Family Stories

Turman’s Ferry and Hotel on the Big Sandy River – Boyd County

Tug Fork and Levisa Fork meet at the city of Louisa, Kentucky, and form the Big Sandy River.   The river then follows the Kentucky/West Virginia border north for about 30 miles.  North of the city of Cattlettsburg the Big Sandy River flows into the mighty Ohio River.  During its northward trip the Big Sandy runs through Lawrence and Boyd counties in Kentucky and Wayne County in West Virginia. 

In 1812, when the story begins, there were only two counties on the extreme eastern side of Kentucky – Greenup and Floyd.  By 1861 the Big Sandy Valley would probably have been Greenup, Boyd and Lawrence counties (the northern portions of Floyd County were made into other counties, leaving Floyd in the southern portion of eastern Kentucky).

Today I share with you a portion of The Big Sandy Valley, History of the People and Country, From the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time, by William Ely, 1887, in Catlettsburg, Kentucky.

The Turman’s came down from Floyd County, and settled near Round Bottom at a very early day, about the time of the War of 1812.  The father of James Turman had other sons besides James, who intermarried with the leading families of the neighborhood.  The Turman’s are thus well connected.

James was not the only prominent one of the family; but, by force of character and circumstances, he was properly the leader of the house of Turman in the valley.  He married Margaret, a daughter of James Rouse, father of Esquire Samuel Rouse, who is, and has been many years, a magistrate in Boyd County.  James Turman paid great deference to his wife, always addressing her as Miss Margaret.  When a young married man he bought land on the Kentucky shore of the Sandy River, opposite the Bloomer Bar.  He opened a farm, established a ferry across the Sandy, and entertained travelers at his inn.  In the early days of Kentucky history, a ferry carried with it the privilege to retail spirits, and Mr. Turman, with his keen scent after money, was not slow in availing himself of the privilege.  When the privilege was taken away by legislative enactment, he procured license from the County Court, and continued selling as a hotel-keeper until the war, in 1861.  By farming, hotel-keeping, ferrying, and retailing ardent spirits he became well-off.  Few men on Lower Sandy were better known than was James Turman, not only to the people of his own section, but to those throughout the valley.

One outcome in the life of James Turman differs from that of most men similarly situated, which it is not out of place to mention.  Statistics prove that ninety per cent of all retailers of ardent spirits not only become hard drinkers, but lose their property, and are sooner or later reduced to poverty.  The statistics referred to prove only half true in Mr. Turman’s case; for while he drank his dram continuously, he continued to prosper in business to the end of his life.  This is accounted for by the fact that he strictly adhered to the laws of trade, saving every day something above his outgo.  He was a very joyous, sunshiny man, and was friendly to all; but his hilarity never carried him so far as to cause him to lose his balance, and give to relative or friend one glass of liquor.  Every body who drank his grog was compelled to pay down before he got the beverage.  As whisky in those days only cost about twelve cents per gallon, the owner could afford to partake of all he chose, and still have immense profits to place to his credit.

Turman’s Ferry, for twenty-five years previous to 1864, was the most prominent point on the Sandy River between Louisa and the Mouth.  Rockville, a short distance above, on the Sandy, and Railroad, and White’s Creek, and Lockwood Station below, get most of the trade that used to center at and near Turman’s Ferry.  Mr. James Prichard, also in the Round Bottom, divides patronage with the places mentioned.

There is but very little crossing now at the old landmark of Turman’s Ferry.  Mr. Turman died some years after the close of the great war.  He left several sons and a daughter.  One of the sons, Samuel, lives on and owns part of the old homestead, and is a prominent citizen in the neighborhood and county, while others are in the far West.  The daughter married Philip Fannin, an official of Boyd County, and one of the most prosperous and wealthy farmers and stock-traders in the Sandy Valley.  Mrs. Fannin is a worthy helpmeet to her husband, being possessed of all the characteristics of a noble wife, mother and neighbor.

Mrs. Turman, or Miss Margaret, as her husband fondly called her, still lives in contentment at the old homestead.

