Brandenburg, Meade County, Kentucky

April 18, 1784, an 113,482 acre survey for Henry Banks and Richard Claiborne began fourteen miles from the Ohio River and six miles below two military surveys for Philip Barbour. In 1787 Richard Claiborne with the power of attorney from his partner was in Europe trying to sell this vast estate extending along the Ohio River from below Buck Run to Doe Run.

February 16, 1787, a certain Samuel Blackden of England, who was acting as agent for Banks and Claiborne in Paris, France, sold to a Frenchman, Pierre Louis Phillipe Gallot de Lormerie, 5,277 acres of this tract for 600 pounds 5 shillings and nine pence with an additional 600 pounds to be paid within twelve months. January 1, 1797, this deed was recorded in the Registry of the Court of Appeals. But among other things since the deed to the tract had been made in a foreign country and there was some question under the Kentucky land laws as to the validity of the deed thus made in a foreign country. Accordingly, February 2, 1799, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Banks and Claiborne made de Lormerie a new deed.

January 6, 1794, the owners sold the remainder of the 113,482 acre tract of land to James Blanchard for about $25,000. Soon after acquiring title to this large boundary of Kentucky land, Trenchard made an agreement -With Henry Servanties, Colbern Barrel and David Barbour for David Barbour to take possession of the land. Under this agreement at different times Burgess Allison, John Keign, David Allison, William Shannon, John Fries, John Lisle and Guy Bryan had title under the original patent to parts of this survey.

In 1809 Samuel Bleight, Doctor of Physic, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, bought all the titles of all persons claiming title to the 113,482 acres of land under the original Banks and Claiborne survey. This was the beginning of a bitter land lawsuit. In the end Doctor Bleight lost the land. This remarkable man came to Kentucky to trade in lands. Besides this tract he owned 98,000 acres on Nolin Creek in Hardin, Hart and Grayson Counties, a 28,000 acre tract of land and an 8,000 acre tract in the barrens in the eastern end of the present county of Meade.

The early land history of Brandenburg is a subject for a lawyer’s brief. However, the Thomas Barbour 3,000 acre tract known as the Philip Barbour military survey, or the Falling Springs tract, is familiar to lawyers in Meade County. This land was sold to George Oldham. John Rice and Patsy, his wife, lived near Flippen’s Run and, July 17, 1804, sold Solomon Brandenburg their land. This is the first deed to this man who owned much land in the county.

Solomon Brandenburg later bought the Falling Springs tract “beginning at George Oldham, Junior, upper corner” and calling for Rice’s line. Joseph At-will and George Eilot were the witnesses to this deed. George Oldham, Junior, built a cabin on the site of the present public square at Brandenburg. This was the first house built on the site of Brandenburg.

Solomon Brandenburg came to Meade County a few years before he bought land. “His heart was as big as a Dutchman’s and a Dutchman’s heart is as big as a barn door.” The date and the place of his birth are unknown by the people who reside in Meade County.

The two hills upon which the town of Brandenburg is built were covered with large black walnut trees in the early days of the last century. At the left of the present courthouse Solomon Brandenburg built a double log house of hewed walnut logs. This famous building was known as the “Old Walnut Log Tavern.” The old stone chimney was standing when the present courthouse was built. Mrs. Frank Ditto suggested that the stones of the chimney should be left as a monument to the memory of that famous stopping place. Unfortunately, her suggestion was disregarded and the stones were removed.

The “Old Walnut Log Tavern” was famous for roast pig. Here stopped General James Wilkinson and Aaron Burr. In this celebrated tavern the wanderers of the West found genuine hospitality. Within these walls the gifted John James Audubon, the great ornitholigist, was a visitor. A list of the travelers who stopped here is a roll call of the famous men of the Ohio Valley.

Solomon Brandenburg cleared East Hill and raised a crop of corn that was talked about for years by the first settlers. Before his marriage to Miss Elizabeth Kennedy, May 9, 1807, he hunted, fished and ran flatboats down the Ohio River. Every fall he hunted bear regularly on Big Blue River in Indiana Territory with a friend, (perhaps Sybert).

A story is told of Brandenburg on one of these hunting trips. He owned a favorite bull slut who would seize a bear and hold on. On this occasion she seized a very large bear that carried her up a tree over a deep ravine. After the bear had carried the deg up the tree some fifty or sixty feet Brandenburg shot the bear. The bear fell upon the dog and so severely injured her that she died. Brandenburg’s grief was so real that he shed tears as if he had lost a good friend Solomon Brandenburg was a slave owner. Henry Washington, March 30, 1827, names the children of Solomon and Elizabeth Brandenburg in the, following order: Hester,’ Eliza, David, Swan, Solomon, Thomas, and Elizabeth.

His mother, Hester Brandenburg, died September 19, 1821, in her seventy-seventh year and is buried in Solomon Brandenburg’s private burying ground on West Hill overlooking the beautiful Ohio River. His wife, Elizabeth Kennedy Branidenburg, died September 22, 1838, and rests in the same plot. Mrs. Polly Stratton, wife of Serajah Stratton, Mrs. Eliza Francis McKinzie, Mrs. Mary Elizabeth. Fairleigh, Horace G. Perceful, members of the Fontaine family, the George family and the Mills family are buried in this cemetery. This burial place has been neglected for many years but at this time it is being put in better condition in memory of the known and the unknown dead who sleep in this beautf ul plot.

