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Chapter 13

Becoming “Kentuckian”

The face of America had changed dramatically by the time the Wares moved to Kentucky.  The vast regions to the west of the original 13 colonies would open up new possibilities only dreamed of when the Revolutionary War started.  The individual borders of the states would barely resemble what they did prior to the conflict.


This expansion westward required a hardy and adventurous breed of people.  The colonists, strengthened by their victory over England, had already proven to the world that they were now “Americans,” and as such, they had a strong set of distinctly “American” values.  The same courage and pioneering spirit that enabled their forefathers to leave Europe in the first place and settle in this “brave, new world” now coursed through their veins. As James Hall wrote, “they lived for years surrounded by dangers which kept them continually alert and drew them often into active military service.  Obliged to think and act for themselves, they acquired independence of thought and habitual promptitude of demeanour.  (Ref. 1086)   Yet, even with their rugged, bold spirit, one early author noted in 1802, “the inhabitants of Kentucky are nearly all natives of Virginia . . . and they have preserved the manners of the Virginians.” (Ref. Francois Michaux)   This sometimes odd mix of characteristics was probably best described by Mann Butler in 1806 when he noted, “almost every young man of his acquaintance had a horse, a gun, and a violin.” (Ref. 2254) 

When James and Caty Todd Ware arrived at their new Kentucky home in 1791, conditions were a far cry from what they had left behind in a more “civilized” Virginia.  Caty, at 41, still had Charles, Kitty, and George at home, but Thompson, James III, Polly, and Lucy were married and on their own at this point.  Josiah Ware stated in a letter he wrote in 1876 to Rutherford B. Hayes that “Thompson had already settled near Paris, Kentucky.  James II and Caty homesteaded in Fayette County around Lexington on land that James II subsequently lived and died on. (Ref. 299) Without a doubt, Lexington was “the place to be” during this settlement time in Kentucky.  The town would change dramatically over the next few years, as would the Wares.

Rough sketch of earliest Lexington       Sketch of Lexington in the 1800’s

Of course, the first order of business was to build a home.  Kentucky’s rich woodland resource was at once a blessing and a handicap to easy settlement.  Near at hand in almost any site a settler chose was an abundance of building materials for homes, barns, and public buildings.  The forest, however, blocked the land and enormous human energy was required to clear it away.” (Ref. 2254)  Life would become so much easier after 1810 when the saw mill was introduced into Kentucky.  (Ref. 2254)

In the early years, most homes were made of logs. These Kentucky log houses were thoughtfully planned and built.  The logs were hewn on four sides, split in two pieces and ‘finished off’ through the middle with a broad ax.  Ends of the logs were carefully notched, fitted and pegged to form neat square corners, and when completed, these houses presented as even an appearance as those of frame houses. (Ref. wikipedia )

There was a distinct difference between a log house and just a log cabin, however.  The cabin was of wonderful use for a short-term basis, but it offered little in the way of privacy or space for expanding families.  With most couples having five or more children, cabins soon became cramped and uncomfortable.

Sample of a log cabin

Log houses, on the other hand, could easily adapt to a growing family.  These early log houses were of the ‘double’ two-story type, with two large front rooms, a broad hall, or a ‘dog trot’ across the back which was divided to serve as kitchen, dining room, and spare bedroom.  The second story was reached by peg ladders concealed behind hall doors, but later plank stairs were added. (Ref. 2255)  Log houses were generally very sturdy and could be comfortable for many years.  As lumber eventually became more plentiful and houses were being weather-boarded, owners of log houses simply covered them with plank siding.” (Ref. 2255)

Source: Library of Congress

It would take some time before the more elegant brick homes would dot the Kentucky landscape.

We know that James II traveled back to Virginia several times to visit because his letters, written on different dates, speak of the traveling conditions.  Virtually no travel was accomplished in that first decade, however.  Even the first known written communication, dated in 1799, was delivered a full eight years after the big move.  It was probably brought by some kind traveler moving west.  (See the following letter)


The words in italics are added by the author for clarification.

