Early Kentucky History, Part 6: “A felonious hog thief”

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Meriwether, M’Cleland spar in the newspaper, Shannon provides land for county’s first courthouse

By Ron Van Stockum


December 1:  A letter to Editor John Bradford, signed by Nicholas Meriwether, occupied three of the four front-page columns of the Kentucky Gazette. Extracts from Meriwether’s letter: 


In aged life, [he was 43 and had 36 years yet to live!]retired to the peaceable enjoyments of my family and farm; struggling under a heavy debt, occasioned by unforeseen misfortunes.... [I] am determined... to prove the words... in the petition,... viz "Your petitioners conceive themselves highly dishonored by the appointment of Daniel M'Cleland to the honour of a justice of the peace in our said county, who stands charg'd as a felonious hog thief, and who confesseth publically the fact of marking in his own mark and claiming for his own another man's hogs.


December 15:  Two weeks later, the Gazette carried Daniel M'Cleland’s response.


[Mr. Meriwether's charge] is consistent with the malignity of the man.... I pledge my reputation as an honest man to institute a suit. 



January:  At the meeting of the county court at Brackett Owen’s house, a contract was let to William Shannon for fifteen pounds sterling for the erection of a courthouse where the present Shelby County Courthouse stands.

March 19:  The County Court session met  for the first time at the new courthouse.  James Craig, the first regularly appointed county clerk, served at that session.



A Fatal Quarrel: Shannon and Felty

While sources disagree in describing this dramatic event, they all agree on the outcome – both were killed.  I have chosen Editor Ed Shinnick’s account from his column of April 21, 1916 in The Shelby Record, which follows:


In 1794 there were about twenty well-built houses in the town, but the building boom was suddenly brought to a standstill by the death that year of William Shannon, the principal owner of the lots, which remained unsold. He was killed in front of the tavern by John Felty, the proprietor. Shannon and Felty quarreled at the dinner table in the tavern, but were separated by friends who happen to be present. Upon getting to the front door, they renewed the quarrel and Shannon picked up a stone which he threw at Felty.  The latter threw a dirk at the same time, which struck Shannon in a vital part and he was instantly killed. The stone thrown at Felty inflicted a mortal blow, from which the tavern keeper died a few days later.”


It is ironic that William Shannon, who in l792 donated the acre of land for public buildings and in l793 built the first Shelby County Courthouse, became the first person to have his will probated by the Shelby County Court.

In October 1794 Felty’s widow, Elizabeth, purchased Lot Number 6 and in January 1795 Lot Number 7 from the trustees.  These lots on Washington Street included part of the land upon which the Science Hill School was subsequently erected.  Elizabeth Felty later married Daniel M’Cleland, the alleged “felonious hog thief.”

July 5:  Another letter from Daniel M’Cleland appeared in the Kentucky Gazette, in which he asserted that the suit against Nicholas Meriwether "was dismissed at his [Meriwether’s] costs" after Meriwether had signed a certificate stating:

“I do hereby certify that the information I received concerning the character of Daniel M'Cleland was wrong and that I cannot support the charges I exhibited in the public papers against him.”

[According toEd D. Shinnick, Some Old Time History of Shelbyville and Shelby County, page 2, published by the Shelby County Historical Society, 1996.]



Ed D. Shinnick, Editor of The Shelby Record, wrote a weekly column in his newspaper during the period 1916-18.  His columns, based upon county records, are a valuable source of early local history. The Shelby County Historical Society in 1996 published them in a book, Some Old Time History of Shelbyville and Shelby County.

Two historians to whom I had sent my most recent column, “Early Kentucky History, Part 5,” responded as follows:

Ted Belue, Editor of The Life of Daniel Boone, Lyman C. Draper's unfinished manuscript and a highly respected authority on frontier times in Kentucky, wrote:

“Bland[Ballard] was a man of his day. He rode in the wagon cortege of debutantes at Frankfort during Daniel and Rebecca's re-internment [Sept. 13, 1845];nine years later Ballard was re-buried there.  Chester Harding's portrait of him is an iconic piece of Kentuckiana and a rare glimpse of a late era hunting shirt.”


Phil Curme, British authority on the 1916 Battle of the Somme in which my British father was killed, and a highly regarded Conductor of Battlefield Tours, wrote:

“I must admit virtually all my knowledge of military actions involving native Americans is derived from 'Last of the Mohicans' and a visit to Fort Henry in Canada a few years ago!

I've just got back from a TV assignment in China - a documentary about the 2nd Opium War.”


I continue to be amazed at the ease with which one may today glean information from authorities world-wide!