Henderson County, Kentucky Biography

General Samuel Hopkins
"Father of Henderson"

General Samuel Hopkins
was destined to become a very great and famous man. He was born April 9, 1753 in Albemarle County, Virginia, the first son of Dr. Samuel Hopkins and his wife, Isabella Taylor, and a grandson of Dr. Arthur Hopkins and his wife, Elizabeth Pettus. Dr. Arthur Hopkins was the first of the Hopkins name to settle in Virginia. He came to America from Ireland with his two brothers in the year 1705. One of the brothers settled in the East and from him descended Stephen Hopkins, one of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Samuel Hopkins, through his mother, Isabella Taylor, was a descendant of many very prominent and distinguished Virginia families, namely Pendle, Taylor, Barbour, Breckenridge and Cabell and others. Isabella Taylor Hopkins was a first cousin to Patrick Henry and was closely related to both President Zachary Taylor and President Madison. Her lineage has been traced back to William the Conqueror and to Emperor Charlemagne.

Samuel Hopkins studied to become a lawyer and a surveyor. But when the great struggle began with the British for our freedom and independence, he at once answered the call of his Country. He was one of the most distinguished officers of the Revolutionary War and played a conspicuous and noted part for eight long years. Few officers of is rank or station performed more active duty, rendered more the respect and confidence of the Command-in-chief George Washington. He served with distinction as a member of General Washington's staff and was one of the picked men who crossed the Delaware on a Christmas Even night, in a driving storm of sleet and drifting ice when Washington surprised the Hessians at Trenton. In the old original orderly book of the Tenth Virginia Regiment there were frequent entries recording the devoted and arduous duties of Lt. Colonel Samuel Hopkins during the terrible and tragic winter at Valley Forge - from presiding at Court Martials to maintaining the "espirit de corps." of General Washington's ragged veterans.

The services of Lt. Colonel Samuel Hopkins as given in Heitman's "Historical Register of Officers in the Continental Army -- 1775 - 1783 are as follows:
"Captain" - 6th Virginia Regiment - February 24, 1776
"Major" - 6th Virginia Regiment - November 29, 1777
"Lt. Colonel" - 14th Virginia Regiment - June 19, 1778
"Lt. Colonel - 10th Virginia Regiment - Oct 13, 1778

Samuel Hopkins fought valiantly in the Battles of Brandywine, Princeton, Trenton, Monmouth and Germantown. In the Battle of Germantown he commanded a Battalion of Light Infantry, and while nobly battling for his Country and for her rights, he received a very severe wound, after almost the entire loss of those under his command. He was Lieutenant Colonel of the Tenth Virginia Regiment at the siege of Charleston in South Carolina, and after the death of Colonel Richard Parker, he became the Colonel of the Regiment and served as such until the end of the war. At the surrender of Charleston on May 20, 1780, Colonel Hopkins was taken prisoner along with his officers. The prisoners were taken by British ship around the coast to Virginia. The prisoners were badly treated and Samuel Hopkins determined to help his officers. He threatened to raise a mutiny and seize the ship. After this the men were treated with more kindness and respect. After sometime, Samuel Hopkins and his officers were exchanged and on February 12, 1781, Samuel Hopkins was transferred to the 1st Virginia Regiment. He was an original member of the Society of the Cincinnati in Virginia.

On August 27, 1774, The Transylvania Company, sometimes called the Richard Henderson Company was formed in North Carolina. This was one of first of many land companies and was composed of a "Company of Gentlemen Adventurers" -- nine in number and all living in north Carolina. The President and leader was the brilliant and eloquent Jurist and colonizer, Judge Richard Henderson. He has been called the "Political Father of Kentucky" and "one of the greatest of American land speculators and Commonwealth builders." His talents demanded stirring and brilliant opportunities -- so he turned towards Kentucky, then a most exciting subject.

