I’m writing about both Bracken and Mason Counties in this essay, because my ancestors were in these counties at about the time Kentucky was going through a process of rapid county formation and the county names and boundaries were kind of fluid. One record I have, for example, says that one of my ancestors was born in “Bracken, Mason County, Kentucky.” I can’t figure that out so I’ll talk about both counties to make sure I cover everyone.
Both Bracken and Mason Counties were among the earliest counties formed in Kentucky – Mason County as an original county at the time of statehood in 1792, and Bracken County just four years later. They are both located on the Ohio River, more than 400 miles southwest of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The most important city in Mason County is Maysville and the most significant town in Bracken County is Augusta. I have some slender evidence that some of my ancestors lived in Maysville, but I generally have information indicating only that they were in either Bracken or Mason County.
Evolution of County Boundaries in Kentucky
All of the following maps are from http://www.mapofus.org.
A (Very) Little History
It took Americans 150 years to move from their early settlements on the eastern seaboard into Kentucky. Colonies were established at Jamestown in 1607, at New Amsterdam in 1608, at Plymouth in 1620, and in Maryland in 1634; however, the white first settlement in Kentucky, Harrods Town in what is now Mercer County in central Kentucky, was established in 1774, more than 150 years later. Exploration and settlement were delayed by both the physical challenge of traveling over the mountain ranges of the Appalachian chain and the security challenge of confronting (and eventually suppressing) the Native American tribes who were accustomed to using what some called “the dark and bloody ground” for their own purposes.
The story of the early settlement of Kentucky is well documented. In the 1750s, a 16-year-named Daniel Boone traveled with his family from their home in Pennsylvania over the Shenandoah Valley’s Great Wagon Road to the Yadkin River Valley in northwestern North Carolina. He served in a North Carolina militia unit from 1755-56 during the French and Indian War, and returned to Yadkin and married in 1756.
In the face of continuing raids by the Cherokee Indians in North Carolina, in 1758 Boone moved with his family to Culpeper County, Virginia (in the central part of the state) Virginia. After the threat was diminished in 1762, the family moved back to North Carolina, and Boone began to lead regular journeys of exploration throughout the region – including his first visit to Kentucky in 1767. In 1773, after several more exploratory and hunting trips to Kentucky, he led a party of pioneers over what came to be called the Wilderness Road into Kentucky (which would be identified officially as Kentucky County, Virginia, in 1776). Boone’s little party was confronted by resistance from Indians in the area, and Boone’s son was among those killed in these encounters. After a period of conflict know as Lord Dunmore’s War (which I talked about in my earlier essay on Augusta County, Virginia), white settlement into Kentucky County resumed.
This map shows the routes of these two major thoroughfares that were essential to the movement of hundreds of thousands of pioneers from the Atlantic seaboard into the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys.
It is possible, although not likely, that they took a different route to Kentucky – through the Cumberland Narrows, an Appalachian Mountain gap in western Maryland. This was the route that General Braddock’s Army took as it moved west in 1755 to take on French forces in the area. Despite Braddock’s defeat and subsequent death in this campaign, the fort they had established – Fort Cumberland – remained intact, and the fledgling settlement around it survived. In 1806, the US Congress had decided to appropriate money for a National Road through this gap. I have evidence that the earliest settlers in Bracken and Mason County arrived by river, but I can’t conclude that my ancestors, who came to the area 20 years later, traveled the same way.
The history of the settlement of Kentucky was impacted by events that occurred on the other side of the Ohio River – in what was then called “Ohio Country.” Between 1785 and 1795, the Northwest Indian War (also called the Ohio War or Little Turtle’s War) was waged between the newly formed United States and a confederation of Native American tribes (supported by the British) over control of the Northwest Territory (north of the Ohio River, east of the Mississippi, and south of the Great Lakes.
In 1786, George Rogers Clark and Benjamin Logan, both of whom lived about 200 miles from Bracken/Mason Counties in the Louisville area of Kentucky at the time, launched a force of Kentucky militia in a series of raids on Indian villages along the Mad River in southwestern Ohio. These raids, which resulted in dozens of casualties among the Shawnee Indians who were targeted, served to unite the Shawnee nation against the Americans. In the following several years, increased attacks led to the deaths of 1,500 American settlers who were traveling along the Ohio River.
A series of skirmishes over the next several years revealed the difficulty that the young American republic faced in trying to confront this challenge. In 1792, President George Washington appointed General “Mad Anthony” Wayne to build a trained militia force called the Legion of the United States.
As a side note – I had never heard of this unit until I started researching to write my earlier essay on Boone County.
