by Russell L. Whitlock
In the last issue of the newsletter,
we printed a version of the Jenny Wiley story written by Mr.
James Hayden Van Hoose of Fayetteville, Arkansas, which was written
in 1895. Mr. Van Hoose obtained his information from his grandmother
who had been an acquaintance of Jenny Wiley some 90 years previously.
The account which we include in this issue (here), was written by Zephania
Meek who was owner and editor of "The Central Methodist", a small news
paper located in Catlettsburg, Kentucky. As in the last issue, any
notations made by this writer will be clearly identified as such.
The most romantic history in the early
settlement of the Big Sandy Valley is that of Jenny Wiley. This history
we proceed to give from the most reliable sources at our command, drawing
our facts mainly from Hardesty's
Historical and Biographical Encyclopedia.
There is hardly a man or woman in Eastern
Kentucky who is not familiar with the story of the life of this remarkable
woman. The facts of her capture by the Indians, escape from them,
and return to her home, have been handed down from parent to child, and
they are well remembered. Her maiden name was Jenny Sellards.
NOTE: There is considerable reason
to believe Jenny's given name was in fact Jean.
She married Thomas Wiley, a native of Ireland,
who had emigrated and settled on Walker's Creek, in Wythe, now Tazwell
County, VA., where they were living at the time of the capture by the Indians.
She had a sister living nearby, the wife of John Borders, Sr., who was
the father of John Borders, a noted Baptist preachers, Hezekiah Borders,
Judge Archibald Borders, and several daughters. Several families
named Harman lived in the same neighborhood, some of whom were noted Indian
NOTE: John Borders, Sr. was a
native of Germany who had served in the Hessian army, a mercenary group
employed by the British during the revolutionary war. Following this
conflict, he asked permission to, and was allowed to, remain in the United
States. There is some reason to believe he may have deserted British
service and joined the Continental Army serving with the colonists against
the British. The Harmans, mentioned above, were also of German descent
and can be traced to the valley of the Danube River. The leader of
the Harman family was Heinrich Adam Herrman, later known as Adam Harman,
who migrated to America about 1727. Adam was the father of noted
Indian fighter Matthias Harman, Sr., the builder of Harmans Station, where
Jenny fled following her escape from captivity.
At the time of the capture of Jenny, Thomas
Wiley, her husband, was out in the woods digging ginseng. This was
in the year 1790.
NOTE: I have no explanation for
the use of this date. It is almost certainly incorrect, and William
Elsey Connelley says concerning this article by Mr. Meek: "With the
exception of the date, this brief sketch is singularly accurate."
The destruction of the Wiley family, as
hereafter recorded, was the result of a mistake on the part of the savages.
Sometime previously, in an engagement with a party of Cherokees, one of
the Harmans had shot and killed two or three of their number, and a party
of five returned to seek vengeance on the Harmons, but ignorant of the
location of their cabin, fell upon Wiley's instead. John Borders
warned Mrs. Wiley that he feared Indians were in the neighborhood, and
urged her to go to his house and remain until Wiley's return, but as she
had a piece of cloth in the loom, she said she would finish it and then
go. The delay on the part of Mrs. Wiley was a fatal one. Darkness
came on, and with it came the attack upon the defenseless family.
The Indians rushed into the house, and after tomahawking and scalping a
younger brother and three of the children, and taking Mrs. Wiley, her infant
(a year and a half old), and Mr. Wiley's hunting dog, started toward the
Ohio River. At the time the Indian trail led down what is now known
as Jennie's Creek, and along it they proceeded until they reached the mouth
of the stream, and then down Tug and Big Sandy rivers to the Ohio.
NOTE: The Indians and Jenny reached
the Big Sandy River near the point where
it divides into the Levisa or Louisa Fork and the Tug Fork. This
is near to the location of the present day community of Louisa, Kentucky.
The Big Sandy is known as being the shortest river in the United States
(if not the world) since it's total length is approximately 30 miles, reaching
from Louisa to near Catlettsburg where it flows into the Ohio.
At the time the Indian trail led down what
is now known as Jennie's Creek, and along it they proceeded until they
reached the mouth of that stream, and then down Tug and Big Sandy rivers
to the much larger Ohio.
No sooner had the news of the horrid butchery
spread among the inhabitants of the Walker's Creek settlement than a party,
among whom were Lazrus Damron and Matthias Harmon, started in pursuit.
They followed on for several days, but failing to come up with the perpetrators
of the terrible outrage, the pursuit was abandoned, and all returned to
their homes. The Indians expected that they would be followed, and
the infant of Mrs. Wiley proving an encumbrance to their flight, they dashed
out its brains against a beech tree when a short distance below where Mr.
William C. Crum now resides, and two miles from Jennies Creek. This
tree was standing and well known to the inhabitants of this section during
the first quarter of the present century.
