Early Bar of Christian County

At the time of the organization of the county there were no resident lawyers here. The legal machinery had all been put in working order and fully set in motion, before even the legal ” circuit riders ” came to gladden the hearts of the people with their plug hats and store clothes. But courts were a necessary evil, justice had to be administered, quarrels adjudicated, rows settled, men punished for swearing by God ” (as the quaint old records have it), and many other little things that could only be performed by this august body, and the judiciary, therefore, was an early institution. The first branch of the court organized was the County Court, held by the Justices of the Peace, instead of by a County Judge as now. As noted in a preceding chapter, the first term was held in March, 1797, and we have no record of any other than this county, or Justices of the Peace’s Court until in February, 1801, when was organized the Court of Quarter Sessions. It was held by Hon. Samuel Hardin and Adam Lynn, Justices presiding. Two years later, by legislative enactment, a Circuit Court was formed which superseded the Court of Quarter Sessions, and March 28, 1803, the first Circuit Court convened in Christian County, Samuel Hardin and James Wilson presiding Justices present. At this term of the court, Samuel Caldwell, Rezin Davidge, James H. McLaughlan, Matthew Lodge, John A. Cape, Robert Coleman and James H. Russell, (the larger number of these attorneys were from abroad) appear as attorneys, and Rezin Davidge is appointed attorney for the commonwealth. At the second term of the Circuit Court which was held in June, 1803, the Hon. Ninian Edwards was present as Judge, and Samuel Hardin and James Wilson, Assistant Judges.

Ninian Edwards – The eminent character of this gentleman requires more than a passing mention, in fact, a sketch of the early courts and bar of Christian County would be imperfect without an extended notice of him and his many public services. He has left a record in two States that time cannot efface. As a lawyer, jurist and statesman he was pre-eminently great. For nearly forty years he devoted his best energies to the service of his country, wielding an influence exceeded by few of his day and time. At the period when Judge Edwards lived his most active life, the surroundings were such as we know little or nothing of now except by tradition. The pioneer people were rough, rude, simple, sincere, honest, warm-hearted and hospitable. In the young State were the two extremes, the rude simplicity, and the gifted, brilliant children of genius, and amid these surroundings Judge Edwards trod his pathway of life, the pure politician, lawyer and statesman.

He was born in 1775, in Montgomery County, Md. His father, Benjamin Edwards, was a native of Virginia, and a man of considerable prominence, having served in the Maryland Legislature, in the State Convention which ratified the Federal Constitution, and also represented his State in Congress from 1793 to 1795. Ninian Edwards graduated in Dickinson College, Pennsylvania. He studied law and medicine, and practiced the former with great success. He came to Kentucky in 1794, and devoted some time to the improvement of a farm in Nelson County, located by his father, and on which his father’s family settled in 1800. He was elected to the Kentucky Legislature in 1796, and was re-elected at the expiration of his term. He removed to Russellville in 1798, where he soon became distinguished in his profession, and was successful in the accumulation of property. Soon after the enactment of the law authorizing the formation of the Circuit Court he was appointed to the Circuit Bench, and as such presided over the second term of the Circuit Court held in Christian County; in 1806 was elevated to the Court of Appeals, and in 1808 became Chief Justice of Kentucky, all before he had attained his thirty-second year. In 1804 he was Presidential Elector on the Jefferson ticket for the Second Congressional District.

In 1809 Judge Edwards was appointed by President Madison Governor of the Illinois Territory, a position he occupied until 1816, and the duties of which he discharged with marked ability. In 1816 he was commissioned to treat with the Indians, and in 1818, when the State was admitted into the Union, he was elected to the United States Senate, serving until 1824, and soon after was elected Governor of the State. After the expiration of his gubernatorial term, he retired to private life. Few men accomplished more, and filled more important stations in a life-time than did Gov. Edwards. As a criminal lawyer he had few equals. He was a man of commanding appearance, and fine address, and wielded great power. He died July 20, 1833, at Belleville, St. Clair Co., Ill., in the fifty eighth year of his age.

Rezin Davidge – Among the early practitioners at the bar of Christian County, none surpassed in profound legal attainments Rezin Davidge. He was a brilliant and forcible speaker, an excellent judge of law, and a faithful and conscientious attorney. Strength of mind and purity of purpose were his leading traits. In his profession of the law, these made him a great chancery lawyer, no doubt one of the ablest the county knew in the early period of its history. In that branch of the law practice, that sometimes requires scheming and cunning diplomacy, he was neither great nor very successful, a proof that his nature was faithful and just, and that his integrity of mind was better adapted to the equity courts.

Judge Davidge was a native of Maryland, born in Baltimore County about the year 1770, and came to Kentucky soon after its admission into the Union as a State. He died in Hopkinsville, at ninety-seven years of age, and sleeps in the beautiful cemetery adjacent to the city. He came of a noted and wealthy family, and received all the educational advantages afforded by the infant Republic, with a finishing course in Europe. Thus his mental cultivation had been extensive, and his reading of a wider range than the average young man was able to obtain. In early life he served as midshipman in the United States Navy, and distinguished him-self as a gallant young officer. He had read law before his visit to the old country, and after a stay there of a year or two, enjoying the advantages of wisdom derived from such men as Pitt and Fox, had returned home with a mind well trained in legal lore. When he came to Kentucky, he first located in Russellville, but shortly after the organization of Christian County he established himself in Hopkinsville, and was the first Commonwealth’s Attorney, and appointed at the first term of the Circuit Court, March 28, 1803. He at once took rank at the very head of the profession, a position he ever maintained.

