The Life and Times of
Joseph Cottle: c1834

Written and Contributed by
Darryl O. (Doc) Cottle

This needs some slight setup to put it into proper context. In my Kentucky History class the teacher assigned us a paper to write wherein we were to assume the identity of someone from the past living in 1834 in Kentucky, one of the years that Cholera became a big problem. We were to give an account of our life, citing how we came to Kentucky and our impressions of the place, how our family grew, etc.

I used this as the perfect excuse to collate my genealogical research into my paternal family history. I looked through all of my material and created a sort of snap shot of how my great great great grandfather Joseph Cottle's family was in August of 1834, then plugged in attitudes and impressions I've gained from various relatives, my father, uncles, etc, plus some of my own as well as impressions gained from studying the history of the period. I incorporated all of the actual facts I have been able to document and then included the incidents in the accounts the family has handed down (unproven incidents couldn't be included in a research paper), then wove them together into a plausible (although technically partially fictional) account of how the various events fit together. This is how it turned out.

August of 1834

Word came today that a suspected case of Cholera has turned up in West Liberty, which is just four miles downriver from us here in our little bend of Licking River. From what I have heard about this disease it is terrible, killing more than half of those who catch it. Therefore I intend to pack up the family and prepare to flee to the high country south of here should this news turn out to be the truth. I fear no man but men I can persuade to my opinion or fight, if necessary. But I can't fight a disease.

From what I've read about Cholera the doctors have little better luck than I would have. Nothing seems to work in a consistent fashion to cure this disease and some of the remedies that have been tried are likely worse than the disease itself is.

During previous years, when Cholera was spreading throughout the country, our section wasn't bothered. I suspect that that will be the case this year as well but will not risk the life of my family on a supposition. This is the first year that it has gotten this close, if, in fact, it is Cholera.

I would like to put down my experiences and impressions of Kentucky for any who might come to my cabin should these circumstances force me to move my family and keep us from returning. This will give me a chance to clear up some misundertandings that have persisted about my past that I would just as soon not face my maker without explaining, when that occurs.

My name is Joseph Cottle. I turned 62 years this last March 17th. I was born in either Augusta or Batetourt County of Virginia. The county boundaries were changing so often and it was so long ago that I'm no longer certain. The area later was to became Greenbrier county. My wife is the former Nancy Nickell, daughter of Isaac Nickell and Margaret Curry Nickell. Her grandfather, John Nickell, came here from Ireland, from the part known as Ulster, in County Tyrone near the village of Gortin.

My father's name was Uriah and my mother was Elisabeth. Of their parents I know nothing nor do I know when or where they were married. My father came here from Somerset, England, and would never discuss the circumstances except to say that it wasn't his choice. He came to love this land though.

Folks in these parts say that I was brought from England and fought in the revolution under General Anthony Wayne. This is not true, although I did fight the Maumee Indians in the Ohio country under General Wayne. I have not denied it over much since the story seems to raise people's regard for me and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Nancy's father and all of her paternal uncles fought in the revolution and my half-brothers did as well. Whether Nancy's Curry uncles did, I do not know. My oldest half-brother, Charles Jedidiah Cottle, lost his life in that war and my other half-brother, Charles William Cottle, became heir to his land warrants.

Folks also say that I was a hero in the revolution. As I've already explained I did not fight in that war. Nor did I fight in the war of 1812. I applied for a pension last year and the year before for my service in the army but was turned down both times. It would seem that fighting the British over who will control the common people is more important than fighting the heathen, who were out to exterminate us. It just does not make any sense that a man should serve his country and not get his just rewards for doing so.

People have said that I fought with Boone at the Battle of Blue Licks but that is untrue as well. I was in Greenbrier County at that time living in the home of the man that I was bound out to when young. His name was George Gray and his wife's name was Mary. He was a hatter, a trade which I was to learn. I wound up being a farmer though, after my time in the Kentucky militia fighting the Maumees.

The only possibly heroic thing I can think of that I did do was when a big Negro broke into the Gray home when I was but eleven years old at a time when the Missus and I were alone in the cabin. He attacked Mrs. Gray and I attempted to fight him off but he threw me in a corner and continued to attack her. He beat her quite badly and was about to force himself upon her but I recovered enough to attack him once again. He pinned me between his knees and was really battering me good when I got a chance to bite him on his thigh. I bit good and hard and didn't turn loose 'til he jumped up and knocked me away and ran from the cabin, screaming in pain. He was caught later on and they brought him to trial in Greenbrier court twice. The first time Mrs. Gray was still too badly hurt to appear but the second time she appeared and I did as well as a witness for her and Mr. Gray. They positively identified him from my bite mark on his thigh and the court sentenced him to be hanged, which sentence was carried out about ten days later.