Under the leadership of Richard Henderson, the Transylvania Company accomplished great things in Kentucky. It was this Company that laid the foundation on which Kentucky was built. It was also this Company that negotiated the Great Treaty with the Indians at Wataugua. And it was after the loss of the vast lands acquired from the Cherokees in this treaty, that Virginia "in consideration" of their great loss, gave the Company 200,000 acres of land situated between the Ohio and Green Rivers. This was known as the Henderson Grant. But the settling of this Grand was long delayed. It lay far beyond the frontier and was considered the "Far West" open to Indian raids and over run by a ruthless band of river pirates. The Indiana village of Shawneetown was across the river and not far away.

Near the end of the eighteenth century, all of the members of the Transylvania or Richard Henderson Company had passed away except three, Judge John Williams, James Hogg and Nathaniel Hart. Their great leader, Judge Richard Henderson had died, at his home in North Carolina, on January 30, 1785. But there were heirs from the deceased members and Amelia Johnston, the only child and heir of William Johnston, became the only woman member. William Johnston had acted as secretary and treasurer of the Company for over a decade.

Now this group, decided to found a town on the Richard Henderson Grant along the Ohio river. They had some knowledge of the chosen site, as it was known to the river men as "Red Banks" from the high red bluffs that lifted the land far above the highest floods. In later years, the town was known as the "Floodless City" on the Ohio.

The Company also knew that a few settlers had come down the river on flatboats and landed at Red banks and had built cabins and a small stockade. This was at the crossroads of the Shawnee Trail and the Natchez Trace. These pioneers, fifteen families in all, had settled within the Grant with neither title or grant to the land, as early as 1791 - 1792.

It was about this time, now that the Revolutionary War was over, that Samuel Hopkins had left his home in Virginia and gone to Hillsborough, North Carolina. Here he contracted for the erection of the first building ever erected upon the Campus of any State University in America the old East Building, and also the building of the official home of the President of the University of North Carolina, because of his efficient work, Colonel Richard Burton, secretary of the Board of Trustees, urged the Transylvania Company to engage Samuel Hopkins as agent to arrange for and direct the subdivision of the land lying on the Ohio and Green Rivers.

Early in the year 1797, The Company did engage Samuel Hopkins as agent and attorney and Captain Thomas Allin as surveyor and sent them to the Henderson Grant to lay out the town.

Hopkins and Allin kept very complete notes of their work and from these notes we learn how "Samuel Hopkins set out from his home in Hanover County, Virginia on February 16, 1797 for Kentucky." After passing the first mountains the weather became violent, with rain and snow. He reached Danville, Ky., on March 10, 1797 and was joined by Captain Thomas Allin, who was to survey the Grant. Three hands were also engaged as chain-men and markers. At Lexington, Mr. Purviance, a land speculator, also joined the party. On the way Elisha Howard was employed as a guide, hunter and messenger. The horses and supplies were sent on by land but Hopkins and his group of men came down the Green river to the Ohio by a parogue. They reached the site of Red Banks, March 30, 1797. The business of laying out the town began immediately. The work was greatly retarded by heavy rains and flooding rivers. It rained for twenty days and both the Ohio and Green rivers were flooded.

Samuel Hopkins did a most intelligent piece of work in laying off the Town. The original plan of the "Old City" shows that four streets were two and a quarter miles long and parallel with the Ohio river; three of them were one hundred feet wide, the fourth street, Water Street, was two hundred feet wide. These four streets were intersected by twenty-five cross streets, also one hundred feet wide. These beautiful wide streets in Henderson came about because Samuel Hopkins had a haunting fear of fire. Therefore, he made the streets wide so a fire could not "jump across" and only one block was likely to burn down at a time. Six blocks cutting through the exact center of the town were given by the Transylvania Company for a park and other uses. This was the first municipal park west of the Alleghenies and was named Transylvania Park in honor of the founding fathers. Later it was renamed Central Park.

