(New) Fredericksburg(h) / Warsaw


The origins of the name of the county seat of Gallatin County – Warsaw – have traditionally been attributed to a novel from 1803: Jane Porter’s Thaddeus of Warsaw.  We’ve spent some time looking at the origins of the city name, and we have a different theory.  We also want to raise an issue with the origins of “Fredericksburg” as the name of Warsaw, prior to it being named Warsaw. 

Great Landing

Warsaw was a known landing on the Ohio River sometime around 1797 and 1799.  Col. Robert Johnson, who called the area “Great Landing,” surveyed a road in 1805 from Warsaw to his previous home, in Scott County.  That's why Johnson's road is called Johnson Road. In 1814,  Col. Johnson and Henry Yates bought 200 acres at the landing, and in 1815 they platted out a town, and named it Fredericksburg.  

Great Landing to Fredericksburg

There is a reference  in the Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, 1815-1817 on December 11, 1815 that says “Resolved, That the committee on the Post-Office and post-roads, be instructed to inquire into the expediency of establishing a post-road from Georgetown, Kentucky, by Nathaniel Sanders' mill, Eagle Creek, and by New-Fredericksburgh to Vevay, in the Indiana Territory.” 

There's also an item in the Kentucky Gazette, an early Kentucky newspaper published in Lexington, on July 15, 1816, which refers to a postal route going from “Georgetown by Sander's Mill and New Fredericksburg to Vevay, in Indiana Territory.” 

Sander's Mill is referring to Sparta, not Sanders. The town of Sanders wouldn't be known as such until the 1880's

“New Fredericksburgh,” the first entry says.  Not only is there an “h” on the end of it, but also there’s a “New” in front of it in the official record, altho the Kentucky Gazette version omits the ending "h." 

We've looked at two editions of the Register of Officers and Agents In the Service of the United States, and an edition from 1816 lists Henry Yates as the Postmaster in “New Fredericksburg,” while the 1818 edition still lists Yates as Postmaster, but from “Fredericksburg.”

By 1820, the Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, 1819-1820, on February 24, 1820, has this item, part of which says: “Mr. Brown presented a petition of sundry inhabitants of Fredericksburgh, Gallatin county, state of Kentucky, praying for the establishment of a post route.”  Patera and Gallagher’s Kentucky Post Offices also reports a Fredericksburgh (note again the ending “h,”) post office in Gallatin County from 1816 to 1832, and their research is from official USPS records. 

Dr. Carl Bogardus has written that the town is named after a boat builder in the county named Alphonse Frederick, whose first boat was called the “Frederick,” and that the town was so named by the town founder, Col. Robert Johnson.  There is an earlier reference to the boat builder in the columns of Gallatin County history written in the 1930’s by Ms. Nancy Gullion for the Gallatin County News, likely the source of Dr. Carl's information.  Ms. Gullion says, in a Gallatin County News article on March 9, 1929, that Frederick’s boat building enterprise was on the northern corner of High Street and Main Cross, and says that as late as 1846, there were “old posts which were where a part of the construction still stood.”  She goes on to say she’s “indebted to Uncle Milton Carver for . . .this information.”  

On the other hand, there is no Adolphus Frederick, or any other Frederick, in either the 1790 or the 1800 census.  In Kentucky, those aren’t true censuses, but each is a reconstructed census, based on taxes paid on real estate, but wouldn't someone prominent enough to have the town named after him have been a property owner? There’s no Adolphus Frederick in the 1810 or 1820 census, either.  There’s no will that’s been probated in Gallatin County for Frederick between 1799-1838, he’s not listed in any deeds from 1797 to 1808, and he’s not in the marriage records from 1799-1820.  Dr. Carl notes, Col. Robert Johnson was from Orange County, Virginia, and  Fredericksburg, Virginia, is very, very close to Orange County.  Further, we would note that the corner of High Street and Main Cross, where this boat business supposedly was, is at least two blocks away from where the river was in those days.  Shouldn't a boat builder be real close to the river? 

Further, according to a c. 1858 note in the Draper Papers (MSS 15CC41) “[Johnson] bought a farm and laid off a town, at now Warsaw, which he called Fredericksburg after his (native place?) in Va.” In a side note Draper reinforces Bogardus that Johnson was born in Orange County, which is the point of his question mark; he does not questioning the source of the name Fredericksburg.

