Henderson County, Kentucky


This was the first school of any note in Henderson County. On the 10 th of February, 1798, an act of the Legislature was approved, donating and setting a part of the public lands of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, 6,000 acres each, for the benefit of certain academies and seminaries of learning. A similar act was approved February 11 th , 1809, eleven years afterwards, embracing like provisions and extending therein to Henderson and other counties. The following is a copy of section one of the act of 1809:

“Be it enacted by the General Assembly , That the Justices of the County courts of Henderson, Caldwell and Hopkins Counties are hereby authorized to procure to be located, surveyed and patented, 6,000 acres of any vacant and unappropriated land in the Commonwealth for the use of Seminaries of learning within their respective counties, except the lands to which the Indian title is extinguished by the treaty of Tellico, and the lands lying west of the dividing ridge between the waters of Cumberland and Tennessee.”

Under the terms of this act no person was to be permitted to settle upon any of this reservation after the expiration of one month's time from the passage of this act.

From absolute negligence, or else some other palliating reason, the Justices of Henderson County failed to locate, have surveyed and patented, the six thousand acres of land offered them by the State. Subsequent to this act, to-wit: on the thirty-first day of December, 1813, another act was passed establishing an Academy in the town of Henderson, to be known as the “Henderson Academy.” Section two of this act constituted Adam Rankin, Joseph Fuquay, Daniel McBride, William R. Brown, James Hillyer, Richard Henderson and Wyatt H. Ingram a body politic and corporate to be known by the name of the “Trustees of the Henderson Academy.” They were given perpetual succession and all the powers and privileges enjoyed by the Trustees of any Academy or Seminary of learning in the State. They were authorized in their corporate capacity to purchase or receive by donation any lands, tenements, hereditaments, moneys, goods, rents and chattels, and to hold the same by the name aforesaid, to them and their successors forever, for the use and benefit of the said Academy, and to sell the same if deemed proper and apply the proceeds to the use and benefit thereof.

On the sixth day of June, 1814, in accordance with the act, Dr. Adam Rankin, first named trustee, called a meeting of the Trustees, and the following were present: Adam Rankin, Joseph Fuquary, Daniel McBride, James Hillyer, Wyatt Ingram and Richard Henderson. These trustees met at the house of Joseph Fuquary and severally took the oath of office as prescribed by the act. Dr. Adam Rankin was unanimously elected President of the Board and Richard Henderson, Clerk.

On the fourteenth day of June 1814, it was ordered by the Board that Rev. Daniel Comfort be appointed a tutor to take charge of the pupils of the Academy for the space of six months, under the direction of the Board, and that he be paid for that time the sum of two hundred and fifty dollars. The price of tuition was fixed as follows: for the learned languages and sciences, $20.00 per annum, reading, writing, arithmetic and English grammar, $15.00; reading, writing and spelling, $10.00, and an additional charge of two dollars was made against each student to defray the expense of house rent and fuel.

The Board then rented of Mrs. Catherine Brent the old log house known for years as “Blackberry Hall,” and the lot upon which it stood, and the garden lot, all for the sum of sixty dollars for one year. Old “Blackberry Hall,” it will be remembered, stood on the corner of Elm and Third cross streets, now handsomely improved. It was call Blackberry from the great number of berries growing around it.

On the third day of August 1814, Richard Henderson died and his place was filled by the election of Walter Alves. Dr. Adam Rankin and William R. Bowen contracted with the Board to furnish wood to the Academy during the winter at one dollar per cord.

January 31 st , 1815, an act of the Legislature was passed increasing the number of trustees to seven and at a meeting of the Board pursuant to the act the following were elected: John Holloway, General Samuel Hopkins, Obadiah Smith, Samuel Woodson, Samuel Casey and James M. Hamilton. Rev. James McGready, the great revivalist of 1800, was unanimously elected a member of the Board.