On July 15, 1797, Samuel Hopkins sent his report, together with Captain Allin's description of the tract to the Transylvania Company in North Carolina. The report closed with these words"

"As to our work, I hope and believe it will be found as accurate as a work of this kind can well be -- that there may be imperfections in it, I have no doubt, but I am morally certain that it contains as much perfection as is necessary.--We left the Grant on the 1st of June, when we arrived in Mercer, it employed the Surveyor twelve days to finish the Platts, certificates, etc. I left that place 22 June and arrived at my home on 6th, July 1797, having been out 141 days."

Signed Samuel Hopkins

A meeting of the Transylvania or Richard Henderson Company was held at Williamsborough, North Carolina on Monday, 31st of July, 1797. Samuel Hopkins met with them and reported his proceedings in the said business with a Plat and description of the survey, -- all of which was unanimously approved of. It was also approved that the new town was to be called Henderson in honor of Colonel Richard Henderson, who had been the guiding influence of the Company until his death in 1785. But the old name "Red Banks" still clung to the town for many years.

Samuel Hopkins was given his preference of the ten-acre lots laid out around the town of Henderson and the thanks of the Company for the faithful and complete manner in which her performed his duties of his appointment.

The Hopkins family was one of the first to return and settle on the newly opened Grant. Samuel Hopkins became a promoter, conceiving and starting many good things for the new town and county of Henderson. He wrote glowing reports to his friends in Virginia and North Carolina and soon many of the heirs of the members of the Transylvania Company came and settled on their land in the Grant. Others came and built their homes on plantations or in the town. In 1817, John James Audubon and his family came from Louisville, Ky., to the new Henderson. Land outside the Grant was given by Virginia to Officers and soldiers of the Revolutionary War.

Samuel Hopkins began the practice of law and became the first judge of the first Court held in Henderson. The following story is recorded in one of the Old Court books: "Being made angry, he uttered an oath by saying "By God." The law at that time was that whosoever uttered an oath should pay a fine to be determined by the Court. So, Hopkins was presented before the Commissioners and upon being examined, he confessed his crime and paid a fine of five shillings to the Court. He then took his seat and presided as Judge on the first day of the first Court.
Samuel Hopkins kept in touch with every phase of life in Henderson and Henderson county. As a farmer he took great delight in the rich Kentucky soil. He experimented with different crops and kept exact records of the results of these crops, where sold and the price obtained. By 1800 Henderson County was producing abundant crops and immense quantities of them, especially tobacco, were floated down the river to New Orleans.

The health of the settlers seemed to be excellent. Samuel Hopkins recorded in his notes on July 15, 1800 - "There is not at this time ten sick persons of all disorders in Henderson County." In 1802, he wrote: - "Through this year the people in all our settlement have been extremely healthy. I have not heard of anyone sick enough to take physic or had died."

By the year 1799, Henderson did not have representation in the Kentucky Assembly. Hopkins commented on this state of affairs in a letter written to Colonel Thomas Hart of Lexington, Kentucky: - "I hear your town and neighborhood are deeply engaged in politics - the subject of the approaching election will cause the explosion off much wind and shedding of much ink. Not so here. I do not think one-half hour has been consumed with us on the subject. The Assembly in their law arranging the places of holding the elections and appointing the Representatives did us such manifest injustice that we care very little for the present. Besides in a few years you know, there will be another convention conjured up by some restless Spirits and then perhaps we shall be thought entitled to an equal representation."

In the years 1800-1801-1803-1806, Samuel Hopkins represented his district in the House of Representatives. He procured the passage of a law "Enabling aliens residing in the State of Kentucky to hold lands in fee." This was a privilege not extended to that class in any other State. Hopkins also served as a member of the Kentucky State Senate from 1809 to 1813. In 1809 he was one of Kentucky's Presidential Electors, casting his vote for Madison.

