Hopkinsville, Christian County, Kentucky

The founding of Hopkinsville dates back into the last century. Its earliest settlement was made without regard to its ever becoming a town or city, but was more the force of accident than of any pre-arranged or definite plan. The beautiful site, with the fertility of the surrounding country and the abundance of game, arrested the attention of an old hunter, who saw in all these attractions an eligible place for a home, and he halted upon the banks of the placid little stream and at once proceeded to rear his lone cabin ” afar from the busy haunts of men.” This was not less than ninety years ago, and from this settlement properly dates the history of Hopkinsville, and the magisterial district in which it is located.

Cities are generally founded with regard to some great commercial advantage, either as seaports possessing deep harbors adapted for trade with foreign countries; as manufacturing depots convenient to labor and fuel or water-power; or as agricultural centers in the heart of fertile regions where the products of the. soil must be exchanged for those other commodities necessary for human comfort, enjoyment and health. If to any of these conditions Hopkinsville owes its birth, it is to the latter, for certainly no finer country lies out-of-doors, than that surrounding the thriving little city. This, added to the accident of its early settlement by the pioneer-Bartholomew Wood-may have prompted the founding of a town here, or at least have contributed largely to that end.

Bartholomew Wood

The first settler upon the site of Hopkinsville was Bartholomew Wood, more familiarly known among his friends and acquaintances as Bat Wood.” Just when he came to Christian County no one knows; why he came, perhaps he did not know himself. It is related of his settlement, that when on his way to Kentucky, with no definite point in view, he was so favorably impressed with the abundance of game in this locality, that he stopped and built himself a cabin. He figured conspicuously in the early history of Hopkinsville and of Christian County, and at one time owned a vast amount of land around the embryo city. He was a man of strong, practical common sense, but rather deficient in book learning; a rough diamond and marvelously adapted to the period in which he lived. In his buckskin hunting shirt and leather breeches, he hunted and trapped a great deal, and enjoyed himself as only a hunter could. He belonged to that sturdy class of pioneers whose iron frames had been hardened by exposure, whose muscles were toughened by exercise and toil, and whose bodies seemed invulnerable to disease and pain. The wilderness, with its wild beasts and savages, was their element. They sported with danger, and if need be met death with fortitude and composure. To such men, Kentucky in a measure owes her present glory and greatness. Bartholomew Wood was originally from North Carolina, and emigrated to Tennessee soon after the Revolutionary war. Some years later and prior to the close of the last century he came to Kentucky, but in what year is not known. He was here when the county was organized, and donated five acres of land for public buildings. He entered a great deal of land in his own name and in the names of his children. The following is told of his land speculations: He had entered a body of land in the name of one of his daughters, who afterward married Levi Cornelius. After her marriage Mr. Wood went to her to transfer the land back to him, but her husband would not allow her to do it. In spite of all arguments and importunities, Cornelius held to the land, and finally sold it to Young Ewing.

Mr. Wood had a family of several sons and daughters. The names of his sons were Bartholomew, Hardin, Carter, William and Curtis, the latter the only one now living. He is a man over eighty years of age, and is a resident of the county. One of his daughters married Levi Cornelius, as already stated; another married William Roberts, and one or two were still single when the old man moved back to Tennessee, which he did some years before his death. Most of his children went with him, except Bartholomew, but after the death of their father they came back here, and many descendants are living in the county to-day, among whom is the son already mentioned (Curtis), and Dr. Wood of Hopkinsville, a son of Bartholomew, Jr., and a grandson of the old pioneer.

