The Courts of Meade County, Kentucky

Meade County was named in honor of Captain James Meade who was killed in the battle of the River Raisin. The act establishing Meade County out of parts of Hardin and Breckinridge Counties was approved, December 17, 1823, by His Excellency, John Adair, Governor of Kentucky. Joseph Stith, John H. Trent, William Ditto, William Garnett, Robert W. Washington, Joseph Atwill and William F. Foushee met at John Rush’s house in Buck Grove as designated in the act and organized, Monday, March 22, 1824, a county court. Each man produced a commission of a justice of the peace signed by the governor. Joseph Stith administered to John H. Trent “the oath required by the constitution of the United States together with the several oaths required by the constitution and the laws of this state.” John H. Trent in turn administered the same oaths to the other appointees.

After these gentlemen Justices had taken their seats, Benjamin Shacklett produced a commission as sheriff from the governor and gave bond in the sum of $3,000. Joseph Stith, Nicholas Miller, Robert Bleakley, Soloman Brandenburg, William Lane and Richard Stith, Junior, signed the sheriff’s bond. Robert Bleakley was appointed deputy sheriff. William Fairleigh was appointed clerk pro tempore. His bond for $10,000 was signed by Samuel Haycraft, Ben Helm, Robert McLure, Denton Geoghegan, Miles H. Chinowith, John B. Helm and John L. Helm.

The county was divided into three districts. The first district was east of a line from Moreman’s Ferry to a pond halfway from the mouth of the Brushy Fork of Otter Creek and the Big Spring. William B. Stith was elected constable of this district. The second district extended from the line of the first district to a line beginning at Joseph B. Woolfolk’s, leaving him in the lower or third district, thence a straight line to Colonel Carr’s. Samuel Browles was elected constable of the second district. Oliver Butch was elected constable of the third district.

John L. Helm was appointed county attorney. He was born September 8, 1802. His long and honorable career as a lawyer and a public official began in Meade County when he was twenty-one years old.

Jesse Shacklett produced his commission from the governor as coroner. He gave a bond of one thousand pounds signed by Richard Stith, George Humphrey and Samuel Brown, Nathan Raitt and Robert Stout were recommended to the governor by the court as capable surveyors.

Daniel S. Bell, William Allen, Thomas Q. Wilson and John L. Helm were admitted to practice in this court.

At the April term of the county court William Fairleigh presented his certificate of qualifications as a clerk signed by John Boyle, William Owsley and B. Mills, Judges of the Court of Appeals, and Achilles Sneed, clerk of that court.

James B. Woolfolk produced his commission as a justice of the peace.
The following order of the county court was passed, June 28, 1824.

“Ordered that William Ditto and William Garnett. Esquires, be and they are hereby appointed Judges til superintend the Meade General election to be held at this place in August next, and that Robert W. Washing-ton be appointed clerk of said election.”

An election at that time was held for a period of three days. Every man in the county had to vote at the courthouse, which was John Rush’s House. Elections and regimental musters were the scenes of much “fist and skull” fighting. In these encounters men fought to determine the best man in the county. The man who used a weapon was ever after disgraced and branded by the stigma of coward. The title, “the best man in the county,” was gained with a man’s fists. This honor carried with it more distinction than the decorations of a modern soldier.

On election days each candidate had his fighting men hurrahing for him. It was a time when public questions were often determined by personal combat. On the last day of an election a fight was generally staged for the remaining votes. The remaining votes were usually cast for the winner’s candidate.

At this first election held at John Rush’s, Dan Shacklett (Gentleman Dan) fought a pitched battle with Isaac Vertrees. Probably this was the hardest fight in Meade County. A large crowd formed a ring around the contestants and allowed no interference. They fought over an acre of ground for thirty-seven minutes.

Old Jesse Shacklett and Benjamin Shaver had two contests. In the first fight Shaver took undue advantage of his opponent by biting off a part of Shacklett’s ear. As Shacklett did not fully approve of such proceedings he challenged Shaver to a second fight at a later time. In this contest to even up the score Shacklett bit off a part of Shaver’s ear. Both battles were fought to decide which was the better man.

1 thought on “The Courts of Meade County, Kentucky”

  1. That is a great story. All those names are familiar. Some of them are my ancestors. I grew up in old Joseph Woolfolk’s end of the county. Many of them were neighbors and friends. From my home, I could see the Shakelette’s farm on the hill across Gas Well Hollow. What a time that must have been. Thanks for publishing it.

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