Swan Brandenburg died of cholera June 30, 1851, and is buried in the Walker burying ground on East Hill. This was the year that many of the citizens died of this awful scourge. Ben Gager Shacklett wrote for Ben Wooley Shacklett to come to Brandenburg. When Ben Wooley arrived Ben Gager and his wife and oldest son and a Negro woman were dead. The only survivor of the family was the youngest son who was away visiting. Swan Brandenburg and many others were buried that night.

At Solomon Brandenburg’s Landing and Ferry in 1814 the steamboat, Elizabeth, was built. This was three years after the construction of the first steamboat, the Orleans, or New Orleans, at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the first steamboat built in the west. The Elizabeth was owned by a company of Meade and Hardin County citizens. The boat was not a financial success. Benjamin. Shacklett Was captain when the boat was sold at New Orleans, Louisiana. With him on that trip were George Helm, father of Governor John L. Helm, and Absalom Brandenburg.

In 1816 the steamboat Hornet was built at the Brandenburg Landing. October 9, 1821, Hayden and At-will listed “two shares in the Steamboat Hornet at $100 each.” In litigation styled John Welch vs. Hornet Steamboat Company the names of the following appear: William L. McGehee, Solomon Brandenburg, Edward Hayden, residents of Kentucky and Lewis Carroll and Caleb Morton, “not inhabitants of this Commonwealth.” This court’s proceeding has a final word, “Dismissed.”

The third boat built at Brandenburg was the Grecian constructed in 1822. The owner’s names are unknown. All these steamboat ventures ended in financial failure. While General Benjamin Shacklett, Solomon Brandenburg, Joseph Atwill and others were experienced flatboat men they were not successful with steamboats. The three boats built at Brandenburg were some of the earliest boats constructed in the West where there were so few transportation facilities.

On, one of the steamboat trips Benjamin Shacklett had as his pilot, his brother, whom the batmen called “Old Choc.” “Old Choc” had lived among the Indians on the lower Mississippi. On this particular trip up the river from New Orleans “Old Choc” was Captain Shacklett’s pilot. One afternoon whiskey was passed around rather freely. The pilot soon began to see two riverbanks on each side of the river. Finally he asked his brother to relieve him at the wheel.

Taking the wheel Captain Shacklett asked, “Which way do you steer her, Choc?” “Keep ‘er in the right hand chute all the way up, Cap’n,” replied the unsteady pilot.

In following the instruction of the pilot Captain Shacklett took the boat far up the Yazoo River, which was in flood stage. The next morning “Old Choc” took the wheel and the voyage was finished without the further use of whiskey on the pilot’s part.

Solomon Brandenburg in 1839 moved to Mississippi to be near his son-in-law, the Honorable George C. Calhoon, who married Solomon Brandenburg’s youngest daughter. George C. Calhoon was a lawyer and was county attorney for Meade County and also was a member of the legislature from this county. He lived in the residence once owned by Judge Alexander on East Hill. Solomon Brandenburg died in 1845 in Mississippi and is buried in that state.

Joseph Atwill and Celia Simmons were married August 14, 1814. Celia Simmons was the daughter of William Simmons (born May 25, 1765) and Elizabeth Miles Simmons (born November 14, 1776). Her parents were married September 11, 1794. Cecelia Simmons was born September 2, 1798.

Joseph Atwill was an old flatboat man. His career on the river was long and honorable. After his marriage he moved to a round-log cabin near Brandenburg.

Soon after purchasing a large tract of land he built a double hewn log house a story and .a half high with chimneys of dressed stone. This house stood near the At-will spring below Brandenburg.

Soon after coming to Kentucky he became a partner of Edward Hayden. An inventory of their property October 9, 1821, shows that they had goods at the Yellow Banks, Little York, Rockport, Boonsborough, Indiana and Booneville. Also they had deposits, drafts and bills due them in Baltimore, Maryland, New Orleans, Louisiana, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Their total assets amounted to a little over $25,000. He acquired a large tract of land below Brandenburg and built a beautiful brick residence on the bank of the Ohio River.

In manner he was abrupt and stern. On the river in danger he was always master of the situation. To his companions on the river trips he was one of the kindest hearted of men and would do everything within his power for their comfort.

During the Earthquake of 1811, he was on the river with a party of men with flatboats. During the severe tremors several of the boats sank. Joseph Atwill’s boat was among the number and in the confusion he found safety in a large tree that had been thrown into the river by the earthquake. After passing a night on this precarious shelter he was rescued by passing boatmen.

Solomon Brandenburg and Joseph Atwill did much for Brandenburg. Although handicapped by a very tedious and bitter land litigation they made the town one of the most important shipping points along the Ohio below Louisville. Doctor Samuel Bleight bought the title to the Banks and Claiborne survey after actual settlers had received patents for the land in this area.