The original cabin of Mr. Wood stood near the corner of the present Nashville and Virginia Streets. Where the latter street now is was then a marsh or lagoon for quite a distance back from the river. This lagoon was covered with innumerable ducks and wild geese, and is said to have been one of the strong arguments which induced Bartholomew Wood to settle here, that he might enjoy the shooting of them, as well as other game to be seen everywhere in the most plentiful profusion. Much more will be said of Mr. Wood in the progress of this chapter, as he is so inseparably connected with early Hopkinsville that we meet with his finger-marks in almost every page of its history. Among other early settlers of the immediate vicinity, and what comprises the present Precinct of Hopkinsville, so far as can now be obtained, are the following: Benjamin Eggleston, John Pursley, John Gibson, Dr. Moses Steele, Thomas Long, Jeremiah Foster, William Nichol, Francis M. Dallam, John Clark, Young Ewing, James H. McLaughlan, Judge Benjamin Shackelford, Benjamin York, Dr. A. Webber, Samuel A. Miller, Capt. Harry Wood, Samuel Finley, Solomon Cates, Peter Cartwright, Nehemiah and Jeremiah Cravens, Harry K. Lewis, Thomas Allsbury, Gideon Overshiner, James Bradley, William Clark, Joshua Cates, Henry Allen, Carter Wood, John Carnahan, the Boyds, Samuel Allen, William R. Tadlock, William Pad-field, Mrs. Bell, Larkin Akers, Laban Shipp, Matthew Patton, Rev. James Nichols, George Campbell, John H. Phelps, Nicholas Ellis, and others perhaps whose names have long since been forgotten. It is utterly impossible at this late date to get the names of all the early settlers up to 1810-15, as many have passed away, and there is no one here who remembers them.

Capt. Harry Wood was a noted man, and may be considered one among the earliest settlers in this portion of the county. He came from South Carolina some time prior to 1800, and settled the place two miles north of Hopkinsville, now owned by Col. S. M. Starling. Capt. Wood was a large and powerful man, a great hunter, and carried with him wherever he went a long rifle. Many stories are told of him, some of which may be taken with allowance. We relate one as we heard it, without vouching for the truth of it at all. It is said that his father was killed by Tories, a squad of nine, in South Carolina, and Capt. Harry vowed vengeance upon them for the deed. When the war was over he armed himself with the long rifle above described, and set out upon the trail of the Tories, and as he discovered one of them he dropped him, until he had, according to the regular yellow-back literature of the day, cut eight notches in his gun stock. In his wanderings and search for his father’s murderers, he came to Christian County, about the time or a little prior to its organization. He used to drink sometimes to excess, but it is said would never remain in Hopkinsville until dark, always striking out for home a little before night-fall. He finally died, and was buried on the place where he settled; his wife sleeps beside him, only a few rods from the house in which Col. Starling now lives. He was of a different family from Bartholomew Wood, and not at all related to the pioneer of Hopkinsville. Capt. Harry Wood had a son named Franklin, another named John H. and one also named Lemuel and another named Carter. All are now gone; even his sons were old men when first remembered by the oldest citizens now living. Solomon Cates was an early settler here, but was no relation to Joshua Cates so extensively mentioned in a preceding chap-ter. Solomon was poor and obscure, and never looked any further beyond than from one meal to another. He was a good worker, but never accumulated any property, not even a home.

John Parsley

John Parsley was a character, and also a very early settler. The Baptist Church of Hopkinsville was organized at his house. He was quite a land trader, and by some ” hocus pocus ” became possessed of considerable landed estate; there are vague hints that he sometimes was just a little sharp in his real estate speculations. Be that as it may, he has long since passed to an account of his stewardship. He was very large and fleshy, with a corporeal rotundity that Falstaff would have envied, and which Judge Long declares made him sit a horse with as much grace as a bag of sand. He spoke with a drawling tone and a peculiar accent which rendered his conversation a source of great amusement to the boys. He was very illiterate, but shrewd and keen in a trade, and usually got the best end of the bargain. John Gibson lived near where the Insane Asylum stands, and was a very early settler. He was a quiet man, attended strictly to his own business, and possessed very little notoriety in any way. He was born in Virginia in 1777, and died here in 1844. John Wilcoxson came here perhaps about 1817, and died but a few years ago. John Long came from South Carolina in 1804 and settled about three miles from the present city of Hopkinsville. He was a great hunter, and it is said killed 272 deer in one winter shortly after he came here. Thomas Long, a son of his, is still living in the county, an old man now eighty-eight years of age. He says when his father came here Hopkinsville was like Walker’s cow, of no age at all,” consisting of the court house, a blacksmith shop, a tavern and a few cabins.

