First German Pioneers


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The First German Pioneers of Campbell County Kentucky 9:184


Who the First white man was who tread the soil of today’s town of Newport (KY) is unknown. In general it is believed that the first white man in Kentucky arrived in the middle of the eighteenth century. KLAUPRECHT, in his German Chronicle of Ohio Valley History, and Stierlin in his history Der Staat Kentucky und die Stadt Louisville, … were of the opinion that a German Captain—BATTE, under orders from Sir William BERKELEY, explored the mountains of Virginia, in 1667 and that he reached the Ohio River…. Captain BATTE probably only discovered the New, or Kanawha, River in Montgomery County in Montgomery County, Virginia…. If BATTE had discovered a way over the Alleghenies, Governor BERKELEY would certainly not have had to outfit an expedition under the German Johannes LEDERER two years later for that purpose…… (There follows an account of de Soto’s expedition.)

More Certain knowledge is that Christopher GEIST (GIST) followed the Ohio River in 1750 and came to the mouth of the Miami River. However, he did not come to Kentucky, and Filson, in his history of Kentucky, states that James McBRIDE was the first white man to enter Kentucky. McBRIDE came in 1753, together with others in canoes, down the Ohio River to the mouth of the Kentucky River, where he carved the first letter of this name on a tree (trunk). Both –COLLINS and –BUTLER, in their histories of Kentucky, believed that (previous) arrivals by Dr. WALKER in 1747 and – FINLEY in 1767 were uncertain. A German named Georg JAEGER is (reported) to have arrived in Northern Kentucky in 1771. In the Fall of that year JAEGER reported to Simon KENTON the existence of terrible cane lands called Kain-tuck-ee by the Indians.

In the spring of 1775, after JAEGER had already been killed by Indians, KENTON and – WILLIAMS accidentally rediscovered the cane lands first reported by the "tall German" (JAEGER was over six feet tall).

During the (American) revolution, the Indians in the Ohio Valley became more belligerent, and a settlement in northern Kentucky was out of the question. In southern Kentucky the (white) population increased day by day. After the war, immigration (further) increased. Jean FILSON, a French teacher and surveyor who crossed Kentucky in 1781, stated in his book, published in May 1784, that the (white) population had already reached 30,000. FILSON, who together with – DENMANN and – PATTERSON later founded Cincinnati, mainly followed the Indian path between Lexington and Newport, and probably became the first notable white person to have entered (what is now) Campbell county and Newport. At least, no other name is known. FILSON suggested to DENMANN and PATTERSON in Maysville that a road be opened between Cincinnati, and Lexington, which he had already surveyed.

More probable than the above, is the fact that Colonel –ROGERS had an unfortunate skirmish with the Indians in the area in the fall of 1789—just before the visit undertaken by DENMANN and his companions to Cincinnati, ROGER’s was accompanied by Newport’s oldest pioneer, Captain Robert BENHAM, who had both legs shot through in the fight. He and other companions remained here about a month, until a flatboat took them to Louisville. BENHAM saw this beautiful valley and a few years later returned and settled her. He was the first settler of the town of Newport.

Campbell County was organized in 1794 out of the original counties of Mason and Woodford. At the time it encompassed the present-day counties of Campbell, Pendleton, Boone, Kenton, and part of Grant. By the first organization of the county, by proclamation of Governor—SHELBY on 1 June 1795, the following justices of the peace were assembled at the residence of John GRANT in Wilmington ( now Williamstown), the county seat of Grant County, for the purpose of organizing the court system. In attendance were:

BENHAM, Robert
BRYANT, Samuel
BUSCH, Johannes

Originally, John CRAIG, Washington BERRY, and Charles DANIELS had been appointed, but they turned down the appointments, and BENHAM, KOCH, and ROBERTS then made up a Court of Quarter Sessions. James TAYLOR was named county clerk, Nathan KELLY became Sheriff, and Squire GRANT became county surveyor.

Newport was named seat of the court, not because it was the largest place in the county, but because it was the easiest to reach from all parts of the county. At the first court session the following persons were named commissioners to spy out a way from Falmouth to the Washington ferry, near the widow—STEPHENS’ place:

WALLER, Johannes
SANDER, Johannes
BRYANT, Samuel

On 7 September (1794?) Jacob BERGMAN (BARRICKMAN), Nathan KELLY, and Jacob MILLS were similarly appointed to find a way from Newport to widow – PERRY’s (place) on the Ohio River. In this manner the following paths through the woods were cut out during the next five years.:

From Newport to –TANNER’s Station (whereby a German named Joseph SCHMIDT was active).

--- From Newport to Thomas LINDSEY’s (place), whereby Johann BERTEL was named supervisor in May 1796, followed on 1797 by Jakob BERGMANN.

--- From –SPIELMANN’s (SPILLIMANN) to John FOWLER’s salt work on Bank Lick, whereby Franz SPIELMANN (SPILLIMANN), John WILLIAMS, Wilhelm GERMAN, and Thomas JOHNSTONE were overseers.

--- From Dr. (Johann) SELLMANN’s (Place) to the Georgetown Road. Dr. Johann SELLMANN was the first doctor in the region. He was born in Baltimore, the son of German parents, and studied medicine in Germany. Dr. SELLMANN lived for many years in Cincinnati, and surrounding areas. Dr. DRAKE stated that (SELLMANN) was a very good physician.

