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This webpage reproduces an article in the
Journal of Southern History
Vol. 1 No. 1 (Feb. 1935), pp67‑78

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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please let me know!

 p67  Journal of the First Kentucky Convention
Dec. 27, 1784 – Jan. 5, 1785

Edited by Thomas P. Abernethy

On November 7, 1784, Colonel Benjamin Logan assembled the leading men of Jefferson County, District of Kentucky, at Danville where many of them were in attendance upon the county court. He had had information that the Cherokee and Chicamauga Indians were on the warpath and he wished to invade their country. This could not be done legally without authority from Richmond, but it looked as though the frontiersmen might have to take matters into their own hands. Among those present, Colonel Isaac Shelby and Ebenezer Brooks, tutor to Colonel Thomas Marshall's children, favored such action, but Colonel William Fleming, who presided at the meeting on this day, opposed it along with Christopher Greenup, Caleb Wallace and George Muter. The next day a second meeting was held. Shelby was elected president, and resolutions favoring an expedition were carried. Meanwhile, Logan, who took no part in the discussions, received word from Colonel Joseph Martin that the Cherokees and Chicamaugas were peacefully disposed, but that northern Indians were expected to attack. This put a damper upon the move for the proposed expedition, but the legal disabilities under which the Kentucky people labored in defending themselves from the savages had been brought pointedly to the fore, and Ebenezer Brooks, who was in correspondence with Colonel Arthur Campbell of Washington County, in relation to these matters, took advantage of the situation to propose that Kentucky should be made a separate state. It was decided that a convention should be called to consider the matter.1

 p68  Campbell had been working for the separation of Virginia's southwestern counties from the mother state since 1782 and at the moment was deeply involved in the State of Franklin movement.​2 Of course, this was not generally known in Kentucky. The outcome was that a call was issued for a convention which assembled at Danville on December 27, 1784. Members were elected from the different military districts as they had been in Arthur Campbell's meetings in Southwest Virginia. Fleming was elected president, and Shelby acted as chairman of the committee of the whole. Most of the Kentucky leaders were in attendance; they were usually military men, civil officials, or land speculators, or a combination of these. A series of resolutions was adopted after much discussion. Here the grievances of Kentucky were set forth in justification of the desire for separate statehood. They pleaded the military disadvantages, the inequitable incidence of taxation upon the frontier communities, and the geographical factors which made local government desirable. The only resolution upon which the vote was recorded by yeas and nays was one complaining of a special tax levied upon estates of fourteen hundred acres or more in one body of land. This was carried by a vote of twenty to ten. Among those voting in its favor were John Campbell, Isaac Cox, Christopher Greenup, James Harrod, and Ebenezer Brooks: against it were William Kennedy, Caleb Wallace, Isaac Shelby, Samuel McDowell, and Benjamin Logan. A preponderance of land speculators in the first group and of civil and military officials in the second is obvious.

Kentucky at this time had, in the main, two groups of settlers: first, early comers from Virginia who had claims to lands under pre-emption rights or military warrants for services during the French and Indian and Revolutionary wars; second, hordes of newcomers, largely from Pennsylvania and the East, who hoped to get lands by treasury warrants purchased for about two cents an acre through the Virginia land office, which had been opened in 1779.​3 The earlier  p69 claims made it difficult for these newcomers to acquire titles to valuable tracts since the Virginia laws gave preference to prior claims. Naturally, the newcomers wished to get the government into their own hands, but they were not alone in this desire. Several leading Virginian speculators had become interested as agents or partners with wealthy speculators who were chiefly Philadelphia merchants. This combination was a powerful one, and it formed the backbone of the new-state movement in Kentucky. That there was a connection between the activities of the Kentucky separatists and the Franklin movement is indicated by a resolution which was presented to this convention denying the right of a state to surrender western lands and people to the jurisdiction of Congress without their consent. This was rejected on the ground that it did not apply to Kentucky. But it did apply to the State of Franklin.

This secession of western North Carolina, Arthur Campbell's attempt to bring about the separation of Southwest Virginia, and the new-state movement in Kentucky all came to head simultaneously in 1784. Campbell was interested in all three of them, and they all had the same object in view: to make the West free for the western land speculator.

