With commiseration to those who think one is too many.
“Oh, no, there are already too many Jake Warners.” Several years ago my mother told me that that was what my Aunt Catherine said when she had come to my parents’ house the morning of my birth to see me and to find out what they had named me.
Had she told me that story twenty years earlier, it would have been utterly baffling to me. When I was growing up I never heard of anyone named Jacob Warner except my father. So far as I knew, he was the first man ever to bear that name. In view of my aunt’s comment, the rest of the family must have known better, but they never saw fit to mention it to me. Had my father not died when I was three years old, he might have told me.
In 1962 my cousin, Jack Warner, on one of his business trips, stopped over with us, and in the course of our conversation, he said that he had obtained a book about the history of Bath County, Kentucky, which had recently been published and that the book was full of references to an ancestor named Jacob Warner. (Jack is a paternal first-cousin thus his Warner ancestors are the same as mine.) I told him I knew nothing about any of our ancestors and said I would like to see the book. He said he would let me know now to obtain one, or he would lend me his. There the matter rested quietly with no further action.
In 1974 Bath County celebrated its “Heritage Days” as a part of the nation’s bicentennial, and my mother sent me several issues of the only newspaper in the county, The Bath County News-Outlook, which carried many articles about the early history of the county. Several stories about various Jacob Warners were included in these articles plus a story about the pioneer Jacob Warner by Eliza Louisa Dawson, the daughter of Jacob Warner Dawson, descendants of that pioneer and who, at the time the story was published, still lived in the house that Jacob Warner built about 1816.
Somehow I learned that most of the stories in the paper were taken from the book that my cousin had told me about, and I began trying in earnest to get a copy of the book. Neither the name of the book nor its author was ever mentioned in the newspaper as far as I could find. I tried many libraries and other sources and could find no trace of it. Of course not knowing the name of the book or its author made any kind of search difficult. About twice a year, I wrote to my cousin asking him to send the book to me on loan, but he never responded. I even asked him to have it Xeroxed if he didn’t trust me to return it, but there was no answer. After some twenty years of trying to borrow this book from him, he called one day and said that he was in a motel in Silver Spring (about ten miles away) and had brought the book for me. I have now had the book three or four years.
Although A History of Bath County, Kentucky by John Adair Richards is absolutely fascinating to me as a former resident of Bath County, it is more a collection of tales and unexamined anecdotes than it is a history book. For instance, it repeats without question the often-told story of how Owingsville received its name. Richard Menefee and Thomas Owings donated 200 acres of land for the new county seat in 1811. They then agreed that the town would be named for the one of them who built the finest house in the least amount of time. Owings won the contest and the Owings House still stands in the middle of Owingsville. I have heard that story all my life, and no one ever seemed to notice that the contest as stated is open ended and could never be decided unless one of the contestants gave up. It seems highly unlikely that two sensible men would have such an indecisive wager. (Menefee seems to have been unlucky – a nearby county was later named for him but was misspelled as Menifee County.)
Anyway the book does contain many mentions of various Jacob Warners. The original Jacob Warner in the area is claimed to have arrived in the early 1790s from Pennsylvania. He was considered a good hunter and worked at the Bourbon Furnace where iron was extracted from local ore. Cannon balls for the War of 1812 were cast at this furnace, but its main purpose was to supply iron to a large area of Kentucky for normal farm and industrial use.
One of the wilder stories in the book is the following:
In 1793 Jacob Warner who lived at the furnace, being fond of his morning dram, went down to a distillery, that was being operated on Licking River where Day’s Mill was located. There he had his temporary fill, carrying back with him a large gourd filled with the juice of the corn. In crossing from Nailor’s Branch to Washington’s Branch, he stopped at a spring to get a drink, and hearing a stick crack he looked up and saw an Indian coming toward him. Grabbing his precious gourd, he took to his heels, closely followed by the savage. He ran up a long hill and outdistanced the Indian, but when he came over the ridge toward Prickley Ash Creek and started downhill, the savage gained on him, and as he reached the foot of the hill the Indian threw his butcher knife at him, which however, passed over his shoulder and the Indian gave up the pursuit. Throughout it all he clung to his gourd of liquor and brought it safely to the furnace.
