A Kentucky Planter, Part Five


The Zion Baptist Church in Louisville has historic ties with the Taylor Family

These past few columns have focused on family of John and Mary Taylor who owned between 1840s through the Civil War, a palatial mansion, “Mauvilla”, at Westport, Ky. on 600 acres and a large frame home, “Hollywood”, on an 11,000 acre cotton plantation in Arkansas. The Taylors had ten children and reported over 200 slaves on tax records between their two estates in Kentucky and Arkansas. They travelled extensively between their two homes by steamboat on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

This Taylor story includes an association of connections between family Taylor members, their slaves and the descendants of all, cast within the web of this family’s enterprise. From this exploitation emerge the stories of two individuals, Robin Loucke, a great granddaughter and direct descendant of the Taylors, and Rev. W. H. Craighead, a man whose parents were enslaved by the Taylors at Westport. The following is a continuation of Craighead’s story from last week.

The Rev. W. H. Craighead and the Zion Baptist Church

Born in 1861, W. H. Craighead’s mother and father were enslaved laborers of John Martin and Mary Taylor at Mauvilla outside of Westport. Craighead learned to read and write at a “rural school” and developed a “consuming” desire to further his education. It is probable his education was from Elijah Marrs and his brother, H. C. Marrs who offered classes for children through the local colored First Baptist Church in LaGrange. From his narratives, Elijah stated they had 150 children that attended. Elijah Marrs, a former slave who recruited blacks to fight for the Union during the Civil War, was a leader for social justice and education. He risked his life many times to reach out to African Americans in rural communities against the threat of KKK activities.

Marrs was a faithful member of the association of The State Convention of Colored Baptist Churches which had been organized in 1865. This Association, initially comprised of 12 colored Baptist churches from across Kentucky, came together to support public and religious education initiatives and by 1869 there were over 12,260 members representing over 27 churches.

At the first meeting of the Convention, in 1865, Rev. Henry Adams, proposed a college be established for former enslaved people. The efforts for the college languished until 1879 when the Trustees of the Convention of the Colored Baptist Churches of Kentucky bought four acres in Louisville to serve as the campus. The first President of the Kentucky Normal and Theological Institute was Rev. Elijah Marrs. Marrs was replaced in 1980 by William Simmons who expanded the Institute that received state university status and was renamed the State University for Negroes (now Simmons University). These critical events were a beacon of opportunity for people like W. H. Craighead.

At the age of 25, W. H. Craighead moved to Louisville and found work at the home of Professor Hast who was a well-known music teacher. Craighead worked various odd jobs and enrolled in classes in the newly formed college. On May 24, 1895 a Courier-Journal column highlights commencement services for “four young colored men, G. T. Britt, W. H. Craighead, William Boren and I. S. Lair” of the State University’s College Department. The commencement, held at the Masonic Temple on 4th and Jefferson, was attended by 1500 people. G. T. Britt delivered the salutatory address followed by W. H. Craighead, “who discussed in a very instructive manner, ‘The Influence of Christianity Upon the World.’ Mr. Craighead was applauded often.”

At the time of this commencement Craighead had become the Rev. W. H. Craighead at the Zion Baptist Church. He had been preaching at a small church when the minister at Zion died unexpectedly and Craighead filled in. From there Craighead’s tenure lasted through the next 45 years. During those years Craighead helped grow the membership to 1200. He served on state and national boards for the Baptist Conventions. He was very proud that his church had the “the first Negro boy scout troop in Louisville” and that in the 1933 annual parade of the Jefferson County Sunday School Association, Zion Baptist Church had 300 children in the parade, receiving first honors. He also administered to those in need through his ministry. When orphaned children needed homes, he helped secure them; when the first man was electrocuted for murder, Craighead was with him and gave him requested Baptism and prayer before his execution.

