Henry County Historical Footnotes 

Samuel Morton Pryor Transcript - 1940

This Page was Updated Wednesday, March 14, 2007 02:21 PM


In 1940, Wendell Berry's dad sat my Great-uncle Samuel Morton Pryor down and had him remember his early days.  A stenographer was in the room and a transcript was made of Sam's remarks.

Now, Sam was 87 in 1940, and people thought his days were numbered. They were, but the number did not come up until 1953 when Sam was 99 years and 11 months old.  I knew Sam slightly and so did Wendell.

Sam was born in 1853.  He remembered several interesting things about the beginning of the Civil War and his real cousin, Gen. Humphrey Marshall, and his shirt-tail cousin Owen Carroll, and Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan's escape.  Also, without realizing it, Sam told why his dad, Judge Will Pryor, had to flee to Canada.

Wendell sent me this copy of the transcript a few days ago.  I have asked him for permission to publish it on the Internet and he agreed.

Thomas S. Fiske

It was a Wednesday afternoon, that October 9, 1940, when Wendell Berry’s dad got my Great-uncle Samuel Morton Pryor to sit down with him in front of a stenographer.  Sam had a farm near New Castle that he had worked for many years.  Now that he was a lad of 87, some thought his brain ought to be picked before his number was up.  Well, his number was not going to be up for another thirteen years, but they didn’t know that.  Below is a copy of the manuscript they produced that day. 

 The reader should be aware that Sam Pryor (1853-1953) was the oldest son of Judge William Samuel Pryor (1825-1914) of  New Castle, Henry Co., KY. Sam mentioned Gen. Humphrey Marshall, who was a cousin of the Pryors, and  Owen Carroll, who was probably an in-law of the Pryors (then or later).  Sam’s father was actively trying to prevent war, but when it happened he sided with the South. 

 Soon after the War began, Judge Pryor was apprehended and sent to prison at Camp Chase, Ohio for some obscure reason.  Historians show that President Lincoln imprisoned some 13,000 civilians in neutral or Northern states for little reason.  Pryor was paroled by Lincoln in 1862 by a letter that still exists.  So when Pryor helped General John Hunt Morgan escape a year later, he had to flee to Canada or go back to prison.  Also helping Morgan escape was Frank Pollard, a great-grandfather of the poet/novelist Wendell Berry, who owns the Sam Pryor transcript.  It is supplied here with the kind permission of Mr. Berry. 

 The spelling and punctuation of the transcript is unchanged from the original.

 Thomas S. Fiske

Fullerton, CA




Mr. Pryor tells the story of a visit by Gen. Humphrey Marshall, who then resided on the Kentucky River in Henry County, either at the farm known as Woodstock or the one known as Peach Orchard, for the express purpose of discussing the then exciting issue of secession.   The year of this visit was about 1860, or just before the outbreak of the war between the states.  At that time the land where the homes of Dr. Owen Carroll and Leslie Douglas are now located was an apple orchard and the old stone residence now occupied by Mrs. Louden and her son, Cortney, was the scene of the meeting with General Marshall of some forty or fifty prominent citizens of Henry, Oldham and other adjoining counties.   According to Mr. Pryor, who was a sizeable boy at the time, General Marshall, a beautiful and engaging conversationalist, sat in a large arm chair on the lawn of the old stone residence  there for the space of the afternoon enthralled and interested his listeners in an able discussion of the disturbing issue. General Marshall’s position being that Kentucky, while preponderantly sympathetic with the cause of .the Confederacy, should not secede from the Union.

The war came.  General Marshall immediately sat about the organization of several companies of men to fight in behalf of the Confederate cause.

Mr. Pryor relates the amusing incident that one such company not yet fully organized was encamped, or meeting at a point on the Owenton road near about the top of the Gratz hill when Col. Jessee, another old resident of Henry County, a Confederate sympathizer, ho was active as a gorilla, and the organizer of a company, which for the most part so engaged itself for the duration of the war except for infrequent excursions with Morgan's men in raids, came on horseback to the brow of the hill racing at breakneck speed and lashing his horse with his hat shouting "the yankees are coming", with the effect that the prospective company assembled by Gen. Marshall were frightened and completely dispersed never to be rejoined.

Gen. Morgan and Capt. Hines, upon their escape from prison at Camp Chase, Ohio, returned on their way to the Confederate lines, or the Tennessee border, through Henry County.   Impersonating cattle buyers they came to the home of Frank Pollard on the Kentucky River, spent the night and talked cattle.  Mr. Pollard subscribed regularly to the Cincinnati Inquirer  which was delivered to him by steam boat on the Kentucky River, and while Morgan and Hines were guests in the Pollard home the issue in large headlines announcing the escape of Morgan and Hines was received at the Pollard home.   Seeing it Mr. Pollard pointed first to Morgan and then to Hines and called each of them by name.  The next morning Mr. Pollard accompanied Gen. Morgan and Captain Hines from his home through Henry County by way of New Castle introducing them as cattle buyers.    They stopped at the home of Judge W. S. Pryor and purchased from him ten head. Judge Pryor secured the consent of Gen. Buckley (USA), who was in charge of a company of men then encamped at the site of the D. Minor Maddox home, for the cattle buyers, who were presented by assumed names, to pass through Buckley’s line of pickets and upon the consent of the two men departed driving their cattle and thus proceeded south through Kentucky almost to the Tennessee line where they were apprehended by yankee soldiers who  shot Gen. Morgan in the back, but who missed their mark on Capt. Hines, who escaped and survived to serve on the Court of Appeals of Kentucky with Judge W. S. Pryor (who figured in the cattle sale referred to earlier).

The Stamtbaugh home was originally the Brannin place.  The Brannins came here before the civil war and in the early days of Henry County from Louisiana where they had been engaged as sugar planters.  Dan Brannin was the earliest one known by Mr. Pryor and likely the original owner of the place.  His son, A. 0. Brannin, was the father of Mattie. A. 0. and other Brannins moved to Louisville and became prominent in the life and business of that city.  Mattie Brannin was a girlhood chum and desk mate from school of the Mary Anderson who rose from virtual poverty as a child to universal popularity and fame as an actress.   Being without means with which to provide herself with appropriate costume  for the occasion, she borrowed and wore at her first appearance the jewelry and dress of her deskmate, Mattie Brannin.

After the war Gen. Kirby Smith, a Brig. Gen. in the Confederate Army came to New Castle and acquired the Brannin property and organized the Military Academy there.   The Academy was noted and attended by sons of the wealthiest families from all sections.   Miss Preston, the daughter of Gen. Wm. Preston, was a close friend of Mrs. Kirby Smith and paid her frequent visits here. General Wm. Preston had a brother John Preston, who was a large land and slave owner in Trimble County.   I have visited, the John Preston home which is now owned by J. L. Rodgers.  Col. John Preston, not only owned extensive property in Trimble County, but large plantations in the Delta country.  On his place in Trimble County he produced and cured pork  which was shipped by raft down the rivers to his plantation in the south and there fed to his even greater number of slaves.

Mr. Pryor tells the story of old Jack Crittenden, a clever and shrewd old negro long remembered in the community.  The grand jury was in session and was investigating the illegal sale of intoxicating liquor.  Jack was called as a witness, but knew nothing of the illicit traffic.  By the foreman of the grand jury he was asked the pointed question if he had not told a prominent white man of sales and purchases of liquor, and to the question shrewd old Jack replied "Dats just street talk, Is under oath now."