In the stormiest period of Kentucky politics ever known, perhaps, when the minds of men were inflamed by threatened bankruptcy, consequent upon the financial pressure following the war of 1812, which had paralyzed the whole country, Judge Davidge was appointed by the Legislature a Judge of the Court of Appeals on the ” New Court ” question, as it was called. This was one of the mistakes of his life, and a blow to his popularity from which it never fully recovered. Although the popular wave of relief,” or ” New Court,” wafted him to high judicial position, and for a brief time swept everything before it, yet in receding it drew with it the strong condemnations of the large majority of the bar and the judiciary of the State. The stormy and tempestuous scenes of this period are more fully described in the political history of the county, and are merely alluded to as an episode in the life of Judge Davidge. He, and his colleagues, William T. Barry, James Haggin and John Trimble, were never recognized, except by the New Court faction, as the Court of Appeals, and after a fitful and brief career as such, a new Legislature, hostile to the party that placed them in power, removed them, and the Old Court ” resumed sway. Upon the organization of a judicial district in ” the Purchase,” Judge Davidge was appointed to the Circuit bench, and moved to that section of the State about 1830-31. He removed from there to Livingston County, and afterward to Princeton, but finally re-turned to Hopkinsville, where the remainder of his life was spent.

Judge Davidge was twice married. His first wife was a daughter of William Bell, of Bell’s Tavern, who bore him two sons- Rezin and James–and who died about 1824 or 1825. He next married, in 1830, Martha C. Dallam, who still survives him. The result of his second marriage was two sons, Robert A. and Henry, and three daughters, Mrs. Emma Brown, living in Hopkinsville; Mrs. Martha Patton, of Mississippi; and Mrs. Judge Campbell, of Paducah.

William B. Blackburn – One of the first resident lawyers of Hopkinsville, and one of the able men of the State, was William B. Blackburn. He came from Woodford County about 1799, a young lawyer just admitted to the bar. He remained four or five years, and during his stay made his home in the family of Bartholomew Wood, the pioneer of Hopkinsville. What his success was while practicing law here is not known, as there is no one here now who knew him then, and it is only through Col. Buckner, of Louisville, who served in the Legislature with him many years later that any facts of him have been obtained. He finally returned to Woodford County probably about 1803, and for years was a prominent lawyer and politician there. He served in the Lower House of the Legislature from 1804 to 1816 inclusive, with the exception of 1808-09-10; and from 1825 to 1828 inclusive. He served in the Senate in 1818-20, 1822-24, and 1832-34, and was an active member throughout his long term of service. He was a brother to Dr. Churchill Blackburn, of Covington, Ky., and a cousin of Edward M. Blackburn-the father of ex-Governor, and of Senator Joe Blackburn. He died about 1842 at his home in Woodford County.

William Wallace succeeded Judge Ninian Edwards upon the circuit bench, and held his first term of court for Christian County in March, 1807. Judge Wallace lived in Russellville, and was the Presiding Judge of the Circuit until 1815, when he was succeeded by Judge Benjamin Shackelford. But little is now remembered of his judicial service here, as he never lived in Christian County. One item, that may be of interest to many readers, is that the eldest brother of Hon. Jefferson Davis read law with Judge Wallace at Russellville.

Benjamin Shackelford – But few men of his day and time, a period when judges held office during good behavior, occupied the circuit bench longer than Judge Shackelford. For thirty-six years-more than the average of human life-he presided over the Circuit Court of this judicial district. And during that time fewer of his decisions were reversed by the higher courts than of any judge, perhaps, in the State. Although making no parade of it, Judge Shackelford possessed in a full measure that absolute incorruptibility that insures purity in the administration of the law. His judgments were always distinctly marked with impartiality and even-handed justice. He believed in those fundamental principles embodied in our organic law-that every person ought ” to obtain right and justice freely, and without being obliged to purchase it,” and that he ought ” to find a certain remedy in the laws for all injuries and wrongs which he may receive in his person, property or reputation.” More endorsing than a monument of granite are the impartial acts of such a man. The questions discussed in the thirty-six years he was upon the bench are of the utmost importance, and are such as would naturally be expected to arise in that formative period of a rapidly growing State, and especially in one that has risen to the proportions of an empire in itself. He rests from his labors, but his name still lives, and is a synonym of official integrity, purity and honesty.

Judge Shackelford remained upon the circuit bench until the adoption of the new Constitution of the State, which made the office elective. He was a candidate at the first election for the position, but was defeated. His opponents were Hon. Henry J. Stites (now of Louisville), a Democrat, and Hon. Ninian E. Grey, a Whig. Judge Shackelford, also being a Whig, so divided the Whig vote between him and Mr. Grey that Mr. Stites was elected by a small majority. An article from the columns of the Kentucky Rifle (Hopkinsville) of May 24, 1851, shows the estimation in which Judge Shackelford was held by the people among whom he had lived so many years. It is as follows:

Resolutions highly complimentary to Hon. Benjamin Shackelford, Presiding Judge of this circuit, were adopted by the Bar and Grand Jury, and presented to the Court yesterday evening. Judge Shackelford re-plied in an eloquent and impressive speech, which deeply moved his auditors, and during the delivery of which he was himself visibly affected. The Judge now leaves a bench upon which he has administered justice for about thirty-six years; his hair has grown gray in the discharge of the dignified and delicate trust conferred upon him by the patriot Shelby.