Undeterred by the history of his past, Craighead offered the following: “There was a time when the Negroes and the whites were a bit uncertain about their attitude toward one another. That has passed and today, the colored people realize and appreciate the help and encouragement they receive from the white people.” On August 26, 1942 Craighead died at 80 years of age. His legacy was passed on at Zion Baptist Church which in later years became the site of many civil rights activities under the leadership of pastors such as A. D. Williams King who was Martin Luther King’s brother.
Note: These series of columns are written as a tribute to the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture which recently opened.

You can contact Nancy: nancystheiss@gmail.com

A Kentucky Cotton Planter, Part Four

Pb 1852 first page

This is taken from Rob Morris’s fictitious story about a the plight of a slave girl that defended her mistresses honor. These type of stories helped contribute to the growing resistance of enslaved laborers.

By 1850 the perfect storm came together for those in the bondage of slavery. The demand for cotton produced more than 60 percent of total exports in the United States. The invention of the cotton gin, the new cultivars of cotton that allowed greater harvest per slave, the internal slave labor laws, and cheap southern lands were some of the factors that contributed to the explosion of the cotton industry. By going internal, documentation of the slave trade was somewhat opaque. Tax reports only required a slave owner to list ages and genders of slaves. Slave names were not required and documents regarding slave sales and transactions are rare in historic records.

These past few columns have focused on family of John and Mary Taylor who owned between 1840s through the Civil War, a palatial mansion, “Mauvilla”, at Westport, Ky. on 600 acres and a large frame home, “Hollywood”, on an 11,000 acre cotton plantation in Arkansas. The Taylors had ten children and reported over 200 slaves on tax records between their two estates in Kentucky and Arkansas. They travelled extensively between their two homes by steamboat on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

The Taylors came to their estates through a long line of family relationships. Mary’s stepfather, Peter Rives, was a land surveyor who took advantage of cheap land in Arkansas when the government offered large parcels derived from the forced removal of Native Americans. John Taylor’s kinfolk had settled in Oldham County, some receiving large parcels of land from military service. (According to a Taylor descendant, Benjamin Taylor, John’s sister, Hetty Hawes Taylor Gibson and her husband, William Mallory Gibson, lived nearby at Sligo.) Both John and Mary were from families that had held enslaved laborers throughout generations and were “accustomed” to having servants and field hands at their disposal.

This perfect storm created an irresistible economic opportunity. Large plantations operated by family’s like the Taylors, could expect annual incomes of a $250,000 (estimated at today’s inflated value) not to mention the values of their enslaved laborers (top dollar for “prime field hands” in 1850 was $1,600). Costal ports such as New Orleans had nearly quadrupled in population with the increased cotton production. By 1860 two billion pounds of cotton were produced in the United States. This industry reached far beyond the southern states by fueling the warehouse suppliers, markets and investors from the north. But once the cotton left the field it became “sanitized”, the cruel and unjust system of slavery that produced the cotton was ignored.
The prospect that a family operated a large cotton plantation in Arkansas by replenishing enslaved laborers from their farm and connections in Kentucky is understated. The family could cut out the middle man in the slave trade and rely upon family connections to replenish needed workers. This allowed for more control of the laborers by becoming more aware of the relationships between the slaves. Since these laborers were “undocumented” between the two states and only counted as numbers on tax records, accountability became seamless.

This Taylor story includes an association of connections between family Taylor members, their slaves and the descendants of all, cast within the web of this family’s enterprise. It serves as an example of the culture of the United States at a time when economics and social justice struggled under the umbrella of a new democracy. It took the personal suffering and sacrifices of the enslaved laborers, freedom seekers and abolitionists to question the exploitation of humans under the guise of democracy. From this exploitation emerge the stories of two individuals, Robin Loucke, a great granddaughter and direct descendant of the Taylors, and Rev. W. H. Craighead, a man whose parents were enslaved by the Taylors at Westport. Both demonstrate how the shackles from their past did not deter their efforts to strive for a just world where all people are valued.
The Rev. W. H. Craighead and the Zion Baptist Church

