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
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
John And Abner Lewis
And George Brittain
In this case and åwith these two fees I purchased the Negro
boy. John Lewis and Abner Lewis were the progenitors of the Lewises
in the mountains.
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. General Brittain followed these slaves and overtook
them at Louisa; when he returned with them he put them on the
block, 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, and 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 the following
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. General Harrard 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 Boonesville, Hazard, Whitesburg, Harlan, Barbourville,
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 hope 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, "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 you to go there and become beggars or
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.
After coming to Clay County, Thomas, James, Lee, and Daniel
were born. Daniel died in infancy. Brittain was in the Rebel
Army and was captured at Back Bridge in Virginia. I went to Camp
Chase, where he was a prisoner, and through the aid of Gen. Lew
Wallace, General McClain, and Judge Randell, who was then in
Congress, I obtained from the President a pardon. On the trip
to Columbus my vouchers for $750 for soldiers camping on my farm
were paid in full.
I took no sides in the war. I tried to remain neutral. People
who owned slaves through these mountains were nearly all Southern
sympathizers. Those who did not were mostly for the Union. On
this principle I account for the large predominance of Union
sentiment among the people of the Appalachians. Slave property
caused the rebellion. Where it did not exist, people naturally
adhered to the Union. During the war Clay County was remarkably
exempt from depredations of marauding bands. Early in the war
in 1861 or 1862 a small regiment of home guards were organized
in the county. Alexander White was chosen Colonel and I Lieutenant
Colonel. My opponent was Capt. William McDaniel, whom I afterward
defeated for the Senate. Colonel Lucas, who was a captain in
Colonel Garrard's regiment, was present and conducted the election
of officers. I was a colonel on General Magoffin's staff by his
appointment. At one time we heard that Colonel Harrard (now General)
was hemmed in after the Wildcat Mountain fight, and a number
of our regiment started to his relief. We heard from reliable
authority that we were not needed, and we did not go farther
than the head of Horse Creek.
The destruction of the entire Goose Creek Salt Works by order
of federal authority was a great loss to the county. I witnessed
the destruction. James White, a strong Union man, asked me to
ride up with him and I went. General Kerr had command; the destruction
was complete. Thousands of bushels of salt were thrown out to
the weather or thrown into the creek. Salt, sheds, pumps, logs,
and everything that could be burned was destroyed. Haystacks
were burned. Cannon balls were thrown into the wells.
"The work of my life is gone," remarked Mr. White.
Strange to say, not a cent has ever been allowed by Congress
to pay for the unnecessary destruction. A bill was once passed
containing an appropriation, but it was vetoed by General Grant
because of some clause in the bill which recognized unjust claims,
a class of claims that would lead, as he thought, to great loss
to the government.
READ MUCH MORE IN THIS MONTH'S ISSUE OF THE EXPLORER.