Dr. Moses Steele

Dr. Moses Steele was a very prominent physician in the early history of Hopkinsville, and was a brother-in-law to Judge Rezin Davidge. He had several sons; one of them, Moses Steele, Jr., was a physician like his father, and died some years ago. Another son, John Alexander, was also a physician, and died in New Orleans in 1847. Rezin Steele, another son, and the only one now living, resides in Trigg County. Benjamin Eggleston came from Virginia, and was one of the early tavern-keepers in Hopkinsville. He died in 1819, and his family, after remaining here a number of years, returned to the Old Dominion from whence they came. Samuel A. Miller was an early merchant, and was a son- in-law of Dr. Edward Rumsey. Harry K. Lewis built a mill in an early day, a little north of Hopkinsville. He did not have the best of standing among the people. It is said he would cut timber wherever he found it, regardless of whose land it might be on. He had a saw-mill in connection with his mill, and to supply it made inroads upon timber whether he had a legitimate claim upon it or not.

John Clark

John Clark was the first Clerk of the County Court, and was called ” Black ” John to distinguish him from several other John Clarks in the county. The Clarks were numerous, and there was Pond River” John Clark, ” Sinking Fork “John, and several other Johns, and each of necessity had a sobriquet peculiar to himself. ” Black ” John was of a swarthy complexion, and hence his name. He was stern and imperious, and what he purposed had the will to perform. William Clark was a deputy in the Clerk’s office at the time of his death. Nicholas Ellis was a plain farmer, and lived some four miles south of Hopkinsville in the southern part of the present precinct. George Campbell came about 1816, and was originally from Ireland. He came from Virginia to Christian County. Dr. Alexander P. and George V. are his sons. John H. Phelps was an early settler and one of the early Circuit Clerks of the county.

Peter Cartwright

Peter Cartwright, the eccentric old Methodist preacher, a kind of second edition of Lorenzo Dow, was an early settler in Christian County, and lived near where the asylum now is. His father came from Virginia to Logan County in 1793, and settled near the Tennessee line. After Peter became a minister he settled near Hopkinsville, where he lived until his removal to Illinois. He is so well known, and there has been so much written about him that it would almost seem superfluous to say any-thing of him in this chapter. A few words, however, may not be wholly uninteresting. He belonged to that old school of pioneer ministers, whose sermons were measured by their length, and the brimstone odor of the awful thunderbolts they let fly at the heads of the poor frightened, credulous congregations. Mr. Cartwright was a God-fearing, good man in his way, but could picture hell so vividly that the startled sinner in his imagination could see the fiery billows roll along, one after another, hear the ponderous iron doors open and creak upon their rusty hinges, and the rusty bolts slide back and forth as the lost and doomed were shut into the seething lake of burning brimstone. Among other things written of him is the following: Mr. Cartwright belonged to the Church militant, fought gallantly for his religious dogmas, and had the rare good fortune to conquer in all his battles. Baptists, Reformers, Unitarians, New Lights, Universalists, Mormons and Shakers, all fell under the blows of his battle-ax. Nor did it fare better with the blackguards, ruffians and 12 rowdies that hung around his camp-meetings. They, too, sooner or later, were doomed to come to grief. He did not see the necessity of theological schools and an educated ministry, since, to use his own words, ‘God, when He wants a great and learned man, can easily overtake some learned sinner, shake him a while over hell, as He did Saul of Tarsus, knock the scales from his eyes, and without any previous theological training, send him to preach Christ and the Resurrection.’ A powerful conviction and a sound conversion were held in high estimation by him, and these might be begun and finished in a few hours, where the good work was progressing with energy and power.”

Peter Cartwright finally removed to Illinois on account of his views upon the question of slavery. He there lived out a long and useful life devoted to the cause of his Master. He died only a few years ago, and calmly sleeps amid the scenes of his earthly labors. Requiescat in peace.