Lands had been located under the act in Hopkins County and a school house had been built on the Seminary ground in the town of Henderson. All things were not working as the trustees wanted. At a meeting of the Board, May 17 th 1815, the finance committee were instructed to report the best mode of increasing, and the propriety of selling, the Seminary lands. A committee was then appointed to have seats and desks built for the accommodation of the pupils. The school had so grown that it was found necessary to employ an usher of under teacher, and for this purpose Rev. Daniel Comfort was allowed $250, including board and tuition, for the purpose of employing an usher or under teacher. The rules for the government of the school were very strict. Rule No. 7 was as follows:

“Reverence and obedience to teachers are the first duties of all students. A strict observance of decency and politeness in their deportment toward each other, as well as toward all other persons. Every species of gaming, drunkenness, frequenting disorderly or immoral houses, keeping bad company, being found in unlawful assemblages, profane swearing, or bad or immoral conduct of any and every kind, is strictly and absolutely forbidden.”

There were a great number of pupils, and it seems that the majority of them were credit pupils. Certain it was the Board, in the latter part of 1815, found itself in debt, and not only in debt, but involved in a serious unpleasantness with the principal, Rev. Daniel Comfort.

The tuition accounts were placed in the hands of the Sheriff for collection, and for the time being the Trustees had to individually pay off the then outstanding debts. On the 29 th of March 1816, the Board discharged Mr. Comfort and directed the President, Dr. Rankin, to employ counsel and immediately institute suit against him for a breach of the contract entered into on July 10 th 1815. James M. Hamilton, Clerk of the Board, made the following laconic note at the close of this meeting: “The end of Daniel Comfort's reign in Henderson Academy.”

From the very beginning it appears that the Board and Rev. Daniel Comfort failed to get along as smoothly as the necessity of the case demanded, and as a necessary consequence, the influence of the school was impaired. Trustees became dissatisfied and resigned one after another, and eventually, as we shall see, the school, as an institute of learning, ceased to exist. There can be no doubt entertained of the greet good brought to society, and the community at large, in the work of the trustees, and really, through their untiring labors and liberality, a good school was established and taught for many years. There was an outside trouble existing between the Board and Mr. Comfort, of which the records hint, but furnish no explanatory satisfaction.

On the third day of September 1817, Elisha N. Plumb, of Philadelphia, was employed at a salary of $600 to take charge of the Academy.

The Trustees were getting deeper and deeper in debt every day, and how to remedy matters was a question difficult of solution. Elisha N. Plumb had arrived from Philadelphia and his traveling expenses amount to $59.93. This amount had to be raised by the Trustees, and so it was all along the line. It was proposed to sell the Academy grounds. Then again, the Legislature was asked to pass a law authorizing the Trustees to raise a sum not exceeding $3,000 by lottery. This the Legislature did, but the lottery never materialized. Francis E. Walker, Robert Speed, James Wilson and Robert B. Streshly were appointed to superintend the lottery, but from some unknown cause the scheme was abandoned. Robert Terry preferred charges against Mr. Plumb for expelling a scholar without authority, and again for immoderate correction. The Board adjudged Mr. Plumb guilty, and directed that only switches should be used in correcting scholars.

On the first day of March Mr. Plumb vacated and on May 14 th Rev. D. C. Banks took charge as principal of the Academy, and the number of pupils limited to forty. Payments had become more prompt and the number of pupils increased. It was now determined to employ an assistant to Mr. Banks, and on the twentieth day of April 1822, a contract was entered into with Mr. Banks as principal, and Miss C. Selliman, as assistant, at and for the sum of $1,200, with the understanding that Miss Selliman would take charge of the female pupils in a separate room, under the general superintendence of the Trustees and the principal. It was then ordered that the price per session for female pupils be fixed at eight dollars and the number limited to twenty.

