A Short History of the Newport Barracks

A Short History of the Newport Barracks


Newport Barracks and The Licking River about 1860


The land on which the Newport Barracks was built was first owned by Colonel George Muse, George Washington's copartner in Eastern Kentucky.  It has been said that George Muse traded much of his land to another wastrel for a keg of whiskey, and he in turn gave it to James Taylor, the founder of Newport for a haunch of buffalo meat.

In the spring of 1803 Taylor learned that an arsenal would be built in Kentucky and that General Charles Scott had been appointed to investigate the most suitable location for it.  In 1803 Taylor had ceded land to the town of Newport for $1 to remain a public common forever.  He offered the War Department this plot of ground at the junction of the Ohio and Licking Rivers across from Cincinnati.

Taylor was hired as the superintendent of the construction of the barracks.  He was to erect three buildings.  John Metcalf of Fleming County and Dan Mayo of Newport contracted for the brick and stone work at $7 per thousand bricks and 75 cents per perch of stone.  Stephen Lyon did most of the carpentry and Amos B Watson of New York was the joiner.

The first staff to arrive at Newport Barracks was a military storekeeper, Major Thomas Martin, a Virginian, a retired 2nd Lt. of the Revolution described as a "convivial soul."  he salary was $400 a year and he was given a raise of $100 on 26 May 1807.   On 26 December 1805 Jacob Albright applied for a commission and was appointed the first commanding officer of the Newport Barracks 6 March 1806, his salary $20 a month.  The enlisted men of Ensign Albright's command were:

Sgt. John Crosby
Private James Adams
Private George F Badger
Private Michael Durn
Private John Donnelly
Private John Glappy
Private Samuel Gray
Private William McNaughten
Private John Magraw
Private Mathew McArthur
Private Sam McGill
Private Joseph O'Neal

Late in the summer of 1806 Taylor was notified that he build a structure to house 120 artillerists on their way to Newport under the command of Captain Amos Stoddard and Captain Nathan Heald.  They arrived in the bitter cold of January 1807 before their quarters were finished and Taylor fixed bunks in the cellar of the arsenal and found a stove for them.

Poor housing, poor food and little to do meant lots of desertion.  Ensign Albright offered $30 reward for the return of these three deserters; John Christian Gall, a 22 year old German carpenter and glazier; Joseph O'Neal a 34 year old Irish papermaker; John Adams a 21 year old shoemaker from Delaware.  Ensign James Bryson relieved Albright in the summer of 1808 and recruited the following soldiers at Newport.

Andrew Stake-23 year old sailor from New York
Elisha Ryan-33 year old Virginian
William Whitely-29 year old New York laborer
Peter Brandon-23 year old German
James Allaga-23 year old Virginian laborer

All of these were eventually court-martialed for disobedience.  The first surgeon assigned to Newport Barracks was Surgeon Mate John Sellman of Cincinnati on contract of $20 a month.  Private Sam Bonker of the first regiment, who was one of his patients, died 16 Jun 1807 of small pox.  The first recorded influenza of the region was at Newport Barracks in the fall of 1807.

Colonel William Boyd arrived in Newport in March 1811 with 600 men who pitched their tents in the fields adjacent to the Barracks.  Newport had become the recruiting center for Ohio and Kentucky and had to furnish equipment and soldiers for the newly acquired Louisiana Territory. 

There were a scant 12,000 officers and men in the US Army when war was declared in June 1812.  Most of the soldiers, guns and equipment of the Western Theatre came from Newport Barracks. During the War of 1812 prisoners were held at the barracks, and in the 1820s the post was converted into a recruitment depot.

The year 1832 ushered in a spell of flood, sickness and Indian Wars.  It was a flood of the Ohio and Licking Rivers when houses collapsed and floated away in February 1832.  Sickness and decay followed the receding waters of the flood.  The troops were beset with vomiting, cramps and diarrhea followed by collapse and death.  It was cholera.  4% of the population of 30,000 in the Newport and Cincinnati area died between 1832 and 1834.  Between disease and desertion by January 1837 there were only 46 recruits at the barracks.

In 1842 Taylor asked the government for $20,000 to make improvements at the Barracks.  After 35 years of use they were in need of repair.  Not only was it approved but Captain J R Irwin of the Quartermaster Department who was sent to Newport to hasten the undertakings, requested money to purchase some additional land, erect officers and laundress quarters and build a hospital.  On 7 January 1845 Irwin informed General Jessup that the new hospital was ready for patients, the enlisted men were in their barracks and two sets of officers quarters needed only a stockade to finish them. In 1848 the City of Newport gave the government all the land lying between the barracks and the Ohio and Licking Rivers.  This gift was given with the stipulation that, in case the barracks was ever abandoned, the property would revert back to the city.

The cholera epidemic of 1849-1850 almost wiped out Cincinnati and 57 of the 382 men at the barracks were sick with  it and two died.  Newport Barracks became a depot of the Eastern Department of the Recruiting Service until 16 Jul 1859 when it was made an independent department. During the Civil War, although Kentucky was a slave state and families divided over the issues of states rights and abolition, Kentucky remained in the Union.  Wounded and dying from the war were brought to Newport as well as Confederate prisoners.

After the Civil Ward ended, the Barracks lost their usefulness as one company posts were giving way to larger installations.  Its days were certainly numbered after the floods of 1882, 1883 and 1884.  The floods made some of the buildings uninhabitable.  The Secretary of War purchased 112 acres on a hill above the Ohio River three miles east of Newport which became Ft. Thomas.  By November 1894 all personnel and equipment was transferred out to Ft. Thomas.  2 January 1895, Colonel Cochran formerly transferred Newport Barracks to the City of Newport.  The city eventually built General James Taylor Park on the grounds.

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