Moving right along. After two years of recruitment and training, Wayne led this force against the Indian Confederacy at a location called Fallen Timbers in northwestern Ohio. The 1 ½ hour “Battle of Fallen Timbers” was not militarily decisive, but it resulted in a peace treaty between the Americans and their Indian rivals, opening up the Ohio River and the Northwest Territory – and Kentucky – to safer travel.
History of Mason County
Much of the information in the next several paragraphs is from the website KYGenWeb http://kykinfolk.com/mason/about.html .
Mason County was officially formed in 1789 from portions of Bourbon County. It is important to Kentucky because it lies on the Ohio River. Early long hunters and river spies began traversing the wilderness in the mid-1700s. Later, familiar names like Christopher Gist and Daniel Boone would bring the first white settlers by two routes that led to Mason County – down the Ohio River or up through the Cumberland Gap – to establish fortresslike settlements called ‘stations.’
In the mid-1700s, Simon Kenton journeyed fled his home in Fauquier County, Virginia, after he thought he had murdered someone (the person didn’t actually die but Kenton didn’t know that for years). He floated down the Ohio River in search of the legendary bountiful canelands – sugar growing land – of Kentucky. In 1775, he and a companion landed their craft at what was to become Limestone (now Maysville) and headed inland. In 1785, Kenton sold 400 acres of land to Arthur Fox and William Wood to establish the town of Washington in honor of the Revolutionary War hero who would later become the first President of the United States. The early settlers to the area came from Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Maryland.
Mason County was partitioned from Bourbon County in 1789. At its formation, Mason County included one-fourth of the territory of Kentucky east of the Licking River. Nineteen counties were later carved from the huge swath of geography that ran from what is now Campbell County at the northernmost point of the state, all the way to Pike County on the Virginia border.
Maysville, at the mouth of Limestone Creek, was known as Limestone prior to 1790. It was made a town in 1787 and in 1833 became a city. Washington, the old county seat, was once a thriving town in the uplands, but suffered a decline beginning in 1844, when the county seat was removed to Maysville.
History of Bracken County
Bracken County was organized in 1796 from parts of Mason and Campbell Counties. Originally, the county extended to southern Nicholas County (north of the Ohio River and west of the Licking River). It has two creeks (named for William Bracken), the Big and Little Bracken. William Bracken was a surveyor by trade and visited the area in 1773. He was later killed by Indians during the Northwest Indian War. The first county seat was Augusta, Kentucky but was moved to Woodward Crossing (Brooksville).
After the Revolutionary War, Captain Philip Buckner of Caroline County, Virginia, was awarded a land-grant by Virginia in reward for his service. After making his first visit to the area in 1781, Buckner returned fifteen years later with 40 other families to settle in the town he called Augusta (named, it is believed, in honor of his home in Augusta County, Virginia). At Buckner’s request, a meeting was held to choose town trustees whereupon he deeded over to them the 600 acres on which the city is located. On October 7, 1797, the Kentucky Legislature issued the town its charter.
Augusta served as the seat of government in Bracken County until 1839, when it was permanently relocated to Brooksville.
My Ancestors in Mason and Bracken Counties
I have two sets of ancestors who settled (independently from one another) in the Bracken/Mason County area of Kentucky. The first set is on my father’s side, and the second set is on my mother’s side. Throughout this series of essays, I continue to find locations where my paternal and maternal lines lived in the same towns centuries before my parents met in the 1930s.
My paternal 6th great-grandparents Simeon Walton (1741-1798) and Agnes Hester Walton (1746-1821) came to Kentucky in the mid-1790s. I wrote about them in my essay on Cumberland County, Virginia during Week 9 of this series of essays, on February 28, 2020. Here’s what I wrote then:
An 1810 book (A History of the Rise and Progress of Baptists in Virginia, by Robert Baylor Semple) had this to say about Simeon:
He was a man of note, in his day and generation. In point of education he had opportunities above many of his companions in the ministry. Having a relish for literary pursuits, he improved his mind above what might have been looked for from his school learning. Being a good mathematician, he was appointed to discharge the duties of county surveyor, in Amelia the place of his residence, for a length of time. Being a ready scribe, he was clerk to the Middle District Association, for many years. There was a considerable intimacy between him and elder John Williams. They were kindred spirits. As a preacher, he was thought to be above mediocrity; though in this character, he did not shine as brightly as might have been expected, considering his cleverness in other points. He resided in Nottoway church, as pastor, for many years. But in 1795, he moved to Kentucky; where, in March 1798, God took him to himself. He was a good and faithful servant.
