VAN STOCKUM: Joseph Hornsby -- An early Shelby Countian Part 2: Buying and selling Shelby County

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Joseph Hornsby played a significant role in the development of Shelby County. In the second of a 3-part series, he becomes involved in acquiring and selling large tracts of the county.

By Ron Van Stockum

Between 1783 and 1786, Joseph Hornsby, prosperous and prominent resident of Williamsburg, Virginia, had acquired five land grants in present-day Shelby County (which was then Jefferson County, Va.), including 2,400 acres on Plum Run and 400 on Fox Run.


In 1797 or early 1798, Hornsby, then a widower, brought his family to Kentucky, making his home on his 2,400-acre tract near Simpsonville, now in Shelby County, which he called “Grasslands.”

Here he built on Clark Station Roada substantial home, which subsequently was destroyed by fire and replaced in about 1837, by his son, Joseph Hornsby Jr.

The family cemetery in a nearby field contains tombstones of Joseph Hornsby and a score of his descendants.

Ray Moss Tucker, a prominent Shelby farmer and present owner of this property, recalls as a child being impressed by Joseph Hornsby’s monument and that its engraving recorded his birth in England in 1740.


Peachy Purdie’s property

But before his departure from Williamsburg, Hornsby was contacted by Peachy Purdie Wills, also of Williamsburg, who was in the process of selling land in Shelby County. She needed Hornsby’s help.

Although she never had visited Kentucky, Wills, shortly after the death of her first husband, Alexander Purdie, editor of the Virginia Gazette and first public printer of the commonwealth of Virginia, had purchased three land-office treasury warrants.

She had used these warrants to obtain a patent for 3,000 acres of land  “on the waters of Clear Creek,” then in Jefferson County, Va., and part of present-day Shelby County.

This land was surveyed for her on Sept. 24, 1783, by William Pope, deputy surveyor of Jefferson County. Pope’s survey commenced at a “remarkable deep place” in Clear Creek, now called “Pope’s Corner.” 

This “deep place,” readily identifiable today, was created by the scouring effect of the stream as it makes a hairpin turn at this point. Thence the line was drawn approximately southeast through the middle of present Allen Dale Farm and past present Zaring Mill Road.

This was the northern boundary of the brick-shaped 3,000-acre Peachy Purdie tract.

Although Peachy had obtained a grant for this land in 1785, her title had been clouded by the independent actions of her second husband.

On Oct. 4, 1796, in an attempt to settle this complicated matter, she appointed Joseph Hornsby, “now of Williamsburg who is Intending to reside in Kentucky my true and lawful attorney ...” [in actions involving her 3,000-acre tract].


A woman ahead of her time

This power of attorney to Joseph Hornsby is recorded in the Shelby County court. When conducting research for Kentucky and the Bourbons: The Story of Allen Dale Farm, I made a copy of Peachy’s lengthy document. 

It is unique and enlightening in that it summarizes her difficulty not only with this grant of land but also with her second husband, William Holt, and her third, Elias Wills. The gist of this story can be presented by quoting extracts of the document:

“. . . after the aforesaid Entry and Location I intermarried [second marriage] with William Holt who undertook to Exercise an overseership over the wrights [sic] aforesaid granted to me without my Privity or Consent and did make an assignment to John May.”

[Subsequently, after the death of Holt, she had sued successfully to regain this property]

“I have Intermarried [third marriage] with Elias Wills and by Deed Executed before marriage did reserve to myself the Power to dispose of my lands in any maner [sic] I thought Proper, either by deed or will.”

“I peachy Wills late Peachy Holt and formally [sic] Peachie Purdie have nominated and appointed . . . Joseph Hornsby Esquire now of Williamsburg who is Intending to reside in Kentucky my true and lawful attorney [for matters relating to my land in Kentucky].”

Hornsby did not delay in exercising his power of attorney. By the end of 1799 he had disposed of 1,945 acres, including one 250-acre tract that would become the core tract of Allen Dale Farm. The remainder of this 3,000-acre tract was sold in 1805 and 1806.

Peachy Purdie Holt Wills, a strong-willed woman, not content, in accordance with the temper of the times, to accept the absolute authority generally exercised by a husband, had found a man she could trust in Joseph Hornsby.

It can be stated unequivocally that Peachy, whose first name was not a nickname but that of a prominent Virginia family, was truly a woman ahead of her time!


Inhabiting the land

With Wills’ land dispersed, Hornsby’s legacy in Shelby County further was cemented by blood.

It is remarkable that three of Hornsby’s children later married three of the children of John and Ann Pollock Allen from Frederick County Va.

These three marriages were:

  • Thomas Allen In January 1801, married Hannah Hornsby. They lived on Plumb Creek, about 10 miles from Shelbyville.      
  • John W. (Jack) Allen married Margaret “Peggy” Hornsby. They had eight children. (More about Peggy in the Hornsby Diary.) 
  • Cynthia Allen (1788-1858) was married on about Oct. 4, 1808, to Joseph W. Hornsby Jr. (1777-1841), and they had 10 children. One of their descendants was Chris McManus of Silver Spring, Md., through whose efforts Joseph Hornsby’s diary was denoted to the Filson Historical Society. As a result of this Hornsby/Allen connection, McManus shares with my children and grandchildren descent from Ann Allen (1743-1805), who is buried on Allen Dale Farm.

After the death of her husband in 1794, Ann Allen had brought her 10 children to Shelby County. The oldest, Robert Polk Allen, established Allen Dale Farm in 1795, later in 1803 moving his residence to its present location, on the northern boundary of Peachy Purdie’s 3,000-acre tract.


Next:  Joseph Hornsby’s Planter’s Diary