Isaac Shelby, then Governor of Kentucky for the second time. -yet to-day, the last of his official career, he can hand an unstained ermine to his successor, and proudly point to a long record whose purity is unblemished by a single blot of judicial corruption. He goes out of office with the regret and esteem of all who know him, and with a reputation for honesty and integrity which is the true and crowning glory of all worthy and manly ambition in any department of public life, but especially in the peculiarly important and trying duties of the judicial service. The following are the resolutions adopted by the Grand Jury:

The Grand Jurors impaneled for the May term, 1851, of the Christian Circuit Court, being the last term of said court under the judicial administration of Hon. B. Shackelford, who has so long presided over said court, deeming it proper to testify our regard for the Judge, have adopted the following resolutions:

Resolved, That we hereby tender our sincere regard for the Hon. B. Shackelford, who is now about to retire from the judicial bench, and, in common with his friends and fellow-citizens generally, hereby testify our appreciation for the ability and impartiality which have characterized his long judicial career.

Resolved, That we tender to his Honor our best wishes for his happiness and prosperity in his retiracy, hoping that his days may still be long and characterized, as heretofore, by the esteem and high regard of the community in which he has filled a conspicuous and useful place.

Resolved, That these resolutions be published in the papers of this Judicial District.

Zach. Glass, John Anderson, Joseph P. Graves, B. B. Jones, Amos Gillum, Thomas Brown, Walker Carneal, Thomas P. Campbell, J. B. Gowen, Thomas C. Graves, David Anderson, Evan Hopson, David E. Boyd, George W. Newman, Neil McLean, Isaac Landes.

Subjoined are the resolutions of the bar:

Whereas, In the mutations incident to free government, it has fallen to the lot of the Hon. Benjamin Shackelford, Judge of the Seventh Judicial District of Kentucky, to vacate the station which he has occupied with honor to himself for thirty-six years, therefore, as this is a proper occasion to express our appreciation of his character and services:

Be it Resolved, That the Hon. B. Shackelford, throughout his whole official life, has manifested his opposition to tyranny and intolerance, his detestation of oppression and fraud; has proven himself the friend of humanity, and has impartially and firmly discharged the duties of his office.

Resolved, That, in retiring from the bench, he carries with him the respect and esteem of the profession, whose privilege it has been not only to know him on the bench, but to meet with him daily in the private Intercourse of life-and their best wishes for his future health, prosperity and happiness.

Resolved, That N. E. Gray, the present Representative of the Commonwealth in this district, by his able discharge of the duties of his station, is entitled to the respect of the community.

Resolved, That Richard Shackelford, former Clerk of this Court, by his courteous and accommodating deportment has won for himself the regard and esteem of all persons, as well lawyers as litigants having business in his office.

Resolved, That these resolutions be presented by the Secretary in open court, with a request that they be entered on the record, and that he cause them to be published in the newspapers of this Judicial District.

F. C. SHARP, Chairman.

R. R. LANSDEN, Secretary.

Judge Shackelford was born in King and Queens Co., Va., April 24, 1780, and was a son of Benjamin Shackelford. He read law with his elder brother, Capt. John Shackelford, of Culpeper C. H., and was admitted to the bar in September, 1802; came to Kentucky the same fall, and located at Lexington, distinguished at that early day for its able bar. He practiced law in Fayette and the adjoining counties until 1806-07, when he came to Christian County. Here he continued practice until appointed to the bench in 1815 by Gov. Shelby. Judge Shackelford was a fine looking man, six feet and two inches in height, and erect in figure. He married Frances P. Dallam, a daughter of Maj. Francis Dal-lam, of a prominent old Maryland family. Five children were born to them, three daughters and two sons. Of the latter, Richard Shackelford, at one time Circuit Clerk of Christian County, but for the past thirty years a practicing lawyer of New Orleans, and Dr. Charles Shackelford of Hopkinsville. Martha, the eldest daughter, married Samuel Shryock, Elizabeth married George Morris, who soon died, and she afterward married R. L. Waddill; the other daughter died in infancy. Judge Shackelford died April 29, 1858, and is buried in Hopkinsville Cemetery.

Charles S. Morehead – As a lawyer, legislator and Governor of the Commonwealth Mr. Morehead was alike popular. He was born in Nelson County (this State) July 7, 1802. His education was begun in the schools of his county, but completed at Transylvania University, Lexington, Ky., from which he graduated with honors. Upon the completion of his education, he located in Christian County, and commenced the practice of law in Hopkinsville. He was elected to the Legislature in 1828, and re-elected in 1829. In his first election, he received the almost unanimous support of the county, although his youth rendered him scarcely eligible to the office. When his second term expired, he removed to Frankfort, which he deemed a more ample field for the practice of his profession. He was appointed Attorney General of Kentucky in 1832, and held the office for five years. He was elected to the Legislature in 1838-39-40 in Franklin County, and at the last session was Speaker of the House. He was re-elected in 1841, and made Speaker, again in 1842 and in 1844, and for the third time elected Speaker. He was elected to Congress, serving from 1847 to 1851; was again sent to the Legislature, and in 1855 elected Governor of the State on the American or Know-Nothing ticket by a majority of 4,403 over his opponent, Beverly L. Clark. In 1859, at the expiration of his term as Governor, he removed to Louisville, and formed a law partnership with his nephew, C. M. Briggs, Esq. Such in brief is the record of Gov. Morehead. The foundation of his active life was laid, as it were, in Hopkinsville, and the people, both of the city and county, will ever entertain for him the highest regard and admiration as a man, a lawyer and a statesman. In every position of life to which he was elevated he gained distinguished honors. Firm and conscientious in all his views, and bold and fearless in their enunciation, he always commanded the respect of those who honestly differed from him in his political faith. His personal experience, his education and his reason taught him the fallibility of human judgment, and the liability of honest and wise men to disagree upon almost every question of political philosophy in a government constituted as ours is; and he claimed no charity for himself that he did not cordially extend to others. In all his public acts a sense of duty accompanied him, and disregarding selfish and personal considerations he unflinchingly obeyed its behests. In the spring of 1861, when dark clouds obscured our political horizon, he stood prominent among the conservatives of the State in laboring to avert war, and was a delegate from Kentucky to the ” Peace Conference ” at Washington in February, 1861. But notwithstanding his conservative course he was arrested and imprisoned in Fort Lafayette and Fort Warren for several months, exposed to privation that materially hastened his death. He returned to his home in Louisville in January, 1862, but being assured that he would be again arrested he fled to Canada, and subsequently went to Europe. After the close of the war he was allowed to return to his plantation, near Greenville, Miss., where he died suddenly, December 23, 1868. He possessed vast wealth before the war, a considerable amount of which was in slaves. But this, as well as much of his other property, was lost through the fortunes or the misfortunes of war, and at his death he was comparatively poor.

