Samuel Haycraft of Hardin County Kentucky

I share with you today a short biography of Samuel Haycraft, a very early citizen of Hardin County, who wrote a history of the county in 1869, which was published by the Woman’s Club of Elizabethtown in 1921.  Mr. Haycraft sounds like someone I would love to meet!  He evidently loved history, lived through a big part of the early history of his county, and thankfully wrote it down for later generations!

On May 7, 1866, he wrote a letter to the editors of The Courier-Journal newspaper.  He speaks of the two political parties in the United States at this time – ‘the Radical Abolition party, led by Sumner, Stevens and those of like ilk;’ and ‘that stripe of the Democratic party that met in Louisville on the 1st of May.’  He then gets to the heart of the matter of standing for saving the Union –

‘Now, if that statement be true, then I belong to no party, for I solemnly repudiate both, and set them down as one discordant party with two wings tending to the same end.  The first wing moving heaven, earth and the lower regions to break up the Union and destroy the Constitution, and the second so lately at it that I am afraid to trust them yet, but have some hope that they may yet wheel into ranks.

‘But I do claim to belong to a class of men, Old-line Whigs and Democrats, who, without regard for party names, stood, and still stand, for the Union; and who are determined to stand at the back of that firm and brave patriot, Andrew Johnson, in support of his reconstruction policy, and in the policy shown in two vetoes and his speech following the fist veto, and who wanted the Union speedily restored and our venerated Constitution preserved.  I contend that it is unworthy of the name of an American citizen to stand higgling about a name when our very foundation is sliding from under us.’

Before the war, in March of 1861, we find Mr. Haycraft as an experienced fruit-grower in Hardin County, giving information and advice on the growth of Northern apples.  Has anyone heard of these?  The Northern Spy, Rambo, Lady Apple, Rhode Island Greening, Summer Scarlet Pearmain, Early Strawberry – to name a few.

Thirty years previous, on the 25th of November, 1831, at a ‘meeting of a number of the citizens of Hardin County, Kentucky, friendly to the American System, and to Henry Clay, was convened at the courthouse in Elizabethtown.’  John L. Helm, Esq., was chair and Samuel Haycraft, secretary.

And It was Samuel Haycraft, an old family friend of Abraham Lincoln, that proposed he return to Kentucky for a campaign swing during the presidential race of 1860.  Lincoln, however, felt that it was unlikely to sway any of the Democratic voters to his ticket.

Samuel Haycraft

In the Samuel Haycraft was born August 14, 1795, in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, in a double, round-log cabin.  His father was Samuel Haycraft, a Revolutionary soldier, and a man of great public and private worth, who settled in Kentucky early in the latter quarter of the eighteenth century.  His mother was Margaret VanMeter, daughter of Jacob VanMeter, and belonged to one of the old and honorable pioneer families of the State.  The subject of this sketch, one of the most remarkable men who ever lived in Elizabethtown, spent nearly seven years of his boyhood in the country schools, the last two chiefly in studying the Latin language.  He was a careful, discriminating, and extensive reader and few men of the country were so thoroughly and universally well informed.  His long public career commenced when he was fourteen years of age.  At that time, in October 1809, he began to write in the office of the County and Circuit Clerk, Major Ben Helm.  The duties of this position he performed, with little variation, until 1816, when he received the appointment of Clerk of both Circuit and County Courts of Hardin County, and held this clerkship, uninterruptedly, until 1857.  He said of himself, ‘That, from the time he entered this office, he was attentive to business, and never neglected it; but, in leisure moments was fond of gay and lively company, particularly of dancing parties, but hardly ever descended to low company or rowdyism, but was a wild, wicked sinner.’  On retiring from this office, in 1851, the court and bar adopted, and placed on record, resolutions in every way flattering to him in his official capacity, as well as social and private relations of life.

He, then, began the practice of law at the Elizabethtown bar; but after four years of legal practice, was again called by the people to fill the vacant clerkship of the Circuit Court, caused by the death of the incumbent.  In 1857 he was elected to represent the people in the State Senate and held this position for four years.  He was, therefore, a member of the Legislature during the most important and critical period of the State’s history.  His record made in that body was most honorable to himself, and, in light of the present, is stamped by a wisdom, foresight, and fearless devotion to just and true principles, of which any man might well be proud.  He was instrumental in enacting some measures beneficial to the general good; and it was through his efforts, mainly, that the Legislation was induced to appropriate even the meager sum it did for the erection of a monument to Daniel Boone.  And, in that body, he was one of the most determined and staunch supporters of the Union.  He was then sixty-seven years of age, and, had lived with his father through the greater part of the life-time of the nation, and now stood in the Senate, gray with time and honor, one of the noblest Romans of them all, every ready to say, “The Union must and shall be preserved.”  But neither in that august body nor among his friends and neighbors at home, was he ever obnoxious in his opinions; on the contrary, however, conciliatory generous and discriminating, claiming only to himself his private opinions, and deeply sympathizing with the troubles of his neighbors and the misfortunes of the times.

He was again elected Clerk of the Circuit Court and retired in 1868, at the age of seventy-three, after an unparalleled service of sixty-five years.

He said of himself that, “On the first Saturday in April 1832, my wife and I were baptized by Elder Warren Cash, who also married us; and, in answer to my mother’s prayers, she lied to see all her children in the church, and to hear her youngest son preach the Gospel.”  For over forty years he was a member of the Baptist Church, a teacher in the Sabbath-schools and observed family prayers twice a day.  For several years he was a Trustee of Georgetown College, to which he made some bequests.  Of himself, he says: “I have occupied the same seat in church for over forty years, and never sit back in the scorner’s place.  On the 29th of October 1818, I was married to Sarah Brown Helm, a daughter of Judge John Helm, of Breckinridge County.  I regard the transaction as the most fortunate move of my life, temporally speaking.”  They had four children: Edgar H., DeSoto, Iowa; Sarah M., wife of S. McMurtry, Hardin County; Louisa Ann, wife of William Dix, Breckinridge County; and Margaret J., wife of C. D. Poston, once Representative in Congress of Arizona.  Mr. Haycraft was a fine public speaker and one of the most interesting conversationalists.  His disposition to joke was inveterate and a vein of humor seemed to underlie the most serious moments in his life.  He was a man of fin address, most genial temperament, courteous manner and splendid personal appearance; and few men of his age showed such high preservation of all the noble elements of manhood.  He stood as a monument of the effects of correct principles and practices of life, both physically and mentally.  Ye he modestly said: “My life has been rather quiet and monotonous, and does not afford much matter for history, especially of an extraordinary character.”

His wife died August 14th, 1878.  They had been married 60 years, lacking two months.  To her he repeatedly paid tribute throughout his career, and she was as much of a character in the town as he was.  A gentle, generous, pious woman of the old generation she was “Aunt Sallie” to the whole community.  Many of us still remember her agreeable peculiarity of always having on hand “sweet cakes” for distribution to the children who came to her house.  She and her husband lived in the fine square colonial brick house that stood on the northeast corner of Main and Poplar Streets, the first brick house erected in Elizabethtown.  It was a house of character, and it was a loss to the town when it was destroyed by fire about 1882.

He followed his wife to the grave in his 84th year on December 22nd, 1878, four months after her death.

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