W.H. Craighead was born into slavery in 1861. His mother and father were enslaved laborers of John Martin and Mary Taylor at Mauvilla outside of Westport. In an article from the Courier Journal (1937) he stated the following: “My mother told me I was born in 1861 on the Taylor plantation in Westport. I have only a very faint memory of the days of the War Between the States. I do recall, however, an older brother, who became a drummer in the army, rattling on the bottom of a tin bucket that we children might march in step. When it comes to my mother, my recollections are most vivid. She never had any schooling and could neither read nor write; but she was a rather remarkable woman. As an expert housemaid in the Taylor home, she was at all times in close contact with the white people. There she absorbed all of the better things which the leisurely life in a cultured home could give. She was really well educated in many of the little niceties of life.”

Note: These series of columns are written as a tribute to the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture which recently opened.
You can contact Nancy: nancystheiss@gmail.com

A Kentucky Cotton Planter, Part Three


Commodore Taylor was John Martin Taylor’s Great Uncle. There are many Taylor family members that settled in Oldham County after the Revolutionary War. Most was slave owners and brought these enslaved laborers with them when they came to Kentucky.

This column continues with the story of Dr. John Martin Taylor (1819-1884) and his wife, Mary Elizabeth Robertson Rives Taylor (1824-1868). The Taylor’s owned a palatial 18 room brick mansion called “Mauvilla” by the Ohio River close to Westport from 1855 to 1878 (which was razed in the 1950s) as well as a very large dogtrot log home (recently purchased by the University of Arkansas) by Bayou Bartholomew in close proximity to the Mississippi River. The couple along with their children and enslaved laborers, traveled back and forth by steamboat, several times a year between their homes. In May this year, I travelled to the Arkansas site and met with the Drew County Historical Society, a Taylor descendant, Robin Loucks, and staff from the University of Arkansas which included archaeologist, Dr. Jodi Barnes. There are many interesting aspects of this family that are insightful to life in the Antebellum South and their homes in Kentucky and Arkansas.

The economics of this family was driven by the increased demand for cotton that gave highly lucrative returns on investments. The textile industry in Great Britain was at an all-time high by the mid-19th century with 75% of the cotton produced coming from the southern cotton fields in the United States. Increased output in the South was pushed by several factors such as the invention of the cotton gin, new cultivars of the cotton plant, enslaved laborers and cheap land.
The invention of the cotton gin in 1793 separated the seeds from the cotton fiber so less labor was needed to pick out the seeds and could be redirected toward field production. Another aspect of cotton production was new cultivars of the plant. The new cultivars of cotton plants grew higher so that laborers could pick easier and faster, without having to bend down over the plants. The term “high cotton”, often used as referring to the “good life”, came from the enslaved laborers who appreciated the taller cotton plants that were easier to pick.

The cheap land was provided by the federal government through the forced migrations of Native Americans from the South by establishing a systems of reservations west of the Mississippi River. The push for this forced migration came primarily from Andrew Jackson.

Even before Jackson was elected President of the United States in 1828 he had been a major proponent of Indian removal in the southern United States. He had previously led military forces that resulted in acquisition of lands from the Creek Indians in Alabama and Georgia. Jackson’s authorized raids on the Seminole Indians, accused of harboring fugitive slaves, in what is now part of Florida, influenced the sale of the Spanish held 22 million acres to the U. S. Two years after Jackson took office as President he was able to influence Congress to pass the Indian Removal Act of 1830. This act allowed for the government to survey, divide and auction off millions of acres at bottom low prices. Owning a large plantation became a reality for many with little means. The rich delta lands along the fertile soils of the Mississippi Delta cost pennies per acre.

Mary Elizabeth’s stepfather, Peter Gilman Rives (b. 1793 in Virginia) followed land sales and became a land surveyor taking advantage of the government tracts of land available in Arkansas which was still wilderness land until reaching statehood in 1836. Rives was attracted to the rich soils along the Mississippi River in Drew, Desha and Lincoln Counties. This included the world’s longest bayou, Bayou Bartholomew that ran parallel to the Mississippi River. The Bayou, stretching 364 miles, became the most the important inland stream in the interior Delta until the advent of the railroad. Cotton and timber could be easily transported to the Mississippi River to the markets in New Orleans.