The resolutions adopted by this first Kentucky convention were published by St. John de Crèvecoeur, Lettres d'un Cultivateur Américain (Paris, 1787), III, 438‑40. The journal was not known to be in existence until found by the writer in a collection of William Fleming papers recently acquired by Washington and Lee University. The original manuscript follows:​a

p1At Dansville Monday December 27th 1784

Pursuant to a recommendation for appointing Deputies to meet and take into consideration the present State of the District of Kentucky. The following Gentlemen on this day attended and produced their credentals Viz.

For the County of Jefferson

Richard C. Anderson William Kincheloe
John Campbell Philip Philips
Isaac Morrison Andrew Hinds
Isaac Cox Joseph Barnett

John Edward King

 p70  For the County of Fayette

Christopher Greenup Robert Todd
Andrew Steel William Triplett
John Craig Robert Fryer

Benjamin Craig

For the County of Lincoln

John Lillard John Boyle
John Logan James South Junr
James Harrod Robert Mosby
William Kennedy Isaac Hite
William Fleming Ebenezer Brooks
Caleb Wallace Willis Green
Thomas Kennedy James Davis

p2The Convention proceeded to choose a President by Ballot, and William Fleming Esquire was Elected to that Office, who took the Chair accordingly, from whence he made his acknowledgements for the Honor confered on him.

Ordered that Mr. Thomas Perkins be appointed Clerk to this Convention.

Ordered that Mr. Wallace Mr. Campbell and Mr. Greenup be a Committee to examine the returns of Election and make a report Tomorrow morning

Adjourned till Tomorrow morning 10 oClock

Tuesday December 28th.

William Moore attended and produced his Credentials

The Committee for Examining the returns of Election reported as follows —

Richard C. Anderson for the District of Capt. Thomas's Comp —

John Campbell

Capt. Kirkendalls.

Isaac Morrison

Isaac Cox

William Kincheloe

Philip Philips

Andrew Hinds

Joseph Barnett

James Rogers (Absent)

John Edward King

These Gentlemen were Elected for the Districts of Captains Polkes Cunninghams, Rogers, Samuels Pottingers, Philips, & Vertress Companies, without distinguishing which District they Individually represent —

 p71  p3For the County of Fayette

Christopher Greenup, for the District of Capt. Morrisons Company
Andrew Steel

McConnels, of McConnels Station

John Craig Johnsons
Robert Todd McConnels, Lexington
William Triplett McIntires
Robert Fryer Hazelrigs
Benjamin Craig Craigs.

For the County of Lincoln

John Lillard for the Distinct of Captain Hardins Company

John Logan Kincaids
James Harrod Moore's
William Kennedy Irvins
William Fleming Montgomerys
Caleb Wallace Rays
Thomas Kennedy Kennedys
John Boyle Boyles
John South Junr Souths
Robert Moseby Hinches

Isaac Hite from the District of the Company formerly Commanded by Capt. MacAfee —

Ebenezer Brooks for the District of Capt Dougherty's Company

Willis Green Ewings
James Davis Whatleys
William Moore Snoddys

Resolved as the Opinion of your Committee that the Elections of the foregoing Gentlemen are duly Certified, which was agreed to by the Convention.

p4Resolved, that the votes of this Convention be taken Individually.

Squire Boone​b from the District of Capt. Boones Company attended and produced his Credentals — Ordered that the said Squire Boone be admitted to his seat. —

X Resolved Nemine Contradicente That the Inhabitants of this District have a right peacably to Assemble to consider their Greevances and adopt such Measures, as they shall think prudent for redress. —

X Resolved N.C.D. That the said inhabitants are intittled to equal Liberty and Priveleges with their Bretheren in the Eastern part of this State.

Samuel McDowell from the District of Capt. Woods and Christopher Irvine from the District of Capt Irvins Companies attended and produced Credentials. Ordered that they be admitted to their Seats.

X Resolved that the Convention Resolve itself into a Committee of the whole tomorrow to consider the following propositio[n] Viz  p72 Whether Laws which from their nature impose Taxes on the Inhabitants of the Western Waters only, whether expressly, or from their operation are greevous and against the fundamental rights of the People —

Adjourned till Tomorrow 10' Clock —

Wednesday December 29th.

