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I could wish that you would patronize a petition to have the town on Conelleys Land [Falls of the Ohio] established & have it sent with a plan of the Town to the Assembly in May.
Nicholas Meriwether’s brother George to George Rogers Clark, January 24, 1780.
The role that Nicholas Meriwether performed in frontier Kentucky is exemplified by this brief of a case in chancery before the Kentucky Court of Appeals during the May term of 1795.
Though the case of Brackett Owen and Joel Jackson v. Aquilla Whitaker and Daniel Sullivan did not involve Nicholas Meriwether directly, it contained numerous references to him.
And that ties directly to Shelby County’s history.
On Oct. 15, 1792, just after Kentucky had become a state, it was in the home of Brackett Owen that the Shelby County Court held its first term.
Tom Owen, president of the Louisville Metro Council and a University of Louisville professor, well-known for leading historic tours of Louisville landmarks, is a direct descendant of Brackett Owen. Another descendant is Catharine Owen Ellis of Shelbyville.
This chronology, based upon original documents 230 years old, available in the Kentucky Secretary of State’s Land Office, may help clarify this complicated case and makes clear the procedures for obtaining land in pristine Kentucky and the role performed by land-locators, such as Meriwether:
§ March 22, 1780 Land Office Warrant Number 773 for 2,000 acres was issued to Jonathan Smith for services "in the late war between great Britain and France" (French and Indian War).
§ March 26, 1780 Jonathan Smith sold this warrant to Brackett Owen.
§ April 20, 1780 Owen assigned 500 acres on this warrant to Joel Jackson. Owen and Jackson assigned 666 acres to Meriwether.
§ April 21, 1780 Meriwether, having run a private survey for l,334 acres on Brashears Creek for Owen and Jackson, made an entry for this land as their agent with the surveyor of Kentucky County.
§ April 21, 1780 Meriwether made an entry for himself for 666 acres on Beargrass Creek, using the one-third portion of Warrant Number 773, which had been assigned to him for his services as a land locator.
Surveys for both of these tracts were run by the official surveyors of Jefferson County and grants were issued in 1785. Grants such as these consisted of documents issued by the governor of Virginia, which bestowed title to previously vacant land owned by the Commonwealth upon the recipients.
After Kentucky received its statehood in 1792, similar grants were issued by the governor of Kentucky.
Establishment of Louisville
While Meriwether was running surveys through the virgin lands of Kentucky, his brother George had been giving a great deal of thought to the development of the West.
George had been elected from Louisa to the first Virginia legislature following independence. He obviously had learned a great deal about the Falls of the Ohio and Kentucky, perhaps in conversations with George Rogers Clark, during Clark's visits to Williamsburg.
It is also possible that he had accompanied his brother on one of Nicholas Meriwether's early trips to the Falls.
There is no doubt, however, of George's involvement in the establishment of Louisville.
In his letter from Louisa to Clark at the Falls, he asked him to sponsor a petition to have a town established there. This letter, ranging broadly over matters of general interest and expressing George's understanding of military, political and economic problems, reveals his character and intelligence. It also tells us much about those perilous times.
Louisa JanY 24th 1780
After much fatague of travel and bad weather I reached home two days before Chrismas & had the pleasure of finding my family and concerns well, tho the weather still continues colder than was ever known by the oldest man amongst us. I have Just returned thro it from Wmsburg, there I learnt that Hampton Road & the bay almost to the Capes is Frozend up, many Vessels are sunk by the Ice & more expect the same fate, a number of people at different places have perished by the Cold & Ice, tho this calamity of our navigation being stopt secures us from a Visit from the English Fleet that we stood much in fear of and expected about the time the frost first put in;
. . . . . . . . . .
oh! that peace would wonce more vissit our Country & "let every one sit under his Vine and under his Fig Tree and no one to make him afraid;" happy would it be for this part of the State but more so for that where you are, the Interest of which I assure you I have much at heart-and only want oppertunity to manifest my attachment thereto,
. . . . . . . . . .
I shall move out some of my people with my stocks next fall & the summer after I shall bring my family with eight or ten more families to settle at or near the falls, and I could wish it was in my power to come out sooner, tho am preparing as fast as I can. I could wish that you would patronize a petition to have the town on Conelleys Land [Falls of the Ohio] established & have it sent with a plan of the Town to the Assembly in May, for was it established (& I think it would be of advantage to the whole Country by drawing trade) I would build some good houses on lotts as would likewise my friends that I purchased lotts for, & would settle there if the place should not be to sickley. Prosperity attend the Country & health & happiness attend you. DrColo is the wish of Yr Hble Svt
A reaction was not long in coming.
Though Louisville had been laid out as early as August 1773 by Captain Thomas Bullitt, there had been no validating act of the legislature. On l May 1780, 39 citizens, being concerned about titles to their lots, signed a petition to the Virginia House of Delegates requesting that a town be established at the Falls of the Ohio River and that the present settlers and holders of lots have them confirmed.
Among the settlers signing this petition were Nicholas Meriwether and Squire Boone, who already had encountered each other while making entries and surveys of Kentucky land.
George Rogers Clark, occupied at the ill-fated Fort Jefferson at the mouth of the Ohio, did not sign it.
The legislature promptly responded with "An Act for Establishing the Town of Louisville at the Falls of the Ohio," retroactive to May 1, 1780, and that act passed during the 1780 session.
This act confirmed the actions of the inhabitants at the Falls in settling upon the land of John Connolly from whom they had no conveyance. Connolly had sided with England, and his land had been declared forfeit.
By this act 1,000 acres of his land were vested in the Corporation of Louisville, administered by nine "Gentlemen, trustees," one of whom was George Meriwether. The new town was named in honor of Louis XVI of France whose support of the colonies was crucial to victory in their war for independence.
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