Henderson was once known as Charleston

Taken from a Special Edition of "The Gleaner"
printed November 21, 1999
permissive use granted by Editor
newspaper provided by Vonette Shelton-Curtis

Squatters lived here as early as mid-1780s

By Frank Boyett
of The Gleaner staff

When Gen. Samuel Hopkins arrived here in 1797 to lay out the town of Henderson, he could well have found a sign saying, "Welcome to Charleston." Most historians date the founding of Henderson from Hopkins' arrival, although they note that there was a village of squatters here that preceded Hopkins, commonly known as "Red Banks." But there was an alternative name for the community, which dates back at least as far as 1792, although E.L. Starling's "History of Henderson County" notes that some of those squatters may have arrived as early as 1784.

That 1784 date certainly sounds reasonable when you consider that as of 1792 there were 63 male inhabitants here between the ages of 16 and 60. A list of those men is included in one of the petitions the village sent to state officials in mid-November of 1792 in attempts to bring law and order to Red Banks. The list starts out saying: "An accurate list of the Free Male Inhabitants of Charleston (Red Banks on the Ohio), a part of Logan County, between the ages of Sixteen and Sixty years, taken the 19th day f November 1792." The list was put together by Samuel Bradley, Aaron Day, John Doritt, Thomas Mason, John Slover and Michel Ruby. The interesting thing about that list is that many of the men on it do not show up on the 1799 Henderson County tax rolls or census. It would appear that many of the squatters decided to move on to greener pastures once Hopkins showed up and demonstrated that the Transylvania Co. had legal title to the land here.

The Transylvania Co., however, did attempt to be fair to the squatters who got here first. The ordinance that laid out the town into 264 lots granted a free 1-acre lot to all residents who had been here before May 1, 1794, provided that they had built a house on the land. Another indication of how thriving the village of Charleston was in 1792 is indicated by a letter from Robert Simpson to Sen. Alex D. Orr of Lexington, whom Simpson referred to as "Cenetor". Simpson, in urging Orr to help the community acquire a magistrate, estimated that there were about 30 families living in Red Banks in November 1792, "and we Stand in grate need of a Esqr." But he cautioned Orr that some members of the community wanted Samuel Bradley to be appointed magistrate.

"I should Be very glad he Could be provented as the(re) will be a number of Families move on the act and as I expect to have Something to Lay before Him I Should never Expect Justice Don to both parties as the man has been taking other peoples hoggs knowingly and made use of them since I have been heare," Simpson wrote. Simpson urged the appointment of Thomas Mason as magistrate, and concluded: "I have no news to wright you more than about ten Days ago the Indians kild two men from hear that was hunting on the other side of the Ohio." Two other petitions dating from 1792, asking for the appointment of a magistrate in the community, are in the possession of the Kentucky Historical Society and were published in the May 1927 issue of its Register. One of them is addressed to the Logan County Court; Henderson was at that point part of Logan County.

It's a little amusing to note that at roughly the same time that Simpson was asking that the area, other members of the villaage were asking the Logan County Court to use its influence to ensure the appointment of Simpson as magistrate. That petition says that "we have been under the Disagreeable Necessity of Supporting by force of arms those Liberties which the Civil Law has the only right to Perfect and whereas our Present Local Situation we conceive Makes it Absolutely Necessary that your Worships Should use your Influence to Strengthen Civil Authority at this place by Recommending to be approved by Government one or two More Justices of the Peace...:

The petition was signed by J. Barnett, H. Knox, Peter Thom and Eaneas McCollister. A similar petition, signed by the same men, was sent to Gov. Isaac Shelby asking for the same relief. It reads, in part:

"Could the peaceable Inhabitants rest Assured we was Secure in Person or Property which we have daly proofs to the Contrary, our Streets are filled with Roicous (raucous) Persons and every Abuse offer'd without the least provocation & even the Honest Merchant's Store forceable broke and he without Redress, which the Bearer hereof can Inform you, our Remote Situation from the Seat of Justice renderes it Impossible for us to seek that Redress which we think ourselves deserving, so that Crimes truly Punishable pass with Impunity and unless we have Relief shall be under the Disagreeable necessity to leave this place & seek another where we may rest in peace ..."

transcribed by Tina Hall 5-28-2007

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