Early History of Bedford
February 18, 1961
Mrs. Lottie Logan Snyder
I am in the hospital and have no idea when I’ll get out as they have not found out what is my trouble. However, my wife is going to typewrite this letter for you.
Your request that I give your son material to write a History of Bedford, Kentucky would set a task that would occupy me for a period of a year were I to undertake it. I can only compromise with you by starting in the beginning, and give you some highlights of early days.
Evidently the first white man to set foot on Bedford soil did so on May 24, 1774 when a party under Captain Patton (who was working under Deputy Surveyor John Floyd of Virginia) landed with a party of men, among whom was William Bell, great, great, grandfather of Doctor William Pulaski Bell, now of Bedford, at the hollow that splits Milton today. They made their way up the hill and took what they afterward found to be the dividing ridge between the Little Kentucky and the Ohio River.
This dividing ridge is now the road from the top of the Milton hill through Bedford as far as Hickory Grove. At the point where the road turns this surveying party left the road and made their way down Patton’s Creek and at the mouth waited for a flatboat to pick them up from whence they went down the river to the falls which is Louisville. When they arrived at the falls they met Daniel Boone who had been sent out by Governor Dunwoodie of Virginia who told them to return to Virginia as the Indians were on the warpath. All of this may be confirmed by reading the evidence in case No. 531 given by Captain James Patton in the Jefferson Circuit Court or reading the Centenary of Louisville by Ruben T. Durrett.
For thirty two years after that nothing happened to the land around Bedford, but William Bell left notes which his son, Richard Bell, followed and after William’s death, Richard made his way in 1799 to Washington County, Kentucky where there was a settlement. In the eight or nine years Wm. Bell was in Washington County he was prominent, well-heeled with 40 odd Negroes, went to the legislature, and served with Jereboam O. Beauchamp. Note Beauchamp name because he is the central figure in the novel World Enough and Time, by Robert Penn Warren, and the lawyer who defended Beauchamp was in fact, Thomas J. Lacy, Richard Bell’s son-in-law, and his assistant was Bell’s oldest son, Pulaski Bedford Bell who really did the groundwork on establishing Bedford. Read the book sometime. [The incident refers to a famous murder of 1825, the Beauchamp-Sharp Tragedy.]
Richard Bell remained in Jefferson County and for two summers Pulaski Bedford Bell brought slaves to the site of Bedford, put up a brick kiln and burned brick from an excavation on the site where the courthouse no stands. He took these brick and built two houses: one where the Marathon Filling Station is now, and one just west of where Clem’s house now stands. He made a pond for cows where the courthouse now stands.
Pulaski Bedford Bell had no trouble with the Indiana although they were in droves coming through the county from Indiana and Ohio. They came to hunt and would stop to stare at the Negroes and marveled when the evening gun was shot off. Bell had put up a small cannon on the site of his kiln and every evening at sundown he would fire it off with a light charge of gun powder. The Indians reveled at a gun that would make so much noise and they would collect and squat around waiting to hear it. Then they would quietly melt into the forests to sleep and hunt the next day. Bell called this gun his “battery.”
The two-story brick house that stood at the corner of U.S. 42 and 421, where the Marathon Filling Station now stands was finished in the fall of 1807, and the Bell family were due to move in, in December, leaving Washington County, Kentucky. They came by flatboat down the Kentucky River, then down the Ohio River to the mouth of Corn Creek. They unloaded there and proceeded to try to make their way to what is now Bedford. Christmas Day found the family and their slaves at just about where Mount Pleasant is now. When the weather got milder they made their way to their new home, and on Old Christmas Day (12thnight) they were in their new home, with cows, chickens, and tools. I have a list of what they brought and the names of the Negroes and the approximate value of each.
In those days they valued everything in pounds. The total value of the Negroes was 2,632 pounds and ten shillings. As an instance, they had two folding tables (small) at 1 pound 10 shillings each; two folding tables (large) 2 pounds 10 shillings each; 2 arm chairs, 10 pounds. The list is hand written, 2 columns to the page and three pages 17 inches long, legal size. A pound was about $5 at that time.
