Henderson County, Kentucky




In the early days of Henderson, when settlements were very few and far between, the country wild, no roads, no conveniencies, no mode of travel, save upon the back of a horse, or on foot, the means of obtaining information from other parts of the country were poor indeed. There were no mail facilities, no way of getting the news, only through the medium of one to another, who happened to be traveling from place to place. It is not strange, therefore, that the acts of the Legislature were a long time finding their way to the people, and the people then a long time complying with the law. Officers of the law were distressingly few, and to institute legal proceedings to settle land rights, was an undertaking most of the settlers rather shrank from, than wished to undertake. The nearest courts were one hundred to two hundred miles away, with no roads or bridges. A narrow passageway or trail beaten by wild animals meandering through the cane, pea-vine, prairie grass and forest undergrowth, offered the only highway, and to make this journey was both difficult and dangerous. For this reason, perhaps more than any other, many people failed to comply with the law, and what they had earned by honest hard toil was taken away by the more active settler of a speculative and unscrupulous turn of mind. There were few men in those days to counsel with, and matters could not be brought from shapeless confusion, with such comparative ease and reasonable expense as they were when the county became more thickly populated. During the nineties, settlements were made in the county and town until it was deemed advisable to establish another county; therefore to aid in the more rapid developement of the Green River country, on the 21st day of December, 1798, the General Assembly of the State passed the following act:   

"SECTION I. Be it enacted, & c., That all of that part of the County of Christian, from and after the 15th day of May next, included in the following lands to-wit: Beginning on Trade Water, opposite the mouth of Montgomeries, thence to the head of Drake's Creek, thence down Drake's Creek to Pond River and down the same to Green River, and down the same to the Ohio River, and down the same to the mouth of Trace Water, and up the same to the beginning shall be one distinct county, and called and known by the name Henderson. But the County of Henderson shall not be entitled to a separate Representative until the number of free male inhabitants therein contained, above the age of twenty-one years, shall entitle them to one representation, agreeable to the ratio that shall hereafter be established by law.

"SEC. 2. The Quarter Sessions County for the County of Henderson shall be held annually on the first Tuesday in the months of March, May, July and October, and the County Courts for said county shall sit the same day in every other month, in which the Courts of Quarter Sessions are not herein directed to be held, in such manner, as is provided by law in respect to other counties within this State.

"SEC. 3. The Justices of the Court of Quarter Sessions and County Courts named in the Commissions for said county, shall meet at Samuel Bradley's Tavern in the Town of Henderson, in the said county, on the first court day after said division takes place, and having taken the oath prescribed by law, and a Sheriff being qualified to act, the Justices of the said courts shall proceed to appoint a clerk, separately to their respective courts, as they may severally choose to do, and to fix on a place to erect the public buildings in said county where the courts for said county thereafter shall be held."

This act made it lawful for the Sheriff of Christian County to make distress for any public dues or officers' fees unpaid by citizens, within the bounds of the new county at the time the division should take place; also, that the Courts of Christian County should have jurisdiction in all actions and suits depending therein at the time of said division, and should try and determine the same, issue process, and award execution. This act took effect May 15, 1799. Henderson was now a full-fledged county, with established boundaries, including ample territory, one would think, for all practical and reasonable purposes, yet there was a disposition to claim the peninsula northwest of the Ohio River, and now known as the bayou in Union Township, Indiana. Title Papers calling for lines in that territory which was claimed as a part of Christian County, are of record in the County Clerk's office at this time. On the 27th day of January 1810, the Legislature of Kentucky settled the question, by the passage of the following preamble and enactment;

"WHEREAS, Doubts are suggested whether the counties calling for the Ohio River in the boundary line extend to the State line on the northwest side of said river, or whether the margin of the southeast side is the limit of the county - to explain which - Be it enacted, &c., That each County of this Commonwealth calling for the river Ohio, as the boundary line, shall be considered as bounded in that particular by the State line, on the northwest side of said river, and the bed of the river and the Islands thereof, shall be in their respective counties holding the main land opposite thereto within this State, and the several county tribunals shall hold jurisdiction accordingly."

Subsequent to this in a suit of Handley's lessee, versus Anthony, concerning Kentucky's jurisdiction over the peninsula in Indiana, opposite the Town of Henderson, the Court of Appeals of Kentucky decided among other things -   

"That the boundary of the State of Kentucky extends only to low water mark on the western or northwestern side of the river Ohio, and does not include a peninsula or island on the western or northwestern bank, separated from the main land by a channel or bayou, which is filled with water only when the river rises above its banks, and is at other times dry."

This decision has forever settled the boundary line of Henderson County, so far as her northwestern line is concerned. In pursuance of the act heretofore recited, creating the County of Henderson, the five Justices of the County Court and the three of the Court of Quarter Sessions, commissioned by his excellency, the Governor, met for the first time at Bradley Tavern, in the Town of Henderson, on the fourth day of June, 1799, and organized their courts according to law. The first record says:

"This being the day directed by an act of the General Assembly, for the meeting of the Courts of Justices thereof aforesaid, for the purposes therein expressed, the said officers met as aforesaid, and constituted their courts in manner and form following: Present, Samuel HOPKINS , Abraham LANDERS , and Hugh KNOX , Gentlemen Justices of the Court of Quarter Sessions of Henderson County. Present, Charles DAVIS , Jacob BARNETT , Daniel ASHBY , John HUSBANDS , Eneas McCALLISTER and Jacob NEWMAN , Gentlemen Justices of the Peace and County Court, for Henderson County. A commission from his excellency, the Governor of the State, bearing date December 22, 1798 directed to Charles DAVIS , Jacob BARNETT , Daniel ASHBY , John HUSBANDS , Eneas McCALLISTER and Jacob NEWMAN , Esq's., appointing them Justices of the Peace in this county, was produced and read, whereupon the said gentlemen took the oath prescribed by the Constitution, and were qualified accordingly. A commission from his excellency, the Governor, bearing date December 22, 1798, directed to Andrew, ROWAN , Esq., appointing him Sheriff of the County, was produced and read, whereupon the said Andrew ROWAN took the oath prescribed by the Constitution, and with Daniel ASHBY and Jacob NEWMAN , his sureties entered into, and acknowledged their bond in the penalty of one thousand dollars for the said ROWAN'S duly and faithfully performing the said office of Sheriff according to law."

The Court of Quarter Sessions then proceeded to appoint a clerk and John David HAUSSMAN was appointed, whereupon the said HAUSSMAN took the oath, &c., and entered into bond, with General Samuel HOPKINS his surety. The County Court proceeded to appoint a clerk, and John David HAUSSMAN was appointed, and with General Samuel HOPKINS , his surety, entered into bond, &c. Edward TALBOTT produced a commission from the Governor, appointing him Surveyor of the county, whereupon he, with Isham TALBOTT , his surety, entered into bond in the penalty of one thousand pounds for the faithful performance of his duties.

The Justices of the Court of Quarter Sessions, and the Justices of the County Court consociated, proceeded to consider and fix upon a place for the seat of Justice of Henderson County, and having consulted together, ordered and determine that the public buildings be erected on the Public Square in the Town of Henderson, and that the courts for the county be held in the said Town. The Justices having determined on such matter as were confided to them conjointly by law, dissolved their sitting. The County Court continued in session, all of the qualified Justices being present. The first business presented to the court, was an indenture of bargains and sale from Henry PURVIANCE for himself, and as an attorney in fact for others, the same was acknowledged and ordered to be records. The court then adjourned to the schoolhouse.

History of Henderson County, Kentucky by Edmund L. Starling, pgs 47 - 50

Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2005 HCH&GS