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Our Rich History: Virginia, the Taylor Family, and Newport; settling into ‘certain to prosper’ river town

Part 3 of our series, Resilience and Renaissance: Newport, Kentucky, 1795-2020

By Paul A. Tenkotte
Special to NKyTribune

The Taylor family, founders of Newport, Kentucky, were wealthy Virginians. General James Taylor V (1769-1848) was born on Midway Plantation in Caroline County, Virginia, the son of Colonel James Taylor IV (1732 -1814) and Ann Hubbard (“Midway Plantation near Bowling Green, Caroline Co., Virginia” )

Midway Plantation (demolished) was located in the Tidewater section of Virginia, about 80 miles south of present-day Washington, DC. A child during the American Revolution, James Taylor V came of age during the post-revolutionary years, in time to settle a portion of a 1500-acre tract of land his father purchased from Colonel George Muse (1720-1790) of Caroline County, Virginia, a soldier of the colonial lines in the French and Indian War. This land was situated at the confluence of the Licking and Ohio Rivers.

James Taylor V, also called General James Taylor Jr.

In 1780, James’ older brother, Hubbard Taylor (1760-1840), became Deputy Surveyor for the county of Kentucky, Virginia. In April, he surveyed the 1500-acre tract for his father, and in 1788, he purchased 500 acres of land for himself, east of Lexington. Ten years later, in 1790, Hubbard Taylor moved to Kentucky with his family and that of his eldest sister, Lucy Eubank. Then, in autumn 1791, Hubbard accompanied the Kentucky militia from Lexington to Fort Washington to join General St. Clair’s expedition against the Indians. At that time, he laid out some lots at the mouth of the Licking and called the place “New Port.”

One year later, in 1792, Hubbard’s younger brother, James Taylor V, who had been promised the bulk of the 1500-acre estate by his father, made his first visit to Kentucky. James Taylor traveled overland to Redstone (now Brownsville) Pennsylvania, on the Monongahela River, where he and a number of westward-bound settlers directed the building and launching of twenty-five flatboats. In April 1792, he and his personal slave Adam set sail with a large company down the Monongahela to the Ohio River.

On May 1st, the party arrived at Limestone, Kentucky (now Maysville), which Taylor described as “a muddy hole of a place with two or three log houses and a tavern” (Marie Dickoré, ed., General James Taylor’s Narrative, Manuscripts, Cincinnati Historical Society, p. 44). James journeyed onward to his brother Hubbard’s estate about twelve miles east of Lexington, Kentucky, and from there, he visited Lexington, where he stayed with Thomas Carneal (also of Virginia), the father of Thomas D. Carneal (1786-1860), who later became one of the founders of Covington, Kentucky.

Brownsville (formerly Redstone), Pennsylvania on the Monongahela River was a center for the building and launching of flatboats for settlers headed west to the Ohio River Valley. This scene shows the city in the 1920s. From a postcard in the collection of Paul A. Tenkotte.

Leaving Lexington, James Taylor proceeded along the Dry Ridge Trace, “a mean horse path” to Cincinnati. He visited with the officers at Fort Washington and crossed the Ohio River to view his family’s property. He examined the site thoroughly and determined to build his home upon a “beautiful ridge,” some 400 yards from the Ohio River and “about 600 yards from the Licking,” a site he later called “Belle Vue,” for it commanded an exquisite view (Dickoré, p. 44).

Taylor noted that the Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky areas were still sparsely settled. Indeed, he related that “at this time, June 1792, there were only about 150 souls in Cincinnati, independent of the Military. The Indians were so troublesome there were but few settlements beyond Cincinnati, and they in and about the stockade forts . . . ” In particular, he reported that “there were a few rude log cabins at Newport”(Dickoré, p. 44). Probably one of these belonged to Jacob Fowler (1764-1849), who reputedly built, in 1789, “the first cabin at the point of the Licking” (Mary Keturah Jones, History of Campbell County, Kentucky As Read at the Centennial Celebration of 4th of July, 1876. Newport: 1876; reprint ed., Fort Thomas, Ky.: Rebecca Bryan Boone Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, 1974, p. 3).

Departing from Cincinnati on July 1, 1792, Taylor traveled south from Newport, stopping along the Licking at Leitch’s Station, about six miles from the mouth of the river. There, he visited Major David Leitch, who owned a tract of land comprising 13,800 acres. Leitch was one of the earliest settlers of Northern Kentucky, having built a stockade and blockhouse, circa 1790, at Leitch’s Station.

