This will be of interest to those researching John Mackoy of Greenup County, Kentucky. Thanks to William Cropper and his wife, Nita (McElhaney) Cropper, for sharing this with me.
Bruce E King, IV, Ph.D.
February 17, 2005
From the Portsmouth Times, Portsmouth, Ohio, Saturday, November 27, 1875.
SKETCHES of the Early Settlers of Greenup County, Ky.
BY JAMES KEYES.
About the close of the last century emigration from Old Virginia to Kentucky was at its heighth, particularly that part bordering on the Ohio river. The land was rich, and the Southern market easily reached by way of the Ohio river. They built a boat peculiarly adapted to that stream. It was merely a square box, ranging from fifty to one hundred feet, and from sixteen to twenty feet wide, and about six feet deep. These boats they would load with produce from the farm, and three or four men would navigate the boat to New Orleans, where ships were ready to receive their cargoes and transport it to any part of the world. These large flat boats were at first known as Kentucky boats, because Kentucky was the first, and for a long time, the only place where this particular kind of boat was built.
John Mackoy was born and raised in Old Virginia. In his boyhood he learned the millwright business. At an early age he married a daughter of Moses Fuqua, and in 1799, or about that time, left the Old Dominion and settled in Greenup county, Ky. He bought several hundred acres of the rich bottom land lying opposite the mouth of Little Scioto. He brought a strong force of negro slaves with him, which enabled him to open up a fine farm in a few years. He had one slave named Will, who was of very great service to him in clearing up and managing the farm. Mr. Mackoy consulted Will on all occasions, and very often took his advice. Will had a son named Buck, a very strong likely young negro, who was of great value in doing the heavy work of clearing up a farm. One day Mr. Mackoy was at work with his negroes on the bank of the river, when they espied a bear swimming across. He called to Will and Buck to go with him and catch the bear. They jumped into a canoe lying at the shore and put after the bear. Mr. Mackoy was armed with a strong ash pole, with an iron socket and sharp point at one end, used for pushing. With this pole he thought it would be very easy to conquer the bear, but in that calculation he was badly mistaken. Will and Buck paddled the canoe, while the old man stood in the bow with his pole ready to give the bear his quietus as soon as he got within reach. As they approached the bear he drew his pole and gave one tremendous stroke across the bear’s head, with no other result than to break the pole, which rendered it useless. The bear then commenced climbing into the canoe. Will ran forward and began to strike the bear with his paddle, but he soon broke that all to pieces, without hurting the bear a bit. The bear got up into the canoe and seated himself quietly in the bow. As soon as Mr. Mackoy saw the situation the bear had got possession of the bow of the canoe. Being without arms of any kind, he gave Buck orders to head the canoe for the shore. The bear sat quietly in his end of the canoe without making any hostile demonstrations, till she touched the bank, when he made to get ashore, and made his escape.
Mr. Mackoy assisted in organizing the Tygart’s Creek Baptist Church. He was made a deacon of that church, and ever after he was known as Deacon Mackoy. He was rather too liberal in his religious doctrine to suit the views of that very strict denomination of close communion Baptists. They attempted to establish a rule in that church that no member should be allowed to hear a preacher of any other denomination. Deacon Mackoy opposed the resolution, and said that he wanted to have the liberty of going to hear any preach, no matter what sect he belonged to. There was an old gentleman belonged to that church by the name of John Cheney. He was the very strictest of that very strict sect. He had a son named Rufus Cheney, who was a great preacher of the Free Will Baptist persuasion. Shortly after Rufus Cheney came to this country, and before he had time to build up a church of his own, used to meet with the very close communionists and take part in their meetings. Deacon Mackoy proposed that Rufus Cheney should partake in the sacrament of the Lord’s supper with them. The old gentleman took no part in the debate on the question, but remained silent until they had passed the resolution. After it was settled that the young preacher should partake of the sacrament, old Deacon Cheney arose and addressed the meeting by saying: “Brethren and sisters, I can appreciate the motive that prompted you to so far depart from the established usages as to admit a person who does not profess our faith and order, to the Lord’s Supper with you. I know that he is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh, and that he is near and dear to me, and that I would willingly make any sacrifice for his benefit, but as he does not profess to believe in our faith and order, and holds to open communion with all professing Christians, I must beg leave to withdraw from partaking of the sacrament with you.” This took them all aback. They had reckoned without their host. They very soon rescinded the resolutions they had adopted, as they supposed in the old man’s favor.