All of this happened in 1783. I continued to live in the Gray household until I left with a party for Kentucky some six years later. Living with them was an exciting time for me. The Indians were constantly lurking about and there were wolves to be wary of. One time I spent the night in a tree, having been chased up it by a pack of wolves. Another time I went out for the horses and was lucky enough to see that Indians had them and were waiting on me to fetch them so they could catch me as well, but I saw them just in time to avoid getting caught. Another time my dog got the scent of an Indian that was hiding behind a log and gave me enough warning that I escaped being attacked.

About six years later I left the Greenbrier area and went to Fayette county in that part of Virginia that was beyond the mountains. It is a very beautiful land of gently rolling hills and wide valleys with a lot of wooded land and much game to hunt. It made me a bit lonesome for the hillier country that I grew up in. The area was growing very quickly. Merchants were putting up stores and they were getting shipments by way of Boone's trace and down the Ohio and up the Kentucky rivers and the people were already starting to get citified, as my father would have put it. He had little use for cities and even less for lawyers and I've come to feel the same way. I worked around the town of Lexington helping raise buildings and clear the stumps out of the streets and whatever other work that came to hand.

In 1790 a man named William Vaughn was getting drafted into the army for a three month tour of duty and I substituted for him. After being discharged I decided that this was a pretty good life and volunteered for various terms for the next three years.

Initially I was in General Harmer's army and we fought the Maumee Indians on the north side of the Ohio river. We suffered a very bad defeat on one occasion. They routed us and I barely got away without being killed. While we were still engaged the men on either side of me were shot dead and, when the order was given to retreat, we ran as hard as we could back the way we had come. I was following one man who was running very fast but he exhausted himself and fell back behind me. Shortly after I heard him yell and looked back to see an Indian in the process of tommahawking him. I was getting to the edge of a very steep hill and thought I was a goner but an officer came along on a very fine horse and I grabbed its tail and held on as the three of us went up the side of the hill. The officer threatened to cut my arm off if I did not let go but I wasn't about to tumble back down into those Indians and he did not cut my arm off afterall. We got up to the top of the hill, I let go, and he rode off.

I was in the army various times up through 1793 at which time Mad Anthony Wayne was the commanding general. I was in the Kentucky militia, which was under the command of Major General Charles Scott, and was a part of Lieutenant Colonel Horatio Hall's regiment and in Captain John Hall's company.

At one point another private and I were dispatched to Fort Washington and we had an encounter with Indians which I think is worth relating here. We came upon an empty cabin and crawled up in the loft to sleep but were soon awakened by ten Indians who came in, built a fire, and sat down around it. We were both edging around in the loft, trying to hear what they were saying, when the boards gave way beneath us and we fell right in the middle of them. It scared them so badly that they ran away, leaving their guns and game behind them. We laughingly called it "The Battle of the Boards" and darned if the army didn't put it down like that when we got to Fort Washington and reported it!

But then I found out that some fool who hadn't been aware of my having been dispatched to Fort Washington had put me down as a deserter! This upset me very much and I took my 51 dollars for my 51 days of service on that tour of duty and ended my army career forthwith. The following year General Wayne and the army inflicted a crushing defeat on the Indians at the Battle of the Fallen Timbers and a year later they signed a peace treaty that pretty much ended Kentucky's troubles with them.

I returned to Lexington after mustering out but it just wasn't as good a place for me anymore. It was continuing to grow and had been the provisional capital of the brand new state of Kentucky briefly and was filling up with people from all over. Also the children of those who first settled in the area had all the best of the land and they were already beginning to act as if they were better than the rest of us. Here I was up in the Ohio country doing the same thing that their fathers had done to win Lexington and the rest of Kentucky from the Indians and they acted as if they were better than me.

I started thinking of my boyhood days in Greenbrier. I had acquired a bit of land in Fayette county but it wasn't very good land, so I swapped it for a horse, dog, bridle, saddle, and gun and made my way back to my birthplace. My paw had died long before I left for Lexington, not very long after I was bound to the Grays, and maw had inherited the homeplace. I stayed with her and helped my brother John work the place.

We lived not very far from Isaac and Margaret Nickell's place and they had a couple of daughters that were growing up to marrying age. John had his heart set on Rebecca and I was watching her kid sister, Nancy. She was already showing that she would be a fine looking woman and she made it very obvious that she really liked me. She was devoted to her sister and, as time passed we discussed the possibility of having a double wedding sometime down the road. Then John and Becky jumped the gun on us, getting married in January of 1799.

Nancy wasn't even fourteen yet and her parents were dead set on having us wait until she was somewhat older. That was when I discovered just how stubborn Nancy was. Day after day and week after week she was after them to let us get married and by late March they agreed to having the banns posted and, on May 7th, after the waiting period was over, Reverend John Alderson solemnized our marriage.

