Source: The Early Life of Lexington [KY] before the Year 1820, Mary Estelle Delcamp, A Thesis Submitted to the Faculty of Transylvania College in Candidacy for the Degree of Master of Arts June, 1916
It is not expected that a frontier country will have many visitors and much social life. But anyone, who studies the situation in the early days of Lexingtons history, is impressed with the highly-developed social life of the people. Many visitors came to the town: not only did the mountain leader, on his way to join St, Clair, pass thru this Bluegrass center, but the representative from St. Vincennes, on his way to Congress, stopped for a short while (Oct. 8, 1781; Feb. 23, 1793). When the twelve chiefs of the Osage nation, conducted by M. Chouteau, were on their way to pay their respects to the President of the United States, their route lay thru Lexington (June 12, 1804); when Dr. Hunter of Philadelphia was appointed by the President of the nation to explore Red and Arkansas Rivers, he made his way to Natchez via Lexington (July 3, 1804). Col. Burr visited the town in 1805, and again in 1806 (Aug. 20, 1805; May 17, 1806). It was the usual thing for returning members of Congress to make a brief sojourn in the city. If these visitors were of sufficient importance, and the length of their stay justified it, a public dinner was given in their honor. Col. J.P. Boyd, a hero on Tippecanoe, (Feb. 4, 1812), Gov. Shelby of Kentucky (Nov. 8, 1813), R.M. Johnson, returned member of Congress (July 21, 1812), Rep. H. Clay (Aug. 4, 1812; June 15, 1820), and Major W.H. Harrison were among the recipients of such banquets. Major Harrison, in offering a toast at the dinner in his honor, said that two toasts came to his mind: the first one, "The town of Lexington the seat of science, of elegance and correct taste, and what is of more importance, of correct republican principles;" He gave, however, the second toast that he thought ofa toast in honor of Gov. Shelby (Feb. 5, 1816).
The most famous of these visits was that of Pres. Monroe in 1819, when the whole town was given over to a celebration which lasted several days. On July 2 the committee of arrangements and troops of cavalry met the Head of the nation a few miles from the town limits. About a mile and a half out the light infantry, rifle companies and a number of citizens joined the procession. In the vicinity of the town the company of artillery received the party under a Federal salute. The chief executive arrived at two in the afternoon, and was taken immediately to Mr. Keens Hotel. On Saturday the University was visited, where an address suitable to the occasion was delivered by Mr. Holley. After an inspection of the Athenaeum and of Mr. Jouetts "Painting Room," the President, accompanied by Gov. Shelby, took part in the fourth of July festival at Mr. Dunlaps. The time, Sunday, ws spent at Divine service and in the homes of private families. On Monday at twelve oclock a public dinner was given at Mr. Keens Hotel, where Col. Morrison, the chairman of the committee on arrangements, delivered an address. To this speech Pres. Monroe made a fitting response (July 9, 1819).
Dinners were given in the celebration,also, of notable events. In 1801, to celebrate the recent election, the people were called together in Messrs. Bastrop and Nancarrows factory at one oclock p.m., by the ringing of bells and the beating of drums. 160 ladies and 500 gentlemen sat down "to a delicious repast," spread on two long tables. Col. Hart was appointed president, and James Morrison vice-president of the occasion. The sixteen toasts were followed by "the innocent amusement of the sprightly dance." This continued until sunset, when a part of the company adjourned to Cap. Postlethwaits Tavern where the evening was concluded with an "elegant ball" (Jan. 26, 1801). Upon the election of James Madison to the presidency, a dinner was given at the Kentucky Hotel (Feb. 27, 1809). In 1803 and again in 1804 dinner celebrations were given in honor of the Louisiana Purchase. On the latter occasion the day was closed with a ball at Mr. Bradleys, "where amidst a brilliant assemblage of ladies, beauty presided and joy beamed from every eye" (Aug. 16, 1803; May 15, 1804).