Joseph B. Crockett – The following sketch was written by Hon. James F. Buckner, of Louisville, for the Kentucky New Era. Col. Buckner was a student of Mr. Crockett, and for several years his law partner, hence no one is better qualified to write an impartial sketch of the man, and he pays a noble tribute to his old friend, partner and preceptor. He says:

Joseph B. Crockett, the son of Col. Robert Crockett, was born in 1808, at Union Mills, in Jessamine County, Ky., and settled on a farm near Russellville. It was while Col. Crockett was pursuing the vocation of a farmer in Logan County that the son enjoyed the advantages of the tuition of Daniel Comfort, a gentleman who for many years taught a classical school in that vicinity, and to whom many of the most distinguished men of that section were indebted for instruction. In the spring of 1827 he entered the University of Tennessee at Nashville, but in con-sequence of the straitened pecuniary condition of his father he was compelled to leave Nashville after having enjoyed the benefit of the University for less than one year. When only nineteen years of age he came to Hopkinsville and entered upon the study of law in the office of Hon. Charles S. Morehead, who was then one of the most promising young attorneys of the State, and who was rapidly rising to distinction in his profession.

Young Crockett was a close student, and displayed great energy and spared no labor to make himself useful to his preceptor, who was enjoying a large practice. His deportment was such as secured the esteem of the older members of the profession, and soon the good opinion of the business community generally. In due time he was licensed and admitted to the bar. About 1830 he formed a partnership with Gustavus A. Henry, a brilliant association which continued for about two years, and until Mr. Henry removed to Tennessee, where he became very distinguished as an advocate and lawyer. Mr. Crockett succeeded to the entire business of the late firm of Henry & Crockett, and from close attention and his growing reputation his business rapidly increased. He married the daughter of John Bryan, a respectable and influential citizen of Hopkinsville, and in the spring of 1833 he became a candidate for the Legislature, and in August was elected the Representative from the County of Christian. His general intelligence and business habits established him in the estimation of his fellow members as one of the leading members of the body. He became very popular in the House of Representatives, and his course was approved by his constituents at home. He declined a re-election, as the growing demands of his professional business forbade it. It was about this time that the writer, upon his invitation, entered his office as a student, and continued in that capacity until August, 1836, when they formed a partnership in the practice, which continued until 1840, when Mr. Crockett removed to the city of St. Louis. While the partnership existed the writer confined himself principally to the office, and to business in Chris tian County. Mr. Crockett’s labors extended to all the counties of the district. The firm was successful in securing a fair share of business.

In September, 1836, at a special election, he was chosen a Representative for Christian County to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Hon. George Morris, who died a few days after the regular election in August. The ability with which he discharged his duties as a Representative left its impress upon the legislators of the State. On the termination of the session, avowing his fixed determination not to be a candidate for re-election, and declining a nomination for Congress, he was induced by Gov. Clark to accept the appointment of Commonwealth’s Attorney for the district. The position was laborious and brought him in contact with a bar distinguished for ability. But the interest of the Common-wealth lost nothing by being entrusted to his hands. His career as a prosecutor was brilliant and able. But the duties of a prosecutor were uncongenial to his tastes. He preferred being enlisted for the defense. Besides, the emoluments of the position were far short of what could be realized in the defense. After a period of two years he resigned, when he was thrown immediately into a larger and more profitable business, giving him more leisure to enjoy the comforts of home with his family. He immediately embarked in a lucrative practice, and was employed for the defense in the most important commercial cases arising in Southern and Western Kentucky. A man of high personal integrity, of engaging manners, well versed in the laws and discipline of the courts, and with a rich, chaste flow of language, I have always regarded Mr. Crockett one of the very ablest criminal lawyers I have ever known. On his removal to St. Louis, his reputation had preceded him, and his practice in the courts at St. Louis soon became large. Against the advice of many friends, he was induced to take charge of the political department of a prominent newspaper, the Intelligencer, in that city. He continued his connection with the paper for several years, and contributed much to establish its influence. The labors of an editor in addition to the duties of his profession were too much for him, and very seriously affected his health. He was compelled to sever his connection with the newspaper. About this time, 1852, the Pacific coast attracted his attention. He brought his family back to Hopkinsville, among their relations, placing his children at school, and set out on a tour of exploration for business and recreation to the golden coast by way of Vera Cruz and the city of Mexico, San Diego to San Francisco. The effect of the trip was very beneficial to him. He was re-invigorated and his health was fully re-established. He opened an office in that city, and his family soon followed him. He engaged actively in business, and soon found himself in the front rank of his profession. The bar of California was distinguished for its learning and great ability. The rare advantages of the golden State had drawn to its chief city many of the most brilliant, learned and ambitious men of the East.

