north­west­ern fron­tier dur­ing the Revolutionary War.  He served as leader of the Kentucky mili­tia through­out much of the war. Clark is best known for his cap­ture of Kaskaskia (1778) and Vincennes (1779) dur­ing the Illinois Campaign, which estab­lished America’s claim to the Northwest Territory.  Clark County is named in his honor.

Clark was an ear­ly vis­i­tor to Fort Boonesborough (1775).  That sum­mer, he went out with a com­pa­ny of loca­tors to make land claims in present-day Clark, Montgomery, and Bath coun­ties.  In 1797 he gave a depo­si­tion (a por­tion is shown below) in Clark County con­cern­ing his claim to a sur­vey of 15,360 acres of land.  Clark’s sur­vey began on Somerset Creek in east­ern Clark County, which adjoined a 10,000-acre claim of William Davis.

Deposition of George Rogers Clark (Source: Clark County Deposition Book, 1795-1814, p. 238.)
A land claim depo­si­tion of George Rogers Clark. (Source: Clark County Deposition Book, 1795–1814, p. 238.)

Daniel Boone

We can­not close this arti­cle with­out includ­ing one of the county’s most famous per­son­ages, the leg­endary Daniel Boone (1734−1820).  Boone was one of the ear­li­est explor­ers of Clark County and sub­se­quent­ly owned land and sur­veyed land for oth­ers here.  After Clark County was estab­lished, he was appoint­ed a deputy sur­vey­or (see below):  “Daniel Boone qual­i­fied a Deputy sur­vey­or by the appro­ba­tion of William Sudduth, Esquire, sur­vey­or of this County.”

Daniel Boone appointed to a position as a deputy surveyor. (Source: Clark County Order Book 2, p. 213.)
Daniel Boone was appoint­ed to a posi­tion as a deputy sur­vey­or for Clark County . (Source: Clark County Order Book 2, p. 213.)

Boone’s name fre­quent­ly appears in our land records and court records, and he gave sev­er­al sworn legal depo­si­tions.  One of the more inter­est­ing ones was giv­en in 1796 (a por­tion is shown below).  It involves the nam­ing of Plumb Lick in now Powell County, named in 1770 when Boone was there hunt­ing with his broth­er-in-law, John Stewart.  Boone was asked, “Why was this lick we now are at Distinguished by the [name] Plumb lick, as there is [sic] no plumb Trees about it?”  He replied, “Because we Brought Plumbs neare [sic] a mile in our hats and eat them while we watched this lick.”

Part of a court deposition by Daniel Boone. (Source: Clark County Deposition Book, 1795-1814, p. 154.)
Part of a court depo­si­tion by Daniel Boone. (Source: Clark County Deposition Book, 1795–1814, p. 154.)

  • Harry is a Mt. Sterling native who has lived in Clark County since1999. He has a pas­sion for the past and has researched and writ­ten exten­sive­ly about the his­to­ry of this area.