Benjamin Logan from the District of Capt. Barnetts and Isaac Shelby from the District of Capt Martins Companies attended and produced their Credentials. Ordered that they be admitted to their Seats —

p5The Order of the day being read, for the Convention to resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole —

Resolved that this Convention do resolve itself into a Committee of the whole on the State of the District —

Agreeable to the order of the Day for the Convention to resolve itself into a Committee of the whole on the State of the District, Mr. President quitted the Chair & Mr Shelby took the Chair of the Committee and after some time spent therein Mr. President resumed the Chair, and Mr. Shelby reported that several greevances have been laid before the Committee but not having had time to go through the same, moved that the Committee be discharged from the further consideration thereof and that the same be refered to a select Committee

Resolved that Mr. Wallace Mr. Greenup, Mr. Morrison, Mr. Anderson, Mr. Craig, Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Todd, be a Committee for that purpose.

Adjourned till Tomorrow 10' Clock.

Thursday Decr 30th.

Samuel Scott from the District of Capt Scotts Company attended & produced his Credentials — Ordered that he be admitted to his Seat —

Mr Wallace from the Select Committee to which was refered sundry Greevances reported that they have had the same under consideration and have come to sundry Resolutions thereupon which he read in his place and then delivered in the same at the Clerks Table where they were again twice read, and agreed to as follows —

X Resolved that the want of a Militia Law adapted to the local Situation of the District, whereby the Inhabitants p6may be enabled to repel the Hostile Invasions of the Indians, subjects them to eminent danger, and the want of some Executive power in the District to resort to for inforcing the same in Cases of Emergency or greevances and require immediate redress. —

X Resolved that the Supreme Court for the District, not having proceeded to the desission of Suits depending in that Court is greatly injurious to the Peace and Interest of the Inhabitants and that the causes of this delay ought to be enquired into —

 p73  X Resolved that the Fines inflicted by the Supreme Court being appropriated to the support of the Judges is injurious to the reputation of the Court and alarming to the People, as it opens a door for corruption. —

X Resolved that the Law imposing a Tax on process's and other proceedings isº the Courts of Justice and not permitting the same to be Taxed in the Bill of Costs is a greevance and that the Law ought to be amended —

X Resolved that one sixth part of all Surveyors Fees arising within this District, appropriated to the support of the University of William & Mary, and not to the Transilvania Seminary is a greevance —

X Resolved that the practice of Surveyors in Surveying the same Tract of Land for sundry Persons is a greevance because it tends to multiply litigations and Subjects the Claimnts to unnecessary expence. —

Resolved that the practice of the Register in demanding his Frees for issuing a Grant to Lands before the same p7is obtained is a greevance —

X Resolved that the want of a Law or Laws in this District for appointing proper Officers to take care and provide for the Poor to bind out poor Orphans, and the Children of such persons as do not bring them up in a Christianlike manner, to punish the putative Fathers of Bastard Children, and for the enforcing the Law for processioning of Lands are greevances —

X Resolved that the want of a Law for encouraging the breed of Horses and preventing Stone Horses of Any Age or Size, from going at large is from our present circumstances a greevance —

X Resolved that the Law which prohibits Persons from keeping more than one Gelding or Speyed Mare, unless possessed of a certain Estate is a greevance, Because Emigrants on their removal into the District are thereby subjected to unreasonable forfitures —

X Resolved that the Law which requires the takeup of a Stray to advertise the same in the publick Gazette within twenty days is a greevance, Because it is impossible to comply therewith —

X Resolved that the freedom of the Press is highly subservient to Civil Liberty and therefor such measures ought to be taken as may be most likely to encourage the introduction of a Printer into the District —

X Ordered That the Hon.ble the Judges of the District be required to give their reasons for the delay of Bussiness in that Court and that they give them before a p8Committee of the whole Convention

Resolved That the Convention do resolve itself into a Committee of the whole on the State of the District

Ordered that the Convention do now resolve itself into a Committee of the whole on the order of the Day —

Whereupon Mr President quitted the chair and Mr. Shelby took the Chair of the Committee and after a considerable time spent therein Mr. President resumed the Chair and Mr. Shelby reported that the  p74 Committee have had under their consideration the several matters to them referred but not having time to go through the whole moved for leave to sit again

Resolved That this Convention will again resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole Tomorrow to take into further consideration the State of the District. —

Ordered that a Standing Committee be appointed to correct the minutes and make report thereon to the Convention and that Mr. Anderson Mr. Greenup Mr. Wallace Mr. McDowell & Mr Morrison be a Committee for that purpose.