No one ever made the acquaintance of Mr. Crockett, either profession-ally or in private life, who did not become deeply attached to him. His kindness of heart and generous courtesy compelled all to love him. These traits of character made him, universally popular, and his learning and talent gave him high standing with his professional brethren. Gwin Page; of Louisville, (who had been his fellow-student at Hopkinsville, in the office of Gov. Morehead) upon his invitation went to California and formed a partnership with him. They continued for some time in a pleasant and lucrative practice, but it was dissolved in consequence of the failing health and death of Mr. Page. Upon the death of Judge Shapter, of the Supreme Court, Mr. Crockett was appointed by the Governor to fill his unexpired term. At the succeeding election the people elevated him to the position which he had previously held by appointment. This office he filled for twelve years, having reached the Chief Justiceship, and re-tired in 1880, owing to general infirmity. His life gradually wasted away, when he died in the winter of 1883-84, surrounded by his family, within sound of the surf of the Pacific. The high character for personal and professional integrity which distinguished his early life in Kentucky followed him to Missouri and California, and marked his career as an elegant gentleman, a brilliant lawyer, an able, just and upright judge.

The following incident from another source, and illustrative of his career while living in Hopkinsville, is related of Judge Crockett: In the year 1838, the celebrated case of the Commonwealth against Barkley for killing Cuvilier, was tried in the Christian Circuit Court, in which case Elijah Hise, of Russellville, and J. B. Crockett, through sympathy for a poor and (as they believed) greatly wronged man, volunteered their services to defend Barkley without fee. The reputation of Elijah Hise as an able lawyer is such that I need only say of him, he entered heartily into the defense, and perhaps never showed his great powers as an advocate to better advantage than then. And gifted as Joseph B. Crockett had previously shown himself to be, he on that occasion astonished his friends and the court and led the jury captive by argument and eloquence, and not only contributed materially to the acquittal of the accused, but by his great effort, young as he then was, placed himself in the front rank of the able lawyers then practicing at the bar.

John W. Crockett studied law in the office of Crockett & Buckner, in Hopkinsville, and left here in 1839. He went to Hickman, Ky., and remained there for a time, but returned to Hopkinsville and spent several years, and then removed to Henderson, Ky., where he died some ten years ago. He was an able lawyer, but scarcely the equal of his brother, Judge Crockett.

James Breathitt – Mr. Breathitt was born in Virginia and came to Kentucky when very young. His father, William Breathitt, settled in Logan County in 1800, when southern Kentucky was little else than a wilderness. He was a highly respected citizen, though of limited wealth, and hence was unable to give his children collegiate educations. His eldest son, John Breathitt, became a prominent man, and served his State in many high and important positions. He was elected Lieutenant-Governor in 1828, and in 1832 Governor of the Commonwealth, but died before the expiration of his term. James read law, either with his brother or with Judge Wallace, of Logan County, and soon after his admission to the bar came to Hopkinsville and entered upon the practice of his chosen profession. He was twice married-first to Miss Elizabeth Short, a daughter of Peyton Short. She died, and he afterward married Gabrielle Harvie, daughter of Hon. John Harvie, of Frankfort, and a native of Virginia. Mr. Breathitt died in 1839, before he had passed the meridian of life, and his only surviving child is Maj. Breathitt, the present County Clerk. Mr. Breathitt was a member of the Hopkinsville bar at a time when it was considered one of the ablest in Southern Kentucky, and comprised such men as Crittenden, Davidge, Solomon P. and Fidelio Sharp, More-head, Mayes, Crockett, Henry, and a host of other lesser luminaries. For many years he was Commonwealth’s Attorney, under that pattern of old fidelity, Judge Shackelford, and in the discharge of his official duties was often pitted against some of the ablest lawyers of the period. That he proved himself a ” foeman worthy of their steel ” is evidenced by his long term of service as public prosecutor. Mr. Breathitt was an excellent lawyer in all branches of the profession, but excelled perhaps as a criminal lawyer. He was elected to the Legislature and served in the sessions of 1818-19, with considerable distinction, though at the time rather young. He was originally a Democrat, but afterward became a Henry Clay Whig. He made a race for Congress on that platform, but was defeated. His death, before he was fifty years of age, was a severe loss to his county and to the State.

Fidelio C. Sharp – Perhaps no member of the early bar of Hopkinsville became more distinguished in a certain branch of the practice than Fidelio Sharp. He came here from Logan County, the cradle of the Southern Kentucky bar, as Greece was the cradle of art and civilization. Although a man of limited education, he was one of the most profound lawyers, in his specialty, of all his contemporaries. While legal documents that emanated from his pen were scarcely models of literary execution and accuracy, yet they possessed the rare merit of saying just what was meant. His speeches were dry, but his pronunciation and emphasis had a peculiarity that rendered them amusing as well as interesting to his hearers. As a ” land lawyer ” he was probably without an equal in the Christian County bar. In those days there was considerable trouble regarding land titles, involving much litigation, and to this branch of the legal profession he gave the closest attention, familiarizing himself with its every detail. In land suits, the side upon which Fidelio Sharp appeared was usually the winner. Many incidents and anecdotes of his life and practice might be given which would be read with interest, but space will scarcely permit. He married Miss Evalina Johnson, and has a son still living in Hopkinsville. He died here years ago.