In 1825 or 6, there came along a young Methodist circuit rider, who was a very eloquent preacher and a splendid looking man. He got up a revival in the neighborhood, and several of Mr. Mackoy’s family, both white and black, professed religion, and joined the Methodist Church under the religious exercises of Mr. Cravens, the name of the preacher. This was all well enough so far, but the result proved a very bad thing for the family of Mr. Mackoy. He had a daughter named Martha, who, unfortunately, was carried away by the preaching of young Cravens, joined his church, and to cap the climax, fell in love with the preacher. This was too good for an adventurer to throw away. He proposed marriage, was accepted, not without a good many misgivings on the part of the young lady’s parents. However, they were married, and he took her off to Tennessee. Reports soon came back that he treated her very ill, was convicted of some crime, turned out of the church, and she was there among strangers and suffering for the necessaries of life. Upon the receipt of this news, they sent for her and brought her home. So much for the religious part of Mr. Mackoy’s life. We will now speak of him as a business man.
Mr. Mackoy was very unfortunate in regard to his land title. He bought from parties whom he supposed had good titles, but he soon found that there were other claimants to his land. These new claimants had recourse to the law to establish their claims. These lawsuits were expensive and vexatious. He had to purchase the right to the soil two or three times before he got his title perfected. This, together with lawyers’ fees and court expenses, took all his surplus means and kept him a comparatively poor man, but by industry, proper management, and the help of his slaves, he succeeded in clearing his farm of all encumbrances and had, perhaps, one of the best farms on the Ohio river.
In 1812 he built the best horse mill that had ever been built in this part of the country. It was a great convenience for the neighborhood on both sides of the river. They used to swim their horses across the river to grind on his mill, in preference to grinding on the inferior mills on this side of the river.
Educational facilities were very poor in Mr. Mackoy’s neighborhood, and his children were growing up without receiving even the first rudiments of an education. There was no school house in the neighborhood, so he undertook, in 1815 or 16, to supply that deficiency. He selected a site for a school house on his own farm, and invited all his neighbors to join together and help build it. This they did, to a certain extent, but it devolved upon Mr. Mackoy to finish the house and start the school. There was an old gentleman living in Portsmouth at that time by the name of Mather, who was an educated man, and professor of geology and mineralogy. He entertained the idea that something valuable could be extracted from the earth found in the caves in the rocks up about Sciotoville. They were called alum caves, and the earth in the bottom of the caves was strongly impregnated with alum. Col. Mather got some men of means in Portsmouth to assist him, and he put up a laboratory on the lot where the gas house now stands, and subjected some of the alum dirt to a process that he supposed would produce alum, or copperas, or something else valuable. But the whole thing proved a failure. Elijah Glover, who had boarded him, lost his board bill. William Kendall, who furnished the capital, lost all, and here the old man was, without a cent or fund to apply to. In this condition Mr. Mackoy found him, and engaged him to teach his school. He told the old man to get up a subscription school, as was the custom in that day, and collect what he could from those who sent to school, and he would make up the deficiency himself. So the old gentleman, who had no family of his own, went into the family of Mr. Mackoy and lived with him several years, making it his home. That year when he began his school, there was no school on our side of the river, so the writer of this article and two younger brothers, living on the bank of the river, concluded that we could not afford to lose a winter’s schooling, crossed over every day and attended school in Kentucky. We got along very well. Col. Mather kept a good school. About the middle of winter the ice got to running so heavy that we had to stop going to school for the winter. That is the way that Mr. Mackoy educated his children – by taking the teacher into his family and keeping him there.
In 1817 there were some indications of salt water making its appearance in the bed of Hale’s Creek, near Montgomery’s Mills, (now Giant Oak Mills,) and Mr. Mackoy, after examining the place, concluded to bore for salt water, but after expending considerable time and money, abandoned the experiment.
For the next twenty years he devoted his time exclusively to the management of his farm. But his slaves began to be restless and uneasy, and several of his best hands, Tom and Anthony, took passage on the underground railroad and went to Canada. Some of the older ones, who were of no account, ran away and went to Portsmouth and ended their lives in a free State. His own children got married and scattered abroad, so that he was left in his old age with a large farm on his hands, and no one to carry on the work. He sold his farm and bought the Springville ferry, opposite to Portsmouth. He had a few faithful negroes who stuck to him and carried on the ferry. At first the boat had to be rowed across the river by hand, but he soon substituted horse power by placing a platform of boards on two canoes. On this platform he erected a horse power that operated a paddle wheel placed between two canoes. In this way the ferry was kept going for several years.
Isaac, one of our most respected citizens of the colored population, and who at present runs a dray on Front street, was the ferryman. Isaac stuck faithfully to his old master till he died, and then took up his residence in Portsmouth. Mr. Mackoy had a small grocery in Springville, which he tended in person. He died at an advanced age, universally respected by all who knew him.
This article was a tremendous find for me. I hope other members of the Mackoy family enjoy this as I have and share their own family stories.