By Stephen D. Bowling
While World War I was raging in Europe, ninety-one-year-old James Greenville Trimble wrote a series of articles in The Jackson Times called “Recollections of Breathitt” concerning his time in our county during its earliest days. Several years later, the editor of The Times, collected and published these articles in a small pamphlet. Trimble’s work was an immediate success and sold out quickly. A second, third, and finally a fourth printing followed (between 1939 and 1970).
Besides many important details about the political development of the county, Trimble’s “Recollections” gives a pretty good portrait of several of the prominent families in the county in the 1840s. These biographies, although much too short, are excellent glimpses of the men who built Breathitt County.
“Thomas Sewell, of Harlan court house, was the first merchant to locate in Jackson. He purchased two lots west of the court house, and in 1840 erected thereon a dwelling and store house of hewed logs. On Christmas day of that year his family arrived there on horse and mule back from Harlan county-his wife and daughter, Fanny, two sons, William and Benjamin, and two young laboring men, Bill Wright and Jordon Gross. Mr. Sewell was a successful merchant and continued to live there until the beginning of the Civil War, when he moved to Irvine, Estill County. He lived at Irvine for a few years when his wife died, after which he married a widow and located at Clay’s Ferry, where he died, leaving much valuable real estate for his grandchildren, all his children having married and died at an early age. I commenced selling goods for him in Jackson about March 1, 1841.
Thomas J. Frazier was another merchant to open a second store in Jackson. He was of average business ability and a man of education and intelligence and represented that county in the State Legislature. He died a bachelor, aged fifty-odd years.
About the time I was living at Jackson and within a year or two thereafter, many nice families located there among them, John Sewell, (uncle of Thomas Sewell, the merchant), Mr. John W. Cardwell, Dr. Parsons, (who was a local Methodist preacher), Alexander Patrick, Jerry Weldon South, Rev. Nixon Covey, William Davis, and two brothers, James B., and William Griffin, who were from one of the eastern states and were gentlemen of education and fine business qualifications. They thought that the county in its undeveloped state offered inducements to men of enterprise to accumulate considerable money, but, not realizing their anticipations after about three years of residence there, they left Jackson and located in Memphis, where they engaged in the lumber business with great success.
Rev. Nixon Covey was originally from Montgomery county and was a school teacher by profession. He located at Hazel Green in 1839, and taught school there until he moved to Jackson. He was converted by the preaching of “Raccoon” John Smith at Hazel Green, who was one of the most distinguished ministers of the Christian Church in Kentucky. After he joined the church, Mr. Covey commenced preaching the next day, and continued to preach until his death, which occurred in Estill county about twenty years ago. He taught school in Breathitt county until about the beginning of the Civil War. Previous to his conversion he was a wicked and dissipated man.
William Davis was also a school teacher, and taught school at Hazel Green about a year before he located at Jackson. He married Miss Elizabeth Cockrell, the eldest daughter of William Cockrell, and raised three lovely and fascinating daughters. They were much admired and noted for their beauty. One of them, Miss Julia, married Gray Haddix, a prominent citizen of the county. Evaline married Sam Hargis, and the other married Ben Sewell, both prominent citizens of Jackson.
Charley McQuinn lived on the South Fork of Quicksand. He had two sons, Wiley and Brooks; and two brothers, William and Alexander. He was one of our customers at the store, and I sold him a blue frock broadcloth coat with silk velvet collar for $25 which he wore for twenty-three years. I met him frequently during that time.
The old parson Daniel Duff had four sons, three of whom I knew, John, Alexander and Colston. John lived at the mouth of Grapevine on the Kentucky River and was reputed to be the wealthiest man in the county, owning many thousands acres of the finest coal and timber land in the State, which however, was then valued at less than $1 per acre. He married a daughter of Jesse Combs, who held office of Circuit Clerk for over fifty years. It was said that more than one-half the voters of Perry County either bore the name of Combs or were related to the family.
Herman Hurst was the only citizen of the county of that name. I saw him and his family get into a boat at the mouth of Quicksand in Alley, 1837, and go down the river, bound for Missouri. He was an uncle and great uncle of two prominent lawyers of that name in Breathitt County, the oldest member of the bar in the mountain part of Kentucky and for whom I secured the position (as my successor) as deputy clerk in the circuit and county clerk’s office of Estill County in 1844.”
Facts about our ancestors come from some of the strangest places. Many of these obscure facts come from the writing of Green Trimble and all those who kept a journal or took the time to record their recollections. To them, we owe many thanks.
© 2022 Stephen D. Bowling