Stockton’s Valley

15 Williams Journal Page 1Linda Burton posting from Nashville, Tennessee I was born October 5 1816 in Cumberland County Stockton’s Valley Kentucky. That is the beginning line in the Journal of William Irwin Jr, my 3rd-great-grandfather. My path today, as I headed south from Frankfort to Nashville, would lead me through Stockton’s Valley. For weeks I’ve been following the trail of Daniel Boone and the pioneers who moved westward into Kentucky; now this is my day to get personal with history. William is my relative and my pioneer; and best of all William kept a Journal; he left behind a written picture of his life and times. My brother discovered William’s Journal just a few years back; the original is in possession of a distant cousin in Oregon, who kindly sent us copies. William died of cholera in 1849 as he and his family headed for the new state of Texas; he is buried by the trail in Arkansas, alongside his father William, and three of his children, a heartwrenching story as are so many stories of this 15 Williams leather pouchcountry’s settlement. The Journal was preserved in a handsome leather pouch; an amazing tale for us to read today. The first page continues: The name of Irwin was imported from Ireland in the person of William Irwin who emigrated to the United States and settled in Cumberland County Pa on Antedum Creek. He had three sons, James, Robert & John. The latter of whom was my grandfather who married a woman of Welsh descent by the name of Elizabeth Cunningham.…grandfather… was a soldier in the revolutionary war….Grandfather had three sons…my father William, Francis, and John. Francis married but had no heirs and died in Cotton Gin Miss. John settled in Cumberland Cty Ky and had a large family of children.

It is John’s grave I’m looking for today; the target is Albany Cemetery.

15 patrick found johnI arrived just at eleven oclock and spotted two men who appeared to be looking for markers. They told me they were there to cut a date on a stone; the younger one took the picture I had of John Irwin’s marker (from Find A Grave) and started running through the cemetery, holding the picture before him and looking for “a crooked limb.” A crooked limb? “Yes,” he grinned, as he finally stood before the exact spot and gleefully called us over. “I see a crooked limb just above the marker in this photo. And there it is!” He was right, just beyond the Irwin plot was a tree with a crooked limb; just 15 Jemima Stockton Irwin.1796.1895.AlbanyCemetery.Kybefore us was John Irwin’s marker. Beside it on the ground lay three broken pieces of stone; we knelt and brushed away the leaves. It was Jemima’s marker, wife of John, that much was clear. Still standing, on the other side of John’s marker, was that of Piera, their daughter, who would have been first cousin to my William. Did they know each other when they were kids? I thought of William’s boyhood days, as he roamed these steep Kentucky hills.

John Irwin’s wife was born Jemima Stockton, daughter of John “Smith Creek” Stockton, who is credited with settling the valley. William’s Journal has this entry about those early days (I have added some punctuation for clarity, left spelling as is, and inserted ?? when words were illegible.)

My grandfather John Irwin emigrated to East Tennessee from Pennsylvania and became one of the early adventurers of the west. Not long after his settlement in Tennessee the Cherokee Indians became very trouble ? ? which drove the frontier settlements to the erection of blockhouses or forts to defend themselves from the ruthless tommyhawks of the Cherokees. While thus shut up in what was called “Craig’s Station” Father (William Sr) enlisted himself as a cavalier at the age of 18….Shortly after the Indians were forced to sue for a peace a Mr Stockton took a trip into the newly settled parts of Kentucky and discovered the fertile valley which bears his name.

The flatering account given by Stockton of his newly discovered country occasioned several families to emigrate thither among whom were Grandfather Irwin (John) and his family. Here Father (William Sr) ?entered? land at the age of 32 and settled, after which he married my Mother (Elizabeth Forester at the age of 18) who was the daughter of Capt. Forester of East Tennessee. In the fall of 1813 he volunteered to go under Gen ?ster? Shelby to retake Malden while thus engaged in the service of his country he crossed Lake Erie the British having deserted Malden. General Harrison determined to persue them. Accordingly he took up his march with Shelby and his indefatigable Kentuckians and Col R N Johnson and his swift-footed horse who soon overtook them and here amid the rore of guns and whistling of bullets and the yell of ?Tecumsehs? invincible warriors … he beheld all horrors of war and bloodshed….About three years after Father’s return from Canida I was born on the 5 Oct 1816.