Daniel S. Hays – In many respects Gen. Hays was a remarkable man. He was a landmark in the times in which he lived. Few men possessed more noble and generous qualities, but with these were mingled some not altogether free of criticism. He was the friend and the attorney for widows and all poor people, and defended their cases without the ” hope of fee or reward ” with as much zeal as if large sums of gold depended upon his success. He was kind, just, accommodating, generous, whole-souled, but withal egotistical, ostentatious and vain. A small man, scarcely weighing a hundred pounds, yet in his own estimation he towered a giant in size and strength. His sympathies were aroused by the distress of the poor and helpless, and the woes of suffering humanity touched his pity, and awoke all the tenderness of his great heart. Col. Buckner, in a communication to the writer, pays him an elegant tribute when he say s he was the ” attorney for widows and all poor people.” It is a sentence that speaks more than the mere words imply, and if his vanity and egotism were wont to crop out at times, they never overshadowed his better acts and deeds.

Gen. Hays was born in Virginia about the year 1796, and was a soldier under Gen. Jackson at New Orleans. Ile located in Hopkinsville in 1816, and became a permanent citizen of the place, and died here in 1868. He studied law, was appointed a Justice of the Peace under the old Constitution, and in the regular course of succession became High Sheriff of the County. He was at one time City Judge, Surveyor, Insurance Agent, General Agent for Pensions, and a public-spirited citizen. He was elected Major-General in the Kentucky militia, and the State presented him a handsome and valuable sword. A gentleman relates the following incident which will illustrate the General’s vanity: Once, upon the occasion of a public display and ” turn out ” in Hopkinsville, in which the gentleman above referred to bore a prominent part, and who, by the way, is a man full six feet high and over 200 pounds in weight, went to the General to borrow his fine sword for the parade. The General readily let him have it, and agreed to bring it to him when he came from his dinner. True to his promise he brought it to the gentleman, who taking it remarked, General, this belt will be rather small for me, won’t it ?”

Oh, no,” replied the General, with a Napoleonic air, ” it is full large for me,” thus comparing himself to the two-hundred-pounder, by the side of whom he appeared but a pigmy. But the really kind old General lived out the measure of his days, did a great deal of good in the world and but little harm, and died at a ripe old age.

James Cravens was a lawyer here in the early history of the times, but is now forgotten by almost every living man. Where, how or when he obtained his legal education no one knows-perhaps no one cares. He was really not recognized by other attorneys, who considered him but a shyster and pettifogger, and his practice consisted more in advice to the rough characters than in the courts. He was not related to the large family of Cravenses then living in the county, and of whom there are still many descendants. He finally left here and went to Western Tennessee, and several years later Judge Long met with him, and learned that he had become a respected and highly esteemed man, and a preacher or exhorter. He was afterward elected City Judge of Memphis, a position he filled satisfactorily and with credit.

Edward Rumsey – A master spirit of the early bar of Christian County, whose reputation for candor and honesty, coupled with a clear sense of justice, won for him a name and fame untarnished by a single unworthy act-this was Edward Rumsey. He was born in 1800, in Botetourt County, Va., and was a son of Dr. Edward Rumsey, who came to Christian County when young Edward was but a child. He was educated under Barry, one of the famous classicists of Kentucky, and afterward studied law with Hon. John J. Crittenden, who became his life-long friend. He settled in Greenville, Ky., and practiced his profession in all the adjoining counties with eminent success. Mr. Rumsey was no less a statesman than a lawyer. His natural qualifications to’ shine in public life were much impaired by his excessive diffidence and timidity, which at times rendered him almost morbidly sensitive. To this fact may doubtless be attributed the loss to the public service of one of the most refined and brilliant men of the times. At the earnest solicitation of his friends, he became a candidate for the Legislature in 1822, and though but twenty-two years of age was elected. During the session, which was a stormy one, involving the ” relief ” and ” anti-relief ” measures, he be-came a leader, and made a most favorable impression by his earnestness, modesty, and uncommon ability. He was elected to Congress, in 1837, by the almost unanimous vote of his district. While in Congress he made the famous speech on the resolution recognizing his uncle’s claim (James Rumsey’s) to the invention of the steamboat, and bestowing on his blind and only surviving son a gold medal, as a mark of such recognition. His two children died of scarlet fever while he was in Congress, and no argument of his friends and constituents could ever induce him to again enter public life. From this stroke to his domestic happiness he never fully recovered. The breaking out of the civil war brought with it new calamities. He loved his country next to his children, but he believed that the General Government had no right to coerce a State. He survived the war, but grief and apprehension aided greatly in breaking the thread of his life, and he died in April, 1868, deeply regretted.

No more gentle and fine strung nature than Mr. Rumsey’s ever existed. He was brave and manly, but feminine in gentleness. He led a singularly pure and honorable life, and died universally esteemed and beloved by all who knew him. He was married, in 1832, to Miss Jane M. Wing, a lady of rare culture and refinement, and of the most gentle and unselfish nature.

Benjamin W. Patton – Mr. Patton came to Hopkinsville from Clark County, this State, and was a son of Matthew Patton, an early settler, who emigrated from Maryland. Benjamin had received a liberal education, and graduated in the law before he came to Christian, but with whom he studied his profession is not known. He was a brilliant man and an able lawyer, and in his brief professional life he acquired a reputation second to no practitioner at the Hopkinsville bar. He was a fine orator, thoroughly versed in the law, and but for his early death would have made his mark in the profession he had chosen. He died in 1825, at the age of thirty-seven years, and, as was said of another, ” He died ere he reached his prime.” Col. Buckner, of Louisville, is authority for the fact that he was appointed a Judge of the ” New Court ” of Appeals, and upon his death was succeeded by Rezin Davidge, but of this we have no official information.