Rev. Banks taught up to January 1 st 1823, when Rev. Henry Gratton was employed as principal. Mr. Gratton's health failed him, and on the sixth day of February 1820, he resigned. Thereupon a contract was effected with Captain Francis E. Walker, with a curious proviso. It was resolved by the Board that in place of the usual vacations allowed by the rules that Captain Walker (who was a lawyer) be permitted to take the time required by the sessions of the several courts beyond the usual vacations. It was then ordered that sixteen weeks' tuition should be considered as completing a session of the school. Prior to February 27 th 1824, the Seminary building had been used by any religious denomination desiring to hold services. Upon one occasion, it is said that the door of the building unintentionally locked against a certain congregation, which had assembled for worship. Captain Daniel McBride, a Christian man and at one time a trustee, seeing this, applied the hell of his unqualified brogan, and without the use of magical words, bolts, hasps and fastenings flew in every direction. The parson at the head of his flock immediately entered, and in a few moments was feeding his lambs upon such spiritual food as he was able to command from his limited acquaintance with the holy book. Without pretending to know positively, it may be inferred, however, that from this proceeding emanated the following:

“ Resolved , That after the first of April next, religious societies of any kind be prohibited from holding their meetings in the Academy without the consent of the Board of Trustees.

“That Captain Smith, Captain F. E. Walker, James Alves and Robert Speed be appointed a committee to have the door of the Seminary thoroughly repaired, a good lock put on it, and such other repairs made as to them may seen necessary and practicable.”

Captain Walker gave up the school at the end of his first year and from that time there was never another teacher employed by the Trustees. August 21 st 1824, Rev. Azra Lee was granted the use of the Academy for a short time. February 19 th 1825, the Board turned over to James Hillyer the globes and tables in part payment of a debt due him. A committee was then appointed to settle all outstanding claims against the Board.

On the twenty-fifth of February 1826, the Academy was let free for one year to George Gayle, provided he would organize a school. Mr. Gayle taught for three years, when the building was let to a Mr. Endicott. On the twenty-second day of October 1838, Edmund L. Starling, William Rankin, Daniel H. Deacon, Wyatt H. Ingram, John G. Holloway and Thos. Towles, Jr., were appointed Trustees. A number of land warrants, calling for hundreds of acres of land had been located in Hopkins County and no attention whatever had been given this liberal donation from the State. The new Trustees above named, took the matter in hand and appointed Thomas Towles, Jr., a committee to make provisional arrangement with Ambrose G. Gordon to preserve the lands belonging to the Seminary and lying in Hopkins County.

On the twenty-fifth day of February 1839, Robert Speed was appointed to superintend the Seminary lands, with authority to sell at the best price, taking care to sell in such quantities and such shape as would leave no refuse lands, and at the same time bring the best price. On the twentieth day of November 1839, Ambrose G. Gordon was appointed in place of Speed with the same instructions.

July 18 th 1840, John McCullagh was permitted to take possession of the Seminary building as the tenant of the Board. He occupied it for three years. July 12 th 1843, the Board took possession of the building and directed a committee to examine the same and report any necessary repairs, and to devise a plan for the reorganization of the Academy. Edmund H. Hopkins, from the committee reported a plan which was tabled by a large majority and that was the last of the Academy.

From June 1814, to July 1843, the Trustees, without the hope of pecuniary fee, managed this property, keeping a good school and frequently paying out of their own pockets amounts necessary to keep it from surrendering to the inevitable fate of all institutions without money. A large majority of our oldest citizens were educated at the old Seminary, and very many yet considered young men learned the primary branches at that school.

A debt of gratitude is due to those old men, who toiled and self-sacrificed for the good of the youths of the town and surrounding country, which can never be paid, for they have gone never to return. No school was taught after the reign of Mr. McCullagh, at least so far as the Trustees were concerned. The record of the school was a high one, and perhaps no institution was ever better managed or more closely guarded in all of its important points.