Whether it was generally called New Fredericksburg or just Fredericksburg, and whether or not there was a letter h on the end seems pretty much to have been at the whim of whoever was writing it down. We do know that sometimes, it had that “New” on it.

So was it named for the boat builder, or the town in Virginia, from which a number of early settlers had come?  There's no hard evidence to prove either theory, but with the “New Fredericksburgh” reference in early Congressional records, Col. Johnson being from near Virginia's Fredericksburg, the Draper note, and the circumstantial evidence, we  conclude Fredericksburg was named after the town in Virginia: there can't be a “new” unless there was a prior town - an “old.” 

Fredericksburg to Warsaw

In either event, the town name had been Fredericksburg or Fredericksburgh or maybe New Fredericksburgh since at least 1816. In the fall of 1831, the town took the step to incorporate as a town, to reflect what must have been it’s growth and development, as it lay on the major transportation venue of the area in those days, the Ohio River.  However, there was a town in Washington County, Kentucky named Fredericktown, and evidently the two similar names were causing too much confusion.  So on December 12, 1831, five days after the town’s name of at least 16 years had been formalized by the Legislature of the State of Kentucky, on December 7, 1831, (Acts, 1832, p. 91), that the name Fredericksburg was declared unavailable by the Post Office Department.  Patera and Gallagher’s Kentucky Post Offices says Fredericktown had a post office of that name from 1828 to 1911, (there’s a map at this site). So the Warsaw citizens were forced to think up new name, without prior warning, between December 7, 1831 and December 12, 1831, on what the new town name would be. All they had to do was look in the newspapers of the day to find a heroic namesake for the town. 

The usual story given for the selection of “Warsaw” is that it came from a book called Thaddeus of Warsaw, by Jane Porter, a novel that was popular in the early 19th century.  It was published in 1803. If you want your own copy, eBay had nine for sale, as of this writing; three for less than $5.  Or, the Gutenberg Project has put the entire book online for your reading pleasure, here.  You may find it just as enriching to your life to only read the synopsis, which is here.  As one recent reader warns, Thaddeus was written in “the days when continual tears, swoons, and faintings were deemed a necessary and desirable accomplishment of heroes and heroines.”  It’s essentially a romanticized, fictionalized account of Thaddeus Kosciusko, a Polish hero of the American Revolution. 

Thaddeus Kosciusko's (Wikipedia) story, as related in Thaddeus, is from the 18th century. But in the early 19th century, when the Fredericksburg citizens were looking for a new town name, another story came out of Poland: the fight for Polish independence. 

The story on the Polish fight for independence, from Encarta, says 

 “In 1815 the Congress of Vienna, which drafted the general European peace settlement after Napoleon’s downfall, created the Kingdom of Poland (also called the Congress Kingdom of Poland), consisting of about three-quarters of the territory of the former duchy of Warsaw, with the Russian emperor as king; established Kraków as a city republic; and distributed the remainder of Poland between Russia, Austria, and Prussia. Alexander I, emperor of Russia, granted the new kingdom a liberal constitution in 1815, but Polish nationalists soon initiated a powerful movement for independence. On November 29, 1830, this movement culminated in the outbreak of armed insurrection. The Poles expelled the imperial authorities and in January 1831 proclaimed their independence. In the ensuing war, the Poles kept the Russians at bay for several months. However, the Russians won an important victory at Ostroka in May 1831 and took Warsaw in September [1831].” 

Since we’re in pre-telegraph days, there was an issue in our thinking about the ability for news in Poland to reach Warsaw, Kentucky in a timely manner, but we find the Cincinnati Enquirer in the late October, early November 1831 issues, are chock full of Polish revolutionary stories.  On September 17th of that year, before Poland fell, there were three and a half columns, on a five-column-wide front page of the Cincinnati Enquirer about the revolution. So Fredericksburg, Kentucky folks would have known all about the Polish Revolution as the contemporary international “happening”, and would have known that the folks of Warsaw, Poland, were suffering terrible consequences from trying to bravely, heroically, resist the Imperialist Russians. 

Want smoking guns? We've found tw0.