With the outbreak of the second war with Great Britain, Samuel Hopkins again answered the call of his Country. In this War of 1812, he was commissioned Major General by President Madison. After that he was always referred to as "General". he was put in charge of 2,000 men and in October, 1812, Governor Isaac Shelby gave him permission to take these mounted volunteers against the Kickapoo Indians on the Illinois river. This party was misled by guides and after wandering several days about the prairie, the men began to desert against the wishes and commands of the officers. There was a lack of provisions as their beef had been lost on the trail. Other provisions had not been delivered. In November, 1812, General Hopkins collected another band of infantry and marched up the Wabash as far as Prophets Town, destroying several Indian Villages, but lost part of the force by ambush. The Indians refused to combat and later sued for peace. Samuel Goode Hopkins, son of the General served as Captain in the United States Army in the War of 1812.

Again General Samuel Hopkins returned to his home in Henderson, but he was elected Representative to the 13th United States Congress from Kentucky, and took his seat -- June 26, 1813. After one term, he returned to his plantation and his family and friends.

General Hopkins had married Elizabeth (Betty) Branch Bugg, the daughter of Jacob Bugg. Their marriage license was dated January 10, 1783 in Mecklenburg County, Virginia. To this union was born, in Virginia, eight children. They were:

1. Samuel Goode Hopkins -- born 1784. Died in Missouri
2. Elizabeth Branch Hopkins - born 1786,. Married Colonel Philip Barbour.
3. Nancy Ann Taylor - born 1788. Married Judge Thomas Towels.
4. Jacob Bugg Hopkins - born 1790. Married Carolina Imlay Brent.
5. Lucinda (Lucy) Bugg Hopkins - born 1791. Married Dr. James Wardlow.
6. Sarah Pettus Hopkins - born 1794. Married Nicholas Horseley. She was noted for being the most intelligent and best informed woman in Kentucky.
7. Martha Isabella Hopkins - born 1796. Married George Lynn of Henderson.
8. Mary (Maria) Bush Hopkins - born 1796. Unmarried. Became the owner of the home plantation after the death of the General.

General Samuel Hopkins was certainly an extraordinary man. He was the first person of the Episcopalian faith in Henderson and often read services in the Union Church, located on a hill in Transylvania (now Central) Park. He was a self made man and rose to such a position of popularity that he was considered, all over the State of Kentucky, as one of her most talented sons. Hopkins County, Kentucky and Hopkinsville, Kentucky, were named in his honor. Such was the character of General Samuel Hopkins, that without doubt, he did more for the good and prosperity of the early settlement of Red Banks, later named Henderson, than any other man. He can truly be called the "Father of Henderson and Henderson County, Kentucky."

General Hopkins was quite a rich man in his time and "Spring Garden" his beautiful plantation, located about two miles east of Henderson, on the Zion road, was among his landed possessions. The appraisement of his estate in 1820 was listed as $20,474.00, a fortune at that time.

At the age of sixty-six, the "Old General" died - September 16, 1819 at his home. His remains were interred in the family burying ground at "Spring Garden." A simple marble shaft was placed on his last resting place. The inscription on this monument reads thus:
"Sacred to the Memory of General Samuel Hopkins

Who was born 9th. Apr. 1753 and Died Sept. 16th 1819.

Firm with Temperance, Benevolent with Sincerity and Liberal without Ostentation. He Closed in the Bosom of his Family, a Long Life of Exemplary Usefulness in Military and Civil Employment, Characterized by Ardent Devotion to his Country and the Best Interests of Man.

Reprinted with permission, Gleaner Journal, Henderson, Kentucky, April 8, 1973 in regard to the General Samuel Hopkins Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution honoring General Samuel Hopkins in their Bi-Centennial Commemorative Project.

For more information please view:
General Samuel Hopkins Chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution

Sons of the American Revolution Vanderburgh and Posey County, Indiana

Charter of the General Samuel Hopkins Chapter

Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS

Copyright 2002 HCH&GS