Spencer County, Kentucky

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Spencer County & The Civil War

In the period prior to the Civil War a system of patrol patrolling forces were called "patterollers". They were sometimes appointed by the courts, but in many cases they were self appointed, and they patrolled houses, roads, and fields looking for slaves who were off their home premises without a written permit of their owners. Many patterollers were, as the slaves called them, "pore white trash", and they were both hated and feared by the slaves. They were legally allowed to whip slaves when they found them without permits. Many of these legal whippings became beatings. An incident occurring in Spencer County is related by Fred Boswell. Mrs. Boswell owned a slave woman, Moriah. A neighbor owned Moriah's husband. One night the patterollers came to the Boswell house, searching for Moriah's husband, who was in the house, well hidden by Mrs. Boswell. Not believing Mrs. Boswell's denial, the leader entered the kitchen to search for himself. Mrs. Boswell, a fearless little woman, met him with gun in hand and ordered his troops off the premises. They left, and then the home guard, incensed by previous cruelties of the patterollers, rode in search of them. They were found near the Bullitt County line. The leader was captured and hanged on the spot.

The 1860's began to feel the pressures which finally terminated in the Civil War. Although no county figures exist on numbers enlisted in each army, it appears that the population was predominately Confederate. Many large tracts of land with 500 to 1,000 acres in them were operated with the help of slaves.

There were a few skirmishes between the forces within the county, but no major battles. The Union Army passed through this territory at times. The Union army camped at the home of Jack Briscoe's Grandfather and was fed by his Grandmother. The entire provisions of the household--meat, vegetables, and fruit--were consumed.

There was much guerilla activity in the county. One incident involved Edward Daraby MASSIE, a resident in the Little Mount-Mt. Eden area. Massie, who had served in the Kentucky Legislature from 1858-1860, was said to have cast a deciding vote to keep Kentucky in the Union, believing that if the state seceded, it would become a battleground. On 10 October 1864 guerillas came to the home, called him out, and shot him. He is buried on the family grounds. Various legends have circulated about his incident, but this is the accurate account passed directly through the generations to his great granddaughter, Mary Charles Williams Stout.

A humorous account is given of another guerilla incident by Billy McClain, brother of John McClain. His father was called out to the barn by the guerillas. Billy and Marshall, two little sons, were watching through an upstairs window. Expecting the worst, Marshall said, "If the guerillas get pa, I want his watch." Billy replied, "you can have it, but I want his gold headed cane!" "Pa" survived, losing only horses.

Guerillas also set fire to the Court House in Taylorsville on 25 January 1865. Contrary to popular belief, the building was not burned to the ground. The fire was put out; no records were lost. The guerillas were captured by federal scouts at Mt. Eden and two were killed.

Probably the most exciting event in Spencer County during the 1960's was the capture of William Clarke Quantrill, no doubt the most infamous of the guerillas. This event took place in the Wakefield area, on the farm of James Heady WAKEFIELD, 10 may 1865. QUANTRILL, wanting to be a confederate officer, was rejected because of his cruel tactics. Instead he became, as one historian states, "the bloodiest man in American History". Thomas Shelby WATSON, in his book, The Silent Riders, gives a detailed account of Quantrill's capture. According to Watson, Quantrill, who had been in the county for a few days, had taken shelter in a barn on the Wakefield property. Almsted JACOBS, a blacksmith, revealed his whereabouts to a Union scout, Ed TERRILL, who with his men had been trailing QUANTRILL. In the resulting fight, QUANTRILL was wounded. He was taken to the Wakefield home, and later sent to St Joseph Hospital in Louisville on a bed of straw in a wagon. Paralyzed by the bullet, he died 6 June 1865 and was buried in Louisville. His remains were later moved to Ohio by his mother.

Many wealthy families went into bankruptcy after the Civil War. Having depended largely on slave labor, they were no longer able to farm. Some slaves left the county, but many remained on the farms where they had lived.
Taken from Spencer County History by Mary Francis Brown


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