At these dinners the men of Kentucky showed that gallantry towards women, which has always been ascribed to them. It was the usual thing to end the banquets with toasts to the "Fair," such as: "In a country of equal rights, colleges for our daughters, as well as our sons" (July 9, 1819). "The fair daughters of America - may their smiles sweeten the cares of life and teach men virtue" (May 15, 1804). "May our sweethearts soon become our wives, and our wives always continue our sweethearts" (Aug. 16, 1803).
Dancing was very popular, while the many instructors in the Terpsichorean art gave the citizens ample opportunity to make themselves proficient. In 1787 William Dagley established a dancing school (Mar. 18, 1787), and from that time on there were many dancing masters (see Appendix for a list of dancing masters). A dancing assembly, which held balls at Capt. Youngs Tavern, was established in 1789 (Jan. 10. 1789). These assembly balls were very common at this time. Cotillions came into vogue in 1819 (Mar. 16, 1819), and in 1820 Mr. Darrar was giving cotillion parties every Saturday evening. This gentleman may have been responsible for the introduction of the cotillion into the town: for as early as 1815 he advertised that he would teach "cotillions, hornpipes, alemands, German and Russian waltzes, gavottes, the much admired shawl dance, set dances, and reels" (June 30, 1815).
Not only at balls and dinings were dances popular, but even barbeques were considered more complete with this form of amusement. In some spaces special notice was called to the fact that fine music and a plank floor, covered with a tent, had been provided (June 26, 1815). These barbeques were usually given by gentlemen located three to ten miles from Lexington (Oct. 24, 1809; June 18, 1811; June 30, 1812; Aug. 8, 1814; June 26, 1815; July 17, 1815). In 1811 a fish feast was given in conjunction with a barbeque (June 18, 1811). The following year, at a Republican barbeque, nothing but home-made materials was used (July 14, 1812). In 1820 it was announced that all candidates for office were expected to be present at a barbeque given at that time (July 6, 1820). The first newspaper notice of such a celebration was that given in connection with a squirrel hunt. In 1796 Fayette and Woodford were pitted against each other in a hunting contest, and the losing party was to provide a feast. This hunt lasted all Friday and Saturday morning, and at noon of the second day all participants met at Coxs Spring on Scotts road in order "to count scalps."
No "scalps" were to be received after twelve oclock (May 14, 1796). At a barbeque and hunt, held in 1805, the feast was closed with eighteen toasts. After each toast a company of riflemen, commanded by Major Chinn, fired a round (June 11, 1805).
In 1811 Lexington could boast of a coffee house. Here was kept a file of the most interesting Gazettes for the perusal of "subscribers of the house." According to the regulations, the place was open every day to members and to any strangers who might be introduced by them. Any man could be elected to membership by a vote of the "subscribers," but three black balls were sufficient to exclude him. No cards or game of any sort was permitted (Mar. 19, 1811).
There were various other ways in which the citizen could find amusement. In 1805 a party went down to the Kentucky river, to be present at the launching of Mr. Jordans new boat, the "Gen. Scott" (Mar. 12, 1805). For an ideal summer resort there was the famous Olympian Springs, advertised for its "most pure and salubrious air, romantic and picturesque scenery, the best music, dancing, bathing, swinging, riding, and hunting (Apr. 2, 1805). At a sulphur well eleven miles east of Lexington, public dinners were given every other Thursday during summer months (Aug. 21, 1806). Located one mile from town, between the Georgetown and Cynthiana roads, was Jabez Vigus Pleasure Garden, "laid out in specious walks, pleasant summer houses, with a handsome pavilion in the center where refreshments of every description might be had" (July 7, 1812).
As early as 1805 the Lexingtonian followed the custom of the ancient Roman in making bathing one of his amusements (Aug. 13, 1805). To be sure these baths were not so magnificent as their Roman prototype, but "the water from a good spring was plentiful, and could be had either hot or cold." The bath-houses were kept open from daylight until ten oclock at night (May 30, 1814).
Transcribed February 2002 by pb