On the eleventh day of June 1853, the Trustees leased the Seminary lot to D. R. Burbank for $15 per annum. June 10 th 1854, the power of attorney given Ambrose Gordon, of Hopkins County, was revoked and Henry J. Eastin appointed agent of the Board, with power to investigate the landed interest, but more especially the coal interest in Hopkins County, and to settle with Mr. Gordon for lands sold by him. From this time on to 1868 the Board of Trustees were as vigilant as possible, yet with all their watchfulness land sharks and timber thieves continued to annoy them. A large number of acres had been sold, and in many instances to worthless parties. Suits had to be instituted and the lands reclaimed. The expense of this litigation and the expense of an agent and surveyor continually watching squatters and unscrupulous settlers, was necessarily heavy, and not until after the war were the lands considered valuable.

On the tenth of April 1886, William Rankin, former Treasurer of the Board, tendered his report of moneys and notes on hand. The following is a copy:

Cash on hand…………………………………………………………….$ 259.33
Note on John O. Cheaney, principal…………..……….………………... 637.20
Note on Isham Cottingham, Commissioner Henderson County,
Principal………………………………………………………… 745.00
Note on F. E. Walker, principal……………………………………..…...1,380.00
Note on Barnard & Jenkins, principal………………………………….. 1,200.00

Mr. Rankin was succeeded in 1868 by Hon. Henry F. Turner, and on the twenty-first day of January 1871, he, as Treasurer, tendered the following report:

Balance in money in his hands………………………………………..$ 2,932.78
J. O. Cheaney, one note dated May 11 th 1864…………………….. 500.00
Same, one note dated March 13 th 1865……………………………. 637.20
N. H. Barnard & Co., one note dated December 14 th 1866………. 1,200.00 Total…………………………………………………………………….$ 5,269.98

On the fifteenth day of March 1869, the Henderson High School was incorporated, and on the same day an act to organize and establish a system of public schools in Henderson was passed. Section fifteen of the act, so far as the same refers to the Henderson Academy is here given:

“The Mayor and Common Council of the City of Henderson shall provide the funds for building the school houses and paying all expenses of said public schools, and for that purpose an act entitled an act to establish an ‘Academy' in the town of Henderson, in Henderson County, and the several acts amendatory thereof be and they are hereby repealed and that all the property, money, rights and credits of the said Henderson Academy be and they are hereby vested in the Board of Trustees created by this act, and the said Board of Trustees are authorized to sell and convey all the real estate and interest therein thus transferred to them and apply the proceeds thereof, and also any money or credits now held by said academy or belonging to it, and any money otherwise provided by this act to the erection of school houses in the City of Henderson.”

In obedience to this act, on the twenty-first day of January 1871, the Treasurer was directed to pay over to the Trustees of the Henderson High School all of the money and notes held by him as Treasurer of the Academy.

The Trustees of the Henderson Public Schools, proceeding under this act, were prompt in demanding of the Trustees of the Henderson Seminary the funds and lands held by them. The demand was a promptly rejected. Suit was then instituted for the property, and in the due course of time, after much litigation, the same was compromised to the satisfaction of all parties concerned. Since that time the property has been controlled by the Board of Trustees of the Henderson High School, composed of the Trustees of the Henderson Public Schools and three members appointed by the County Court.

Of late years all of the Hopkins lands have been sold, and recently the lot on the corner of Fourth and Elm Streets in the city, was disposed of at a good round sum. The fund now in the hands of R. E. Cook, Treasurer of the High School Board, amounts to twenty-two thousand and five hundred dollars. Nineteen thousand invested in bonds and three thousand five hundred held in notes of the Ohio Valley Railway Company. Thus it will be seen that after a period of nearly seventy-five years of vexation of spirit, the original trustees and their successors in office have succeeded in saving a handsome school fund, which land pirates and other genteel robbers spent years in trying to get their iron grasp upon. As it is, many hundred acres of land were lost, but to the fidelity of the old trustees all honor is due for securing what is left.


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