Transcription of Letter from Virginia Catherine Todd Ware (Caty) to her Daughter-in-Law Elizabeth Alexander Ware (Betsy)      1799

Researched and transcribed by Judith C. Ware  © 2008


Miss Betty Ware       Frederick County      Virginia    (Mr. Hannon)

FAYETTE COUNTY   September 1, 1799

My Dear Betsy, (Elizabeth Alexander Ware)

I am happy to hear, by a letter to Dr. Scott from (my son) James, that I may in the course of a few years have all my children near me, if agreeable to you.  And, more so, could you persuade your Mama out with you; a lady I ever had the greatest regard for?  Confident I am, dear Betsy, you would get pleased with the country were you to come and see the society and many other agreeable things.  Although I suppose Kentucky, in Frederick County, is thought to be a place inhabited by wild people by those unacquainted with the country.  As to that, I must refer you to James, who has traveled often enough to know.  I often laugh at the girls and tell them when my dear little Sally (granddaughter Sarah E.T.Ware) comes, they will be ashamed to find her so much handsomer than them.  We have all the greatest desire to see you.  If James would fix himself in this neighborhood, I should have my children here that are married around me.  Could I express the joy?  No, tongue cannot utter the happiness it would give me.  Therefore, wish your Mama could come with you, although (I) know she is so well fixed it would be almost impossible.  But the distance is not great; you might go over a year to see her.  Perhaps I may take a ride with you sometime or other and see all my old acquaintances again.  I am, my dear Betsy, your Caty Ware (wife of James Ware II, mother of James III, & mother-in-law to Betsy)

Give my best love to your Mama, James, and Sally

Clearly, Caty would have loved to have had all of her children and grandchildren close by her in Kentucky, but we know now that James III never did move there.  He and his immediate family stayed in Berryville, Virginia.  James III was the only one of his siblings to not relocate.  His wife, Betsy, passed away in 1806 and even when he remarried, this James stayed in Virginia.

By the time Caty wrote this letter back home, the family had benefited from those eight years of making the new frontier more settled.  Prior to that, things were a little more ‘rustic’ than what her daughter-in-law was experiencing in Virginia.  It would take some time to get to the point where Fayette County felt hospitable to most people, and those hardy Wares who came in 1791 truly built their fortunes “from the ground up.”  It must have been exciting to watch progress unfold as new industries and more people came to the region.  The first newspaper, called the Kentucky Herald was first printed in 1797, but it did not succeed. 

It wasn’t until 1808, when the ‘Western Citizen’ was established, that another newspaper would come into existence. (Ref. 2255)  Things were definitely improving then. 

Among the first industries of the pioneers were mills and tanneries.  The inclusion of these businesses made life easier in general, and their very presence encouraged other settlers to come.  After 1800, Kentucky, in general, assumed a more civilized atmosphere; one conducive to social and political progress.  Mills provided the early settlers with a device for grinding their corn and wheat, and the number of mill sites multiplied on all the major streams.  James Ware and his family contributed to this growth by building some of these needed buildings themselves.

The Wares were even instrumental in the founding of a small village.  According to the book entitled History of Bourbon, Scott, Harrison, & Nicholas Counties, Kentucky:

A village known as Sodom once existed in this precinct but has passed away and is doubtless forgotten by many of the people.  It was located in the central part of the precinct and was laid out by James and George Ware who settled the surrounding land.  The village was founded in 1825, and at one time contained 150 inhabitants.  The Wares built a cotton and hemp factory on South Elkhorn at that time which led to the laying out of a village.  A tannery was established by Henry Hardy, there also existed a shoe shop and a carding machine.  A storehouse was built and a store opened by Mr. Alexander Bell and the place was quite flourishing.   But railroads drew the bulk of trade to other localities and the village disappeared.” (Ref. 2255)

The name of this village appears on several pieces of early correspondence and it was sometimes referred to as Woodford Village or Fisher’s Mill, but for all intents and purposes, its existence disappeared from all maps sometime prior to 1839.  There is one reference that notes “a gristmill was built on South Elkhorn near the old village of Sodom in 1825 by George Ware. (Ref. 2255)  James had passed away by this time.

The fact that James and his son, George, “built a cotton and hemp factory on South Elkhorn” in those early years gives a true insight into how incredibly busy they were.  It was quite an endeavor just getting your home built; let alone clearing the land, preparing the soil for crops, harvesting what came in, building shelter for the safekeeping of your livestock and supplies, having all your animals properly cared for (especially those horses that were your only means of transportation), making sure firewood was constantly on hand (and plenty of it), and looking after your family--  which included hunting and providing food.  All of this was done against a backdrop of often bad weather, possible sickness, and the still present threat of Indians.

