"Memories from Earlington: Brown’s Meadow #2"

Times were as hard in the mid-1840s in the Charleston-Beulah area around Hopkins County, Ky, as they were in most rural areas. It was there during a January winter in 1841 that Micajah and Sarah Davis Brown saw the birth of the first of their five children-- William Riley, Tabitha Jane, Charity, Jane Rebecca and the youngest Isaac. By the time Wm Riley was 19 and a census enumerator knocked at the Brown’s in mid July in ’60, Wm no longer resided at the family farm. The following October saw him at age 20, a large man for that era weighing over 200 & standing about 6’3," along with friend (and future brother-in-law) John W. Wyatt beginning a lengthy sojourn to Henderson to join the Union Army. From Henderson Wm was sent to McLean County where he became a private with the pay of $13 a month in the 25th Regiment KY Volunteers under Capt. Campbell’s Company D. Here he remained in Calhoun until February of the following year of ’62 when his company was ordered to capture Ft. Donelson, TN, a move which gave the Union forces control of the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers which gave them water access to the heartland of the south and saw William’s troop moving once more. This time it was toward Shiloh where his regiment became consolidated with the 17th, Co. E. and where he would remain driving a wagon for the remainder of his military service. For the next three years this stocky man wearing dark blues and serving under Capt. James H. Frost saw a great deal more of life, and death, than most people ever would. Being the son of a farmer and on better terms with mules than a musket, William became a teamster. Although he drove supplies to a number of major TN battlesites like Shiloh, Chickamauga, Lookout Mountain, and Gettysburg,Pa, he also carried critical materials back and forth to seemingly never-ending minor skirmishes. By the time he mustered out in Louisville in January of 1865 his regiment had lost 7 officers and 128 enlisted men in battle as well as 5 officers and 158 other men through disease.

A more older William Riley Brown returned to Charleston in ’65 where the following month he married the sister of the friend with whom a lifetime before he had traveled to Henderson in search of adventure. William and Amanda Wyatt would rear eight children of their own—Joseph, Emma, Colby, Viola., Viellie, Johnnie, James, and Arthur as well as Sarah Jackline Johnson, Amanda’s daughter by another marriage, who later would be affectionately known as "Aunt Jack."

Four years later in a cold December in 1870, Wm decided to move to a nearby small village. His family now boasted of new baby Emma born the month prior but who would tragically succumb to a combination of whooping cough and measles before her 2nd birthday. This new community soon became known as Earlington in honor of a John Baylis Earl and came to be cared for by John B. Atkinson who when passing by Flemming’s Curve had noticed an outcropping of coal. Atkinson soon founded a company there to mine the coal. Wm being a timberman quickly landed a job. At this time there were only four log houses, the first belonging to Atkinson and built next to a lean-to shed which until 1903 housed a dry goods, post office, and grocery. Another cabin belonged to Daniel Umstead with whom William stayed that first night in Earlington on December 14. On the following day he began working for Mr. Atkinson hewing timber for sills to construct a stable for what was called Ole No. 9. Almost to the day three months later, Wm moved his family to a beautiful meadow about 2 miles southeast of town. The area became known as Brown’s Meadow, a name it still bears today. Grand-children would later recount stories of riding up down the dusty lane and in a horse-drawn buggy to the Meadow. In the late 20’s the Meadow would become a well-known recreational area hosting huge July 4th events for over a decade.

In 1882 William joined the M.E. Methodist Church North. The "North" designated that the members were Northern sympathizers in contrast to those who belonged to the M.E. Methodist Church South located on the other side of the village on Sebree Avenue. Wm remained a staunch member of the church for all his life. He was known as a hard-worker, honest, and independent. He worked all his life at the mines, moving from timberman to firing the coke ovens, a job would rob him of his sight his last 12 years due to the brilliant white light from years of stoking hot coals.

A major change for Wm and his family was that he would have to leave his beloved Meadow to move to another home on what is now Hwy 41 South across from the Madisonville Country Club. It was a log house with the exterior covered by weatherboarding. Two of his married daughters Viola and Ella lived close by on Buckner’s Ridge, an area between where William lived and the village. After the death of each’s husband, the girls moved back in with their father. William passed away March 18, 1922, at the age of 81. He was laid to rest in Oakwood Cemetery on a Saturday 2 days later with full military honors at last reunited with Amanda who had preceded him five years prior.

An interesting note to this story is that Mabel Brown (youngest daughter of Wm’s eldest son L&N Railroad engineer Joseph B. & Lydia Gardiner Brown) married Charles Ray. Charles and Mabel Ray became the parents of

Juanita, Joseph, Nina, Raymond, Lois, and LouDean Ray. So, if you happen by the Oakwood grave of a certain Civil War veteran and espy a flag or a wreath of flowers, it is highly probable it was placed there by one of these Ray children who respect and admire their great-grandfather Brown from whom Brown Meadow acquired its name. The more we learn of the pieces of the puzzle of our history and how they fit together, the more we learn about ourselves.

Ann Cothran Gipson 11-2-01