Imagine what moving into a frontier area would have been like. Your travels may take years and are long and arduous as you carry everything you own for this journey into the unknown by flatboats on the rivers and by wagons when traveling on land. Not knowing your final destination and when you will get there, you know you will have to start from scratch in an area that isn’t developed and full of wild animals including bear. With these trials experienced by the early pioneers to this area, they must have had courage and a strong will to create a better life for themselves.
In fact, many settlers had already begun to settle in the ‘Land Between the Rivers’ region of western Kentucky and Tennessee and many land warrants were promised in this area before the 1818 Jackson Purchase Treaty. This was making the US Government and the State of Tennessee very concerned that the relations with the Chickasaw Indian Tribe were in jeopardy. President James Monroe asked Andrew Jackson and Isaac Shelby to negotiate a treaty with the Indian tribe. The Chickasaws were shrewd negotiators and decided they would only remove from the land if they were able to sell the land at the established American’s rate. 1
Andrew Jackson was very popular in this area, because the capital in Nashville, Tennessee, where he called his home, was much closer to the settlers than the capital in Kentucky that was dominated by Henry Clay and the Whig Party in Frankfort. With most of the settlers from Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, they associated more closely to Andrew Jackson and considered him one of their own. Jackson was a staunch Democrat and more voters followed his party in the Purchase Area.
In the Presidential Election of 1824, Henry Clay in Frankfort was running for President and was a member of the Whig Party. He was running against Andrew Jackson, William H. Crawford, John C. Calhoun and John Quincy Adams. Most of Kentucky went for Clay with approximately 72.8 percent and half of the counties reported 75 percent or more votes for him. However, in the Purchase Area, Andrew Jackson won the most votes. Calloway County was 76.6 percent, Hickman was 68.4 percent and Graves County was 59 percent of the vote for Jackson. Although Jackson won the most electoral votes, he did not secure a clear majority and the decision was given to the House of Representatives, which gave the election to John Quincy Adams causing many in the area to feel disenfranchised with the government. 2
In 1836, a majority of voters in Paducah and the rest of McCracken County moved away from the Democratic Party and voted for the Whig Party’s candidate, William Henry Harrison, marking a switch in voting patterns to the Whig Party for many years afterwards while a majority in the other counties consistently voted for the Democratic Party. It was believed that because Paducah was a river-port town bordering the northern states, there was more diversity in the voting habits of its inhabitants.
In 1858, the Memphis, New Orleans and Northern Railroad was completed which greatly facilitated the transportation of goods and also helped open up the area for easier travel.
On July 3rd, 1858, the first engine came to Mayfield, Kentucky. In the local history, “The Story of Mayfield through a century, 1823-1923”, there is a story about this event and how the people reacted upon seeing the new technology:
“It was not until July 3, 1858, that the first engine came to Mayfield. Everybody in the surrounding country came to town to see the sight, and one young man, Bud Eastman, who lived in the backwoods near Pryorsburg, carried a pepper box pistol along as a means of protection, and while standing near the track the engine stopped and the engineer, purposely or otherwise, permitted steam to escape which blew over the young man. At first he was frightened, but soon regained his composure, and feeling that he must demonstrate his bravery, he pulled out his pistol and announced to the engine that if it “blew its damn nose at him again he would blow a hole slap dab through it”.” 3
The Civil War began just three years later bringing a danger never before seen in the Jackson Purchase.
1 Patricia Ann Hoskins, Dissertation Abstract “The old first is with the south”: The Civil War, Reconstruction, and memory in the Jackson Purchase region of Kentucky, (Auburn University, May 9, 2008): 29-32.
2 Shannon and McQuown, Presidential Returns in Kentucky 1-3.
3 Story of Mayfield through a century, 1823-1923, (Billings Printing Company, Paducah 1923), D. Trabue Davis, 25-26
- How John Quincy Adams’ ugly win changed politics forever (constitutioncenter.org)
- John Quincy Adams Biography (mademan.com)
- 5 of the strangest presidential elections in history (mnn.com)
- Father of the self-made man (teacherlingo.com)