When the savages, with their captive, reached
the Ohio, it was very much swollen; with a shout of O-high-O, they
turned down the stream, and continued their journey to the mouth of the
Little Sandy. Up that stream they went until they reached the mouth
of Dry Fork, and up the same to its head, then they crossed dividing ridge
and proceeded down what is now called Cherokee Fork of Big Blain Creek,
to a point within two miles of its mouth, where they halted and took shelter
between a ledge of rocks. Here they remained for several months,
and during that time Mrs. Wiley was delivered of a child. At this
time the Indians were very kind to her; but when the child was three
weeks old they decided to test him, to see whether he would make a brave
warrior. Having tied him to a flat piece of wood they slipped him
into the water to see if he would cry. He screamed furiously, and
they took him by the heels and dashed his brains out against an oak tree.
When they left this encampment they proceeded
down to the mouth of Cherokee Creek, then up Big Blaine to the mouth of
Hood's Fork, thence up that stream to its source; from here they
crossed over the dividing ridge to the waters of Mud Lick, and down the
same to its mouth, where they once more formed an encampment.
About this time several settlements were
made on the headwaters of the Big Sandy.
NOTE: These settlements were actually
on the Levisa or Louisa Fork of the Big Sandy and not on the Big
Sandy itself. As noted previously, the Big Sandy proper extends only
from Louisa to Catlettsburg or about 30 miles.
The Indians decided to kill their captive,
and accordingly prepared for the execution; but just when the awful
hour was come, an old Cherokee chief, who in the meantime had joined the
party, proposed to buy her from the others on condition that she would
teach his squaws to make cloth like the gown she wore. Thus was her
life saved, but she was reduced to the most abject slavery, and was made
to carry water, wood, and build fires. For some time they bound her
when they were out hunting; but as time wore away they relaxed their
vigilance, and at last permitted her to remain unbound.
NOTE: This last statement is at
variance with most stories pertaining to Jenny's escape, which indicate
she soaked her rawhide bonds in rain water until she was able to slip free
On one occasion, when all were out from
camp, they were belated, and at nightfall did not return, and Mrs. Wiley
now resolved to carry into effect a long-cherished object, that of making
her escape and returning to her friends. The rain was falling fast,
and the night was intensely dark, but she glided away from the camp-fire
and set out on her lonely and perilous journey. Her dog, the same
that had followed the party through all their wanderings, started to follow
her, but she drove him back, lest by barking he might betray her into the
hands of her pursuers. She followed the course of Mud Lick Creek,
journeyed up a stream) ever since known as Jennies Creek) a distance of
some miles, thence over a ridge and down a stream now called Little Paint
Creek, which empties into the Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy. When
she reached its mouth it was day-dawn, and on the opposite side of the
river, a short distance below the mouth of Johns Creek, she could hear
and see men at work erecting a block house.
NOTE: Most accounts indicate that
only Henry Skaggs, a few women and some children were present at the fort
when Jenny arrived there.
To them she called, and informed them that
she was a captive escaping from the Indians, and urged them to hasten to
her rescue, as she believed her pursuers to be close upon her. The
men had no boat, but hastily rolling some logs into the river and lashing
them together with grape-vines, they pushed over the stream and carried
her back with them. As they were assending the bank, the old chief
who had claimed Jenny as his property, preceded by the dog, appeared upon
the opposite bank, and striking his hands upon his breast, exclaimed in
broken English, "Honor, Jenny, Honor!" and then disappeared into the forest.
That was the last she ever saw of the old
chief or her dog. She remained here a day or two to rest from her
fatigue, and then with a guide made her way back to her home, having been
in captivity more than eleven months. Here she rejoined her husband,
who had long supposed her dead, and together, nine years after--in the
year 1800--they abandoned their home in the Old Dominion, and found another
near the mouth of Tom's Creek, on the banks of the Levisa Fork of the Big
Sandy. Here her husband died in the year 1810. She survived
him 21 years, and died of paralysis in the year 1831.
I'm sure readers will notice many differences
between the above account and the one provided by Mr. Van Hoose, which
we published in the last issue of the news letter. It is not for
me to say which of these accounts, or of the numerous others, is the correct
one, but I believe it will benefit all of our members to have the different
versions of the story at our disposal. After a time lapse of more
than 200 years, I doubt that we will ever be able to determine the correctness
of every single detail of Jenny Wiley's capture and escape, and I'm sure
each of us will have a favorite version of the story--I certainly do!
Historical statements are
always based on the knowledge extant and available as to the matter under
discussion. The discovery of new or unknown information renders necessary
the modification of texts previously written, and the true historian is
always ready and anxious to make such corrections, even though they overturn
his own record.
-Mr. Edward Hazlett:
The Founding of Harmans Station and the Wiley Captivity, page 17, introduction
to the Connelley reprint.
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