All I Know

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Month: July 2019

More Kentucky Trip

On the first day of our trip to Kentucky, we visited the Bullitt Co. History Museum housed in the county courthouse, an impressive, very traditional looking brick courthouse.

The museum hosts history exhibits in a couple of rooms and the broad hallways, but the real goal for us was the Research Room. We met David S., the volunteer of the day and he was most helpful, pulling out folders of paperwork with variations of the Collings name. The room was small and intimate but full of books, papers, work surfaces, and a couple of computers.

The Collings group probably came to the area around 1783. Several entrepreneurs were claiming land at that time and building salt licks for the commercial production of salt, which was the primary ingredient needed to preserve meat.

In addition to the commercial possibilities, men who had fought in the recent war for independence from Britain came hoping to claim the allotments of land promised as payment for service to their country.

The Collings men and many like them had already spent time in the wilderness of Kentucky and Illinois in campaigns with General George Rogers Clark. They returned to their families in the east full of stories about what they had seen in the territory. The land was rich and fertile, the game plentiful and varied, the possibilities for a good life many.

Of course, there were Indians, but the men, while aware of the dangers, were confident that the future in the area was worth the risk. All they had to do was build a few “stations” for protection. The rest of the land would be theirs for settling.

The Collings and a group of nearly 300, traveled down the Ohio River to Louisville and from there, fanned out into the vast forests.

The Collings and the Crists headed for the area known as Brashear’s Station near Floyd’s Fork, a branch of the Salt River. The settlement was located about 20 miles southwest of present-day Louisville and by two cousins, Joseph and Marsham Brashear.

The cousins came to the area, probably in the early 1770s, built a rough shelter, cleared a little land, did some hunting, then returned east. Joseph died in Pennsylvania in 1778 leaving his share of the claim to his brother William.

The cousins were unable to claim their land legally, but in 1779 Virginia passed a law that provided anyone who could prove settlement in Kentucky before 1778 could legitimately claim 400 acres. The cleared land and the rough shelter were enough to prove the Brashears’ claim.

William Brashear gathered others willing to help, traveled to his “bounty land,” and proceeded to build the “station” or fort.

The winter of 1779-80 was so harsh and the settlement still so bare that the men abandoned it until spring brought better weather. When they returned, William Brashear brought his wife and their seven children.

It seems logical to believe that a Crist or a Collings was part of that first crew to settle at Brashear’s Station and that they then returned east to gather up their families in 1783. The names of those early pioneers are recorded on the state historical marker that stands on the site. Those names are Froman, Ray, Briscoe, Crist, Collings, Overall, Pope, McGee, Hawkins, and Phelps.

If you have been following this blog, you will remember the adventure of Henry Crist as he sought to establish his salt lick station. His supply boat, traveling down the Salt River was attacked and overcome by Indians on the way. Crist was forced to travel for several days, injured and on foot to the safety of Brashear’s Station.

We were eager to see the Salt River, so following an afternoon in the history museum, we asked David for directions which triggered a bit of discussion about the Henry Crist story.

He directed us to a parking lot and river access a couple of blocks away, then hesitated slightly and said, “You know that’s a pretty good story about Henry Crist, but I have my doubts about some of the facts.”

He assured us this was only his opinion but pointed out that Henry, who went on to become a politician and a man of some renown, had a lot of years to polish that story to his benefit.

As the only survivor of the attack on a boat that was more or less a sitting duck on the river, he figured Henry had to be a very lucky man if he was not one of the first men to escape. Then, David smiled. “I’m just saying, it’s a good story.”

One goal for this visit was to walk the banks of the Salt River, and it was everything I expected. It’s a small river and when we were there (July) very quiet and lazy. Not very broad, with high banks on both sides, it was a perfect setting for an Indian attack from either shoreline.

We spent a pleasant hour walking the banks, talking and thinking about the history we were discovering and about the ancestors who had walked here before us.

Past to Present

A small cemetery near Shepherdsville, Ky. brought my past forward just a bit. This must have seemed a restful spot to my ancestors. Photo by Dixie Carter.

At times, when reading about my ancestors and their world, I almost feel as if I have gone back in time. It’s easy to get lost in the history, the mystery, the discovery.

Of course, I know that we can’t go back, that the past is the past, but I found out this week that the past can sometimes come forward to you in unexpected ways.

This week we took a little road trip to the part of the country where our ancestors lived before they came to Indiana. We visited history museums and libraries, walked the banks of the Salt River, admiring the hills and the countryside.

More importantly, though, we randomly met some people, who in some way came to us because of our past and thus in some way made it come alive for us.

If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know the family line I am currently working on is the Collings family. Before they came to Indiana, they lived in Nelson County, Kentucky. At the time they lived there, in the 1790s, Nelson County consisted of approximately the eastern half of what we now know as the state of Kentucky. Over the years it has been divided into several smaller counties, Bullitt, Spencer, Jefferson, Nelson, to name a few.

My research has revealed that a thriving industry and community called Brashear’s Station (sometimes called Froman’s Station or the Salt River Garrison) grew up near present-day Shepherdsville, Kentucky, now Bullitt County.