Rives patented large parcels of land through partnerships such as his association with the American Land Company. He cleared a parcel of land and built a small log cabin where he could operate from and farm. By the time Arkansas became a state, Rives built a comfortable home on the Mississippi River and married the twice widowed Martha Goodloe Robertson Arnold who was Mary Elizabeth Taylor’s mother. Through this association, Mary Elizabeth and her husband, John Martin Taylor, bought their initial acreage for their cotton plantation. By that time, the cotton boon was in full force.

The Taylor’s “Hollywood” home became the center of their cotton operation. Among some of the outbuildings that have been documented include a cotton gin, log stable, outdoor kitchen, barns and a large smokehouse. A small cemetery close to the house includes John Martin’s grave and some family members.

The Taylors used enslaved labor for their cotton operation in Arkansas as well as their 600 acre farm operation in Kentucky. The 1860 Census records of slave schedules for John Martin Taylor from Drew and Desha County in Arkansas indicate listings for 184 slaves. In Oldham County in Kentucky, tax census, at the same period, show the Taylors listed a total of 23 slaves, 8 over the age of 16 years with a total value of $8,050. Associations of their enslaved labor force between their two homes in Arkansas and Kentucky highlights the enterprise of the internal slave trade.

Next Week: Continues with interviews, research and stories about the Taylors and their associations.

