The following article is from the November 16, 1988, issue of the Mountain Eagle (page 10):
The Mountain Eagle
WHITESBURG, LETCHER COUNTY, KENTUCKY.WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 1988
Brashear kept his own and others' records
By WILLIAM T. CORNETT
In a world of rapid change, we are constantly looking for signs of permanence. We establish routines, try to hold onto the same job, onto the same house, keep the same friends and often look at the same leaders to serve us.
Regardless of the form of government this can become the case. Queen Victoria ruled Great Britain for 64 years, Emperor Hirohito has been a figure in Japanese political life almost as long. Here in America nearly a generation grew up while Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president.
George Bush has promised to "stay the course" set by two termer Ronald Reagan. On the local scene we often see the same faces at work. Carl D. Perkins represented Kentucky's 7th District for over 35 years. Charlie Wright has been Letcher County's court clerk for so long that it would be hard to imagine a replacement. All this shows that people like stability when they can get it - or continuity, at least. It also shows that this desire is not necessarily a recent phenomenon. In the case of one Letcher County office holder, the subject of this week's Mountain Profile, we find the same impulse present over a century ago.
Until Charlie Wright this year broke the record, the longest serving official in Letcher County's history was Ezekiel Brashear. And like Charlie Wright he was county court clerk.
Brashear was the first one, serving from slightly after the county's creation in 1842 until his death 38 years later on February 26, 1881. Judging from his long tenure, it could be assumed that Ezekiel Brashear was a native of the area but that belief would be incorrect. Instead, the fact is that he was born in Sullivan County, Tennessee, near Kingsport, on June 21, 1807, the youngest son of Samuel (1763-1829) and Margaret Eakin Brashear (1762-1855).
His father, a captain during the Revolutionary War, was of French descent and had been born in North Carolina. His mother was a Pennsylvanian of Irish ancestry. This couple, according to historian Terry Back, became the ancestors of all the members of the Brashear (or Brashears) family living today in eastern Kentucky.
By the early 1820s several of the eight sons and daughters listed in Samuel Brashear's family Bible had made their way to Perry County to the vicinities of present day Slemp and Cornettsville (at one time this area was called Brashearsville). The parents evidently remained in Tennessee until the death of the father, in 1829, whereupon the mother went to live in Perry County as well.
The transplanted family apparently prospered. Robert S. Brashear (1793-1864) started and ran a large salt works near the mouth of Leatherwood Creek and built an imposing house where the Denver Miniard residence now stands. His older brother Sampson (1788-1878) was a success as a farmer and trader.
As the youngest of the family, it is probable that Ezekiel was the last to arrive on the scene, most likely coming to Kentucky when his mother decided to leave Tennessee in 1830.
Little is known about his first years here but apparently he was able to secure a decent education for that day and make friendships with several of the leading Perry County families. Sometime before 1840 he united with one of them by taking Minerva (sometimes spelled Manerva) Combs as his wife. Born in 1821, she was the daughter of Jesse Combs, the county court clerk of Perry County. Perhaps Brashear's interest in the office he would hold so long stemmed from his father-in-law's position. Maybe he even apprenticed under Combs.
It was not known when the newlyweds moved to Whitesburg but it is likely it was around the time the town became the seat of the new county of Letcher. (Previously the Whitesburg area had been in Perry County).
The earliest county records begin in 1843 and show Brashear already in office. It may be that he was at first appointed, but then elected to all the later terms. That the office was not an all-consuming task in those early days may be shown from the fact that Brashear and his wife soon opened and operated, for many years, a boarding house near the Letcher County Courthouse.
This was, in all likelihood, the county's first hotel. This hostelry was known for its comfortable accommodations and good food. Although not large by modern standards, it bore an air of the old South because its operations were generally carried out by black servants. The Brashears had a thriving business, especially when court sat.
The lives of this childless couple ran smoothly until the Civil War. Although several of Ezekiel's relatives had joined with the Confederate cause in the 13th Kentucky Cavalry, the clerk decided himself too old to enter the fray. He remained an ardent Democrat all his life. He protected the courthouse records as best he could from roving bands of guerillas and others who would destroy them for whatever reason.
Yet it was not enough, for in July 1864, during a guerilla raid, the log courthouse was put to the torch and some of the earliest records were not taken out in time. It was not long before his namesake, Ezekiel Brashear (Junior), was killed in battle while with the 13th Kentucky Cavalry. The war had hit home.
After the war, things began to return to their normal tenor, and except for a few health problems now and then the clerk continued as he had in antibellum days. From about 1875 until his death he kept a sporadic journal or diary entitled "Memorandum of Events." It included notices of weather, visitors in town, who did what (in terms of occupations), and mentioned prices. The entry of Christmas Day 1875 relates "Christmas went off fine and sober, weather exceedingly warm." New Year's Day 1876 was "a beautiful day, clear and warm; paid out 80 cts. and received 14 lbs beef from Ben Franklin at 4 cts. per lb." Some price! On a separate page he describes "prices of commodities in Whitesburg, Dec. 12, 1875." Corn was 40 to 50 cents per bushel; pork $6 per hog, butter from 12 1/2 cents to 15 cents per pound, flour (which he spelled flower) from $5 to $6 per hundred pounds, chickens from 10 cents to 12 cents apiece. He goes on to tell that mail arrived three times a week, including Sunday delivery from Piketon (Pikeville) and that the county court met the first Monday of each month, while the circuit court met in May and October, beginning on the fourth Monday of those two months. Sometimes an entry is almost poetic as with "Thurs., January 15th, 1880, warm with flying clouds."
This journal is now kept in a locked filing cabinet next to Charlie Wright's desk in his office in the courthouse, where it may be inspected and copied, as I did, upon request.
The journal stops in 1880. Early the next year, Brashear died suddenly while still in office. His wife served out his unexpired term. She would live until near the turn of the century, still operating the boarding house.
Our story ends on a note of mystery since we have no definite knowledge of where Ezekiel and Minerva Brashear are buried. It would be assumed their graves are in or near Whitesburg. If so, the markers have disappeared.
The boarding house was torn down, its furniture dispersed. Harry M. Caudill believes that the ornate bed he and his wife sleep on each night once belonged to Ezekiel Brashear.
Pictures of the old clerk are nearly impossible to find. But page after page of early county records, written and signed in his hand, assure that this long time public servant, Ezekiel Brashear, will not be entirely forgotten.
Letcher County, KY, Genealogy