David S. Patton was a brother to Benjamin, and read law with him after they came to Hopkinsville. He was a good lawyer and a good man, but scarcely the equal of his brother in native talent. He possessed courage to act as duty prompted and as his reason guided, and this sometimes made him unpopular with a certain class. He served in the Legislature from 1830 to 1834, and afterward moved to Paducah, where he died in 1837, in the prime of life. Mr. Patton edited the first newspaper-the Kentucky Republican-ever published in Christian County, and was an able and forcible writer.

Robert Coleman – One of the pioneer lawyers of the Christian bar-and he was a pioneer in the full sense of the word-was Robert Coleman, ” old Bob Coleman,” as his friends called him. He was licensed to practice law at the first term of the Circuit Court held in Hopkinsville. He lived in the eastern part of the county, in what is now Todd County, and when he came “to court at Hopkinsville, he always brought his dinner of ” corn-dodgers ” and bacon in his saddle-bags, to save the expense of a meal at the tavern. He is said to have been penurious and grasping, and was what was called in those days a ” land shark.” He never had much reputation as a lawyer, and his practice was confined chiefly to pettifogging in small cases. Many incidents and anecdotes are told of him. He died thirty years or more ago.

Robert P. Henry – The son of a Revolutionary soldier and the representative of a distinguished family was Robert P. Henry. He was born in 1788 in Scott County, Ky., where his father, Gen. William Henry, had settled among the first in that region. He graduated in Transylvania University at Lexington, and studied law with Henry Clay. In 1809 he was admitted to the bar, and the same year was appointed Commonwealth’s Attorney for the district. He served in the war of 1812 as aid to his father, with the rank of Major. In 1811 he married Miss Gabriella F. Pitts, of Georgetown, Ky., and some years after the close of the war of 1812 he removed to Christian County, where he continued to reside to the end of his life. Soon after he came to Hopkinsville he was appointed Commonwealth’s Attorney, a position he filled with ability. Ile was elected to Congress from this district in 1823, and re-elected in 1825. As a member of the Committee on ” Roads and Canals ” was instrumental in obtaining the first appropriation ever granted for the improvement of the Mississippi River. While in Congress he was appointed a Judge of the Court of Appeals, an honor he declined. He died suddenly before the close of his second congressional term, and before he had hardly reached the prime of life.

As a lawyer, Mr. Henry was positive in his positions when taken. He rapidly gained a practice, which steadily increased until he entered the political field. He was a good pleader, and his address to a jury was always clear, logical and often eloquent. His mental organization was of a fine texture, and eminently fitted him for a high rank in the legal profession. Though he died young, he lived long enough to win reputation as a lawyer and fame as a statesman.

Gustavus A. Henry, a younger brother of Robert P. Henry, a native of Scott County, was born in 1803. His education was completed in Transylvania University, and after graduating in the law he removed to Hopkinsville, where he soon rose to distinction in the profession. He was married, in 1833, to Miss Marian McClure, and shortly afterward re-moved to Clarksville, Tenn., where he attained high rank as a lawyer.

Ninian E. Grey was a well-known lawyer and politician. He came from Elkton, Ky., and died in Hopkinsville in 1861. He was a member of the Legislature in 1837, and of the State Senate in 1843; was a member of the Constitutional Convention that framed the present State Constitution in 1849, and it is said was always ready and willing for office of any kind and at any time. He was for a time Commonwealth’s Attorney, and was a good lawyer and a successful one. He was an earnest and zealous advocate. His literary and legal education were both liberal, and when fully aroused he was a formidable adversary in a lawsuit. He enjoyed a large practice, and was justly esteemed by those who knew him.

John McLarning – About the year 1839-40 John McLarning came to Hopkinsville from Barren County, Ky., and entered upon the practice of law, having been admitted to the bar before he came here. He attained great popularity as a lawyer, and the fact of his having been Commonwealth’s Attorney in the famous Alonzo Pennington trial, and succeeding in securing the conviction of that noted criminal, but added to his fame. He was a fine special pleader, and very quick to detect faults in the pleadings of his opponents, and his perfect familiarity with legal technicalities won for him an extensive practice. He was an excellent stump speaker, a Whig in politics, and is said to have been the only man ever able to worry Judge Hise in a political debate; Hise used to call him that d Irishman. He was elected to the Legislature and served in the Lower House from 1843 to 1848, and proved himself as good a legislator as a lawyer. Mr. McLarning was of Irish descent, a bachelor, and at times drank to excess. He died very suddenly, being found one morning dead in his bed.

Robert L. Waddill read law with Hon. Matthew Mayes, of Cadiz, Ky., and after his admission to the bar he located in Hopkinsville. He was a fine looking man, and made a favorable impression upon all with whom he came in contact by his gentlemanly bearing and commanding appearance. He was a good lawyer, and soon acquired a lucrative practice. With the Kentuckian’s love of excitement, he entered the political field, and was elected a representative in the Legislature in 1839. Was again elected in 1843, and again re-elected in 1844. A few years later he made the race for Congress, but was defeated. This cooled his ardor somewhat, and he retired from politics and returned to his law practice. About 1852-53, he removed to Texas, and became a Circuit Judge in that State. He married Mrs. Morris, widow of Hon. George Morris, and a daughter of Judge Shackelford, of Hopkinsville, a very estimable lady. Judge Waddill died in Texas some years ago.

W. W. Fry was a fine lawyer, not especially brilliant, but distinguished more as a good judge of law than for fine oratorical ability. He was wholly devoted to his profession, and mingled but little among the people. He was a candidate once for the Legislature, and was defeated, it is said, because nobody knew him. His repugnance to mixing with ” the boys ” and dispensing liquid hospitality among the voters rendered him an unpopular candidate and accomplished his defeat. He married Miss Maria Davidge, a daughter of Judge Davidge, and removed to Louisville, where he died, respected by a large circle of friends.

