Carroll Co.'s Sanders Left Legacy as a Cattle Breeder

In aura of quiet serenity overcomes me whenever I stand facing the home of Lewis Sanders in Carroll County. But an even more profound sense of calm when I turn and look out at the countryside of his farm, known to all who know of it as Grasshills.

I think the reason is not only that it is a strikingly understated house, large wood structure of logs with wood clapboard siding sitting quietly on what at one time was one of the riches and fertile farmland of the area. But also because of the insurmountable hard work it took to design and build the house and, needless to say, clear the land.

I am in awe of Sanders' accomplishments and what he and his family must have endured when forging their new life here in the Ohio River Valley. However, as I stand taking in this important piece of Carroll County history, I also remember his slaves and the important role they played with the Sanders family.

Sanders is most known as an entrepreneur and livestock breeder. In the cattle world, he is known historically for his breeding of short horn cattle. It was Sanders who pioneered the way of bringing the first purebred cattle from England to the Ohio River Valley.

He was born Aug. 9, 1781, the son of John and Jane (Craig) Sanders, in Spottsyville County, Va. Sanders arrived in Kentucky as a baby with the Traveling Church congregation of the Rev. Lewis Craig, the child's uncle and namesake. In 1807, Sanders married Ann Nicholas, daughter of George Nicholas.

His early entrepreneurial instincts led to Lewis leaving home to apprentice in Lexington, Ky., with merchant Patrick McCullough. Later, his father, John Sanders, deeded 200 acres of land to each of his children, but not to Lewis. He received the cash equivalent to start his business. He formed a partnership to operate a cotton factory and to invest in real estate.

The cotton and woolen mill was the first factory in Kentucky to be run by steam. The operation was extremely profitable for many years. This success afforded the partners to build houses in Lexington on Merino Street.

One had certainly "arrived" to own a home in town at a prestigious location and own considerable property in the country as well. Sanders bought 500 acres of land on the Georgetown Pike. The Sanders planned to build an elaborate home on the farm. But hard times hit, and they had to sell the unfinished structure and the property for lack of money.

One piece of property after another was given up, including their house in town. A friend, Col. James Morrison, bought their house and allowed the Sanders family to stay there until other arrangements were made. The business was primarily lost due to the lowering of tariffs on manufactured goods.

It is a bit unclear when Sanders came to Gallatin County (now Carroll County) to build his new life, but it is believed after 1815. The estate was a 750-acre tract near Ghent. The property was his wife's inheritance from her father.

The area was all virgin forest and had to be cleared. The logs from the trees were used for building the house. A much larger log house than most were building at the time.

All the labor was done by hand because there were no sawmills close by at the time. The slave quarters were built first so they and Sanders would have a place to stay while they finished the larger log home for the Sanders family.

It was after Sanders arrived in Ghent that he imported the first shorthorn cattle from England. The cattle were delivered directly over the Appalachian Mountains to his farm.

Known widely for importing shorthorn cattle and improving the breed, which he showed at "Sanders Garden" in 1816 and 1817, he also bred and raced horses. It did not take Sanders long to regain his fortune after coming to his new home.

It was on this farm that he and his family had their orchard that included several varieties of apples, grapes, peaches, pears and plums. The Sanders family was well known for the peaches they grew. This was something in which his wife took great pride and interest.

With financial success, Sanders was now able to become more interested in state and national politics. Close friend Henry Clay was involved with Sanders in ventures of both livestock and politics. Clay is known to have visited Grasshills frequently to have meetings concerning both interests.

Although it is written that George N. Sanders, a son to Lewis, called two important political meetings that were held in Ghent, there is no question that George Sanders did so at the prompting of his father.

The first of the two meeting was held in November 1843 to discuss the annexation of Texas, which had recently become independent of Mexico. Of course, with Texas having 5 million acres of cotton and large herds of cattle, one can understand their interest.

A resolution was made and adopted at this meeting recommending the annexation of Texas to the United States. Letters of the resolution were mailed to prospective candidates for the Presidency: Clay, Martin Van Buren, James K. Polk, Lewis Cass, and William O. Butler.

Polk answered the letter and went on to campaign on that issue and win the election. Sanders played a role in Polk's nomination for the presidency and in the annexation of Texas. Some believe the Sanders family was responsible for the Mexican War.

The second meeting was held in November 1859. The meeting was called to discuss resolutions asserting the principle of states' rights, free trade, low taxes, and hard money. Dr. S.S. Scott, Capt. Jack Leathers, and Lewis Sanders addressed the meeting. The resolutions were adopted, published and became known as the "New Mississippi Valley Movement."

The first meeting, according to a New York newspaper article, was held in the upper floor of the Browinski Building, located in downtown Ghent. At the time the meeting took place, Mr. Browinski was living and writing in New York. The second meeting is thought to have taken place at Grasshills.

Sanders died at Grass Hills on April 15, 1861. He was the last survivor of the original Traveling Church congregation that came to Kentucky.


By Evelyn Welch, Contributing Writer, from The Roundabout. Evelyn Welch manages the Butler-Turpin House State Historic Site, located at Gen. Butler State Resort Park, Carrollton, KY. (502) 732-4384, or email: bthh at kih dot net.