Louisville's First Families -A SERIES OF GENEALOGICAL SKETCHES
Author - KATHLEEN JENNINGS
Published by THE STANDARD PRINTING CO.- Louisville, KY 1920
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COLONEL JOHN FLOYD
Sketched from the photograph of an old picture which hung in Col. R. T. Durrett's library, used to illustrate William Floyd Tuley's "Genealogy of the Tuley and Floyd Families".
Photographs of Colonel Floyd's son and grandson, the John Floyds, who were Governors of Virginia, bear a striking resemblance to this old likeness of the vigorous pioneer.
The Floyd Family I. Chapter XIII.
LETTERS written by Col. John Floyd to his chief, Col. William Preston, county lieutenant and surveyor of Fincastle county, Va., present an exceptionally fine picture of how Kentucky was wrested from the Indians and of the early settling of Louisville and of the Central Kentucky towns, but are even more interesting in the light they cast upon their author, John Floyd, pioneer statesman and surveyor, and Kentucky's hero of heroes.
A Virginia gentleman of rare mental attainments, brave as a lion, a true friend, of the warmest affections, Col. Floyd reveals himself in his letters to Col. Preston and to Gen. George Rogers Clark, letters written between 1774 and 1783, the best years and the last years of his life, for at thirty-three Floyd was a victim of the Indians. While comparatively little has been recorded in histories, Floyd's letters are preserved in the Virginia Archives and the Draper MSS, making an authentic memorial to his achievements.
John Floyd was born in 1750, in Amherst county, Va., a son of Col. William Floyd and Abigail (or Abediah) Davis Floyd, and one of a
number of children who later emigrated to Kentucky to become founders of Louisville families. Abigail Davis was a sister of Evan Davis, grandfather of Jefferson Davis, according to a tradition in the family, and like her husband was descended from Welsh emigrants to Virginia. In 1772, John Floyd moved to Fincastle county, where he taught school, living in the home of Col. William Preston, Two years later Preston made Floyd a deputy surveyor and appointed him chief of a surveying party to Kentucky, then known as a part of Fincastle county. The party set out on April 7 from Col. Preston's home at 1 o'clock in the afternoon in high spirits, escorted three miles by the surveyor, according to Hanson's Journal, kept by one of Floyd's party, Thomas Hanson, a young gentleman who faithfully set down the traveling experiences of the brave little band. He tells how they received news of battles with the Indians; of meeting up with bands in the forest and having a feast of bear meat; of overtaking Hancock Taylor at the head of another surveying party, and of the men proceeding together in great harmony; of Mr. Floyd laying off two thousand acres of land on Cole river for Col. George Washington; of lands surveyed in Kentucky for Patrick Henry and other prominent men of the time. Floyd's special mission on his first trip was to make survey of the bounty
lands offered to veterans of the French and Indian War. In that year the activities of the hostile Indians led Dunmore to order the recall of the Virginia surveyors, and Daniel Boone was sent by Preston to order Floyd to bring in his men. On the 26th of August Floyd writes to Preston: "You will hear by Capt. Russell of the death of Mr. Hancock Taylor and one of the company, my poor brother sufferers whose deaths I hope to revenge yet," showing that even this early in his work he had cast his lot with the cause of Kentucky.
Floyd then joined the forces of Gen. Andrew Lewis. but was not in time for the fighting at Point Pleasant. In January, 1775, he was sent back to Kentucky by his chief to make a survey on soldier claims and established the station of St. Asaph. In May he was on Dix River with his party and met up with Lieut. John Henderson, of the Transylvania Company, a settler at Boonesborough, who distrusted Floyd because he represented Col. Preston, whose interests and Henderson's did not coincide. Regarding Floyd, Henderson made the following entry in his journal on May 3, 1775:
"Capt. John Floyd arrived here conducted by one John Drake, from a camp on the Dix river where he had left about thirty of his company from Virginia. He said he was sent by them to
know on what terms they might settle on our lands. This man appeared to have a great share of modesty, an honest, open countenance and no small share of good sense, and, petitioning in behalf of himself and his whole company, among whom were one Mr. Dandridge (Alexander Spottswood Dandridge), and one Mr. Todd, two gents of the law, in their own right, and several other young gents of good family, we thought it advisable to secure them to our interest if possible, and not show the least distrust of the intentions of Capt. Floyd, on whom we intend to keep a strict watch." However, Floyd effected an understanding with Henderson and did not participate in the land fights that ensued.