--- From the mouth of the Licking (river) to Big Bone Lick (river); commissioners were Joseph SCHMIDT, Jakob SODOWSKY, Adam GLESE, and James SPENCER.

Another matter decided by the court during this period was the construction of mill dams on the rivers. The court usually named commissioners, who were required to make reports, with the provision that dams were not to obstruct river traffic.

The first proposal to erect a grain-and sawmill in the county was made by Johann WALLER or WELLER. The mill was located on the east side of the southern arm of the Licking River, close to the fork of the lick, and was built in 1796. The commissioners for the building of WALLER’s dam included two Germans, Jacob LINKS and Michael KAUCHER (CAUGER). The second mill concession was that of Jacob GROSSHANG who, in the same year, built at the mouth of Fork Lick on the east side of the southern arm of the Licking River. For this purpose, the commissioners sold him an acre of public land for 2 shillings and 6 pence.

The third matter over which the court had jurisdiction was the licensing and control of taverns. The first tavern license in Newport was obtained by Heinrich PICKELE on 2 November 1795. Nickolaus EGBERT was another taverkeeper in Campbell County during the last century. (There follows a lengthy discussion of tavern and room rates).

Another matter which came within the purview of the court was the branding and marking of farm animals. (Mentions Johannes BUSCH who registered his brands on 8 December 1795; also mentions the brands of Johann THRASHER, Senior……)

Property boundaries were usually decided by the commissioners. There were few court cases, excepting wills and estates. From these cases we learn the names of a number of Germans who died in Campbell County during this early period

The first of these names was David LIETSCH, who died on 7 September 1795 in Newport. In 1798 Heinrich BODEN? (Voden?) Died and his wife Emilie BODEN? (Voden?) was named administratrix of his estate. While mentioning death cases, we should relate on sad case….:

In the summer of 1797 a German family by the name of BECHTEL settled in Newport. They came from the neighborhood of Hanau ( Hesse); the husband was a mason, which he practiced in Newport. The family had five children, the oldest being 16 years old. The father had spent his entire saving to bring this family (from Germany) to the West. In the fall of 1797 the mother died of fever. During the winter (when the father could no find work as a mason), he undertook to herd some cattle over the ice on the river to Fort Washington in Cincinnati with the help of his 16-year-old son. The ice was already breaking up and when a balky ox suddenly turned around, both father and son broke through the ice and drowned. So it was that four smaller children the oldest being 14 years old, were orphaned thousands of miles from the place they had left the year before…………The next day a number of citizens of the town took in the children; an eleven year old BOY Johannes BECHTEL and his nine year old sister Sarah BECHTEL were taken in by a blacksmith named William ANDERSON. The Oldest Child, Maria BECHTEL, was assigned to John HUNTER, and the five-year-old Barbara BECHTEL was taken in by a German tailor, Johann H. LESNER. The adoptions were recorded on 12 February 1798 by the court. LESNER, the German tailor in Newport, lived on Taylor Street and owned lot number 32 which he bought on 8 November 1796 from the trustees of the town of Newport for $8.

As stated, there were only several dozen real court cases from 1795-1800. The judges were simply people from the populace, without any legal training. In 1795-1796, Henirich BRASCHER was one of the judges, and in 1796 a German beer brewer, innkeeper, and farmer named Johannes BARTEL was a judge. In 1799 Franz SPIELMANN was a judge. After 1795 the court met in the tavern of Jacob FOWLER, moving to the tavern of Andreas LEWIS on 14 June 1797. When the court met again on 10 July at LEWIS’ place, the residents of Newport (began) construction a public courthouse….. On 14 December 1796 the Legislature of Kentucky declared Newport the county seat of Campbell County Kentucky.

On 15 February 1798 the court commissioned Thomas KENNEDY, Richard SOUTHGATE, and William REDDICK to build a Jail 16’x 16’ from logs.

Among the (first) county officials were;
Washington BERRY, county Treasurer, named in 1798;
Thomas LINDSAY, the first coroner, named in 1797; and
Wilhelm GERMAN, the first constable.

On 4 April 1796 James TAYLOR laid out the plan of the town (of Newport). In addition to the above named persons, the following Germans were landowners in Newport before 1800:

BARTEL, Johann, bought lots 7,8,and 29 for 14 pounds, 8 shillings, on 8 December 1795.

KOCH, Johann, bought lot 115 from Johann WALLER on 10 May 1796.

BRASCHER, Heinrich, bought lot 46 on Taylor Street for $6 on 5 September 1796 the same day he bought lot 12 on the corner of Columbia and Esplanade for 5 pounds.

BERGMANN, Jacob, bought lots 119 and 120 from Robert BENHAM for $100 on 13 February 1797.

HOLLAND, Johann, from Cincinnati, bought lots 155, 156, and 158 from the trustees of the town of Newport for $80 on 6 February 1797.

RUESSELE, Jacob, became the owner of lot 18 on the corner of York Street and Esplanade, paying 12 pounds on 11 September 1797

RIDDICK, Joseph, bought lots 71 and 72 on Monmouth Street for 8 pounds 10 shillings on the same day (11 September 1797).

On 15 January 1798 William SMITH and his wife sold 120 acres of land on the banks of the Licking in Newport for 200 pounds to Wessel MUELLER.

Wessel MUELLER was a spinning-wheel maker and according to court records, the three-year-old orphan Thomas HAEGLEIN was turned over to (MUELLER), until he reached majority, during which time MUELLER was to teach the boy the "art and mystery of a spinning-wheel maker."


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