Documenting my family's past for future generations. My family tree includes the Smith/Mansell families of Alabama and Oklahoma, the Castle/Day families of Kentucky and Oklahoma, the Wheat/Ming families of Texas and Oklahoma, and the Bell/Roberts families of Mississippi, Tennessee, and Oklahoma.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Linda and Becky's Excellent Adventure, Part 1: The Whitleys

I haven't written anything in a while, because I really haven't made new discoveries lately in any of my family lines. I continue to (haphazardly) search for clues to my Smith great-great-grandfather and my Roberts and Pharris ancestors in Jackson County, Tennessee. But when I got an invitation recently to a celebration of my 5th great-grandparents, William and Esther Whitley, who have been widely documented and continue to be two of my most fascinating ancestors, I knew I would have something to write about.

One day in August I got an email invitation to attend "A Day with the Descendants of Logan's Fort," to be held in Stanford, Kentucky, on September 10. I knew that William and Esther had lived at Logan's Fort before they built their brick house on the Wilderness Road, but other than that, I really didn't know much about their lives at the fort. The planners of the event were hoping to have a descendant of each of the Logan's Fort families at this special celebration, and I wanted to be there to learn more about the fort and my ancestors' participation in its history.

I did a little research and found that it was a 12-hour trip by car from my house to Logan's Fort. I love to drive, but I didn't feel comfortable going by myself. The date of the event, on a Saturday in September, meant I would almost certainly have to take off a couple of days from work. My brother was the obvious person to go with me--we have a history of genealogical expeditions--but he would also have to take a couple of days off school, harder for him than for me. He tried to help me figure out an itinerary that included a plane trip and a rental car, but I really wanted to drive. I tried to think of someone that would be able and willing to go with me and interested in the history and genealogy of Kentucky.

Aha! My cousin, Linda Castle Hess! She's retired--busy but flexible--and she and I have shared an interest in genealogy since she moved back home a few years ago. She's on the "wrong" side of the family, I thought, since the Whitleys are my mom's side, and she is a cousin on my dad's side. But maybe, just maybe, we could travel on a couple of hours east of Logan's Fort and visit our Castle homestead in West Liberty before starting back home. I contacted her, and she was more than excited to join me on a whirlwind trip to Kentucky.

We decided to get a head start by leaving town on Thursday after I got off school. I picked Linda up at her house in Sapulpa, and as she got in the car, she gave a name to our road trip. She called it "Linda and Becky's Excellent Adventure," and it was!

We set off on the first leg of our trip--to St. Louis--and then on the next day to spend the night at Mount Vernon, KY, not far from Logan's Fort and the Whitley House. The major excitement on Friday was the incessant rain, at one time so hard that we had to stop along the way at a Huddle House restaurant in Mascoutah, IL. It was there that I saw that I had an email from Peggy Denham, one of the planners of Descendants' Day. I wrote back to tell her we were on our way. She was delighted that we were coming, because apparently I was going to be the sole representative of the Whitley family descendants at the event.

On Saturday morning, with the rain stopped at last, we traveled to Stanford, KY and the Visitors' Center at Logan's Fort. Stanford is a lovely small town, the second oldest settlement in Kentucky, due to the presence of Logan's Fort. It is the county seat of Lincoln County, which once encompassed more than a third of the state of Kentucky. Records in the courthouse there go back to the 1780's and include some recorded on sheepskin. Traveling through town, we found the dead end road--Martin Luther King Street--that led us to the Logan's Fort Visitor's Center.

The founder of the fort, Benjamin Logan, came to the area in 1774 and began to build a fort in 1775 at the site of a spring called St. Asaph's. St. Asaph is the patron saint of Wales, and Logan was Irish. It is unlikely the name originated with him, but he was happy to call the fort St. Asaph's. As you can see, that name didn't stick. The building where the festivities were being held was the former Stanford ice plant which has now become the Visitor's Center. A path had been cleared to the spring which is situated right behind the building.

Logan's Fort Visitor's Center

The spring

The spring was, of course, crucial to the fort, and Benjamin Logan had an ingenious way to ensure that water was available to the fort during times of siege. A 4' deep tunnel was built between one of the fort's blockhouses to the spring house. The fort's inhabitants could get water without ever becoming a target for attack. As we learned from the first speaker at Descendants' Day, vessels to carry the water were scarce, so sometimes the settlers used hollowed-out pumpkins.

The first speaker was Dr. Kim McBride, an archaeologist who took part in the dig in the 1990's at the site of the fort. She explained how we know what the fort looked like and how it was situated relative to the spring and other natural features. An illustration of the fort was presented to Lyman Draper, an early historian, by a Captain Briggs. The detailed sketch, housed with Draper's papers at the Wisconsin Historical Society, is only about the size of an index card.

