Origin of Todd County, Kentucky

Col. John Todd, whose honored name this county bears, was the eldest of three brothers, and a native of Pennsylvania. He was educated in Virginia, at his uncle’s-the Rev. John Todd-and at maturity entered upon the study of the law, subsequently obtaining a license to practice. He left his uncle’s residence, and settled in the town of Fincastle, Va., where he practiced law for several years; but Daniel Boone and others having explored Kentucky, Col. Todd, lured by the descriptions given him of the fertility of the country, about the year 1775 came first to Kentucky, where he found Col. Henderson and others at Boonesboro. He joined Henderson’s party, obtained a pre-emption right, and located sundry tracts of land in the present county of Madison, in Col. Henderson’s land office. He afterward returned to Virginia, and in the year 1786 again set out from Virginia with his friend, John May, and one or two others, for Kentucky. They proceeded some distance together on the journey, when for some cause Mr. May left his servant with Col. Todd to proceed on to their destination, and returned to Virginia. Col. Todd proceeded on to the place where Lexington now stands, and in its immediate vicinity improved two places-the one in his own name and the other in that of his friend, John May-for both of which he obtained certificates for settlement and pre-emption of 1,400 acres. These pre-emptions adjoin and lie in the immediate vicinity of the city of Lexington. It appears from depositions taken since his death, that he accompanied Gen. Clarke in his expedition against Kaskaskia and Vincennes, and was at the capture of those places. After the surrender of these posts it is supposed lie returned to Kentucky, but it appears from letters written by Gen. Clarke that Col. Todd was appointed to succeed him in the command at Kaskaskia. Under an act of Virginia Legislature passed in 1777, by which that part of Virginia conquered by Clarke, and all other of her territory northwest of the Ohio River, was erected into the county of Illinois, of which Col. Todd was appointed Colonel-Commandant and County-Lieutenant, with all the civil powers of Governor. He was further authorized, by enlistment or volunteers, to raise a regiment for the defense of the frontier. He immediately entered upon the duties of his office, and was seldom absent from his Government up to the time of his death. The regiment was raised for one year’s service, but was continued in duty until about 1779, when the State of Virginia raised four additional regiments-two for the eastern and two for the western part of Virginia. Col. Todd was appointed to the command of one of these. In the spring of 1780, Col. Todd was sent a delegate to the Legislature of Virginia, from the County of Kentucky. While attending on the Legislature he married Miss Hawkins, and returned subsequently to Kentucky, settling his wife in the fort at Lexington. He again visited Illinois, and was engaged continually in the administration of its Government and in military affairs, so that he was seldom with his family until the summer of 1782, when in the month of August the Indians besieged Bryan’s Station in great force. The disastrous battle of the Blue Licks followed on the 19th of that month. Among the noble brave who fell, fighting to the last, was Col. John Todd, in the midst of usefulness and in the prime of life. His wife survived him, and an only child, a daughter, about twelve months old. This daughter was still living in 1847 (as wife of Robert Wickliffe, Sr.), and was then the oldest female native of Lexington.

Col. Todd was a man of fine personal appearance and talents, and an accomplished gentleman; was universally beloved, and died without a stain upon his character, and it is believed without even one enemy upon earth. From the year 1778 he might be considered as residing in Illinois until his marriage in 1780. Settling his wife at Lexington, he was obliged to make a long and dangerous trip to visit his family, and besides aiding in the councils held by Clarke, and accompanying him in one or more of his expeditions, it is believed he passed the journey from Lexington to Kaskaskia twice, and often four times each year. An anecdote illustrative of his character as related by his wife is to this effect: During the winter succeeding their marriage the provisions of the fort at Lexington became exhausted to such an extent that on her husband’s return home with his colored man, George, one night, almost famished with hunger, she had been able to save for him a small piece of bread, about two inches square, and about a gill of milk, which she presented” to him. He asked at once, if there was nothing for George; she answered, “not a mouthful.” He called George, and handed him the bread and the milk, and went to bed supperless himself.


Battle, J. H., W. H. Perrin, Counties of Todd and Christian, Kentucky : historical and biographical, Chicago : F. A. Battey Publishing Co., 1884.

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