Editor's Note: Readers of The Kentucky Explorer have been introduced to the Rev. John J. Dickey in past issues. Remember that he was a traveling preacher throughout the eastern part of the state during the years between 1880 and 1925. He helped to establish numerous churches and at least two colleges. He was also a teacher and a newspaper editor. However, his most enduring gift to us today may well be his diary that he kept faithfully during some 50 years of his later life beginning in the 1880s. In all, over 6,000 pages written in his own hand make up this interesting digest.
In this journal of his, Dickey often wrote down accounts of events daily. Much of the material concerns his day to day life. However, during the late 1890s he began to gather family history on various families he met in his travels. We are offering these interviews to our readers in the hope that they will be appreciated in the sense that Rev. Dickey intended. These interviews were written word for word as they were given to Rev. Dickey. Nothing has been changed.
General George Brittain was the administrator of the estate of Calvin Bailey of Harlan, brother-in-law of Brittain. The estate had a great many slaves, and they attempted to run away to Ohio for freedom. Gen. Brittain followed these slaves and overtook them at Louisa. When he returned with them, he put them on the block at County Court Day and sold them without authority from the court. Some years afterwards, some of the heirs of Bailey brought suit against Mr. Brittain for $20,000 for his increase in numbers, etc., that would have accumulated had the slaves been kept. Mr. Brittain employed me to represent the administrator. I went to Virginia and hunted up the brothers and sisters of John Bailey. His heirs had them sign a paper stating that they had received all for which the slaves were sold, and that they believed that if they had not been sold they would have escaped and have been lost to the estate. When the case was called, I presented these papers to the court, and the suit was dismissed. For this I received $200. For defending Howard above referred to, I received $200. In 1856 I removed to Clay County. At that time, I had five children, Brittain, Dale, Carlo, and Nannie. I had lost two, Louisa and William. I had bought "Cedar Crag" from Mr. Samuel Chastain who had mortgaged the property to "Black Head" Hugh White and Barton Potter. There were 300 or 400 acres, and I paid $2,300. I had it mostly paid for before I moved. Gen. Garrard had once lived at the place who owned it and sold it to Chastain. I built the present residence. I have lived here ever since. I continued the practice of law, visiting Booneville, Hazard, Whitesburg, Harlan, Barboursville, and London. I was very successful in the defense of criminals. I cultivated my farm in the meantime, I regard my defense of William Cole at Jonesville as one of the greatest efforts of my life. It was soon after I married. The defense had no hope. The leading attorney, Samuel Logan, of Abingdon said to me after the testimony was closed, "I have not enough to stimulate an effort." The first speech fell to me. During my speech, the jury, the court, and the bystanders were melted to tears. I became so warm I took off my coat. The little children of the prisoner were about him, and I used this with great effect. Mr. Logan was buoyant with hope when I closed, and the sentiment of the whole court had been changed. Judge Benjamin Estill was the judge. He was the greatest judge I ever saw and among the greatest men. He bought a farm above Louisville on the Ohio River. About the year 1850, he took his slaves to the farm. He told his slaves that the people over the river think you ought to be free, and I think so, too. Now, if you want to go say so, and I will divide my money with you. I don't want to go they're beggars or paupers. They said, "No, we will stay here, you go back, and we will raise a crop." When he returned, he found the finest crop he had ever seen.