Family Stories

Colonel John Hardin – Kentucky Pioneer

Col. John Hardin, born October 1, 1755, killed May 1792 whilst bearing his country’s flag of peace to the Indians, N.W. of the Ohio.

My Pioneer History of Washington County, Kentucky, compiled from newspaper articles in the 1930’s from the Springfield newspapers, is such a treasure trove of history from this county.  Today I share with you, information about Colonel John Hardin, one of the first pioneers to the area when Washington was still a part of Nelson County.  Pleasant Run is located the south-central portion of Washington County, part of it following Simstown Road, and on into northern Marion County.

A monument to Col. John Hardin was placed in Grove Hill Cemetery in Shelby County in 1856, by his only surviving son, at that date, Mark Hardin.  With his wife, Jane, Col. Hardin also had Sarah, Martin D., Davies, Mary, Lydia and Rosanna.  I do realize the following article lists three sons and three daughters, but there are four daughters listed on the monument.  Other photos and information about the monument are in an earlier blog.

Collins’ Historical Sketches of Kentucky, History of Kentucky, Richard H. Collins, 1924; and History of Kentucky, Humphrey Marshall, 1812, are cited in the article.

Colonel John Hardin

The next pioneer Washington County family to which we direct our attention is that which bears the name of Hardin.  No other family, perhaps, in the county’s history, contributed more in the way of distinguished public service than did this one.

The Hardin family in Washington County must be broken down into four groups, namely, the family of Colonel John Hardin, the family of Benjamin Hardin, the family of Mark Hardin, Sr., and the family of Martin Hardin, Sr.  Of these men, the first, third and fourth were brothers; the second a cousin of the others.

From a source considered fairly authentic, we learn that the American forebear of John, Mark and Martin was Martin Hardin, who lived first in Fauquier County, Virginia.  There Col. John Hardin was born October 1, 1753.  When John was about 12 years old, and when his brothers, Mark and Martin, were mere lads, the family moved from Fauquier County to George’s Creek, on the Monongahela.  The family believed at the time that their home was in Virginia; but it was found, when the line was settled and run, that they were in Pennsylvania.

In their new situation, the Hardin brothers found themselves on the frontier with Indian hostilities to engage their attention.  They early learned to carry and use the rifle, and as there were no schools, hunting became their chief pursuit and chief delight.  Tradition says that it was a familiar sight to see the Hardin boys ‘traversing the vales, or crossing the hills, or climbing the mountains, in search of game, insensible of fatigue, until they became most expert in the craft.’  John Hardin soon established a reputation for being a ‘dead shot,’ due to the rapidity and exactness with which he pointed his rifle (Collins).

A narrative of many pages could be written about the life of Col. John Hardin, for, it was replete with stirring adventures and valuable public services.  We must be brief here, however, hence only a few paragraphs are gotten together about him.  He served as an ensign in a militia company in Dunmore’s War of 1774; was with Capt. Zack Morgan in an engagement with the Indians and was wounded while in the act of aiming his rifle at the enemy.

Soon after peace was declared (1774), Colonel Hardin turned his attention to Kentucky, as did his younger brothers, Mark and Martin.  He prepared for a journey to Kentucky in 1775, to be accompanied by his brothers, but did not go, as Collins says, ‘probably on account of the increasing rumors of an approaching war with Great Britain.’  His brothers, however, as appears from certain depositions which they made in later years, did journey to Kentucky in 1775 for the purpose of exploring the country and establishing claims to lands.  (See old depositions in Clerk’s Offices at Springfield, Kentucky.)

Colonel John Hardin applied himself to the business of a soldier in the Continental Army and served until December 1779, when he resigned.  He was with General Daniel Morgan, by whom he was many times selected for enterprises of peril (Collins).  When he resigned in 1779, he returned to his home.  In the following year (1780) he was in Kentucky where he located lands on treasury warrants, for himself and some of his friends.  His brothers, Mark and Martin, and probably his cousin, Benjamin Hardin, were with him.  About 5 years before, Mark Hardin had come upon the banks of a small stream which later became known as Pleasant Run.  In the neighborhood of the mouth of this stream he (Mark Hardin) had found what he believed to be a most excellent site for an entry.  The land was fertile and there were numerous springs of water in the neighborhood.  He had made an improvement with the view to returning there later to claim the land for himself or some kinsman.  When he accompanied his brother, John, to Kentucky in 1780 he showed him the lands he had selected in 1775, and that brother decided to enter his claim thereon.  After spending several months in Kentucky, the party returned to their homes in Pennsylvania.