An incident well illustrating Mr. Turman’s social nature, but more especially his love of gain, happened in the summer of 1860, which is historic enough to be recorded in this sketch.  The county of Boyd had been formed during the session of the Legislature of 1859 and 1860.  The new county, with Lawrence, was made a legislative district.  The Whig-American combination in politics appointed a day to hold their convention, to bring out a candidate to represent the district in the lower branch of the Legislature.  Turman’s Ferry, being centrally located, was selected as the place where the first convention of the people of the two counties should assemble to make a nomination.  The day on which the meeting of the clans occurred was lovely in the extreme.  The Sandy River had, from recent rains, swelled sufficiently to enable a Sandy steamer to take the delegation from Cattletsburg to the meeting.  The people of the Gate City, as the county seat had been fixed at their place, were in a mood to love everybody, and felt that it would be courteous to go en masse to the gathering of the people from Lawrence and their own proud little county, and thus show by their presence that they wished to bind in the bonds of indissoluble friendship the people of the two counties.  When the boat left Catlettsburg, it was alive with people, including many ladies, all bent on a day of pleasure.  Many of the people had baskets well filled with viands, of which to make their dinner.  A few however, had not taken their lunch along with them; but they cared nothing for that, as Mr. Turman was prepared to feed all who might apply for dinner.  Those who had lunch were very liberal in sharing it with those who were not so fortunate.  Vast crowds came down from Louisa and vicinity, and as most of them came on horseback, it was inconvenient to cumber themselves with a lunch basket, especially when they knew that they could be supplied at the Turman Hotel.

The great meeting was held in Mr. Turman’s new barn, just erected, as if for the occasion.  Captain William Vinson, Daniel Johns, Laban T. Moore, together with many other noted citizens of Lawrence County, were present.

Daniel Johns was nominated, and, at the ensuing election, elected to the Legislature, being the first to fill that honorable position in the new district.  Mr. Johns served faithfully and received the plaudits of his constituency; but soon after his term expired, he removed to Minnesota, where he has ever since resided.  The removal of Mr. Johns created a vacuum in the affairs of Lawrence County, which has been hard to fill by another.  He was a very kind, genial man, and sensible as well.  He has filled official positions in his north-western home with credit to himself and profit to his constituents.

But to the incident.  After the nomination was made, many of those who had brought no lunch rushed to the hotel, where Mr. and Mrs. Turman had made ample preparation to feed all who might call for dinner.  The tables were filled with rich viands, that were devoured with a keen relish by the hungry crowd who filled up the tables; all, however, in the best of spirits, praising the dinner, and heaping encomiums on both host and hostess for the great labor they had undergone to feed the hungry delegates.  Mr. Turman’s business tact never forsook him – no, not under the most trying circumstances.  From the many praises his big dinner was receiving from almost every one partaking of his food, he must have been led to believe that the feasters thought it was a free-to-all meal, and as he dignifiedly passed up and down the hall, talking pleasantly to all, he remarked that he had plenty to eat, and it was free to all; “but,” said he, “if you see proper to give a quarter piece, old Jim (as he called himself) will not be offended.”  If anyone had previously supposed that his dinner was free, he was now undeceived, and all planked down the quarter.  It was not meanness in him, it was a very soft way to manage business with a promiscuous crowd.

James Lacey Turman, was born December 22, 1809, to John Turman (1768-1840) and Rachel Jones (1776-1857).  December 18, 1845, he married Margaret Rouse, daughter of James Rouse (1798-1868) and Sarah Norton (1800-1835).  Margaret was born April 26, 1824, in Clinton County.  James and Margaret had eight children – James Rouse, John James Crittenden, Belvidore, Samuel Andrew, Martha Ann, Benjamin Franklin, Sabina Marceis and Permelia Frederica.

James Turman died September 22, 1870, and was buried in Kavanaugh Methodist Chapel Cemetery.  Margaret lived another 28 years, passing away April 11, 1898, at the age of 74.  She was laid to rest beside her husband.

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