The place names lend an air of authenticity to this tale, but one fact not mentioned is that it is six or seven miles from the Bourbon Furnace to the closest point on Licking River. Even if a thirsty Jacob Warner walked that far for his morning dram, surely he would have taken a jug and not carried back an inconvenient gourd full of liquor.
At the second session of court in Bath County, Jacob Warner was indicted by the grand jury for failing to keep the Bourbon Furnace Road in good repair. Two other men were also indicted for not keeping other roads in repair, and Abraham Thompson was indicted for swearing profanely by saying, “God damn your soul,” twenty times on the 1st day of November, 1812. No outcome of any of these indictments is given in the book.
The exiled Louis Phillipe who in 1830 became king of France spent some weeks in Owingsville in 1814 as a guest of Thomas Owings and, according to the book, often went hunting with Jacob Warner who was a noted nimrod and could speak French.
In 1815 Jacob and Isaac Warner (who is nowhere else mentioned) were the contractors who built the first courthouse in the country. They started a brickyard on Jacob Warner’s land on Slate Creek to make bricks for this building. Sometime later Jacob Warner built a large brick house on Slate Creek, about a mile from town, using bricks made in the same yard. When I was a boy, I was a frequent visitor to Slate Creek, but I played a mile or so below where the house is. I think I knew the house was there but did not know that it had been built by Jacob Warner. At that time, and perhaps now, the house was owned by Jacob Warner Dawson, but I did not know that either.
Also the book contains the following biographical note about another Jacob Warner:
Jacob Warner was born near Owingsville, Bath County, on June 8th, 1827, being a grandson of Jacob Warner, the original pioneer, who cleared the farm and built the brick residence on Slate Creek long in the possession of the late Dudley Warner. He was a man of the highest integrity known far and wide for his honorable conduct and fair dealing. He was a practical farmer and prospered well, owning several hundred acres of valuable land at the time of his death. He died in 1903 leaving surviving him three children, Dudley Warner, William Warner, and Mrs. Jeff Dawson.
Mrs. Jeff Dawson is probably the mother of Jacob Warner Dawson.
If one drew a circle with a half-mile radius about the house where my grandparents lived when my father was born, the circle would include the house on Slate Creek, the house where my grandfather had moved to before I was born, the house where I was born, and the house where my grandfather’s brother’s family lived.
I don’t know if there was some rift between my grandfather and his brother John or if they were both simply reserved, self-contained men, but I remember being only once at grandfather’s brother’s house. I remember it because it was a clapboard-covered, double log cabin with a breezeway between the two sections. This brother had a son who was called Monk, and I’m sure there were other children. The most striking think I remember about John Warner is that someone said he was too stingy to own a clock and had to tell time by the sun.
My grandfather always said his ancestors had come to Kentucky from Pennsylvania a long time ago. My grandmother, as a child, had come from the same state. What had made a vivid impression on her was that for several nights during the journey “the stars fell like snow.” This must have been sometime in the early 1870s. There was a prodigious meteorite fall in 1867 in which about 10,000 meteorites per hour could be observed but that would have been too early for her. Like most young people, I had absolutely no curiosity at all about my ancestors on either side of the family, and this lack of curiosity extended to the time when those who could have possibly answered my questions were gone.
On a ridge within view from my grandfather’s house, still within the circle, was a clump of trees marking the Warner Graveyard. The graveyard was completely covered with bushes and vines, and when my grandfather and a few years later my grandmother were buried there, a tremendous effort in clearing space for the burial was required. Although I often played in that area as a child, I don’t remember ever being able to read any names on the gravestones because of the overgrowth.