In April 1786, according to Collins, Colonel John Hardin removed his wife and family to Kentucky and settled on his preemption on Pleasant Run, then in Nelson County but now in Washington.  Scarcely had he arrived in Kentucky, ere he volunteered under General George Rogers Clark for the Wabash expedition, leaving his family to complete the establishment of their home on Pleasant Run.  He was back home again by 1789, for, in that year a considerable party of Indians overran his farm, stole all his horses, without leaving him one for his plow.  He organized a pursuing party, followed the Indians for a considerable distance, but they escaped by crossing the Ohio.

In 1789, John Hardin acquired his title of Colonel by being appointed county lieutenant of Nelson County, which gave him command of the militia of the county.  As the commanding officer of that organization he was not content to wait for marauding bands of Indians to come to his part of the country.  He organized a troop of volunteers (Washington County records contain numerous papers which show this) and set off to cross the Ohio for the purpose of scouring the country in order to break up any bands of Indians that might be found.  There were 200 mounted men in his company (Collins), and after crossing the Ohio and coming to one of the branches of the Wabash, the troop fell on a camp of about 30 Shawnees, whom they attacked and defeated, with a loss of 2 killed and 9 wounded.  Two members of Colonel Hardin’s company were wounded, none killed or taken by the Indians.  From these Indians Colonel Hardin recovered two horses and several colts which had been stolen from his farm on Pleasant Run.  The result of this expedition, says Collins, was that ‘no more horses were stolen from that neighborhood (Pleasant Run) during the ensuing years.’

During the time that he remained at home, Colonel Hardin took an active interest in local affairs.  He was intimate with General Matthew Walton, and with that gentleman worked on a plan for the division of Nelson County and the establishment of a new county to be known as Washington, in honor of his late Commander-in-Chief in the Revolution.  Colonel Hardin was to be one of the first justices of the new county, and General Walton inserted his name in the bill which he drew for the first session of the General Assembly of Kentucky.  The colonel, however, was not to qualify for that office, and for the following reason:

In the spring of 1792, (when plans were being made to make Kentucky a state, and Matthew Walton cherished the idea for the formation of a new county to be known as Washington), Colonel John Hardin was sent by General Wilkinson with overtures to the Indians in Ohio.  He bade his family goodbye, set off from his home toward the Miami villages.  With him he took an interpreter, and a few other men.  At an Indian camp about a day’s journey from the site where Fort Defiance was afterwards built, he encamped with the Indians during the night.

There were a number of accounts purporting to show what happened that night in the Indian camp.  Taking bits here and there from them all and piecing the whole together, we find that Colonel Hardin, shrewd as he was, and thoroughly alert to the trickery of the redskins, was deceived by the pretext of aid on the morrow.  The Indians proposed encamping with him, saying they would accompany him in the morning to the residence of their chief.

But, ‘the morning’ never came for Colonel Hardin.  While he slept that night, the Indians murdered him and made off with his horse and baggage.  The interpreter, strange to say, was not harmed (Marshall’s History of Kentucky).

Some old letters preserved by the Hardin family, some of which the writer saw a few years ago at a house in Washington County, near the site of Colonel Hardin’s home, show that he reached Fort Washington (Cincinnati), April 27, 1792.  On May 19th, he was still at that fort, and on that day he wrote to his family saying that he proposed ‘to set out on the ensuing Monday for the Sandusky towns, and Major Truman for the Miami towns, and try to form a junction at the mouth of the Miami River, which is called Rosadebra, where we expect to form a treaty with all the Indians we can collect at that place.’  The Colonel stated in his letter that he ‘hoped to return in two or three months, but it might be longer,’ as he would have ‘to wait the pleasure of the Indians.’  That he probably realized the danger of losing his life is evident from his letter when he says he ‘reproaches myself for having left my family, throwing myself into the hands of a cruel, savage enemy.’

So, Colonel John Hardin never got back to his home and to the new county of Washington which his friend Matthew Walton had got created by the second Act of the Kentucky General Assembly in his absence.  Word of his death reached his family on Pleasant Run several weeks afterward and his widow and six children, three sons and three daughters, were greatly bereaved, the more so because his body was not returned to them but was to rest in strange soil many miles away.  The place where he was killed, however, was not to be neglected and forgotten.  About the year 1840 a town was laid out there, on the state road from Piqua through Wapakonetta, and named Hardin in his memory (Collins and Marshall’s Histories of Kentucky).

3 replies »

  1. Fabulous post, thank you!.  The geography references are very helpful!.  And, of course, once again, peaked my interest as one of George Pirtle’s daughters married a William Hardin (Davidson Co TN),. Thanks so much.  Love your posts.

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