‘The Godfather of Muhlenberg County’

A few days ago, I introduced you to Henry Rhoads, known as the ‘Godfather of Muhlenberg County’.  In 1913 Otto A. Rothert published his A History of Muhlenberg County, and gives us much information on the early settlers and up to the present day – that is, 1911 present day.  Most of my information is taken from that book.

As mentioned in the earlier blog, Henry Rhoads came to America, with his brothers, from Germany.  He fought in the Revolutionary War under General John Peter Muhlenberg, who commanded soldiers mostly from Germany and Holland, and in whose honor, Henry Rhoads later named the county in which he lived.

At first the Rhoads families settled in what is today Calhoun in McLean County, and was originally called Vienna, but the title to the land was lost by the brothers in a court case.  They moved to what is now Browder in Muhlenberg County.  ‘When Henry Rhoads came to this part of the Green River country he stopped at Barnett’s Fort, on Rough River, above Hartford.  He first located his claim for land at the site of the present town of Calhoun and laid out a town in 1784 and called it Rhoadsville.  When Rhoads was defeated by Captain John Hanley, agent for the Dorsey’s, of Maryland, the name of the town was changed to Vienna.  Rhoads then went back to Barnett’s Fort for a short time and soon after located in Logan County, the bounds of the present county of Muhlenberg, five miles from Paradise on Green River and a mile for the present town of Browder on the Louisville & Nashville Railroad.

‘Simultaneously with the departure of the Germans to the south side of the river, they erected a fortification about five miles south from Rumsey for refuge in case of Indian attack.  This was called “Pond Station.”  This was in Muhlenberg until the territory embracing it was made a part of McLean County.  About the same time such of the residents of Fort Vienna as owned slaves quit the fort and opened up farms north of the river, where some of their descendants are still to be found.’

After a long struggle with the courts Henry Rhoads received 2,000 acres of a 7,000-acre tract he had surveyed for General Alexander McClanahan.  Not until October of 1801 did he receive a deed to his property.  It was on this tract that the family lived, and the farm was passed from father to son for more than a century.  The graveyard for the Rhoads family is near the historic house.  The small stone for Henry Rhoads reads – H. R., B. J. 5, 1739, D. M. 6, 1814.

We all having those interesting tidbits handed down through the generations, and the Rhoads family is no different.  The following story is from Mr. Rothert’s book – ‘When Henry Rhoads settled on his tract of land, Muhlenberg was practically an unbroken wilderness.  Many wild animals, large and small, held sway.  A number of stories are told about the game that roamed over these hills in olden times.  I here repeat two of these stories, because they are characteristic of life in the wilderness and because they are incidents from the life of Muhlenberg’s first great pioneer, handed down by local tradition.

‘When Henry Rhoads was building his log house his neighbors were few and far between, but all came with a helping hand and a happy heart to take part in his “house-raising.”  These old-time house-raisings were attended as much for the sake of their social features as for the purpose of building a house.

‘One afternoon, while the crowd was busily engaged on the roof of this building, a large bear leisurely wandered into sight.  When the men saw the animal, they stopped work and immediately started on a bear chase.  Some ran after hmi with axes and others with guns.  The women of the wilderness always lent a helping hand.  In this instance one woman followed in the bear chase with a pitchfork.  After an exciting time, old Bruin was finally killed.  That night a large bearskin was stretched on the new log wall and barbecued bear meat was served in abundance at all the other meals prepared for the house-raising party.

‘But the noise made by the bear-chasers evidently did not scare all the wild animals out of the neighborhood.  About a year after that event Henry Rhoads, while walking in his wood, which is still standing a short distance north of the old house, espied a large drove of wild turkeys.  He slowly raised his flint-lock rifle for the purpose of shooting a fine gobbler strutting under a white oak within close range.  When he was about ready to pull the trigger, he heard a rustling in the dry leaves behind him.  Rhoads looked around, and to his great surprise saw a huge panther preparing to spring upon him.  Without stopping to take sure aim he fired at the threatening beast.  Luckily the bullet hit the animal between the eyes and killed it instantly.  A half-hour later Rhoads walked back home with the panther skin on his arm and his trusty flint-lock on his shoulder.

‘These old flint-locks were, as a rule, fine-sight and unerring.  They were slow but sure, although they did not kill every panther they were aimed at.  Compared with modern rifles they were slow in all the operations that preceded and resulted in the discharge of the bullet.’

In the July 12, 2002, edition of The Messenger-Inquirer, of Owensboro, Kentucky, an article mentions that Henry Rhoads father was Heinrich Rhoads, who came to this country from Germany, ‘and was a German gunsmith, who is credited with inventing the Pennsylvania long rifle that he made for frontiersmen such as Daniel Boone, a Rhoads family friend.  The weapon was later called a Kentucky long rifle.’

Henry Rhoads was a member of the State Legislature from Logan Count when, in 1798, Muhlenberg was formed, and he was the first man to represent the new county in the House of Representatives.  In addition, he is credited with drawing plans for the first courthouse of the county.  In his later years Henry Rhoads spent most of his time on his farm, until his death in 1814.

In 1839, in Logan County, Elizabeth Linton, daughter of Benjamin Franklin Linton and Lucy Crewdson, and granddaughter of Captain John Linton and Ann Mason, married Jacob Vaught Rhoads.  Jacob’s father was David Rhoads, born in Pennsylvania in 1777.  He married Elizabeth Vaught, also from Pennsylvania.  I cannot say that Jacob Vaught Rhoads is a grandson of Henry Rhoads, but it is possible; otherwise he would be a great-nephew.

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