Accordingly, Doctor Bleight mandamused the auditor in the spring of 1825 to list his lands. Bleight’s contention was that the 113,482 acre tract had never been listed with the auditor and that the taxes on the two larger tracts had been paid until the year 1813 inclusive. At a sale for the taxes in 1814 Isham Talbot had bought the land.

But Bleight claimed that the land act of January 12, 1825, authorized him to redeem this land by paying the taxes due and by listing with the auditor. He wished to do this but the auditor would not receive the taxes and give a quietus except by a payment of a large sum of damages and interest. Therefore he asked a man damus.

The auditor’s answer was that one tract had been sold in 1806 for the taxes due in 1792; that the act or 1795 gave the Commonwealth a perpetual lien for taxes; that the act of 1797 provided 10 per cent interest on unpaid taxes with a perpetual tax lien; and that the 1799 act had similar provisions.

The Judges of the Court of Appeals in examining the act of 1825 said:
“The preamble of this act, which is said to be its key, breathes a sentiment by no means favorable to the petitioner, if he is one of those who would disturb an actual settler, a class of citizens peculiarly fostered by the legislature of our country.” After due examination of the 1825 act the court’s verdict was: “They impose heavy forfeitures, all to inure to the benefit of the occupant.”

The actual settlers of the county won after trade had gone to other locations along the river. At the be-ginning of the suits Branidenburg was on the highway to the Indiana Territory. When the suits were finally decided the town had suffered the loss of trade and was only a river town.

In 1826 the following owners of land were living on farms purchased from Solomon Brandenburg: Joseph Atwill, Esquire, Henry Shoptaunh, Frederick Mauck, Nicholas Shoptaunh, John Huffman, Henry Yeaky, Gabriel Wathen, William Richardson, Andrew Haberfield, Charles Source, William Fairleigh, Thomas B. Enlows, Waters F. G. Lansdale, James Smith, Leonard B. Parker, and Judith Chaffin.

In an appraisal list among other items appears, “one lot of cooking `you tentions’.”

Soon after Brandenburg was laid off the following persons owned lots in the town: Solomon Brandenburg, James Perceful, John S. Chapman, Dr. Charles Stuart, William Fairleigh, Hester Brandenburg, William Goatley, John Goatley, Gabriel Wathen, William B. Charles, John W. Lowe, Louisiana Brandenburg and Dr. David A. Haseall.

Thomas B. Enlows had a tan-yard east of the town. Soon after this Solomon Brandenburg sold Griffin T. Roach the right to have water from a spring for a tan-yard on Flippen’s Run “provided there be a sufficient quantity after supplying the citizens of the place and its vicinity, of water for family use, and the tan-yard of Thomas B. Enlows.” It was further provided that the “said Roach is not to prevent any person from using the water of said spring, for family use, nor is he to prevent it being taken for other uses, provided there be more than enough for his tan-yard aforesaid.”

Of the early years at Brandenburg, perhaps William Fairleigh knew more than any other man in Meade County. He was born in Hardin County in 1797 and died in Brandenburg in 1865. He married Elizabeth Enlows (born 1803, died 1867). Of his faithful and efficient services as a man and public official the Honorable Samuel Haycraft has this in “Haycraft’s History of Elizabethtown, Ky.”

“Same day (January 20, 1817) William Fairleigh sworn as deputy clerk. He was an efficient and faithful deputy, and although afflicted with a white swelling a great part of the time and which slightly lamed him for life, he never flinched from his duty, and during court times repeatedly wrote the whole night in bringing up the orders of the court. When Meade County was established he received the appointment of clerk, which he held nearly all the rest of his life, thirty or forty years, and there was no better clerk in the State, and accord-ing to my opinion, there was no better man.

Shortly after he went to Meade he became a member of the Methodist Church and remained a consistent member until the day of his death. His excellent wife was also a member of the same church. They were counted pillars and their house was always the preacher’s home, with the latchstring always out.”

4 thoughts on “Brandenburg, Meade County, Kentucky”

  1. Enjoyed reading this history of Brandenburg . I have been told there is a history book available that I would like to purchase. It was published in 1980’s. Can you tell me how I can buy it?

    1. Robert Lee Russell

      Dear Ms. Hart,
      I see that you enjoyed reading history of Brandenburg, Kentucky. I was born and raised in Brandenburg and I have just recently began a genealogy search for his ancestors and found a book called The Land Before Fort Knox by Gary Kempf that we found fascinating with rich history of the Brandenburg/Meade County region. It not only has history, but some amazing photos as well. We bought our version of the book online from Amazon. I hope this helpful to you.

      1. Dear Mr. Russell,
        I enjoyed reading your research tonight. My maternal grandmother was Jewel Lee Bales (Brandenburg). She attended the family reunions a few times in KY.
        I’ve used her documentation as well as begun searching a little myself. I will have to look for the book you referenced above from Amazon. I wonder if any photographs exist of Solomon or any of his children.

  2. Does anyone have information on Carter’s Ferry which became Fontaine’s Ferry. Our family gathering in 2022 will focus on Aaron Fontaine and his descendants who came to the area in 1796-ish.

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