You can contact Nancy at nancystheiss@gmail.com

A Kentucky Cotton Planter, Part One


Many of the research projects I am involved with deal with the same Antebellum Era of Rob Morris’s time. Recently I was invited to visit an Antebellum cotton plantation called Hollywood, once owned by Dr. John Martin Taylor (1819-1884) and his wife, Mary Elizabeth Robertson Rives Taylor (1824-1868) in Drew County, Arkansas. By the 1850s this cotton plantation encompassed almost 11,000 acres. For perspective an 11,000 acres equals 17.18 square miles.
Hollywood is located along the western bank of Bayou Bartholomew which runs adjacent to the Mississippi River. Bayou Bartholomew is the world’s longest bayou and became central to the operation for the Taylor’s cotton plantation. Dr. Taylor would transport the cotton as well as some timber from the plantation by flat bottom boats down the bayou to a steamboat landing. He would then take the cotton and timber to New Orleans by steamboat where it was sold and then purchase supplies for the return trip.
In 1846 Dr. and Mrs. Taylor built a large, two-story dogtrot style home beside the original dwelling of a one room log cabin built by Mrs. Taylor’s stepfather, a surveyor names Peter Rives. The Taylor’s home in Arkansas was built of the bald cypress cut from the adjacent bayou. The couple named the home Hollywood because of the abundance of holly trees from the area however from my recent visit, there appeared not a holly tree left on site.
Today Hollywood is the only extant example of a 19th century, two-story log dwelling with square notching in Arkansas. The house, family cemetery and some surrounding acreage was placed on the National Register in 1997 and in 2012 the property was donated to the University of Arkansas at Monticello to begin archaeological and historic research on the property.
The more interesting aspect of this story is that the Hollywood Plantation was one of two large homes owned by Dr. and Mrs. Taylor. Their other residence was “Mauvilla” which was an 18 room, Italianate mansion that sat on a rise overlooking the Ohio River outside of Westport, Ky. in Oldham County.
Unfortunately, Mauvilla was torn down in 1952 by its last owner who was seeking rumors of hidden treasures in the six tall Corinthian columns that upheld the massive two story porch. The structure supported a third floor cupola that had a viewing room on all four sides to view the Ohio River. There was a large, tree lined avenue from the mansion to the river landing and was said to be the most beautiful mansion from Pittsburgh to New Orleans on the Ohio River. The house was made of handmade bricks, had a spiral stair leading from the great entrance hall to the observatory and a large balcony with an iron balustrade opening from the 2nd floor.
The 1850s census records from Drew County for the Hollywood Plantation indicated that the Taylors had 83 enslaved laborers in the area which made the Taylor family one of the largest slaveholders in the area. Of those 83 enslaved persons, 31 were female and 52 were male. Most of the women were between ages of 20 and 25 and the majority of males were between birth and nine years of age. The 1850s census from Oldham County for the Mauvilla Plantation indicated the Taylors had 680 acres with a total of 23 slaves, only 8 over the age of 16.
About a ¼ mile from the Hollywood House there was a small group of cabins as well as a church and burying ground called Cypress Grove for the slaves. At Mauvilla there was mention of slave cabins behind the mansion but there has not been any archaeological or survey work to determine outbuildings.
The interesting aspect of John Martin and Mary Elizabeth’s life is they travelled regularly by steamboat throughout the year between their two homes in Kentucky and Arkansas, carting their children (of which they had 10) and some of their enslaved workers. The Taylor’s had 10 children, one stillborn, one drowned at 15 months, one died when 4 years old and the other 7 lived to maturity. The Taylor children were: Franklin Robertson Taylor (1847-1852), Henry Robertson Taylor (1849-1900), Samuel Mitchell Taylor (1851-1900), Jonathon Gibson Taylor (1853-1929), John Martin Taylor (1855-1904), Robert Edward Taylor (1857-1858), Eliza Mildred Taylor (1859-1931), stillborn girl, Benjamin Howes Taylor (1863-1915), Goodloe Rives Taylor (1868-1943).
Stories about the Taylor’s have been documented by family members with some of the most intriguing by Mrs. Dillard Saunders written in 1963. One includes the return of some of the slaves from Arkansas to Kentucky. Mrs. Taylor was in Arkansas when Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation and Dr. Taylor explained to the slaves in Arkansas, they were now free. He offered them work in Arkansas but if they wanted to go back to Kentucky, his wife, Miss Mary Bet (Mrs. Taylor), would take them “home” to Kentucky. On the course of the return of the “former” slaves with Mrs. Taylor to Kentucky, they had made a regular stop by steamboat at Cairo, Illinois on their journey. Mrs. Taylor was harassed by people at Cairo who seeing the entourage tried to free the slaves. A riot was deterred when a Union officer, Capt. Kiteby, from Kentucky, recognized Mrs. Taylor and provided an escort for the group to the steamboat which went on to arrive safely to Westport.
The next few columns will continue to explore the life at Mauvilla and Hollywood.
You can contact Nancy at: nancystheiss@gmail.com

The Third Party Presidential Candidate

William Morgan

In the election of 1932 a third party candidate emerged to run for the office of President of the United States. This was a first in U. S. Presidential elections. The traditional parties, the Democrats, ran Andrew Jackson as the nominee and the Whigs, who ran Kentucky Senator Henry Clay, faced opposition from the newly formed Anti-Masonic Party who ran William Wirt as their candidate. The Anti-Masonic party had formed in reaction to an incident that occurred in 1826 when William Morgan mysteriously disappeared after threatening to publish a book that would debunk the secrets of the Masonic order.

In these early years of America’s democracy, secret societies had become unpopular for various reasons. Great Britain maintained its tenacity for territorial rights as the Napoleonic Wars increased the tensions between the United States and Great Britain. Indian conflicts were subsidized by European interests to thwart any efforts from the United States to expand its western frontiers. Spanish and American relationships suffered as both fought over territory and concessions of territory in frontier America. These struggles fostered a degree of mistrust and suspicion among the American people as the newly formed U. S. was building an infrastructure of government to establish banks and economic prosperity. Outside interests were eager to grab the attention and pocketbooks of newly elected politicians as well as lay stake to promising mineral resources in the West. Any type of “private” enterprises, whether social or political, drew suspicion from the American people.