1.  This is from the Courier-Journal's Kentucky News section of February 4, 1874. The Kentucky News section is where they ran short excerpts from the Kentucky weekly newspapers they received, so this is likely from the Warsaw Independent or the Warsaw Record of the time: “The town of Warsaw, Ky., was laid out by the father of President Johnson and the father of the late Governor Yates, of Illinois. It was originally called Fredericksburg, after the old Virginia town. Governor Yates was born there, and lived there until nearly grown, when he removed with his father to Illinois.”

2. The Warsaw Independent, on May 15, 1880, has this to say: “The town of Warsaw was once known as the town of Fredericksburg.  At what time it was incorporated, if it ever was, the records do not show.  The county of Washington having at that time a town by the same name, and letters and goods being frequently miscarried because of two towns, in the same State, it was changed December 12th, 1831, to the name of Warsaw, and this name given in honor of the great struggle for Polish Independence begun in a city of that name in Russian Poland, on the night of November 29th and 30th, 1830.”  (The Independent says the confusion was a town of “identical name,” and while it was obviously close enough to be confusing, note they weren’t exact.) 

We have found no original source, no definitive authority, for the origination of the “Thaddeus” version of the naming of Warsaw (if you have one, we’d love to know of it).  Dr. Carl Bogardus is the first person we find that mentions it.  In his 1948 “The Early History of Gallatin County”, he writes: “Warsaw was named by Benjamin Franklin Beall . . .from the book Thaddeus of Warsaw, of which he must have been very proud.” He gives no source for the information. 

Gypsy Gray’s History of Gallatin County mentions it, and quotes a Nancy Gullion article in the Gallatin County News from March 9, 1929 called “The Early History of Gallatin County,” although Ms. Gullion's article of that date makes no mention of Thaddeus.  Ms. Gray says that “Captain John Blair Summons suggested the name 'Warsaw' because of his fondness for the book titled 'Thaddeus of Warsaw.” 

We have a reference to another  Nancy Gullion article from the Gallatin County News in the late 1920's on the subject, but we are unable to locate a copy. 

To further complicate things, Benjamin F. Beall - cited by Bogardus - was born on March 1, 1823, which would have made him 8 years old in 1831, so it stretches credulity to believe he had a favorite novel which was written 20 years before he was born, and, even if he did, that the adults in the town would name their town after it.  Dr. Carl & Ms. Gray both claim that the source of the name was a grandfather of Mrs. R. B. Brown, nee Angelina Beall Summons, but their confusion over which grandfather merely adds to the “old wives tale” aura of this story. 

Robert M. Rennick’s wonderful Place Names in Kentucky mentions the Thaddeus version, but he's citing Gray and Bogardus, and qualifies his endorsement by noting that the name “was said to be” inspired by Thaddeus.  Rennick mentions both Fredericksburg, Virginia, and the boat builder Frederick as possible sources for “Fredericksburg.” 

John Fossee’s notes for a WPA Writers Project history of Gallatin County make no mention of Thaddeus, and those notes would be from the 1930’s.  We have a typescript of Raymond Brock’s History of Gallatin County from the 1930’s, and he, too, does not mention the Thaddeus version.  Neither mentions the origins of the Fredericksburg name.

Most definitive is an item from James' Travelers Companion, Being a Complete Guide Through the West and South, published in Cincinnati in 1853, which says Warsaw, “a town of considerable trade and growing importance,” got its name because "the inhabitants, having imbibed an enthusiasm for suffering Poland, adopted the name Warsaw, in honor of that unfortunate country.”

The ultimate source on all things Kentucky History, Lewis Collins, doesn’t mention the origin of either the Fredericksburg or Warsaw town names. The oldest extant sources we find concerning the naming of Warsaw is James' Companion from 1853, and the oldest reference tying Fredericksburg to the Virginia town is the Courier article from 1874, and the Draper item from c. 1858. Both are many years after the fact, but 50 years earlier than Mrs. Gullion's first mention of the alternatives.  

So here’s the question: is it more likely that the good folks in Gallatin County on December 12, 1831 would name their town after the city of heroic, fallen freedom fighters of a major independence movement just weeks earlier, which contemporary newspapers covered in depth, or a cheesy favorite novel of an eight year old boy published 28 years earlier?  

Northern Kentucky Views votes for Polish revolutionaries on Warsaw, and Fredericksburg, Virginia as the source of the name Fredericksburg. 

Occam's razor: All other things being equal, the simplest explanation is most likely correct.