Travelers with Kenton settle at Perryville Battlefield site

February 03, 2012|By BRENDA S. EDWARDS | Contributing writer
  • The landscape shown is a portion of between 600 and 800 acres of land owned by Jeremiah Laws in the late 1700s after he came to Kentucky with Simon Kenton. The land is currently part of the Perryville Battlefield State Park.
Photo by Brenda S. Edwards

Two pioneers who came from Virginia to Kentucky in 1783 with Simon Kenton and 41 other people purchased land where the Perryville Battlefield State Park currently is located.

Kenton, who believed he had killed a man in Virginia, fled to the wilderness of Kentucky as a teenager. He claimed several acres of land by building cabins and planting corn on some of the land, which later became Boyle County.

After Kenton discovered he had not killed the man in Virginia, he returned home and talked his family and some neighbors into coming west with a promise that each family would get 250 acres.

Jeremiah Laws and John McGraw were among the migrating party, according to information given by Elizabeth Kenton Arrowsmith, Kenton’s sister and last surviving member of the party. 

She gave the information to Lyman Copeland Draper on Feb. 25, 1857, and it is recorded in the “Draper Papers.” The manuscripts cover the period of 1755 to 1815 and include interviews, letters and other documents  from people in portions of the Carolinas, Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, and the Ohio River and Mississippi River valleys.


Jeremiah Laws married Susanna Bailey in 1805 in Mercer County and they had a large family, according to research by Carolyn Crabtree, local genealogist. 

Laws’ will, recorded in the Boyle County Courthouse, mentions his land was to be divided into 11 shares and distributed to the following heirs: 

His wife Susanna; sons-in-law Jacob Busey, James Long, Amos Hill, George McCastlin and Gabriel Rice; sons William and Jeremiah Laws Jr.; one share held in trust for wife and children, including daughters Matilda Wilkerson, Priscella Wright and Frances Russell, for the exclusive use of them and their children.

The 11th share was to be divided between Elmira Laws, “daughter of my son James M. Laws; James M. L. Whoberry, ‘illegitimate son of my said son James’ and Frances Laws, ‘daughter of my son John Laws.’”  

James Whoberry received half of the 11th share and the two granddaughters divided equally the other half of the share. 

The portion of the estate that went to the son-in-law Amos Hill, husband of Jeremiah’s daughter Sarah, was to be returned to Jeremiah’s other children and equally divided (excluding Jeremiah’s son James) if wife Sarah died. Son Jeremiah Laws and son-in-law Jacob Busey were appointed executors. The will was signed by Jeremiah Laws on Aug. 4, 1842; he died in 1845. Witnesses were J.P. Mitchell and J.D. Mitchell.  

“I have looked everywhere for a survey of this property when it was divided or sold, and I cannot find one,” said Crabtree, who has been researching the early McGraw and Laws families.

The survey may have been done privately by the family and never recorded in the courthouse, she said. “This was not uncommon for this to be done and there was no requirement that private surveys had to be filed.” 

Laws’ descendants

 Many of Laws’ descendants later were living along the old Springfield Pike (now White’s Road) and Mackville Road (now Cocanougher-Oscar Bradley-Hayes May roads), which indicates Jeremiah had many acres of land. Some accounts say he owned 800 acres, but research shows only 650 acres. Laws may at some point have sold part of his land to the McGraw  or Carpenter families living nearby.  

When David C. Wilkerson, husband of Jeremiah’s daughter Matilda Laws, died in June 1869, his land was divided into three or four sections of 19 acres each. Just as there was no survey for the Laws property, there is no survey of the Wilkerson division in the Boyle County Courthouse. 

On April 3, 1855, Matilda, wife of David C. Wilkerson of Boyle County, bought from Edward Kimball, “late of Boyle County, Kentucky,” a parcel of land on Wilson’s Creek containing approximately 73 acres for $184. The land went up the creek and adjoined the land of John May and the land of a man named Thomas. The money was paid by James P. Mitchell, the executor of Jeremiah Laws’ will. The deed was signed by Edward Kimball.  According to the Boyle County, Kentucky, Cemetery Records Book, Edward Kimball was buried in Boyle County in November 1862 (another account give his death date as May 1862). Edward Kimball’s son John Irvin Kimball married Anne Elizabeth Wilkerson, born in 1840 in Missouri.

Benjamin Wilkerson also bought 148 acres on March  24, 1791, from Thomas Crawford, for 60 pounds current Virginia money. Crawford owned land near the battlefield, currently known as  Battlefield Road. The home of Crawford is currently part of the battlefield property. 

When Benjamin Wilkerson bought the property, it was described as follows: In Mercer County on the waters of Doctor’s Fork of Chaplin’s Fork and bounded by Doran’s line, Arnett’s line, Pott’s line and Tolley’s line. The deed is signed by Crawford in the presence of Davis Potts, Thomas Hopewell and William Crowder. It was recorded June  28, 1791. 

Benjamin Wilkerson may be the son of David Wilkerson, who lived in Madison County, and was pensioned for his service in the Revolutionary War. David died in 1832 in Indiana, according to a Mercer County deed book. 

Since Matilda Laws Wilkerson had died by 1865, when David died in 1869 the sections of land were given to David’s children: his unmarried son, Jeremiah Laws Wilkerson; daughter Elizabeth Par Wilkerson, and her husband, Littleton Ralph Price; and two unmarried daughters, Lucy Belle Wilkerson and Harriet F. Wilkerson, who later married Anderson Matherly.  

The 1870 census shows Jeremiah Laws Wilkerson and the two unmarried sisters, Lucy and Harriet, were living together on part of this land. It is probably the homeplace, since both parents had died and are not listed on the 1870 census. In 1870, Elizabeth, her husband Littleton Price, and their four children were living next door to her brother and sisters. The 1880 census show Elizabeth and her family living between her brother Jeremiah Laws Wilkerson’s family and her sister Harriet Wilkerson, unmarried. 

McGraw family

The 1860 census records show McGraw families in the battlefield area.

Francis M. McGraw, his wife Betty (Betsey) Ann Carpenter McGraw, and three young children, and Priscilla Hight McGraw, mother of F.M. McGraw, lived near the H.P. Bottom house. Betsey was the daughter of Jacob Carpenter and his wife, Nancy M. Russell.

When Francis McGraw died, the land was divided in three tracts and sold to William C. and Isabelle Butler. Francis’ widow, Betsy, got a 51-acre tract on the old Perryville and Mackville road.

Today, Laws and McGraw family names have disappeared from the Perryville area. However, descendants of daughters of the families, including Carpenters, Wilkersons and Russells, still live in the Perryville area.

Ethel McGraw, a genealogist and school teacher, compiled information about her family and early cemeteries in Boyle County. She was a daughter of Brigham and Bertha Whitehouse McGraw. She died in 1992.

Billy Laws, who was born with spastic paralysis, was confined to a wheelchair all his life. He died a few years ago.  

The families were active in the settlement of western Boyle County.

J.T. Laws was one of 40 people who helped finance a new section to Hillcrest Cemetery in 1918, according to a history of western Boyle County. Descendants James Laws ran a blacksmith shop near the Chaplin River; and Bill Laws was part owner of Perryville Motors from 1929 to 1943.

Information for this article was researched by Carolyn Crabtree, a local genealogist, of Parksville, and taken from the “Community History of Northwestern Boyle County, Kentucky 1776-2000.”

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