Agnes and Simeon also had 13 children, including my 5th great-grandfather John Walton (1765-1840), who was their second child. As the note about Simeon (above) indicates, in 1795 Agnes and Simeon moved to Kentucky with many of their family members (including John), shortly after Kentucky became a state. John married Susanna Anderson (1768-1817) in Amelia County in 1787, and Barbara was born before they moved to Kentucky.
Many members of this family moved to Kentucky at this time. In addition to my 6th great-grandparents Agnes and Simeon and my 5th great-grandparents John and Susanna, various other family members made the trip as well – including my 4th great-grandfather William Walton, who was a Walton cousin who married John and Susanna’s daughter Barbara Allen Walton in Kentucky in 1805. William was the son of a different John Walton (1738-1793), who was Simeon’s brother; this makes William the second cousin of Barbara. The way I came to understand this when I wrote my earlier essay on Cumberland County was that after William’s father John 1738 died, William, who was considerably younger than his siblings, moved west with Simeon’s family because he was not likely to have received an inheritance from his father.
As I mentioned, Barbara married William in Mason County in 1805. I think they had 16 children – that number could be inflated because there were a lot of Waltons around in Virginia and Kentucky during this time period, and many of them had the same names. At any rate, one of their children was Tabitha Allen Walton (1816-1899), who married Joshua Mills Botts (1813-1863) in Boone County, Kentucky, in 1833. I wrote extensively about the Botts family in my essay on Boone County in Week 15 of this series, April 10, 2020. Tabitha and Joshua moved to Illinois in 1837 along with many other members of the Botts family.
Susanna Anderson’s parents, my 6th great-grandparents Charles Anderson (1739-1821) and Lucy Stokes Anderson (1742-1810), had also moved to Kentucky in the 1790s; the 1800 Federal Census shows them living in Mason County. They both died there – Lucy in 1810 and Charles in 1821.
In addition, Stokes Anderson, Susanna’s brother (and my 6th great-uncle) moved to Kentucky in the 1790s. In 1804, Stokes was also licensed to operate a ferry over the Ohio River from his land in Mason County. This had to be a lucrative investment. He appears regularly in the land records of Mason County between 1798 and his death in 1856. Some of the records show that he was in business with his family members. As an example, Stokes was appointed inspector of tobacco in 1806, along with his brother Charles Anderson, Jr., and his brother-in-law John Walton 1765. His father, Charles Anderson, Sr., was identified in the records as “acting as security” for these appointments – which I assume means that he provided a financial guarantee for the transactions the younger men oversaw. Court records show that in 1803 Stokes took responsibility for the son of his deceased brother Matthew; later records show that in 1835 Stokes sold the ferry and surrounding property to Matthew’s son Asa. In 1807, Stokes was appointed Justice of the Peace in Mason County.
Stokes was a slave-owner; in 1820 he owned 17 slaves, in 1830 he owned 10 slaves, in 1840 he owned six slaves, and in 1850 he had nine slaves – a 30-year-old woman named Martha and her two children, a six-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl. Stokes married twice; he and his first wife Polly Marshall had five children, and he and his second wife Elizabeth Jennings had eight children.
This set of ancestors came from Greenville County, South Carolina, in 1795. I wrote about them in my essay on Greenville County in Week 14 of this blog series, on April 3, 2020. Here’s what I wrote then:
My 4th great-grandfather John Hunt (1757-1821) married Martha Jenkins (1760-1850) in Chesterfield County, South Carolina, in 1781. After Martha and John married, they moved to Union County, South Carolina, where they had three children. They soon moved again, and John served as sheriff of Greenville County (formed from the northernmost part of District 96) from its formation in 1785 until 1794. That’s when he moved his family (which had grown to include four more children) to Kentucky. He bought 246 acres of land in Bracken County, where he was appointed captain of militia and inspector of tobacco. In Kentucky he and Martha had ten more children (for a total of 17 children), including my 3rd great-grandmother, Elizabeth “Betsey” Hunt (1801-1850).
One of the reasons I know a lot about this family is that one of John and Martha’s children, Jefferson Hunt, became well-known as an early leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) as they moved first to Illinois and then to Salt Lake City. Because the tenets of the Mormon faith include a need to document their genealogy, Jefferson’s family history is well-documented – and so, by extension, is that of his parents John and Martha. My 3rd great-grandmother Betsy Hunt was Jefferson’s older sister. The Hunt family moved to Albion, Edwards County, Illinois (near the Indiana border) sometime after 1811. Betsey married Andrew Starnater in Knox County, Indiana, in 1816; Knox County is just across the Indiana/Illinois border from Edwards County.