The Freemasons were a fraternal order whose history had ancient ties and included well respected American leaders such as Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. Masons represented a trusted fraternity that was quickly embraced by frontier families as a bond between strangers new to communities. It was important to have Masonic ties if you wanted to establish a new business or run for political office, particularly in small towns. To be rejected by the local Masonic order could result in ridicule and embarrassment. In addition, there were many who felt secrecy was the antithesis of a democracy, particular when there was so much conflict and pressure from outsiders.

In 1826 William Morgan viciously attacked Freemasonry and threatened to publish a book to debunk the secrets of the order. The motivation for the book supposedly occurred when Morgan was rejected as a member for a new Masonic lodge proposed in Batavia, NY. The print shop for the new book was “mysteriously” burned down and a series of events followed that jeopardized Morgan. On September 11, 1826, William Morgan was arrested for stealing a shirt and tie and taken to a jail in Canandaigua, NY. He was soon released for lack of evidence, but immediately re-arrested for failure to pay a $2.69 debt to an innkeeper. On September 12, a group of men came and paid Morgan’s fine. As they took him away Morgan was heard hollering “Murder.”

A body was recovered from Lake Ontario presumably that of Morgan. Several inquests were made concerning the body that washed upon the shore of Lake Ontario. In one inquest Morgan’s wife positively identified the body of that being her husband. In another inquest the body was identified as another man. Fifty-four masons were indicted for Morgan’s kidnapping and of those, ten Masons, including the Niagara County Sheriff, Eli Bruce, were given sentences ranging from 30 days to 28 months.

Because Morgan’s death was never confirmed, murder charges were never brought. That is one side of the Morgan story. What followed the disappearance of William Morgan was an incredible journey of tales and stories that resulted in a wave of popularity across the United States. William Morgan became a character similar to our modern day Kilroy or Waldo. He was everywhere and nowhere; was he dead or was he alive? He would appear as a sea captain in Smyrna selling fruit or was he the celebrated Indian chief, San Procope of a Native American tribe who confessed on his death bed that he was William Morgan. Or, was he that man in Russellville, Kentucky who died in 1840, confessing he was the notorious Morgan. A mariner swore that he saw William Morgan as a passenger that sailed to Holland in a respectable mercantile selling gin.

Some said that a group of Freemason’s murdered Morgan, others said it was a rue by anti-Masons to fuel support for a new political third party. Nevertheless, the event around William Morgan activities raised a notion of “skepticism” and support for those who were critics of Freemasonry and wanted “transparency.” It resulted in the anti-Masonic political party. Well, the rest is history- with the result: Andrew Jackson, winning his second term in office, had 219 electoral votes with a popular vote of 701,780. Henry Clay who represented the Republican Party, had 49 electoral votes and 401,285 popular votes. Anti-Masonic candidate William Wirt received 7 electoral votes with 101, 715 popular votes.

Rob Morris Talk at the Scottish Rite




Last night I was the guest at the Scottish Rite in Louisville to talk about my book, A Place in the Lodge: Dr. Rob Morris, Freemasonry and the Order of the Eastern Star. It was a family dinner night and met some wonderful men and women- around 100 or so folks. I gave out some “quiz” questions on Morris: Such as “Rob Morris was born in Taunton, Mass. True or False!! Had fun and received a warm reception. Sold copies of my new children’s book as well “Chickens Lay Eggs, Not Rabbits!” These images I took of the Scottish Rite Consistory building and the meeting. Thanks to Gene Crady for the invitation to be a guest speaker.