There are conflicting dates concerning the establishment of Leitch’s Station. General James Taylor, in his narrative, twice mentioned 1790 as the year in which Leitch’s Station was founded, and once, he gave the date as 1791. Taylor’s granddaughter, Mary Keturah Jones, offered the date 1789, and Benjamin Van Cleve, one of the original settlers of Leitch’s Station related that he arrived there in March 1791, and that “the settlers consisted of four men with families & four of us single men. We first erected what was generally termed a station. Each family occupied a Block house & I am now uncertain whether we put up stockades or not.” Beverley W. Bond Jr., ed., “Memoirs of Benjamin Van Cleve,” Quarterly Publication of the Historical and Philosophical Society of Ohio 17 (January-June 1922): 19. See also Marie Dicko, ed., General James Taylor’s Narrative, Manuscripts, Cincinnati Historical Society, pp. 24, 46; Margaret Strebel Hartman, “Major David Leitch and Leitch’s Station,” Campbell County, Kentucky History and Genealogy, 2 vols. (Newport: Campbell County Historical Society, 1978; Supplement to The Falmouth Outlook, 15 December 1978), 1: 12-14; Helen Bradley Lindsey, Leitch Station in Campbell County Kentucky, pp. 5-7. The latter is a reprint of Helen Bradley Lindsey, “Leitch Station in Campbell County, Kentucky,” Papers of the Christopher Gist Historical Society 1 (1949-50): 35-42.

Taylor proceeded south along the Dry Ridge, and arrived “after night-fall” at Campbell’s Station, a stockade thirty-three miles from the mouth of the Licking, then manned by thirteen of General Wilkinson’s soldiers from Fort Washington. In early August 1792, James Taylor reached his brother Hubbard’s home near Lexington, where he spent a short time visiting relatives and neighbors, including his uncle by marriage, Dr. Thomas Hinde, who later relocated to Northern Kentucky (Dickoré, p. 46).

Next, James Taylor journeyed to Louisville to see friends and family, including his first cousin once-removed, Colonel Richard Taylor, father of Zachary Taylor, later President of the United States. More important, James visited Colonel Richard C. Anderson, Surveyor General for the Virginia Military District in Kentucky and Ohio. With headquarters at Louisville, Anderson oversaw the surveying and granting of the vast lands that the state of Virginia had reserved in present-day Kentucky and Ohio for the remuneration of her Revolutionary War soldiers.

Taylor commented that “about this time” Robert Todd, one of Anderson’s surveyors, was killed by Indians, and that Todd’s brother-in-law, General William Lytle, succeeded him to the deputy surveyor’s post. It was Lytle, who several years later, in 1795, joined James Taylor in a partnership devoted to “locating and securing lands” in the Virginia Military District in Ohio, located between the Little Miami and Scioto Rivers (Dickoé, p. 47).

Taylor’s partnership with Lytle exemplified his ties to both Kentucky and Ohio, as well as his life-long interest in land speculation and urban development. Together, William Lytle and James Taylor, until the dissolution of their partnership in 1805, actively promoted settlement in the Virginia Military District of Ohio. Taylor’s role, according to one historian, lay with “many of the business details, while Lytle took care of the surveying” (Alma Aicholtz Smith, The Virginia Military Surveys, p. 24).

The partnership of Lytle and Taylor was dissolved in 1805. Both men, however, continued to speculate in land. By the time of his death in 1848, Taylor owned land “in twenty-six Ohio counties” and some “60,000 acres” in Kentucky (Robert C. Vitz, “General James Taylor and the Beginnings of Newport, Kentucky,” in A Kentucky Sampler: Essays from The Filson Club History Quarterly, 1926-1976, eds. Lowell Harrison and Nelson L. Dawson. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1977, p. 168).

James Taylor promoted and developed his own Northern Kentucky real estate holdings. Returning to Virginia from his 1792 trip to Kentucky, Taylor made immediate preparations to migrate to Northern Kentucky. In April 1793, along with his sister Alice, her husband Washington Berry, their nine-month-old son, two black slaves and one white servant of James, and two single men, John Berry (Washington Berry’s brother) and John W. Buckner, James embarked on his journey. At Redstone (now Brownsville) Pennsylvania, on the Monongahela River, the party boarded flatboats for Kentucky. Proceeding downriver, they arrived at Limestone (now Maysville), Kentucky, where Washington and Alice Berry decided to disembark and to travel southward, settling instead near Hubbard Taylor’s estate at Lexington. James adhered to his original plans, continued downriver and landed “a little above the mouth of the Licking” on May 3, 1793 (Dickoré, p. 52).

As a “single man,” Taylor had made prior plans to live with his sister and her husband upon the party’s arrival in Newport. Consequently, he was disappointed by his brother-in-law’s decision to settle further south. In need of a “woman servant,” he engaged the services of a British deserter, Robert Christy, and his wife, whom he met along the way, probably at Limestone. In exchange for the payment of his family’s costs of migration, Christy was expected to labor for Taylor for three years, and his wife “was to cook” and perform other domestic duties (Dickoré, p. 52).

