Joshua Fry Biography

from Mercer County, Kentucky – Biographies

Josepha Fry was born in Virginia, about the year 1760.  He was the grandson of Joshua Fry, who, as colonel, commanded the Virginia troops in the war against the French and Indians in 1754, and dying whilst in the service, in May, 1754, was succeeded in command, by his Lieutenant Colonel George Washington.  Young Fry volunteered as a common soldier in the War of the Revolution at the age of 14, and was present when Cornwallis surrendered, 1781.

Mr. Fry married a daughter of Dr. Thomas Walker, the first white man of any distinction – indeed the first white man at all – who is known to have penetrated towards the interior of Kentucky, before the visits of John Finley and Daniel Boone in 1767 and 1769.  As early as 1750, Dr. Walker was in Kentucky as far as the Hazel Patch in Laurel County, and thence to the Kentucky River (probably in Owsley or Estill County), which he called the Louisa River.

Joshua Fry was remarked through life as a man of great charity and benevolence; and it was these traits of character that brought him to Kentucky with his family, in 1788 or 1789.  Inheriting large landed estates and many negroes, he found he could not make a comfortable living for himself and his slaves by the tread-mill mode of farming then in vogue, the cultivation of tobacco.  He settled in Mercer County.  Finding the facilities for education exceedingly limited, and being himself well educated, the instincts which prompted him to leave Virginia induced him to aid as far as he could in the education of those around him.  He therefore opened a school, at his house, for the children of his neighbors.  Those who were able to pay, he charged a reasonable tuition, and those who were not, were as cheerfully taught as the more fortunate.  He had a very happy, and consequently, a very successful manner in the management of his pupils, who all left him with an undying attachment for him.

A story is told of one of his pupils, Governor Robert P. Letcher, whose father was a hard-working man, a brick-maker.  Bob had to work in the brickyard, and of course picked up many of the vices and habits of those he worked with.  All efforts to educate him, even in the simplest manner, had proved ineffectual; as his mischievous disposition got him into all sorts of scrapes, and as a consequence, forced him from school.  By some sort of fatuity he took up the impression that if he could get into Mr. Fry’s school he could learn something.  Of his own accord he went to his house, from his work in the brick-yard, barefooted and perhaps bare-headed, and accosting Mr. Fry, told him he wanted to come to his school, that he thought he could manage him, for he had been compelled to leave other schools because the teachers could not.  Mr. Fry said he did not doubt but that he could manage him, and consented to take him.  From that day until the death of Mr. Fry, did Governor Letcher ever speak of him as one of the best and noblest men living.  Chief Justice George Robertson also was one of his boys, and after the judge had attained distinction and wealth, delighted in relating how he went to Mr. Fry, and told him of his poverty, and that he would, some day, pay him for his tuition and board if he would only take him as a scholar.

Many other of Mr. Fry’s scholars have attained distinction besides the two just named – among them, Judge John Green, Rev. Lewis W. Green, D. D., Hon. William J. Graves, Colonel William R. McKee, Judge George R. McKee, General Cassius M. Clay, Hon. Joshua F. Bell, Colonel John Speed Smith, Chief Justice  Thomas A. Marshall, Judge Samuel S. Nicholas and Dr. Charles W. Short.

Mr. Fry died at Danville, about 1839, aged 79 years, beloved and honored by all who knew him.  Few so quietly and yet so surely left the impress of a great soul upon many of the best citizens of his adopted state.

Of Mr. Fry’s children – two sons and five daughters – Dr. John Fry died, near Danville, several years before his father; Thomas Walker Fry moved, late in life, to Indiana, and died soon after his father; Lucy married Judge John Speed, of Jefferson County; Patty married David Bell, a merchant of Danville, Sally was the first wife of Judge John Green, of Danville; Susan died about the time she was grown; and Anne is the wife of William C. Bullitt, of Jefferson County.  Hon. James Speed, ex-U. S. Attorney General, Joshua Fry Speed, ex-Chief Justice, Joshua Fry Bullitt, John C. Bullitt, Thomas Walker Bullitt, Hon. Joshua Fry Bell, all distinguished as lawyers and citizens, are among the worthy descendants of that noble ancestry.

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