John G. Page read law with Gov. Morehead, in Hopkinsville, and was a fellow student with Judge Crockett. He was a genial, whole-souled man, fine looking, being over six feet high and straight as an Indian. He was successful as a lawyer, and rising rapidly in his profession, when he removed to Louisville. He then formed a partnership with W. W. Fry, who had also removed to Louisville from Hopkinsville. The friend-ship engendered between him and Judge Crockett when fellow law students, continued through life, and when Judge Crockett removed to California, at his earnest solicitation Mr. Page joined him there. They formed a law partnership in San Francisco, which continued until the death of the latter.

James I. Dozier came to Hopkinsville from Muhlenburg County, a licensed lawyer, but it is not known now where he was originally from. He was a sprightly, active man intellectually, and a good criminal lawyer, but of no great reputation in other branches of the profession; indeed, many pronounced him rather hypocritical, at times disposed to overlook acquaintances. His corporeal rotundity was such as to render him quite noted, and like all fat men he was social, genial, lazy and good natured; he is still remembered by most of the older citizens as a man who delighted in having a few companionable spirits about him, whom he could regale by the hour with “romances ” that would have totally obscured Joe Mulhatton, had he lived in that day. He was a great admirer of Judge Davidge, though upon what psychological principle it is difficult to say, unless it be that attraction that often springs up between characters diametrically opposite. The following incident is related of an occurrence that took place in an adjoining county: Mr. Dozier and Judge Davidge were engaged in a rather important case, and were opposed by Joe Hise, of Russellville. When Mr. Hise arose to speak, he paid a very handsome tribute to Judge Davidge, spoke of him as the ” father of the law,” as a man of the most ” exalted wisdom,” etc., and continuing said: ” And there is my friend Dozier; he too, is a great man, a very great man ! but, gentlemen of the jury, I leave it for you to say whether it is in body or mind.” He was the father-in-law of Gen. Lovell H. Rousseau, a brave and gallant officer in the United States Army in the late war.

James W. Ewing was a nephew of the noted pioneer politician-Young Ewing. His mother was a sister of James and Gov. Breathitt. He was born and reared in Logan County, and studied law there, and was admitted to the bar before he came to this county. He was a brilliant and able speaker, and, had he lived, would have made a fine criminal lawyer. He was Commonwealth’s Attorney at the time of his death, which occurred in 1834, in the prime and vigor of manhood.

Robert McKee was a native of Garrard County. He spent a consider-able time in the office of his brother, who was Circuit Clerk of that county, and hence, is what might be called a clerk’s office lawyer, as upon the strength of the experience thus obtained principally, he was admitted to the bar. He did not enter into practice immediately after locating here, and it was said that Miss Eliza, daughter of Fidelio C. Sharp, was the attraction that originally brought him here, and whom he afterward married. He was a nephew of Gov. Letcher, and a man of sound practical sense, but a little disposed at times to recklessness. In the late war he took sides with the Confederacy, and set out to recruit a regiment, but the Federal forces interfered, and dispersed the recruits. McKee and others fled South, and he was finally captured in Western Tennessee, sent North and died there, in one of the military prisons.

Thomas Chilton, lawyer, politician and preacher, was at one time a practicing lawyer in Hopkinsville. He lived here from 1836 to about 1840, and preached often, as well as following the law. He was an able man and a polished gentleman, and was successful as a lawyer, having great power over a jury. Tall, spare, lank, with light hair, and a fine, well-poised head, he carried everything before him. He went to Alabama about 1840, and died there.

George W. Barbour engaged in the practice of law late in life. He had been a merchant and failed in business, and afterward took up the law; he is represented as a good lawyer, and successful both as a defender and a prosecutor, vehement and earnest in his address to a jury. He married a Miss Todd, and had several children, but none of them are now living in the county.

This comprises a sketch of the early bar of Christian County-of those old lawyers and judges who have passed to that final court, whose verdicts are never set aside, and from whose decisions there is no appeal-so far as we have been able to learn its history. We have sketched no members of the court and bar who are yet living, but have given our attention to those who are dead. There are a number of men, bright and shining lights, who have in the past been members of the Hopkinsville bar, but have left for other fields of labor, in which they have made their mark. Notably among these are Hon. Benjamin H. Bristow, ex-Secretary of the United States Treasury, Col. James F. Buckner, formerly Collector of Internal Revenue, Fifth District of Kentucky, Hon. Henry J. Stites, Judge of the Common Pleas Court at Louisville, Richard Shackelford, of New Orleans, Livingston Lindsey, ex-Chief Justice of Texas, now a resident of La Grange, Texas, Asher G. Caruth, Commonwealth’s Attorney at Louisville, and perhaps many others whose names do not now occur. To Col. Buckner and Judge Stites we are indebted for many facts pertaining to some of those whose names appear in this chapter, and to them we tender thanks for their courtesy. To write the history of the bar from the organization of the county to the present time and sketch all its members, living as well as dead, would occupy more space than can be given to the subject in a work of this character. It was necessary to draw a line somewhere, and we draw it between the living and the dead. A valuable and interesting work for some literary genius to undertake, would be a history of the Christian County bar, from its beginning, with character sketches of all its members.


Perrin, William Henry, ed., Counties of Christian and Trigg, Kentucky, Historical and Biographical, Chicago : F. A. Battey Publishing Co., 1884.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest

Scroll to Top