Taylor was convinced that the Northern Kentucky area would prosper. He confidently asserted that “patience and industry” would “accomplish all we can desire” (Dickoré, p. 53). Accordingly, he set in motion a series of actions, designed to promote the development of his properties. In August 1793, for instance, Taylor, joined by Jacob and Edward Fowler, two early residents of Newport, “marked out the first road from Newport to Lexington.” Presumably, they followed closely the old buffalo trace that ran the extent of the Dry Ridge, a spur of the Cumberland Mountains that provided a natural dividing point between the watersheds of the Kentucky River to its west and that of the Licking River to its east

Another integral element of Taylor’s business aspirations was the successful development of towns. Taylor devoted particular attention to promoting Newport. A plat (map) of the town was made in 1792, and Hubbard filed this, along with conditions for the sale of lots, on February 14, 1792, presumably at the Mason County Courthouse. A copy of the stated terms of sale, filed at Campbell County Courthouse in 1795, reveals that purchasers agreed to pay half the cost of the lots upon purchase and the remainder in twelve months. Further, within three years, they were to construct a “House of Stone, Brick, Frame or logs, hughed [sic, hewed] inside and out Sixteen feet square” with a “stone or brick Chimney” (Campbell County Courthouse, Alexandria, Kentucky, Deed Book A, p. 1).”

Map of James Taylor IV’s 1500-acre tract of land, at the confluence of the Licking and Ohio Rivers. Campbell County Courthouse, Alexandria.

In-lots of the town measured 66 by 214 1/2 feet, and the first eighteen settlers were entitled to an out-lot of three acres each. On August 20, 1795, the deputy surveyor of Campbell County, John Roberts, re-surveyed the town and filed a copy of his plat in Campbell County Courthouse (City of Newport vs. Taylor’s Heirs, 11 Monroe 361, Ky. Ct. App. 1850). It is probably this plat, with corrections, which was filed at Campbell County Courthouse by James Taylor, Jr. in April 1796. It depicted 180 town lots or “in lots”, and twenty-four “out lots.” The overall plan was a grid, with sixty-six-foot-wide streets, running parallel to the river, crisscrossed by north-south streets running at right angles to the east-west streets. A city block, consisting of lots seventy-nine to eighty-four inclusive, was reserved as a public square, and “The Esplanade,” running the length of the town along the Ohio riverbank, was set aside as “a common forever” (Campbell County Courthouse, Alexandria, Kentucky, Deed Book A, p. 1).

A river town, of course, had to be serviced by ferries. Taylor realized this fact; indeed, upon his arrival he discovered that the legal apparatus for chartering a ferry had already been set in motion by his family. Apparently, it was Hubbard Taylor, who, in January 1793, approached the Mason County, Kentucky court on behalf of his father for the right of establishing a ferry across the Ohio River at Newport. His request was honored, but to complicate matters, in July of the same year, John Bartle, an early resident and merchant of Newport, received permission of the same court to operate a ferry across the Ohio River at Newport. The stage was set for a contest between the Taylors and Bartle, when, in the fall of 1793, James Taylor replaced Hubbard Taylor as his father’s attorney-in-fact, affording him the opportunity to promote more actively the family’s lands in Northern Kentucky. Subsequently, in January 1794, James Taylor traveled to Mason County to secure the Taylor family’s exclusive ferry rights at Newport, across both the Ohio and the Licking Rivers to the opposite shores. Taylor filed two lawsuits against Bartle in the attempt, and a decision was rendered in favor of the Taylors (Margaret Strebel Hartman, “The Campbell County Courts and the Towns of Newport, Salisberry-Southgate, Harrisburgh, Visalia, and Alexandria,” Campbell County, Kentucky History and Genealogy, 2 vols. Newport: Campbell County Historical Society, 1978; Supplement to The Falmouth Outlook, 15 December 1978, Vol. 1: 24, 25).

Besides managing his family’s legal matters in Northern Kentucky, James Taylor transacted other business arrangements aimed at promoting the development of his father’s lands. In November 1794, he journeyed to Frankfort, Kentucky with the express purpose, as mentioned in his expense account, “to get the Town and County established” (Facsimile of Taylor’s expense record, as appeared in E. C. Perkins, The Borning of a Town: Newport, “Cantuckee” (Fort Thomas, Ky., 1963, p. 13). That is, he proved instrumental in the successful attempt to establish the new county of Campbell, which was created from parts of Mason, Scott and Harrison counties by act of the Kentucky General Assembly on December 17, 1794. The act became effective on May 10, 1795.

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Parts of this article formerly appeared in Tenkotte, Paul A. Rival Cities to Suburbs: Covington and Newport, Kentucky, 1790-1890 (dissertation). Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms International, 1989.

We want to learn more about the history of your business, church, school, or organization in our region (Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky, and along the Ohio River). If you would like to share your rich history with others, please contact the editor of “Our Rich History,” Paul A. Tenkotte, at tenkottep@nku.edu. Paul A. Tenkotte, PhD is Professor of History at Northern Kentucky University (NKU) and the author of many books and articles.

Plat map of Newport, Kentucky, April 1796. Campbell County Courthouse, Alexandria, Kentucky. Deed Book A, p. 1.

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