The First Town in Clark County

On December 6, 1792 the Kentucky leg­is­la­ture divid­ed parts of Fayette and Bourbon County to form the new coun­ty of Clark, named after the famous Revolutionary War hero, George Rogers Clark.  Eleven days lat­er, the leg­is­la­ture approved an act estab­lish­ing the town of Mount Sterling.  It may come as a sur­prise to some, but Winchester, the coun­ty seat of Clark, was not estab­lished until a year lat­er, December 19, 1793.  It might be of inter­est to Winchester res­i­dents to learn a lit­tle more about the first town in Clark County.

Mount Sterling was estab­lished on 640 acres of land belong­ing to Enoch Smith, Hugh Forbes, John Judy and Samuel Spurgin.  Smith, a land sur­vey­or, had got­ten to the area first.  He came out with William Calk in April 1775.  They joined Col. Richard Henderson’s par­ty on their way to Kentucky and set­tled at Boonesborough.  That sum­mer while explor­ing the coun­try Smith dis­cov­ered a remark­able moun­tain on Hinkston Creek.  He decid­ed to make an improve­ment there to mark off a land claim of 1,400 acres.  One of the cor­ners of his claim was at the “Little Mountain,” which we now know was an Indian mound.  These were cre­at­ed by the Adena peo­ple, a pre­his­toric group of Native American hunter-gar­den­ers who lived in Central Kentucky from about 500 B.C. to A.D. 200.  This famous mound was locat­ed near the inter­sec­tion of today’s Locust and Queen Streets.

Enoch Smith and William Calk put up a cab­in and went to house­keep­ing togeth­er at Boonesborough.  Both stayed busy sur­vey­ing for land-hun­gry set­tlers arriv­ing from the east­ern states.  Smith was appoint­ed the first coun­ty sur­vey­or for Clark County.  He moved his fam­i­ly onto his Montgomery County land in 1790.  Thus began the set­tle­ment of Mount Sterling.

Hugh Forbes was a Scotsman who immi­grat­ed to Virginia, where he and his broth­er set­tled near oth­er Scotsmen in Dumfries, Prince William County.  A pow­er of attor­ney assigned by one of the locals indi­cates that Hugh was often to be found in oth­er parts of the coun­try:  “David Forbes, Surgeon, in Dumfries Town, and Hugh Forbes, planter, on the River Ohio, to be my true and law­ful attorney.”

Hugh came to Kentucky with a group of land-job­bers from Virginia in 1776.  Land-job­bers trav­eled to the fron­tier to mark off tracts of land and make improve­ments for those who stayed at home.  Forbes entered a num­ber of these pre­emp­tion claims for Prince William County men before the land com­mis­sion meet­ing at St. Asaph’s (now Stanford) in April 1780:  one for him­self and one for his broth­er, David Forbes, on Stoner Creek, as well as oth­er claims in the name of William Brent, Edward Spriggs and Charles William Cross.

Charles William Cross sold his claim to Capt. Henry Pawling, who in turn sold to Hugh Forbes.  It was a por­tion of this tract that became part of Mount Sterling.  It joined Enoch Smith’s tract on the east and shared a com­mon cor­ner at the Little Mountain.  A small exten­sion on the south­west cor­ner of Forbes’ land ran along Hinkston Creek.  Forbes’ role as the town founder was based on his devel­op­ment of this fin­ger of land.  John Crawford, an ear­ly Mount Sterling set­tler, described Forbes’ activ­i­ties that led to the for­ma­tion of Mount Sterling:

“Forbes obtained a claim to a nar­row strip of land between Enoch Smith’s and Calk’s or Lynn’s and built a cab­in on it, in the bot­tom, in 1791.  In 1792, he moved up, brought up some stock and set­tled the wid­ow Mulroy, whose hus­band had been killed in St. Clair’s defeat in 1791, in his cab­in.  Forbes laid off lots on his nar­row strip, and peo­ple bought who want­ed to be near to the range for their stock.  The low­er street [now Locust] was then intend­ed for the Main street.”

Crawford added a lit­tle more detail, includ­ing how John Judy’s land came to be incor­po­rat­ed into the town:

“John Judy bought the 100 acres of Enoch Smith which I might have cho­sen.  He paid for it in sheep, cows and stock—the cur­ren­cy of the country—and laid it off and sold it in dif­fer­ent sized lots.  This was after Forbes had come in and com­menced a town.  640 acres in all were giv­en up for a town after Forbes had com­menced it by sell­ing out his lit­tle strip.”

Crawford was the only eye­wit­ness to describe how the town of Mount Sterling got its name:

“I was present when they had the nam­ing of the town.  Enoch Smith pro­posed it should be Little Mountain town.  But Forbes said no, it should be Mount Stirling.  He had come from a town in Scotland named Stirling.  Forbes ruled, as it was he that began the town.”

The leg­is­la­ture would not cre­ate Montgomery County until 1796, and Mount Sterling became the new coun­ty seat.  Crawford even had a com­ment on how this process unfolded:

“The Clarke peo­ple want­ed to shove our court-house over onto Flat Creek [in present-day Bath County], but Forbes’ set­tle­ment throwed the mag­is­trates up about Mount Sterling so strong that a major­i­ty were for that place.”

“And that,” as Paul Harvey used to say on the radio, “is the rest of the story.”

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