Affairs went along with an even keel with the Bell family until the War of 1812 broke out. Richard Bell had been a successful purchasing agent for the Colonies in the Revolution, so he went back to Virginia to lend his services to the 1812 fight. The settlement had many visitors, and after his return he got the idea of forming a town. He relinquished 200 acres of land to the State of Kentucky, excepting there from his house and a six-acre pasture which was to be deeded back to him (and was) by such newly formed town. He put Pulaski Bedford Bell to the job of organizing it. The son went to Henry and Oldham Counties to get men to go in with him on the venture.
Pulaski Bell enlisted the following men and they laid out a town in lots to be sold as a shilling each: Henry Davidge, Achilles Hoskins, Jack Pryor, William Gatewood, Daniel Farley, and Charles Dorsey, who came in as trustees, along with Bell.
On February 6th 1816 the Kentucky legislature granted them a charter for a town to be named; “Bedford,” which as you see was Bell’s son’s middle name. Too, the Bedford family, Bell’s kinsfolk, was influential around Paris, Lexington, and Frankfort, and helped him get the charter (on the same day Crab Orchard, Ky. got one.).
The first meeting the Trustees had was on the 19th of August, 1816 in a store house belonging to Dr. Henry Young, a trader from Warsaw. Other meetings that followed were held in the house of Richard Bell. The two meetings in August 1816 were for organization; one on the 19th, one on the 24th. When the word spread of the drawing, for place in line, and selling of lots at a shilling (25 cents) the lowest people in the section flocked in. In defense, the first ordinances they passed were: against shooting off guns in the square (fine 1.00); horse racing or cockfighting or putting up obstructions on the square (tents) or Gambling on Sunday and against all shows on the square. And they made one GREAT mistake: they passed an ordinance doing away with the Battery. In later years this caused trouble. If the Indians were not going to be entertained they would take revenge and steal off the inhabitants at night, which they did. Very few people built on the lots they bought, and it was 1919 [1819?] before Richard Bell got a return title for his lots and six acres which were included in the 200 acres he relinquished; the 4th day of September 1919 [1819?] to be exact.
On December 5, 1819, Richard Bell was thrown from his horse, hit his head on a rock at appoint just about where Jockey Street and U.S. 421 meet. He left a wife, Hannah Gibson Bell, and his children, almost all grown, but his unborn son was named Richard at birth.
Pulaski Bedford Bell then left Bedford and went to Frankfort to study law with his brother-in-law, Thomas J. Lacy. After Lacy defended Beauchamp for murder, he was appointed U. S. District Judge of Arkansas Territory and presided until the State was admitted to the Union. Pulaski Bedford Bell went with him to Arkansas, and never returned to Bedford.
Nothing good or bad of note happened in Bedford until the County of Trimble was formed in 1836 out of parts of Gallatin, Oldham and Henry. Then the town began to grow, in a manner of speaking. It got a government Post Office, with an old reprobate named Silas Gatewood as postmaster. [He's a little off here. Preceding Gatewood as postmaster were William E. Young, starting on 03/23/1818, and James L. Young, from 10/03/1821 to 10/03/1834. Gatewood served from 10/3/1834 until 09/28/1846. I’ve no doubt Mr. Black is on target when he says the man was a reprobate!]This caused people to come to town to buy supplies of salt, pepper, coffee, and sugar for their wives, and whiskey for themselves. As the country settled, Indians quit coming back to fish and hunt.
Cholera and yellow fever raged every summer in New Orleans, Louisiana, and because Bedford was 800 feet above sea level and could be reached by the river, many people came there for the summer, and the town grew a little. It reached its height in 1860 but went down after that. The cause was the War Between the States, and Cholera broke out in Bedford and they died like flies.
Before the War Trimble County drilled a company of soldiers to go out to Utah and fight the Mormons. You might look that up. Trimble County was the scene of the headquarters of the Underground Railroad and they considered once hanging Delia Webster in the courthouse yard.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin is laid at Hanover and the Norfolk farm [no, it wasn’t – ed.]. the trials or lack of trials were held at Bedford.
Byron Bacon Black