Stations were small fortified areas that sprung up all around the area where early families settled, providing protection from Indians.

Our Colling’s ancestors have been listed among the early settlers near Brashear’s Station, and their name is listed on the historical marker that marks the spot of the settlement.

In the directions we found directing us to the spot to see the marker, our map also revealed a small cemetery named Collings Cemetery. Of course, we had to drive there, too.

GPS directed us down highway 44E, then off onto a paved county road, then off onto a gravel road, then onto what appeared to be a country lane with 5 or 6 mailboxes on a post.

Winding our way down the lane, we joked about finding the cemetery in someone’s back yard or off in a field, under a tree guarded by a mad bull, but finally we rounded a curve in the lane to see an attractive farmhouse to the right, far off the road, and next to the road, in the shade of a big tree, a peaceful little plot with about 6 or 7 stones.

Fenced off from a pasture and easily accessible to us, the plot was well tended and neat, with a pleasant view of the countryside. You could tell this was probably a spot much favored by the family who had chosen it as a resting place for their loved ones.

As we tried to decipher the names on the stones, most if not all of them very discolored but clearly bearing the name Collings, we saw a man leave the house and walk down the driveway toward us.

In the shade of an old tree, we explained to him our connection to the cemetery and why we were here. He told us when he bought the property, the graves and plot were in sad shape, the weedy and overgrown with broken and discolored stones. Over the years of his ownership, he had put fencing up, cemented what stones he could fix, taken down the weeds and encouraged the grassy, pasture surface.

We told him of our family, how they had come to Kentucky attracted by the opening up of the territory and the adventure, then moved on to Indiana, only to suffer from a devastating loss by Indian attack. From the dates on the stones, the people buried here were the ancestors that stayed.

The dates displayed seemed to be in the 1860s, which was about 50 years after the departure of our line of Collings.  Still, the names were familiar to us, having shown up in our research, probably as sons, daughters, nephews of the ancestors we met during our research.

As we talked, we discovered that Bryan B. is a middle school counselor who has taught history. He was very interested to hear what we knew about our ancestors, where they came from, where they went. He said he had often wondered about them as he worked on cleaning up their final resting place.

It also turned out, that he knew and was a former co-worker of a friend of ours from Scottsburg, Indiana, Reba J.

It never ceases to amaze me what a small, small world this is.

I was so happy to talk with Bryan and to thank him on behalf of my family and my ancestors for taking care of this place.

Over 150 years ago, my family walked these hills and fields. They lived, loved, and died here, or they went out from here to new lives in other places, but this spot is where they suffered loss and where they chose to bury their dead.

Bryan’s respect for this place and these remains, without even knowing who was buried here, struck me as such a kind and generous gesture.

Whenever the world seems like a hard and unfriendly place, I hope I remember the kindness of Bryan B. and how he brought my family’s past forward for me.

This Journey

What do you think of when you hear the word “journey?” Merriam-Webster defines it this way:

journey   a noun    jour·​ney | \ ˈjər-nē  \     plural journeys

1 : something suggesting travel or passage from one place to another

2 : an act or instance of traveling from one place to another : TRIP

Journey is not a word we use often, and I think that’s because a journey is more serious, more monumental than a trip or even travel. A trip is routine…a trip to the store, a trip to the doctor, etc. A journey is something we plan for and anticipate, something more calculated and purposeful.

A journey involves more serious consideration. How long will it take, what do I need to bring along, how difficult will this journey be, do I dare subject my family either by preparing them for my absence or by taking them along?

I don’t think the vast majority of people undertake a journey lightly. Journeys are usually something we consider necessary.

I’ve been thinking a lot about journeys while I do my family research. Everyone I know in my life is here because of a journey someone took years ago to reach this country, a country of freedom and opportunity. For the most part, those journeys were dangerous and difficult and involved leaving an entire existence behind to create a new future.

I seriously doubt any of those long-ago travelers just jumped on a tiny ship thinking, “What a lark this will be. When I arrive, all my troubles will be solved.”

I’m pretty sure they knew, or at least suspected, some of the dangers they were facing. I’m also pretty sure they looked at the lives they were living and the futures they were facing and made a hard decision that that sort of life was not what they wanted for themselves or their families.

Of course, there were always those few, a small percentage, who came because they heard the streets were paved with gold, or because they thought their past misdeeds would not follow them or because they thought this was a fertile new ground for lawless activities.

But that was not the majority. The majority was us, or rather those ancestors that paved the way for us. Those who survived the journey. We live in cities built by those survivors; we hold jobs at occupations that became possible because they came and created businesses or grew food and other crops or provided services necessary in the new country.

We are because they were, because they wanted a better life for their children, and because they took the risks, they journeyed, and they survived.

Why do we now assume that anyone who undertakes a similar journey today has not considered the risks? How can we forget that we are the children of immigrants who fled poverty and starvation and tyranny and injustice? All of us; each and every one.

Happy Fourth of July.

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