William’s family did not stay in Stockton’s Valley. His father accumulated savings in the Commonwealth Bank at Birkwell, Kentucky, but drew it out because the institution was “in a state of depreciation,” and instead invested in cattle. Father moved the cattle south into Alabama for better rangeland; unfortunately the cattle became diseased and died. Father considered moving the family on to Missouri, but settled in Alabama instead. That’s where William met and married Susan Ann Herring and had a family; and where he gained his education, became a teacher, and then a preacher. It was from Alabama that William and his family dared to continue “building the country” by moving yet further west. Texas was a new state and Protestant churches were welcome now; on October 15 , 1849 the pioneering young family started out, leading a party of 16, traveling in two wagons.

  • William Irwin Jr (33), leader and journal keeper, wife Susan Ann Herring (26), children Elizabeth Ann (6), Martha Jane (4), Robert Howell (18 Months), and Mary Caroline (3 months)
  • William Irwin Sr (68), a widower
  • Susan Ann’s brother Benejah Herring (24), wife Amanda McDowell (23), and son Joseph (1)
  • Susan Ann’s sister, Martha Herring (19), and husband Reuben Johnson (24), newlyweds
  • Susan Ann’s brother Matthew Herring (21)
  • Amanda McDowell’s brother Wiley McDowell (16)
  • Slaves Samson and Penny, ages unknown.

A young and enthusiastic group, I imagine; William had just celebrated his 33rd birthday and had just been paid for a year’s worth of preaching duties. The crops had been harvested and sold. October weather in the south is warm, a good time to travel. William wrote in his journal every night, detailing aggravations such as broken wagon wheels and noting the creeks they crossed, and the money they spent. He described the “Pony Holes” in Arkansas, a notorious horse-gobbling swamp. His last entry is dated November 15, 1849:

Made a start but had to stop on Father’s account. Camped and Father died about

15 williams Journal last pageOver the next 10 days, nine more of the party died, including William, on November 19. The malady took all the men, and all the children, except for Martha Jane, who grew up to become my 2nd great-grandmother. The three married women survived, as did teen Wiley McDowell and slave Penny. Two of the women were pregnant; stranded in Clark County, Arkansas near Antoine Creek, it was two months before they were safely back in Alabama. We know this from letters the women wrote, and articles published in the newspapers of the time. It was reported that cholera killed them; we know it took its toll across the country at that time.

It’s one thing to visit historic sites, and read the statistics of the past. Pioneers! How brave they were! Daniel Boone is a legend; a westward-daring hero, to be sure. But William Irwin Jr – wow, he’s my own personal example of heroic spirit. I carry his DNA, and today I was near his birthplace and stood by the remains of his favorite Uncle John. Which reminded me of one more thing William wrote in his Journal about Kentucky:

In the fall of 1834 I returned to Ky. Never having traveled any previous to this I saw many things of interest and information to me. And while at Uncle John Irwin’s he took down his slate and asked me what an arithmetician I was? I had to answer none at all. I mention this because it has often served as a spur to me in the pursuit of… knowledge…..I determined to see the time where I could say something on any literary subject…

The two stonecutters headed off to find the marker that needed a date cut into it; a new death date, perhaps. “Thank you guys so much for your help!” I said; then took my time snapping pictures of the Irwin graves before tromping back over the hill to the cats waiting in the car. “We found it boys,” I said. “Let’s go on to Nashville now.”  Leaving Stockton’s Valley, it was just six miles to Tennessee.

15 3 irwin graves