First Court; Tavern Rates Established

In the bill it was provided that the county should have seven Justices of the Peace, who should meet at the house of Henry Chiders, still standing on the west side of the turnpike, about one hundred and fifty yards below the Old Childers Farm, now owned by Judge O. P. Hogan, and hold the first Court. The new county was to still vote with Pendleton in the election of a Representative.


It was further provided that John H. Rudd, of Bracken county, John Curry, James R. Curry, and Robert Huston, of Harrison county, Garrett Wall, and John T. Johnson, of Scott county, act as Commissioners to locate and fix upon a permanent site for the new county seat. It was now that the people of Grant county began to taste some of the bitter of the proposition that was so dear to their hearts.

A large territory has been cut off to them-the western half of Pendleton county-the most remarkable featured of which were its boundless forests and scattering population. They were without a Court House, without a Jail, without any public building, and the most significant of all, without wealth. 'Tis true that there were owners of large bodies of land, but that did not then constitute wealth, as it now does, for it could be bought in any quantities for the pitiful price of 12 oc per acre. But our rough old pioneer fathers had lived in the woods too long, as the saying is, to be scared at an owl, and they did not fear or try to shirk a responsibility. They fought through their financial difficulties with a courage that was truly surprising.

Contrary to the present custom of all counties, towns and corporations, they did not issue bonds upon which they borrowed money to meet the financial demands before them, but true to their sturdy, iron-willed principles, levied a poll tax of four dollars per tithe the first year, at the expiration of which time there was sufficient money in the hands of the Sheriff to pay almost two thirds of their present and prospective indebtedness for the erection of public buildings and the completion of public improvements. According to the best information we can get from the public records, there were in the first year of the county's existence about three hundred and fifty tithesmen.

This number, multiplied by five, (being the rule generally adopted by statisticians) would give a population of 1750. In pursuance of the Act, Jediah Ashcraft, Wm. Layton, Nathaniel Henderson, Wm. Woodyard, Samuel Simpson, John Sipple and Benj. McFarland, who had received their commissions as the first Justices of the Peace of Grant county, met at the house of Henry Childers on the 12th of April, 1820, and constituted the first Court held in the county. Mr. William Arnold, a farmer owning the land upon which Williamstown is now built, and of whom further notice will be made, having been commissioned by the Governor, was sworn in as first Sheriff, giving bond in the sum of $13,000.

Hubbard B. Smith, of whom the people want no other history than the public record he has made for the county, was appointed Clerk of this Court during the period of his good behavior. It is a tribute, but justly deserving to this early and prominent citizen of Grant, to say that his good behavior continued for a long time, for having been appointed Clerk of the Circuit Court at its first session on the same conditions he held, and faithfully discharged the duties of both offices for nineteen years. He was an uncle of our present distinguished lawyer and citizen, E. H. Smith. At this Court, Simon Nichols was qualified as first Coroner of the county, and Wm. Mt. Joy and John Marksbury recommended to the Governor to be commissioned as the first surveyors, that being a profession in that day of considerable dignity and demand.

The county at this time was divided into four Constable precincts, designated as First, Second, Third and Fourth, and Lewis M. Simpson, James Childers, Joseph Childers and Robert Elliston were, respectively, appointed and sworn in as Constables, each giving bond in the sun of two thousand dollars. In January, 1821, the Third Precinct was divided into two, and in March, another precinct was made out of the First and Second, making in all, six precincts, which number was not changed until 1874, since when three other precincts have been made.

At this first term of Court there were tavern license granted to Samuel Simpson, Wm. Pierce, James Gouge, William Arnold and Henry Childers. There was also a list of tavern rates fixed which will enable us to draw some idea of the difference between the taverns of that day and this. It was ordered that breakfast, dinner and supper be had for twenty-five cents each; lodging, 12 oc; horse, to fodder and hay, per night, 25c; corn and oats, per gallon, 12 oc; pasturage, per night, 6 oc;; whiskey or brandy per half pint, 12 oc; run, French brandy, or wine, per half pint, 50c; cider or beer per quart, 12 oc.

From these facts we can learn also that it did not cost a man much money to brighten his ideas with a few swigs of that 'precious article,' a custom to which the generous good natures of our pioneer fathers caused them to be slightly addicted. On the 12th day of June, 1820, (it being the second County Court) the Commissioners appointed, in the Act to locate the county seat, reported that they had located the same on the farm of Wm. Arnold. Strangers, in passing through our county, and seeing there are other more favorable locations for a town, often wonder and ask why the location of Williamstown was selected for the county seat.

It was not from the reason that no other site was examined, for we are informed by Charles W. Porter, whose extensive information and vivid memory of the early history of our county are actually surprising, that the Commissioners were at work for several days and examined all the favorable places for many miles north of Williamstown before they finally determined upon the present site. There are two circumstances that induced them to locate the town where they did. The large spring just below the Court House now known as the Public Spring, was the first natural feature that recommended the present site.

It was a custom peculiar to all our first settlers that, in looking out locations to build, they always sought a place convenient to a spring of natural water, in many instances entirely disregarding the quality and location of the land; and this idea seems to have prevailed to a considerable extent with the Commissioners. The digging of wells and cisterns, especially the latter, to obtain a supply of water, was an idea not comprehended by many of our first settlers, and it was a long time after the 'water-wizard' came around with his formed switch, 'bobbing' and 'dipping' here and there, before the people could be made believe there was truth in his mysterious art, and began to search in the bowels of the earth for the hidden fountains.

But perhaps the stronger reason for the present location of the town is that Mr. Arnold, being a liberal and zealous citizen and anxious for the town to be built on his premises, obligated himself by an article of agreement that if the Commissioners would locate the town on his land, to donate to the County one acre and a half of land on which to erect the public buildings, and to furnish to the County and to all persons purchasing lots from him, building timber for the period of three years free of charge, and all the firewood and stone necessary to be used for seven years.

This proposition was considered very liberal and magnanimous of Mr. Arnold, and was accordingly accepted by the Commissioners-Mr. Arnold donating the one-acre lot on which the Court House now stands, and a one-half acre lot near where the present Methodist Church stands, on which the first jail was erected. And the new county-seat, on the day this report was received, was ordered to be called Philadelphia, the glory of which name it was destined to be shorn at the expiration of one month, for at that time it was discovered that there was another town in Kentucky by that name, and to prevent disaster of getting the two towns mixed, it was thought proper and wise by the Court to change the name of our town; and, hence, it was entered upon the records that the seat of justice should be called Williamstown-taking the baptismal name of William Arnold, who might properly be called its founder. After the second tern the County Court was held at the house of Mr. Arnold until December, 1821, at which time the first Court was held in the new Court House, which was then completed.

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