Cutting and gathering hay
Photo used with the kind permission of the Kentucky Historical Society

In addition to the basic “survival” chores, James was also expected to undertake the civic responsibilities that came with being a land owner.  Meetings were held, positions of leadership assigned, and everyone was expected to do their fair share for the good of all.  Water rights were always an important issue and “not only did state laws make the river channels public domain, but provisions were made to ‘warn out’ every able bodied man of taxable age, living within five miles of navigable rivers, to help improve the channels.(Ref. 2254)  One instance of this can be found in a document that states:  “In July 1792, it was ordered that a jury, composed of several men including Charles Webb and James Ware, give a report that unless the dam is raised higher than 6 feet from the present bottom of the creek, the water will not overflow any banks above Russell’s upper line nor injure any individual, and the said Robert Russell only wishes to raise his dam so high as the water shall not flow out of his upper line.” (Ref.1044A)   This extra civic duty came shortly after just arriving there!  In addition, the local newspaper of December 8, 1792, reported that “some appointments were made for Fayette County” and one of the Justices listed was James Ware. (Ref. 2288) 

There was a lot expected of a new “Kentuckian.”

Nor was this work limited to the men only.  In fact, the old quote, “Man works from sun to sun, but woman's work is never done,” applied nowhere more than in Kentucky.  Caty and her daughter would probably rise earlier than James because food had to be ready before it was daylight so the men could, not only eat before they left to work, but carry some with them to eat during the day.  In addition to the basic chore of cooking all the meals (no small task in and of itself), the women were also responsible for churning the butter, tending the small family garden that was usually close by the house, bringing water up from the spring or nearby creek, making candles and soap for the home, darning an endless supply of socks, and making ready the flax and wool for the spinning wheel and then for the loom to make cloth.

Making cloth was a burdensome task for women.  Cotton was raised for the looms and to stuff quilts, and it is likely they also grew flax to make the linen that settlers combined with wool in the fabric called mixed cloth or later known as linsey-woolsey.  They cleaned, sorted, spun, and wove the threads into cloth.  This demanded a great deal of their time.” (Ref. 2265)   



Spinning flax (Ref. 2285)                        Weaving on a loom

 Making soap was another one of the hardest and nastiest of chores, but also one of the most important.  Soap was made from wood ashes, water, and fat, with the fat usually coming from hog butchering.  It took quite a bit of skill to know the proper time and proportions to use to create a successful batch.

Ashes were salvaged from the fireplaces and collected in a long v-shaped trough with a crack or opening in the bottom.  Straw, cornhusks, or dry buffalo grass piled in the bottom acted as a strainer.  Water, filtered through the ashes, produced a substance called ‘ley’ (lye) which collected in a container beneath the trough.  This substance was boiled in large kettles until it was strong enough to float an egg.  Hog or bear fat was then added and the smelly boiling continued until soft handfuls of soap would be scooped off the bottom.  Salt was used to form a hard soap.” (Ref. 1086)  

Making soap and candles


The making of candles and soap was usually done in the spring or fall, but washing laundry was a weekly chore.  It was a time-consuming process for the entire family: 

Smaller children were kept busy collecting wood and feeding the fires underneath the large copper, brass, or iron wash kettles.  The older children would carry buckets of water from the pond.  The water was softened with ashes and once it had come to a boil, the dirty clothes were smeared with soap and thrown into the cauldron.  Then they were fished out, pounded with a stick, once again smeared with soap and thrown into the boiling water.  Finally the clothes were rubbed between the knuckles, and rinsed and hung up to dry.” (Ref. 1086) 

Typical view inside a cabin
photo used with the kind permission of The Kentucky Historical Society

Each member of the family had to contribute their energy, time, and talent to not only survive in their environment, but make it their “home” in every sense of the word.  Children worked alongside their parents, and even in the most affluent homes, there was not a lot of time for idleness or laziness.  Becoming a Kentuckian took a special kind of fortitude.  James and Caty did it, however, and did it well.  By the time the new decade began in 1800, they had put more than their fair share of blood, sweat, and tears into this new Kentucky soil.  The rewards would be plentiful in the years ahead. 


Chapter 14

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