More letters from son John at the Grist Mill

Browns Mill on Currys fork

I am writing a 3 part series of articles for the weekly history column in the Louisville Courier-Journal. For the first part I included more diary entries from John to his father, Rob Morris. Here is the article. (The photograph is from our archives at the Oldham County History Center- it is a image of the Browns Mill on Curry’s Fork in Oldham County- no longer there.
The Mill
Part One
Nancy Stearns Theiss
The explosion of technology that resulted from WWII distanced our connections from things that sustain us. We no longer needed to shovel the coal to the furnace, cut wood to heat the fireplace, pump the water from the cistern or grow the wheat to grind into flour. Most folks (who remembered doing those years- now few and far between) pray gratefully to be distanced from those labor intensive tasks. But as we have forgotten the connections to things that sustain us it has come with great cost. The mass production of “things”, most of which are not sustainable, have created an explosion of problems. We no longer need to identify the soils, or water, or trees, or plants in our backyard. These basics of knowledge grounded our brains to the places we lived. The knowledge became a blueprint for our brains that connected how things operated in the world which revealed a pattern of reliance that some call ecological thinking.
Gristmills and watermills are examples of the way that people worked through the environments where they lived in the past. You grew your wheat or corn. Then you threshed the seeds from the wheat or you shucked (often by hand) the kernels of corn. You loaded the seeds and kernels on a wagon, driving it by ox or horse to the local mill. Most counties in Kentucky had 20 or more mills. Mills were powered by water. It took time to grind the wheat or corn. The mills were simple machines that operated by gears and wheels and shafts. The mill was an example of mechanics and physics which became another lesson for the community. The mills were also places where you meet, you greet and you gossip. The following are some excerpts from diary entries written by John Morris who lived by a mill.
In 1857 John Morris was 14 years old. He was the oldest son of Charlotte and Rob Morris. At the time, his family lived at Lodgeton, Ky. between Hickman and Fulton, in the far western corner of the state. John’s father, Rob, who later became Poet Laureate of Freemasonry in the 19th Century, traveled extensively and John was “in charge” of the family when his father was absent.
In a series of letters and diary entries to his father, John described life at Lodgeton often referring to the local mill as a source of community news. The following excerpts from John’s diaries to his Father describe activities around the mill.
Aug. 11, 1857
My Dear Father
Mr. Cincey has bought the largest pile of wheats I ever seen. He has got the mill all full just room enough for the machinery and a path to walk about in and he is filling up the old store house with wheat. He runs the mill night and day just as hard as he can. One of his negros run a way and he has not caught him yet. He offers 150 dollars for him, dead or alive and there is a good many men after him so eager for the 150 dollars.
Wednesday, Aug 1857
The mill run all night again last night. It has not stopped.

August 21st
Today was a very pretty day although it was a little cool in the morning and evening. Alfred (John’s younger brother) has been shelling corn all day till a while after dinner. He had to go and help lead some wagons with wheat over at the orchards to haul to Hickman to be shipped to New Orleans. Mr. Cincey didn’t buy it. I went up to the mill this evening to look around. Everything looks well- a weeks steady running makes a good deal of differences.
Tuesday, August 25
The weather has been very disagreeable for it has rained all day so that you could not get about. The mill has been running all day and is still going. It ran faster today than I ever seen it before. They have took the rocks off that they run all last week to sharpen them and run the others awhile. Mr. Cincey has not received any wheat this week and says he is not going to receive any for he has got the mill and the old store house piled up.
August 28
Today was as pretty a day as I have seen in a long time but some too hot. The mill has been running all day, they are out of barrels and they have the flour to sack up in sacks but it is not as good as barrels.
Sept. 2, 1857
It has been another good day. The mill has been running all day grinding wheat. I went up there this evening and went up in the fourth story of the mill house and one of the wings of the fan had broke and stopped the fan and the band had rubbed the wheel till it was right hot.
Monday, Sept. 7, 1857
It has been a very pretty day but hot but good enough to pull fodder. We wanted to commence yesterday but it was so cloudy that we didn’t pull any. I have been helping about the mill today just for fun. I had nothing else to do. Mr. Cincey has gone after his negro. He is up about Chicago.
Wednesday, Sept. 9, 1857
Today has not been such a pretty day as the other two days in this week but this is always the way in fodder pulling time and there is lots of people got fodder pulled down. I stuck up at the mill all night last night and I did not go to bed till after twelve o’clock.
Saturday, Sept. 12, 1957
Today was as fine a day as you ever seen for this time and that is generally wet weather. The mill did not run all day on account of the hands. They are all knocked up by not getting sleep enough and they give them half the day to sleep in.
Next week’s column focuses on Ben Hassett who restores watermills and windmills across the United States. Now settled in Louisville, Ben will discuss his projects including the restoration of the watermill on a farm in Louisville.
You can contact Nancy at: nancystheiss@gmail.com