Sometime in the 1960s the graveyard was restored as some sort of historical site by a state agency which also requested funds from the families who had people buried there. I visited the mostly-restored graveyard in the mid-1970s when I was in Owingsville for a funeral and was utterly astonished to find, seemingly everywhere I looked, tombstones for Jacob Warners. In this small plot of fifty or sixty graves, there are at least a half-dozen Jacob Warners buried, and this does not include my father who is buried elsewhere. A strip about 30-feet wide at the back of the graveyard had not been restored. When I asked my Aunt Lella about this, she said, “Oh, I think it’s mostly colored, buried at that end.” Actually, that section contains the toppled stone for the settler, Jacob Warner (1769-1860), as well as a stone for Annie Warner (died 1908 at age 101) who was bought at Georgetown, Kentucky, as a slave and served the Warner family for 80 years. These two are probably the only graves of any historical significance and they are both in the unrestored section.
By now you likely have a surfeit of what you think is a prideful parading of ancestors, but I’ve been keeping something from you. Incredible as it seems to me, given the temporal and geographic circumstances, none of these Jacob Warners seems to be an ancestor of mine. When I first became aware of all these Jacob Warners, I asked my Aunt Lella Reynolds, then and only surviving sibling of my father, how we were related to them. She said she had discussed it with Minnie Smoot, who is the daughter of William Warner and thus the greatgreatgranddaughter of the pioneer Jacob Warner, and they had decided that we were “not much kin.”
Given the fact that we all lived in a three or four square-mile area, this sounded improbable to me. On one of our funeral trips, my wife and I looked up Eliza Louisa Dawson who, with her father, had only recently moved from the Warner house on Slate Creek. To my surprise she claimed total ignorance of any relationship between the two families. She remembered that Monk Warner had taken care of her sometimes when she was little but that’s all she knew. She called her father to come out on the porch and talk to us and he said he knew no more about it. When I told him my name, he said, “But that’s my name.”
A little put out with the lack of information I was receiving, I said to Jacob Warner Dawson, “Yes, but it’s all of my name.”
Eliza Dawson sent us to talk to Minnie Smoot, and there we ran into the same blank. She did delicately hint that a lot of families name their sons after famous people. I suppose it went without saying that only Warner riff-raff could name their sons Jacob Warner. Anyway, the Jacob Warners in our own family go back some distance. Aunt Lella told me her grandfather, my greatgrandfather, was named Jacob Warner. I doubt if the original pioneer was all that famous when my greatgrandfather was born.
What surprised Leah and me was that it had been our experience that middle-aged and older women in small communities knew every family relationship to the exact degree of cousinship and who was not related to them and why. Leah said that the only thing she could think of was that someone in my branch of the family had done something so horrible that they had become unmentionable to the proper branch of the family.
Although on the face of it that sounds like a possible explanation, it is probably a fact that if there is a relationship, it is quite far back. My greatgrandfather must have been born about 1820-1830, but he was certainly not the Jacob Warner whose short biography was in the book and quoted above because the children mentioned as surviving that one are not members of my family. Further no ancestor of mine that recent could possibly have owned hundreds of acres of land. This means that in the mid-1800s there were at least three Jacob Warners (the original settler did not die until 1860) in this small area. Aunt Catherine’s protest would certainly have been appropriate at that time.
Now and then I have the urge to try to find out more about all this, but then I think of the terrible confusion in trying to sort out a half dozen people by the same name. Further, I know that the Bath County court house burned during the Civil War (County officials fled from Confederate raiders and left unattended a stove which started the fire.), and that the old records were destroyed in the fire so it would be a difficult task.
I knew all of this when I visited the Warner Graveyard and saw all the tombstones of the Jacob Warners. Had these been my ancestors, there would have been six or eight other people of my family (including my cousin Jack Warner who loaned me the book) who had the same relationship to them as I, but since we’re “not much kin,” there is only the connection through the strong, primitive magic of name. My feeling as I looked around at the evidence of nearly 200 years of Jacob Warners was astonishment, exultation, and triumphant continuity – something like, “So what if the bastards grind you down, there’s always another one….” It was such a powerful feeling that if it had happened many years earlier, I might well have been tempted to name my son Jacob just so that he could have the same experience.
Hand set in Deepdene; display type is Perpetua and Perpetua Italic. Test stock is Hammermill Bond, 20lb. Ink is Van Son 40904 Black. Edited and published by Jake Warner who printed 430 copies on an SP-15 Vandercook. The cover was printed on a 10×15 C&P.
The Boxwood Press
Greenbelt, MD 20770