Judges Shackelford and Davidge were early settlers of Hopkinsville, but are noticed in a preceding chapter, and anything further here would be but repetition. Francis M. Dallam was also an early settler, and is noticed elsewhere. He was a man of considerable prominence, and raised a large family, many of whom attained to prominent positions. Thomas Allsbury was an early citizen of Hopkinsville, and one of the early tavern-keepers. He made up a company and went from here into the war of 1812, and joined the Northwestern army. A man named Howard kept bar for Allsbury, and is said to have been a man of the most unblemished character and unswerving honesty, so much so that when one wanted to make a comparison of somebody being very honest it became a saying that ” he is as honest as Zeb Howard.” Nehemiah and Jeremiah Cravens were here very early. They were an altogether different family to the Cravens family who settled early in the west part of the county-now Union Schoolhouse Precinct. Rev. James Nichols, -a local Methodist preacher from North Carolina, settled in Christian a few miles from Hopkinsville, prior to 1800, and died many years ago. Laban Shipp was originally from Virginia, but settled in Bourbon County, and afterward came here and located near Hopkinsville.

Maj. Thomas Long came from Virginia, and with his father’s family settled in Logan County in 1803, and three or four years later came to Christian County and located on the west side of Little River, where Mr. Jesup now lives. His father, Gabriel Long, was a Revolutionary soldier, but he did not live in this county. Maj. Long has one son now living in Hopkinsville, Judge A. V. Long, and a daughter, Mrs. Jesup. Mrs. Bell, sister-in-law of Bell of Bell’s tavern, was an early settler of Hopkinsville, and died in 1818, and rests in the old graveyard in the south-west part of the town. Joseph, Thomas and Benjamin Kelly were farmers, and settled south of Hopkinsville very early. James H. McLaughlan, Young Ewing, Dr. A. Webber and Matthew Patton were early citizens of Hopkinsville, but have been extensively mentioned elsewhere.

The laying out of a town on the present site of Hopkinsville, as we have said, may have been prompted by the want of a town in the midst of a fertile region. The prime cause, however, was more probably the necessity for a seat of justice for a newly-created county. At the November term of the County Court held in the year 1797, the records show that the court proceeded to ” appoint a place to affix the seat of justice, and after del berating thereon, do appoint and determine on the land whereon Bartholomew Wood now lives; therefore ordered, that the seat of justice be fixed at the said Wood’s, he having agreed to give five acres of land for public buildings, timber for building the same, and half of the spring.” Although this order was made in November, 1797, there is no record of the town having been laid off for nearly two years later, as the original plat is submitted to record September 13, 1799. As shown by the records, it was surveyed and platted by John Campbell and Samuel Means, deputies for Young Ewing, County Surveyor, and the plat recorded as above (September 13, 1799). The following entry appears upon the records soon after the recording of the plat: The court proceeded to lay off the present bounds as follows: Beginning at the southeast corner of the court house, then a straight line to the east corner of Bartholomew Wood’s house, including the house; thence a straight line to the mouth of the public spring; then up Little River to the upper line of John Clark’s three half acre lots; then a straight line to the place of beginning.” This seems to have been the original boundary of the town, though there is nothing in the record to designate that such was actually the case. The newly-created city was named “Elizabeth,” but just how and why it was so called is a matter of some discussion. The name sometimes appears in the records as ” Elizabeth,” sometimes as the ” Town of Elizabeth,” and sometimes as “Elizabeth Town,” but never as ” Elizabethtown. At the April term of the court, 1804, is the first time the name Hopkinsville appears in the records, and then without any explanation as to the cause of a change of name.

General Hopkins

From local authority it is ascertained that a change of the name of Christian’s seat of justice was necessary on account of Hardin County having adopted the name of Elizabethtown for her seat of justice, and being some four years the senior of Christian, it naturally fell to the latter to make the change. The name “Hopkinsville ” was then adopted in honor of Gen. Samuel Hopkins, a gallant officer of the Revolutionary army, and a native of Albemarle County, Va. No officer bore a more conspicuous part in the great struggle for freedom; he fought in the battles of Trenton, Princeton, Monmouth, Brandywine and Germantown, in the last of which he commanded a battalion of light infantry, and was severely wounded, after those of his command had nearly all been killed and wounded. He was Lieutenant-Colonel of the Tenth Virginia Regiment at the siege of Charleston, S. C., and commanded that regiment after Col. Parker was killed until the close of the war. In 1797, Gen. Hopkins removed to Kentucky and settled on Green River. He served several sessions in the Legislature of Kentucky, and was a Member of Congress for the term commencing in 1813. In October, 1812, he led a corps of 2,000 mounted infantry against the Kickapoo villages in Illinois; but being misled by his guides, after wandering over the prairies for some days to no purpose, the party returned to the capital of Indiana. After the close of the war Gen. Hopkins served one term in Congress, and then retired to private life on his farm near Red Banks.

