Marker #1083, "Mercer County before Kentucky Became a State"

Historical marker #1083, “Mercer County before Kentucky Became a State,” sits near the northwestern corner of the courthouse lawn in downtown Harrodsburg. This two-post marker is unique in its design, featuring two full panels listing historic dates and statewide “firsts” achieved in the area on either side of a historic map of the county. It was installed in 1967.

The names of two women are listed among the 1776 “Mercer County FIRSTS [sic] in Kentucky”: Jane Coomes and Ann[e] [Pogue] McGinty. The contributions of both women to the history of Anglo-American settlement in frontier Kentucky are worthy of further examination. Like most of their peers around the time of the American Revolution, they worked tirelessly to raise families while performing domestic duties such as wood cutting, harvesting, cultivating crops, hauling water, and making the family’s clothing. During periods in which their husbands were away for extended periods of time, they were expected to assume even greater roles that had traditionally been within the purview of men.

Anne Pogue McGinty was born in Virginia as Anne Kennedy around the year 1735. Repeatedly widowed, she would go on to be married four times. McGinty gave birth to eight children, although two of her children died in infancy. As women of her generation knew well, dealing with the grief of child loss was not a rare experience in the eighteenth century. McGinty arrived in Kentucky in September 1775, first establishing a home at Fort Boonesborough before migrating to Fort Harrod because of the improved living conditions in a more established settlement. When she crossed the Cumberland Gap on horseback, McGinty carried with her a loom for weaving. In collaboration with her husband at the time, William Pogue, McGinty established a regional trading company, which fashioned additional looms for their neighbors.

McGinty is credited with bringing “linsey-woolsey” to Kentucky. A coarse fabric woven with a mixture of linen and wool, it was extremely warm and hardy—perfect for life on the frontier. It became an essential component of settler clothing; its popularity eventually led McGinty to open a small mill specializing in the production of linsey-woolsey. Through the money she made from her linen operation, McGinty opened an ordinary (a combination hotel, restaurant, and tavern) sometime between 1786 and 1787.

Few if any of McGinty’s accomplishments as an enterprising woman on the frontier would have been possible without the labor of people her family enslaved. Like many business owners in Kentucky before the Civil War, the McGintys relied upon chattel slavery to operate their mill and the ordinary. Although many of these enslaved people’s names have been lost to history, their efforts—both involuntary and uncompensated— to establish and maintain new industries and businesses in Mercer County helped to put the settlement on a path to success and served as a foundation for other businesses, all of which were necessary precursors for Kentucky statehood in 1792.

Jane Coomes had a similar story to that of Anne Pogue McGinty in terms of the ambition she demonstrated upon arrival in frontier Kentucky. Coomes left Charles County, Maryland, with her husband, William Coomes, and arrived at Ford Harrod in September 1775. Better educated in an era that often afforded few educational opportunities to women, Coomes decided shortly thereafter that she wanted to start a school. Rudimentary by today’s standards, one-room frontier schools were commonly built of logs, had desks and seating made from long planks of wood, and featured floors made of dirt. The curriculum and instructional supplies were equally modest. Coomes employed Dilworth’s Spelling-book, Improved: A New Guide to the English Tongue and the New Testament of the Bible as textbooks for her students. Pupils used bits of charcoal and pine shingles for writing. Later, the curriculum eventually included geography and basic arithmetic. After the children learned to read, they would study the Bible and hymnbooks.

Jane Coomes is also sometimes credited with being the first Anglo-American settler to manufacture salt in Kentucky, having journeyed to Drennon Springs in Henry County for that purpose. After nine years at Fort Harrod and participation in fighting along the Kentucky frontier during the Revolutionary War period, the Coomes Family moved again in 1784, this time to Nelson County.
The historical marker reads:


HARRODSBURG [left panel]

1774 – Laid off as Harrodstown by James Harrod and companions. First permanent English settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains.
1776 – Virginia Legislature formed Kentucky County, the area now Commonwealth of Kentucky; named Harrodsburg seat of government.
1777 – First Court held in the area.
1780 – Virginia Legislature divided Kentucky County into Lincoln, Fayette and Jefferson Counties with Harrodsburg seat of Lincoln County government.
1785 – Virginia Legislature formed Mercer County out of Lincoln, the area shown on map, which was the same when Kentucky became a state in 1792. Harrodsburg was continued as the county seat.

[map of early Mercer County, middle panel]

[untitled, right panel]

Here was the center of organization that held the Northwest against outside attack. George Rogers Clark planned campaign of 1778. Hdqrs. of Col. John Bowman, military commander of Kentucky County, 1775 to 1780. Stations shown on map were defense against Indians.
Mercer County FIRSTS in Kentucky:
1774 – Kentucky’s first settlement. James Harmon's corn crop.
1775 – Rev. John Lythe's services. Dr. George Hart, physician.
1776 – Mrs. Jane Coomes' school. William Poage's plow and loom. Ann McGinty's linsey-woolsey. Wheat sown, reaped
1777 – John Cowan's census.
1782 – Capt. McMurtry's grist mill.
1783 – Horse racing. Humble's "Race Paths"; Jail; Road to Squire Boone's Station "viewed" and opened.



Mercer County Courthouse 224 S. Main St. Harrodsburg, KY 40330