The dig uncovered hand-made nails and a hook, pieces of pottery, and the remains of a man, presumed to be William Hudson. Hudson was one of a group of men and women (including my ancestor, Esther Whitley) who went to milk the cows outside the fort and were attacked by Indians. Dr. McBride feels confident in the identity of the remains because it is known that Hudson was scalped and buried inside the fort, and the recovered skull shows evidence of scalping. Finding the remains of Hudson also helped pinpoint the site of the fort, and examination of various levels and colors of soil have helped determine the location of the tunnel to the spring.

The next part of the program was very entertaining. Everybody loaded onto a wagon, one pulled by Clydesdales and another by a tractor, and traveled a short distance to the spot where a monument commemorating Logan's Fort was dedicated 100 years ago. Amazingly, the speech given upon that day by the vice mayor of Stanford, Dr. J.G. Carpenter, was published in its entirety in the newspaper of that day and was available to the planners of the 2016 event. The original Dr. Carpenter, portrayed engagingly by Than Cutler, must have been quite a character. His speech, full of bombast and vivid vocabulary, was hilarious. To just give you an idea, his favorite name for the monument was "this ponderosity."

Than Cutler as Dr. J.G. Carpenter

A very delicious picnic lunch followed, then we gathered back inside the Vistor's Center for a talk by a local attorney and historian, Jeff Ralston. His presentation was very informative and he gained my esteem by mentioning my ancestor, Esther Whitley, several times. He had intended to give the talk at the site of the fort, which I had not yet seen because it was up the hill and behind some trees. However, it was just too hot for any of us to stand up there for an hour, so he spoke instead at the Center.

Seven families lived at Logan's Fort and inhabited seven cabins, three on the side of the fort that had two blockhouses, and four on the side with the single blockhouse. The heads of the seven families were Benjamin Logan, Ben Pettit, William Whitley, William Menifee, George Clark, James Mason, and Samuel Coburn. Several single men also lived in the fort, occupying the blockhouses. Various accounts I have read put the attack on the group outside the fort at the beginning of the siege, or at the end when the settlers believed that the Indians had finally given up. The date seems beyond question: May 20, 1777. As mentioned before, William Hudson was killed. Another of the men, Burr Harrison, was badly wounded but still alive. Using something as a shield--a feather mattress, roll of wool cloth, or bale of cotton--Benjamin Logan was able to reach Harrison and help him back to the fort, where he later died. Eventually, the Indian attacks lessened, and by 1779 the Whitleys were able to return to their own land.

I learned much that I did not know, but was also glad to hear from an expert researcher this story about Esther Whitley: Many Indian leaders came to Logan's Fort to negotiate with the settlers. They often urged William Whitley to compete with them in shooting contests. William told them that if they could ever beat his wife that he would consent to shoot with them, but that never happened because they could never beat Esther!

Again we climbed onto wagons and took a short ride to the fort where we explored and then gathered for a photo. 

Only one wall of the fort with two blockhouses has been built. The Logan's Fort Foundation hoped to build the entire fort with only the technology available in 1775, but it has become so expensive that they may have to finish it with modern tools. The most impressive feature of the fort to me was also one of Benjamin Logan's innovations. Mr. Ralston had reminded us of all the fort gates that we have seen in movies. They all open out, and once those seeking shelter have been let inside, somebody has to pull those heavy gates shut and bar them. Logan's Fort had a different type of gate. Perfectly balanced on hinges, it could be pulled up with a mere leather thong; once everyone was inside, all that was needed was to let go of the thong and the gate closed itself.

Logan's Fort



Linda and Becky's Excellent Adventure at Logan's Fort

On May 20-22, 2016, the siege of 1777 was reenacted at the rebuilt Logan's Fort. I wish I could have been there. This video is pretty neat and gives you a good idea of the appearance of the fort and events during the siege.

We left during the last presentation to make it to the Whitley House by 4:30, when the last tour begins. I so wanted Linda to see the house. I had told her that it was the first brick house in Kentucky but I think she was really expecting a glorified log cabin. We come from Oklahoma, after all, where anything over 100 years old is pretty special. The Whitley House is 220+ years old, and it really is pretty amazing inside and out. This is my third time to visit the house, and I always learn something new. (See my post, "Daughter of the American Revolution," for more about the Whitleys.)

We had planned to spend the night closer to West Liberty and the Castle side of our excellent adventure. But the wind was coming up, and it was looking like rain, so we spent the night in Berea, Kentucky, not knowing what an interesting day was coming up.

1 comment:

  1. Becky-- I just am so excited to find your blog! I too am a descendant of the Whitleys and Logans! Let me know if you can see this message, Carolyn Stephenson Shelhamer, Abilene, tX