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.