Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Barkers of the West Fork

Early landowners in southern Christian County, Kentucky

Disclaimer -- This is not an authoritative history of the Barkers. I believe it to be more or less correct, but it probably contains inaccuracies.

Settlement of the area that is now southeastern Christian County, Kentucky. began shortly after the Revolutionary War. The land was mostly flat or slightly rolling. It was covered with prairie grasses, except along the creeks and rivers. The fertile soil was clay over limestone, well suited to crop production, especially dark tobacco.

Fort constructed

In 1783, Revolutionary War veterans John Montgomery, and James Davis received land grants in the area. They built a fort along Montgomery Creek, a few miles southeast of present-day Pembroke, KY. Montgomery Creek was a tributary of the West Fork River (source). Franklin M. Chestnut is also mentioned as one of the earliest pioneers. Perin's history of Christian County, Kentucky, describes the fort as a "blockhouse, with loop-holes cut in the sides and a thick slab door made out of walnut." 

Surge of settlement

The fort was the center around which settlement of southeastern Christian County, KY, began. Perin's and Meacham's histories of the area agree that few if any hostile Indians lived there. However, the area was sometimes traveled by Indian hunters or war parties. Within just a few decades, the Indians were gone permanently, and the land was under cultivation by white settlers and, in many cases, by their black slaves.

Charles M. Meacham wrote in his 1930 history of Christian County:

At the beginning of the new century [the 1800s] a stampede had set in and what became known as South Christian was soon settled by immigrants from Virginia, a different race from the hardy woodsmen from North Carolina who had settled in the north. They came with their families, Sons of Revolutionary soldiers and statesmen of the east, bringing their slaves with them, their herds of cattle, horses, mules and other livestock. In their wake came the preachers and school teachers, and before the county was twenty-five years old its citizens compared favorably with any in the state. (Source)

Charles Barker (1771-1851), a Virginian, arrived in the West Fork area in 1809, during the wave of settlement that Meacham described. He was joined by his wife, Barbara Walton Barker (1772-1824), by 1812, if not earlier. They settled somewhere in the area that is now southern Todd or southeastern Christian County in Kentucky or northern Montgomery County in Tennessee.  I haven't found any information about the specific location of their home.

Charles and Barbara Walton Barker had six sons and four daughters. The older children were born in Virginia, and the younger children were born in Kentucky and Tennessee.

John Walton Barker and Cloverlands

John Walton Barker (1793-1867) was the oldest of Charles and Barbara Walton Barker's children. He was a teenager when his parents moved to Tennessee. Perhaps he was a student; he seems to have stayed behind in Virginia for a few years. He came west in 1814, after his marriage to Mary Minor Merriwether, a native of Louisa County, Virginia.
Upon arriving in the West Fork area, John W. Barker built (with slave labor) a large home for his bride. Completed around 1820, the house was located in today's Montgomery County, Tennessee, less than a mile from the Kentucky/ Tennessee state line  He named it Cloverlands (or Cloverdale).

John Walton Barker and Mary Minor Merriwether Barker had four children. Their firstborn, Thomas L. Barker, died as a child. The second child was Chiles T. Barker. He was the Barker who bought Barker's Mill in the mid-19th century. Daughter Barbara (or Barbary) Ann Barker married Alexander Mosby Clayton, a lawyer who served as a judge in Arkansas while it was a territory and also in the state of Mississippi. Daughter Nancy M. Barker, married Robert F. Ferguson, a journalist who became a Tennessee state legislator and a prosperous farmer in the Clarksville, Tennessee area.

Mary Minor Merriwether Barker died in 1831, and in 1838, John Walton Barker married again and had five more daughters whose family lines I did not attempt to follow. Despite the second marriage, Chiles T. Barker remained the only surviving son of John Walton Barker, a fact that probably influenced his earthly fortunes and inheritance. A Tennessee history says that John Walton Barker was believed to be the richest man of Montgomery County in his time.

Cloverlands, the 4700-square-foot home built by John Walton Barker, still stands on the Tylertown Road, north of St. Bethlehem, Tennessee, according to the National Register of Historic Places. It was used as a bed and breakfast a few years ago, but the B&B seems to have gone out of business now.

Tobacco stemmery

John Walton Barker's home and farm were both called Cloverlands. The B&B owner provided a bit of history in 2004:

Cloverlands was a tobacco plantation. Mr. Barker not only made money from his tobacco, but also bought his neighbors' tobacco and removed the stems in a stemming house located on the property. Then he would take the tobacco himself to New Orleans where it was shipped to European markets. This gave him a contact in London, so that before the Civil War began, he took his money and put it in the Bank of London. He was one of the few Southerners who came out of the War still a millionaire. (Source)

The following information about John W. Barker comes from Folk Finders, an excellent website about Montgomery County, Tennessee history:

Before the Civil War, John W. Barker was a pioneer in the tobacco industry in Clarksville. He was one of the first in Clarksville to establish a tobacco stemmery. In 1838 he was among the individuals appointed by the Montgomery County Court to mark the route for the Clarksville and Russellville Turnpike. [Note: This route probably became modern-day Highway 79.] These men were to determine the need for a new bridge at any point between Barker’s ferry and the mouth of West Fork of Red River if the present bridge was not on the chosen route. (Source)

A family-history researcher wrote these notes about John W. Barker on an internet: genealogy bulletin board:

John Walton Barker was a tobacco farmer, and took trips to New Orleans to sell and ship his crop, always bringing home pecan seedlings to set out, some of which flourish today. The house is full restored and is a private residence. "Meriwethers were known for their culture and learning and the Barkers for their business acumen." (Source)

John Walton Barker, his wife Mary Minor Merriwether Barker, and many other members of the Barker family are buried in the Barker family cemetery at Cloverlands. The B&B owner stated that there is also an unmarked slave cemetery on the property. The general location is known, but the exact sites of individual graves are unknown.

Meriwether Connection

Charles Barker and Barbara Walton Barker, the parents of John Walton Barker, are said to be buried in the Meriwether Cemetery at Meriville in Todd County, Kentucky. Meriville was a large plantation between Trenton and Guthrie. Its house, known also as Meriville, was built around 1810 by Dr.Charles Meriwether (1766-1843) who was married to Barbara Walton Barker's sister, Mary Walton Meriwether (1786-1869).

John Walton Barker married a Meriwether (Mary Minor Meriwether). Intermarrying between the two families continued in the generations that followed. The Barkers were also connected to the Meriwethers through other families, as cousins' cousins.

A number of Barkers are buried in the Meriwether Cemetery, but a list of the names on tombstones in that cemetery does not include the names of Charles and Barbara Walton Barker. It seems odd to me that their graves would be unmarked, but perhaps something has happened to their stones over the years.

These were the first two generations of Barkers in the West Fork area -- Charles Barker and his son John Walton Barker. I would like to give more sources for this information, but I can't figure out how to make a reliable link to most of the information at RootsWeb. If you would like to wander through the Barker family trees yourself, just type the surname, given name, and birth year of any of these people into the search form at RootsWeb.

Related posts:
Exploring the West Fork Community
Barker's Mill in Christian County, Kentucky

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.