Genealogy Ramblings

A Bit of History of Harrodsburg and Mercer County

The history and photographs I share with you today are taken from A. B. Rue’s book, Historical Sketch of Mercer County, Kentucky, photographed and written by A. B. Rue for the !904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri.  All photographs, therefore, were taken before that date.  Other posts about this book include Main Street Harrodsburg, Old Fort on Seminary Hill and an introduction to A. B. Rue.

Col. Daniel Boone spent the winter of 1769-1770 in this cave which is situated on the waters of Shawnee Run, in Mercer County, about four miles east of Harrodsburg.  The tree shown in the picture marked with his name is still standing near the head of the cave.  The distinguished pioneer, after whom the cave was named, was born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania on the banks of the Delaware River, on the eleventh day of February, 1731.  He died with fever at the house of his son-in-law in Flanders, Callaway County, Missouri, in the year 1820 at the advanced age of eighty-nine years.

The above is a picture of Payne’s Spring, known in history as ‘Boiling Spring’.  Captain James Harrod and his men arrived at this spring in May 1774, and made their principal camp about 100 yards below this spring under the branches of a large spreading elm, three feet in diameter, under which the first sermon preached in Kentucky was delivered in the spring of 1776.  Here a town site was laid out with the assistance of Daniel Boone on June 16, 1774, and a number of cabins were immediately erected near this elm and occupied until July 20, 1774, when they were abandoned on account of fear of a general Indian attack, of which they were warned by Governor Dunmore of Virginia.  These cabins were re-occupied March 15, 1775, since which time Harrodsburg has been a permanent settlement, the first in Kentucky.  A number of authorities say that James Harrod erected the first cabin built in Kentucky.

Under a large spreading elm tree three feet in diameter, which stood at the south end of the iron bridge at present located on East Street, about 100 yards west of Payne’s Spring, the first sermon that was preached in Kentucky was delivered by the Rev. Peter Tinsley, followed immediately by Rev. William Hickman, unless it be that the Rev. John Lythe, who was a resident of Harrodsburg in the early part of 1775, and was a delegate to the Boonesborough Convention, preached prior to that time.  Of this, however, there is no record.  This tree was struck by lightning in 1861, and , being hollow, was set on fire and the interior burned, leaving a shell for the trunk.  The trustees of Harrodsburg, deeming it unsafe, ordered it cut down.  The above photograph was taken (immediately after it was felled by Archie Woods), of which this is a true copy.

This is one of the old landmarks of the historic town of Harrodsburg.  It was completed in 1818 and was well constructed, but has long since become antiquated.  The timbers for the windows and doors and joists were hewn out by R. K. Fallis.  In this forum have taken place some of the most celebrated trials that have taken place in the state, notably the Wilkinson trial in 1841, which brought hither a galaxy of the most brilliant orators of the country.  Chief of these was Sergeant S. Prentiss.  [More about this trial at a later date.]

The tree against which the man is leaning is the one from which General James B. Ray shot an Indian in 1776.  The red man had climbed into the leafy branches, and was imitating the call of a wild turkey, hoping to draw the inmates of the fort from behind the protecting shelter of the palisades into an ambush that had been laid for them.  Several were on the point of going to look for the ‘turkey” but General Ray, who had detected the false notes, warned them that the cry was being made by a Shawnee brave.  He, himself, however, slipped out of the fort, made a detour, escaped the ambush, and shot the Indian, and got back to the fort, although hotly pursued and shot at several times.  Squire James Lillard, who died three years ago at the advanced age of ninety-five years, had often talked with Ray about early times in the ‘Dark and Bloody Grounds’ and the old pioneer stated that he heard the splash of the water when the brave landed in the pool shown.  It is about four blocks from Main Street, Harrodsburg, and within 150 yards of where stood the elm, under whose spreading branches God’s message was first delivered in Kentucky.






3 replies »

  1. I have some early ancestors from Mercer Cty. Mainly the Huff family along with the Hungates to later traveled to Ohio Cty and then on to Hancock Cty.

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