In a letter from Boonesborough to Col. Preston, written July 21, 1776, he describes the rescue of the Calloway girls and Daniel Boone's daughter from the Indians, after they had been taken captives from a canoe on the river. He cites this among the Indian depredations, and concludes: "If the war becomes general, which there now is the greatest appearance of, our situation is truly alarming. I want to return as much as any person can do, but if I leave the country now, there is scarcely one single man hereabouts but that will follow my example. When I think of the deplorable conditions a few
helpless families are likely to be in, I conclude to sell my life as dear as I can, in their defense, rather than to make an ignominious escape."
"I do, at the request and in behalf of all the distressed women and children, and other inhabitants of this place, implore the aid of every leading man who has it in his power to give them any relief."
But the war was on in earnest and Capt. Floyd returned to Virginia, where he was given charge of the privateer Phoenix, sent out to prey upon British commerce. He sailed to the West Indies and found rich soil, but was captured by the British off the Bahamas and taken to an English prison. After a year as prisoner he escaped, aided by the jailer's wife, made his way to France, where he secured aid of Benjamin Franklin and went home to Virginia.
In 1779 Floyd with his wife, Jane Buchanan, a niece of his friend, Col. Preston, started for Kentucky, making their way to the Falls of Ohio, accompanied or followed by several of his brothers and sisters. He built Floyd's Station, which stood on lands about a mile from St. Matthews. Unfortunately for Floyd and his family, their year at the Falls was one of pitiless cold, always spoken of in history as the 'hard winter."
In a letter to Preston, Floyd tells of the weather being "violently hard," of there being no arrivals or news down the river in some weeks. He congratulates Col. and Mrs. Preston on the arrival of their sixth daughter. (Letitia Preston was the bride of John Floyd, Jr., who became Governor of Virginia.) Floyd continues: "I can't buy a bushel of corn for $50, and everything else seems nearly in proportion. Jenny and myself often lament the want of our fine crop of corn the valley of Arcadia, and we both seem to have a fondness yet for that country notwithstanding all the advantages we expect in future. We sometimes laugh at our misfortune with hopes of doing better in a few months, which will soon pass away." In January, Floyd writes again to Col. Preston of the extremity of the settlers at the Falls. "If anybody comes by water I wish we could get a little flour brought down if it was as dear as gold dust. Since I wrote, corn has been sold at the Falls for $165 a bushel. I have sent $600 by Mr. Randolph, a friend of mine, which is for my brother Charles, to purchase some cattle and drive out next spring. We have no prospect of getting any linen. Jenny sends her best wishes and desires to know if it will be possible for Charles to get anything to clothe her and the little boy." Later, May 31: "Do order Charles to bring the net profits of the
crop in Arcadia in clothing or we shall be obliged to use fig leaves. The Indians plan to make this neighborhood the seat of war this season. Two men bring accounts that six hundred English with united enemy Indians are now preparing to march against the Falls with artillery. Hardly one week passes without someone being scalped between this and the Falls, and I have almost got too cowardly to travel about the woods without company.
In this year of 1780, Floyd was appointed one of the original trustees of the new city, Louisville, and it is generally supposed that he was also a justice of the peace. His correspondence with Col. Preston during the summer shows the pioneer life as arduous and full of anxiety. In June he writes: "People this year seem generally to have lost their health, but perhaps it is owing to the disagreeable way in which we are obliged to live, crowded in forts, where the air seems to have lost all its purity and sweetness. Our little boy has been exceedingly ill." A postscript to the letter: "Uncle Davis and his son killed near Cumberland Mountains five weeks ago going into settlement. There were four brothers, all of whom have been murdered in seven or eight years. I hear nothing of Charles, and fear if he comes with a small company he will share the fate his uncle and son has done."