To go back to the beginning of Hopkinsville, and give a true detail of every branch of business and industry, when it commenced and by whom, is a task beyond the power of any man to accomplish. There are very few persons now living in the county who were here when the town was laid out, and those few were too young then, or are too old now, to remember anything about it, and the chronicler is forced to depend mainly upon ” hearsay evidence ” for the first few years of the early life of Hopkinsville. Thomas Long, an old man now living in the north part of the county, says when his father came here in 1804, all the town there was of Hopkinsville was a blacksmith shop, a tavern kept by a man named Crow, and the court house, with a few cabins of settlers who then lived in the place. It is believed by those who have a pretty good chance of knowing, that Carter Wood, a son of Capt. Harry Wood, was the first merchant of Hopkinsville -the first at least who kept anything like a general stock of merchandise. Others who opened stores soon after, and are still remembered by some of the older citizens, were John Bryan, William Murrell, Charles Caldwell, etc. In those days goods were bought mostly in the East, and sometimes hauled in wagons all the way from Philadelphia, but generally to Pittsburgh, and shipped from there down the Ohio, and up the Cumberland River to Canton or Clarksville. Groceries, such as sugar, coffee and molasses, were bought in New Orleans and brought up the river, sometimes being on the road (or rather on the river) three or four weeks. A merchant bought about two stocks of goods a year-spring and fall-and had no means of replenishing his stock every thirty days, as now, through the medium of traveling salesmen. It is not known who erected the first brick house. Among the first remembered was one occupied by Strother Hawkins, where Hiram Phelps now lives; one where Samuel Buckner lives-it had a Masonic lodge in the second story; a small brick opposite the last named; another where John P. Campbell lives; still another where Henry Gant lives, and another on a back street which belonged to the Glass estate, and several store houses in the main business part of the town.

Growth and Development of the Town

Of the first few years of the existence of Hopkinsville, as, we have said, but little or nothing is known. Whether it grew rapidly and developed into a town, or remained for years a straggling hamlet, none can say. It is not probable, however, that it grew with the rapidity that towns and cities spring up now in the great West. The country was much newer than it is now, and there was but little necessity for towns; there was no market within hundreds of miles for what little produce the people had to dispose of, and equally as little demand for goods and merchandise. A few small stores and shops were all there was in the way of business for several years, and the growth of the place was naturally slow. But as population increased, business grew and developed with the demands of the time. Stores were opened, the number of shops were increased, and houses were built-a better class of houses than the original cabins of the first comers. Schools were established and churches organized, and the place began to wear the appearance of a town. Roads were laid out to the mills in different parts of the country, and as ” all roads lead to Rome,” so all the early roads centered in Hopkinsville, and the hopes of its friends and projectors for its future glory and prosperity were, if not extravagant at least flattering.

Bartholomew Wood, if not an energetic and wide-awake man in building towns, seems to have evinced a spirit of liberality quite commendable in that early day. He not only gave five acres of land, and timber for the first public buildings, but when the wants of the community required it, he gave a lot of ground for a cemetery, and another lot for a Baptist Church. In his quiet, unassuming and unostentatious manner, he left his imprint upon many portions of the struggling town. Mr. Wood, from the traditions concerning him, seems to have thought a great deal more of hunting, fishing and trapping than of building up a town. He owned a great deal of land, however, and from the abundance of his acres did not hesitate to contribute of it to laudable and praiseworthy objects. We have no record of his religious inclinations or beliefs, yet the fact remains without question that he gave the ground for the first Baptist Church.


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

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