Adjourned till Tomorrow 10 'Clock

Friday Decr 31st

The order of the day being read for the Convention to resolve itself into a Committee of the whole to take into further consideration the State of the District. — Whereupon Mr President quitted the Chair and Mr. Shelby took the Chair of the Committee and after some time spent therein Mr President resumed the Chair and Mr. Shelby reported that the Committee according to order have had p9under their consideration the several matters to them referred but not having time to go through the whole moved for leave to sit again —

Resolved that the Convention will again resolve itself into a Committee of the whole Tomorrow on the State of the District

Ordered that Mr. Barnet have leave of absence for the remainder of the meeting.

Adjourned till Tomorrow 10'Clock

Saturday January 1st 1785

Mr. Anderson from the Committee appointed to correct the Minutes Reported that Committee had inspected the minutes and made several corrections which he read in his place and the same being amended. Ordered that the several Corrections with the amendments be admitted —

The Convention resolved itself into a Committee of the whole on the Order of the day. Whereupon Mr Presdt. quitted the Chair and Mr. Shelby took the Chair of the Committee and after Some time spent therein Mr. President resumed the Chair and Mr. Shelby reported That the Committee have had under their consideration the several matters to them referred but not having time to go through the whole moved for leave to sit again Resolved that the Convention will again resolve itself into a Committee of the whole on Monday next to take into their further consideration the state of the District

Adjourned till Monday the 3d at 10 'Clock —

Monday Jany 3d. 1785.

The order of the day being read Ordered That the same be postponed til Tomorrow.

Adjourned till Tomorrow 10 'Clock

 p75  p10Tuesday Jany. 4th. 1785

The Convention resolved itself into a Committee of the whole on the Order of the day —

Whereupon Mr. President quitted the Chair and Mr. Shelby took the Chair of the Committee and after some time spent therein Mr. President resumed the Chair and Mr Shelby reported That the Committee had come to sundry resolutions which he read in his place and then delivered the same in at the Clerks Table where they were again twice read and agreed to as follows —

X Resolved that all Laws imposing partial Taxes either directly or in their operation are greevous and against the Fundamental rights of the People —

X Resolved that the Law imposing a Tax of Five Shillings per hundred on Lands exceeding fourteen hundred Acres whether the same be in one or more surveys provided the same be contiguous is a greevance, Because it is partial in its operation and in many instances a retrospective Law —

X The Yeas & Nays being required by Mr. McDowell. For the Resolve Mr. Anderson, Mr Campbell Mr. Morrison, Mr. Cox, Mr. Phillips Mr. Hinds Mr. King Mr. Greenup, Mr. Harrod, Mr. Hite, Mr. Brooks & Mr Green against the Resolve Mr. Kincheloe Mr. John Logan, Mr. William Kennedy Mr. Wallace, Mr. Moseby, Mr. Moore Mr. Shelby, Mr McDowell & Mr. Benj.n Logan

p11Resolved That the Law imposing a duty on Merchandize brought into this District by way of Pitsburg is a greevance Because such goods having paid a duty on their first importation are again subjected to an additional duty on their advanced price when so brought into the District

X Resolved that the Law restricting the payment of the Salleries of the Judges of the Supreme Court to certain duties and Taxes arising within the District and not out of the common Treasury is a greevance, Because Inhabitants not only pay their own Judges, but also their proportion for the support of the Judges for the Eastern part of the State —

Your Committee beg leave further to report That they have had under their consideration the Resolve proposed on Wednesday last. "Declaring that power hath not been Delegated to any body of men to transferr the good People of the United States or any part of their Lands to any other State or to the United States and therefor ought not to be exercised without their consent. Nor ought they to be relinquished or denied portection by their own or the United States" Upon which Your Committee are of Opinion that it is a Case of a very serious consequence but can not conceive that it can come before this Convention as not being a grievance p12now existing within the District But it is the Opinion of your Committee That should an attempt of this kind be made, The good People of this District ought to oppose it by every Just and Lawfull method in their power