Early the next year she gave me a son that we named Uriah for my paw. John and Becky were of the opinion that we should have waited until she was fifteen and so wouldn't have much to do with us. This hurt Nancy quite a lot, since she and Rebecca had been so close, but there wasn't aught to be done about it. I had my first encounter with a census taker that year (1800).

Our next child was a daughter and Nancy insisted on naming her Rebecca. Two years later Isaac, named after her father, was born and he was followed in 1809 by David.

We were on the way to settling in on the Greenbrier for good, what with three sons and a daughter, and John and Becky and Nancy and I finally making our peace with each other, but it wasn't to be. A man I'll never forget, or forgive, brought action against me for something I no longer recall. His name was Michael Bright.

I decided then and there that it was getting too citified for me around the area and began to remember and long for those stretches of Kentucky that had not as yet been spoiled. And early the following year the census taker came around once again. This was after I was put on the tax lists practically every year since we had gotten married. Bothersome! So I packed us up and we headed for the eastern edge of the area that people called "the Bluegrass."

We settled on Slate Creek in Montgomery County where we were promptly added to yet another tax list! We had been there for less than a year when the Slate Creek residents and others nearby decided that they wanted to be in their own county and, having been through a county formation once before, when Monroe was formed from Greenbrier, I decided it was time to move again. When their nibs begin actions like this they can always find aplenty for others to do, and I preferred to do for myself and my family instead.

We packed up what we had and proceeded down Slate Creek to its junction with the Licking River and then went up it into Floyd County. When the area four miles up the river from what is now West Liberty first came into view I knew that I was home! It is the prettiest stretch of land I have ever seen. For about three miles the valley is over a mile wide and the river flows slowly around in wide horseshoe bends and the land is mostly very flat. It grows corn taller than a man can reach and there are apple and birch trees and much game to hunt.

I picked a spot annent a natural spring with the most pure and cold water that I've ever had the luck to drink. There is a range of low hills on either side and right there, on a small hill in the bend, is where I built our cabin.

In 1812 we had a second girl that we named Margaret, after Nancy's mother, and two years later Nancy was heavy with child again and soon gave birth to Robert. He is still living at home though he has intentions of marrying Hannah Day before the year is out.

My land eventually ran to over a thousand acres of this great farming region and I hope to pass it on to my sons. In 1817 Nancy gave birth to Elisabeth, named after my mother, and two years later had Mary.

Then I had my third encounter with a census taker in 1820. This was bothersome but the man said that it was government law so I answered all of his questions to the best of my ability. In 1822 James, our youngest, was born.

So we've lived here on the Licking river these last 23 years and our children have given us 18 grandchildren, and four of them boys to carry on my name. Robert, Mary, and James are still at home with us. Uriah and his wife, Cynthia Ann, daughter of Ambrose Jones, a founder member of the Burning Springs Association of Old Regular Baptist churches which we all belong to, have five children. Rebecca married James Fugett and they have seven children. Isaac married Lucinda Lewis and they haven't any children as yet but are still young and should remedy that situation in time. David married Melinda Lewis, who is Lucinda's aunt, though younger than her, and they have a boy and a girl. Margaret married Samuel Elam and they have three children. Elisabeth married Henry Howard and they have a boy and another child on the way.

The census taker showed up again in 1830. Damned government laws! I think when they show up from now on I'll head for the hills 'til they go.

Word has just arrived that we do, in fact, have a case of Cholera in West Liberty so we will be leaving very soon now for more remote country and away from people as much as it is possible these days to do so. It wasn't until Jim was three years old that West Liberty was founded and it had no more than 50 people as recently as 1830. But that's still too many to take a chance on exposing my family to.

I must take care of my family so we're leaving but this bothers me greatly. They can't cure this disease. They can't develop the land. But they can make us leave and even take away that which we have worked for with the stroke of a quill. They cleaned Boone out. Nearly did the same to Jim Harrod. The effort of years or even decades of sweat and strain, and even danger from the Indians and the elements is as nothing when civilized man arrives.

Once this disease scare is finally over I will bring the family back here but, if they want to try their hands further west they will surely have my blessing.

Joseph Cottle


Uriah had a large family, became a widower and wed a second time and had another large family, some of whom eventually moved to West Virginia. David also had a large family and was elected to the State assembly in 1849. Isaac and Lucinda never did have any children. After Joseph's death in 1852 Robert and Hannah loaded up an oxcart with their belongings and children and moved to Kansas and a grandson of theirs wound up a Marshall in the Oklahoma Territory. My ancestor, James F. Cottle, married Elizabeth Peyton, daughter of Daniel Peyton and Anna "Nancy" Perry. Nancy's parents were Daniel Perry and Elizabeth Nickell, a first cousin to Jim's mother. Thus his wife was not only his mother's daughter-in-law but was also her first cousin twice removed.

Copyright ©1997, 2003 by Darryl O. Cottle. All rights reserved. Used by permission.