The Masonic Breastpin


In 1852 Rob Morris published The Lights and Shadows of Freemasonry “consisting of Masonic Tales, Songs and Sketches never before published.” This book, published in 1852 by Morris’s friend, J. F. Brennan, Louisville, Ky. is written to “illustrate the principles, by exhibiting the effects of Freemasonry.” One story from the book is The Masonic Breastpin: A Tale of Indian Times. A massacre of a family had occurred outside the town of Catesby. Villagers were terrified and a small troop of volunteers (some of which had served in the War of 1812) with a self appointed Major rallied. One of the volunteers, Capt. Carnarson, was a Mason who wore a Masonic breastpin on his chest. Unfortunately the party of volunteers met with a war party of Indians who quickly dispensed the soldiers leaving only a few brave soldiers one being Capt. Carnarson. As his comrades were tortured and killed, Carnarson’s time came to be burned at the stake. “Already the flames were scorching his feet; his breath was already drawing fast and hard in the rarified atmosphere” when the chief appeared. . . “the light of the blazing fire . .glanced full upon the breastpin” on Carnarson’s bosom. When the chief beheld it he examined the breastpin which exhibited the double triangle, emblem of the Royal Arch degree. Immediately the chief had Carnarson taken from the burning fire and mumbled the world “brother” to the tribe. The two retired to the chief’s tent where Carnarson left the breastpin in the chieftain’s mantle as a pledge to be redeemed some future day.

Travel in the United States on Plank Roads

Turnpike Stock

(The image is from a stock certificate in Oldham County to help fund a plank road.Courtesy Oldham County Historical Society)

As Rob Morris traveled he would come across plank roads.Plank roads were introduced to the United States via Canada around 1840. George Geddes, born near Syracuse, NY, perfected the plank road construction techniques. Road builders would lay down two parallel lines of timber, four to five feet apart, called “sills” or “stringers” that formed the road’s foundation. Then wood planks, about eight feet long, were laid at right angles across the timbers. The weight of the planks was the only thing that secured them on the timbers. No nails or glue was used. A wide earthen track was graded along the plank road to allow for vehicles to pass another vehicle in the opposite direction. The estimated cost was about $1,500 per mile. Plank road companies rapidly appeared across the United States. Within a few years over 1,000 companies built more than 10,000 miles of plank roads nationwide.
Investments in plank roads came from the local community. Toll gates were established to collect user fees. Landowners, merchants, farmers, and artisans provided the initial stocks to build the plank roads with little dividends in return. However, the expectation of safer and more convenient travel made plank roads an easy sell for the community.
Plank roads were promoted to last eight to twelve years but in reality they needed a lot of upkeep and their life expectancy was only four or five years. They also were extremely hazardous when they began to deteriorate. Wagon wheels or horse’s legs would sometimes slip between the plank boards that needed replacement resulting in horses with broken legs and deadly accidents for travelers.
As steamboats and trains became more feasible the plank roads and turnpikes were less desirable. More landings on the Ohio River, which Morris frequently used, allowed for convenience in transport up and downstream to Cincinnati and Louisville. By 1861, when President Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Bill, the need for plank roads quickly degenerated and few if any existed by the turn of the century.

J. F. Brennan Publisher

Brennan cropped

J. F. Brennan was a good friend of Rob Morris’s and owned a printing shop in Louisville where Morris often worked and published. The printing house no longer stands today but it was located at the southwest corner of First Street and Market Street in downtown Louisville (today that is catty corner from the White Castle Hamburger Fast Food Restaurant!)