In the following year Floyd assumes heavy responsibilities, for in 1781 Gen. Clark Wrote Gov. Jefferson, of Virginia, asking him to appoint Col. John Floyd to the position of county lieutenant, describing Floyd as "a gentleman who would do honor to the position and known to be the most capable in the county, a soldier, a gentleman, and a scholar, whom the inhabitants, for his actions, have the greatest confidence in. " Floyd was appointed county lieutenant and his letters from this time until his death, to Preston and to Clark, deal with the defense of the fort at the foot of Twelfth street, at Fort Nelson, of militia without ammunition and with horses lost, of the defenseless position of the stations. He writes that the reason that the country is not deserted is due to the fact that the Ohio runs only one way, and that the miserable inhabitants have lost their horses, that the Indians are continually pecking at the settlers, forty-seven inhabitants killed or captured from January to May. In September, Col. Floyd writes Gen. Clark that his company of twenty-seven had been dispersed and cut to pieces, only nine men coming off the field. "A party was defeated yesterday at the same place and many women and children wounded. I want satisfaction; do send me one hundred men, which number with what I can
raise, will do. Militia has no good powder, do send some. I can't write—guess at rest."
Col. Floyd appeals to Gen. Clark in May, 1782, in behalf of the inhabitants of Spring Station, who had become so alarmed that they feared to plant their corn without a small guard. They offer their services for work on Ft. Nelson in exchange for a guard of Gen. Clarke's troops for a week's planting. In the same letter he tells of planning to search houses for hemp needed in equipping boats on the river to be employed in fighting the savages, and writes Clark that he and his men have been making rope from "poppaw bark." An earlier letter to Gen. Clark told of preparing canoes ordered by the government, and stated that he, Floyd, was liable for the price of most of them, about four thousand pounds. He writes: "People have been so long amused with promises of paying off indebtedness long incurred that the credit of the State is very little better here than in Illinois." It is understood that Floyd and the other pioneers of means were never remunerated for many of their expenditures of this nature, and practically ruined themselves, giving funds, service, their all, to save Kentucky.
A letter to Col. Preston, in March, 1783, informs him of the death of Billy Buchanan, Mrs. Floyd's brother, at the hands of the Indians. In
this letter Floyd observes that he expected something like this to be his own lot. Within a month his apprehension proved true, for on April 10, 1783, while riding to the salt works from his station on Beargrass, Col. Floyd was fired upon by Indians and received a mortal wound. In company with him was a brother, whose horse was shot from under him, and a third person, who was killed outright. Col. Floyd was carried by his brother to the salt works, where he died two days later. On April 24 a son was born to Mrs. Floyd, named John, for his father. This John Floyd went back to Virginia to become Governor of the State in 1830, and he was the father of John Buchanan Floyd, elected Governor of Virginia in 1850, and the Secretary of War in 1857 under President Buchanan.
Col. Floyd left two other sons besides his posthumous child, William Preston Floyd, who took up his residence in Virginia, and Capt. George Rogers Clark Floyd, who remained in Louisville to become an Indian fighter like his father. Floyd county, Floyd's Fork, Floyd street, in this city, are all named for the distinguished gentleman, John Floyd. A drinking fountain on Main street between Third and Fourth was presented to the city, several years ago, by Allen R. Carter through the Sons of the Revolution, as a marker for Floyd's old blockhouse, which stood
between Main and the River and Third and Fourth; a monument stands at Eastwood, on the Shelbyville pike, erected a number of years ago to Col. Floyd and his men.
(Copies of Col. John Floyd's letter preserved in the Draper manuscripts and in the Virginia archives are in the library of Mr. Temple Bodley.)