By: Harold McFarland
Originally Published: November 5, 2009 in the Boone County Recorder
It was Monday, 9 a.m., in the middle of August. The forecast for the week was for the temperature to exceed 90 degrees each day– and I had the week off. Perfect!
I packed my lunch, collected the tools of my trade– several pens, a couple of legal pads, and a magnifying glass–and drove toward the Boone County Records’ Office. I shivered in anticipation of the day’s discoveries: it would be Daniel Boone’s “long hunt”; it was Mel Fisher’s dive on the Atocha!
When I entered the records’ room, Stacy and Wanda greeted me and shoved the sign-in sheet in my direction. They knew my routine and my love for this world that once was – the nether land of ancient manuscripts, of wills and deeds, of marriage licenses and suits.
Today, after signing in, I began my descent into the dank, musty basement, into the 18th and 19th centuries. My current goal was to try to trace the history of my farm back as far as possible. On an earlier visit, I had found that there had been only five families since 1859 who had owned this farm, but I was determined to push on past the 1859 purchase of my acreage by William Huey from John Marshall.
I worked my way slowly through those dust- covered boxes of hand-written documents, and with every piece of paper I pulled out, I expected success. No such luck.
The next day, having once again packed a sandwich, I headed toward the records’ room in Burlington. As I signed in and began to traverse the stairs to the world of William S. Huey, John Marshall, et al., I salivated much like an animal anticipating its next meal. By 11:00 a.m., I had worked my way back to an exciting but somewhat confusing document: an indenture made May 14, 1845 conveying to John Marshall and his heirs a tract of land consisting of 62,781 acres lying in Western Boone County, land conveyed to the deceased Obadiah Smith through patent by the Commonwealth of Kentucky, November 20, 1804.
Seeing Marshall’s name mentioned frequently in these brittle records reminded me of Boone County’s oldest farrier and blacksmith, my dear friend Harry Stephens, who died recently at the age of 89. At one point during our many conversations, he had told me that John Marshall was his great- grandfather.
If John Marshall had, indeed, won over 62000 acres in court, why had Harry not mentioned that? Why wasn’t Harry rich?
I felt the best place to look for some answers was in Marshall’s will; and after a few days of my escaping the searing August heat, the records’ room relinquished its hold on his hand-written will: he had given his offspring several hundred dollars, as well as 100 plus acres of land.
What about the 62,000 acres? If it wasn’t delineated in the will and if, in fact, Marshall gave only a few hundred dollars to his children, how does one explain the disappearance of all that land? Is it possible that there was more than one John Marshall during this same time period and place and, therefore, another avenue to explore regarding the missing land? Does it, perhaps, mean that this 1804 patent granting Obadiah Smith 62,781 and ½ acres and conveyed to John Marshall in 1845 is still in force? Could the descendants of Marshall, unbeknownst to them, still own much of Western Boone County?
I’m sure it will take me many more trips to the records’ room basement to unravel this mystery – but in January when the mercury dips toward zero and the earth is heavy with snow, I’ll once again pack my lunch and immerse myself in the world of long ago, a world which gives up its secrets ever so slowly—if at all.