History of Morgan County

Following is a very good summary of the history of Morgan County from a website that no longer exists, http://www.mykentuckygenealogy.com/ky_county/mor.htm

A couple of my ancestors are mentioned, Daniel Williams and John T. Williams.

Morgan County, the seventy-third in order of formation, is located in east-central Kentucky. Covering 382 square miles, it is bounded by Rowan, Elliott, Menifee, Wolfe, Magoffin, Johnson, and Lawrence counties. It was created from Bath and Floyd counties in 1822, and during 1843-69 parts of Morgan County were used to form six of the surrounding counties. The county was named for Gen. Daniel Morgan, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, and WEST LIBERTY was established as the county seat in 1824.

The county's major waterway is the Licking River, and Cave Run Lake forms a portion of its northwest boundary. The northwest corner of the county is also a part of the Daniel Boone National Forest. The major highways are KY 7, U.S. 460, and the Mountain Parkway. Morgan County's principal towns are West Liberty and the farming villages of Ezel, Wrigley, Cannel City, and Crockett. Cattle and burley tobacco are the main agricultural pursuits and timber production is a major industry. Because of its fertile valleys, Morgan has long been called "the Bluegrass county of the mountains." Morgan County also has one newspaper, The Licking Valley Courier, published weekly.

As early as 1787, when it was still part of Virginia, surveying parties saw the wilderness area that later became Morgan County. Settlement in the mountainous eastern region of the state lagged behind that in central Kentucky, but by 1800 the area had some population. Pioneers were drawn there by cheap but fertile land, forested with virgin timber and teeming with game. Among the earliest settlers were Daniel Williams, who, tradition says, came to Kentucky from North Carolina with Daniel Boone in the 1770s and was a veteran of the Battle of Blue Licks; Thomas Lewis, who had served with Gen. George Rogers Clark in Kentucky; Gardner (or Garner) Hopkins, a Revolutionary War veteran from New York; and others, including Thomas Caskey, who had married Hopkins's daughter Lydia.

In 1822 residents of the area, which by then was part of Floyd and Bath counties, sought to form a new county and an act for that purpose was approved by the General Assembly on December 7. The following year, on March 10, twelve justices of the peace met at Edmund Wells's tavern on the Licking River and presented their commissions signed by Gov. John Adair (1820-24). In addition to Wells, they were William Biddle, Joseph Carroll, John Hammans, Fielding Hanks (brother of Abraham Lincoln's mother), William Lewis, Isaac Lykins, Thomas Nickell, John S. Oakley, Holloway Power, John Williams (son of Daniel), and Mason Williams. At this first court, the county was divided into seven districts, and officials were installed, including sheriff James Kash, clerk James G. Hazelrigg, jailor Edmund Vest, tax commissioner Francis Lewis, and commonwealth's attorney William Triplett. Chosen by the next term were coroner Sanders Montgomery and county surveyor Peter Amyx. In 1823 the General Assembly established the county seat, a town to be called West Liberty and created from land provided by Edmund Wells. Wells, a millwright, was subsequently awarded the contracts to erect the civic buildings. These consisted of a log jail, completed in 1825, and a two-story frame courthouse that was finished in 1828.

A second courthouse was among some twenty-nine buildings destroyed by fire during the Civil War, along with the offices of the circuit and county clerks, and many irreplaceable county records. Although some influential families were proUnion during the war, most Morgan County residents had Confederate sympathies. Confederate leaders from Morgan included Capt. John T. Williams and Maj. William Mynheir (who, as sheriff in 1853, carried out the county's only hanging). Although no major battles occurred in the county, there were a few skirmishes, including three at West Liberty and one at McClannahan Hill.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, railroads entered the county, drawn by the rich resources of timber and cannel coal. The Morehead & North Fork Railroad (abandoned in the 1920s) extended to Blairs Mills, Wrigley. Redwine, and Lenox, and the Ohio & Kentucky Railroad (abandoned in 1933) ran through Adele, Cannel City, Caney, Stacy Fork, Malone, Index, Liberty Road, and Licking River.

By 1930, Morgan's common-school system which had seen forty school districts established by 1850-reached a peak of ninety-two districts, with as many schools. Subsequently, consolidated school centers replaced the one- and two-room rural schools. The last one, at Peddler Gap, was destroyed by fire in 1967. A county high school was created at West Liberty in 1910 and a new stone building, built by the Works Progress Administration, was dedicated in 1937 by Eleanor Roosevelt. Later came a separate elementary school (1957), a new high school (1974), and a modern middle school building (1989). In 1990 plans were under way to restore the old WPA building to house county offices.

The population of the rural county was 10,019 in 1970; 12,103 in 1980; and 11,648 in 1990

© Bobby Daniel