X Resolved that to grant any Person a larger quantity of Land that  p76 he designs Bona Fide to seat himself or his Family on, is a greevance. Because it is subversive of the fundamental Principles of a free republican Government to allow any individual, or Company or Body of Men to possess such large tracts of Country in their own right as may at a future day give them an undue influence, and because it opens a door to speculation by which innumerable evils may ensue to the less opolent part of the Inhabitants and therefor ought not to be done in the future disposal of the Lands in this District.

X Resolved that the Nonresidence of those who hold lucrative offices in this District is a greevance.

The Honorable the Judges of the Supreme Court have according to order delivered in their reasons as follows. —

Mr. Chairman

In Complyance with an order of Convention, we beg leave to submit to the Committee a short state of the reasons why the Judges of the Supreme Court for the District of Kentucky have not proceeded to the decision of suits depending in that Court —

We need only suggest that two of the Judges have been slain by the Savages and another having declined to accept the Office has occasioned repeated delays — and the Court not being furnished with a Copy legally attested of the records of the Court of Commissioners that adjusted the Claims to Lands of the first Adventurers which the Judges are informed by the Attorneys for the litigants will be the material Evidence in the greater number of Suits now on the Docket, has also been another delay — But the Funds allotted to the support of this Court having hitherto proved unfruitfull, a Court house, Prison and Jury rooms, could not be built, nor the Attendants, and Books of Law necessary for the Court be procured. And altho we are willing to discharge the duties of the Office with which we have been honoured, without having our expenses immediately reimbursed, and to forego the advantages we might derive if we were at Liberty to engage in other p13in other [sic] employments without the prospect of an adequate compensation, yet if all other impediments were removed, we are decidedly of Opinion that the Judges would violate the Trust reposed in them were they to proceed to hear causes, many of which are weighty and intricate as a fair tryal & Just decision could seldome be obtained whilst the Court is destitute of the conveniences we have enumerated. —

Most Obt. Hble. Servts.

The Committee
of the State of the District

Saml McDowell
Caleb Wallace

Resolved that the reasons assigned by the Honble. the Judges of the Supreme Court for not proceeding generally to the decision of cases depending in that Court are Satiesfactory —

The Committee have also had under consideration the further State of the District have come to the following resolutions thereupon —

 p77  X Resolved That the remote Situation of this District from the seat of Government is burthensome to its Inp14habitants and Subjects them to many greevances which can not be redressed whilst it remains a part of Virginia, some of which are as follows

X First, The determination of the Supreme Court not being final in all cases, subjects the Inhabitants of the District to prosecute their rights in the High Court of Appeals at Richmond in doing which they incur a heavy expense

X Secondly Because no Executive can be received into the District without a Legeslative at hand to inspect its conduct and redress the greevances of the People.

X Thirdly Because it is not consistant with the Constitution That there shouldº be a power in the District to grant Pardons to objects of Mercy who have been sentenced to Death by Law —

x Fourthly Because the Inhabitants here cannot be informed of the Laws untill long after they are enacted & in many cases not untill the time in which they are to have their operation is expired —

X Fifthly Because of the large Sums of Money drained from the District in consequence of its connection with the Eastern part of the State —

x Resolved therefor as the Opinion of this Committee That the Convention also recommend it to their Constituents to choose a Convention to continue by Adjournment three months from the first day of May next to take the p15Expediency of the proposed Separation into consideration as also the several greevances stated by this Convention and to adopt such measures there upon and whatever else may come before them, as they may Judge most conducive to the Interest of the District —

X Resolved as the opinion of this Committee that in the choise of the proposed Convention the People should have as equal a representation according to their numbers as conveniently can be obtained —

Resolved as the Opinion of this Committee that Twenty Eight Deputies be elected within the District to serve in the proposed Convention as follows —

The County of Jefferson to elect Eight Members (viz) Four for the Devision on the North side of the Town fork of Salt river, the election to be held at the Court house on the first Tuesday in Aprile next, and Four for the Devision on the South side of the said River at such time and place as the Election for Delegates to serve in General Assembly for this Devision, in the same Month —

The County of Fayette to elect eight Members at the Court house on the second Tuesday in the same month

p16The County of Lincoln to elect twelve Members out of the County at large (Viz) Three for the devision including Capt Hinches Moores, Hardins Rays & McAfees Companies, at Harrodsburg on the third Friday in Aprile next. — Six for the bounds including Capts Snoddys Wheatleys, Montgomeries, Kincade Scotts Barnetts Martins Doughertys Ewings & Irvins Companies at Court house, on the third Tuesday in the said Month, and three for the devision including Capts. Souths, Christopher Irvins, Woods, Kennedys, and Boyles Companies  p78 at Taylors fork of Silver Creek on the road from Adams' to Irvins on the Fourth Tuesday in same month.

X Resolved that the several Members of this Convention take the numbers of Souls in their respective Districts and make return thereof to the succeeding Convention distinguishing in one Column the number of Males above sixteen year old, in another the number of White Males under that age, In another the white Females, In another the Tithable Negroes, and in another the Negroes under that Age, And that it be requested of the Commanding Officers of such militia Companies as have not sent Deputies to this Convention to send representatives to the next —

Adjourned till Tomorrow 10 'Clock

Wednesday Jany 5th. 1785

p17X Resolved that a Copy of the proceedings of this Convention be delivered to the Commanding Officer of each County in the District that the Inhabitants at large may know what their deputies have done in considering the Greivances that came under their notice. And that the original minutes be lodged with Mr. Willis Green for the inspection and descussion of future Conventions.

X Resolved that the said proposed Convention be held on the Fourth Monday in May next, and that at [the] several preposed Elections such members of this Convention as may be present appoint three or more Gentlemen to superintend the taking of the Polls, to make Return to the said Convention of the Deputies duly elected to serve therein, but if no member of this Convention be present then the Candidates present shall agree on three or more Gentlemen for that purpose.

And whereas matters of the utmost importance to the future wellfare of the People of the District will come under the consideration of the proposed Convention —

[End of manuscript].

The Author's Notes:

1 The only detailed account of the proceedings of this meeting is contained in a letter from Ebenezer Brooks to Col. Arthur Campbell, Nov. 9, 1784. It is in the Draper Collection, 11 J, 37‑38, and is published in Temple Bodley, History of Kentucky (Chicago, 1928), I, 345‑56. See also John Bradford, "Notes on Kentucky," Kentucky Gazette, Dec. 1, 1826.

[decorative delimiter]

2 Samuel C. Williams, History of the Lost State of Franklin (New York, 1933), 5‑12, 32, 45, 58; T. P. Abernethy, From Frontier to Plantation in threaten (Chapel Hill, 1932), 68‑69; Archibald Stuart to Arthur Campbell, Jan. 5, 1785, Draper MSS., 9 DD, 42.

[decorative delimiter]

3 Gen. Richard Butler, Journal, Jan. 2, 1785, quoted by Neville B. Craig, The Olden Time (Cincinnati, 1876), II, 507.

Thayer's Notes:

a Like many documents of the period, the Journal of the Kentucky Convention is somewhat cavalier and inconsistent with such things as spelling, capitalization and punctuation. For the last two you will have to trust me: many sentences don't end in periods, including when another sentence follows; "Mr." is often "Mr", etc.

As for spellings, those normal for the period (e.g.inforcing) are unmarked altogether; the others that strike us odd in the 21c are mostly in the original document although I suspect some few oddities to be typographical errors of 1935: in either case, rather than load this webpage with far too many little notes, I've marked them in the sourcecode, except for two instances where the meaning is unclear or possibly changed, where my little bullets (like this oneº) reappear. The one instance of "[sic]" is an editorial comment of Abernethy's.

The page numbers down the right-hand side of the webpage follow my usual practice: they're the page numbers of the modern printed source. They are joined in this transcription by page numbers down the left-hand side, which are those of the Journal itself, which Abernethy indicated by bracketed numbers inserted directly into the text.

[decorative delimiter]

b Squire is not a title; it's his first name. The younger brother of Daniel Boone, he was a Baptist minister who in 1769 is said to have been the first to preach a sermon in Louisville.

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