A few weeks ago, I published a post about my very moving visit to Oxmoor Farm for the Shifting the Narrative discussion. There was so much to cover from that visit, that I knew I would need to break the visit into two posts. Finally, I present to you part 2. Please enjoy a little bit of history regarding the Bullitt Family and Oxmoor Farm.
From the Beginning
Many early Kentucky families begin their stories in Virginia, and the same is true of the Bullitt family. Actually, the Bullett (original spelling of the name) family dates back to 1685, when Benjamin, a French Huguenot, arrived in Maryland County. His son, also named Benjamin, moved to Fauquier County, Virginia where he married Elizabeth Harrison. He and Elizabeth had five children. Two of those children were Thomas and Cuthbert.
Cuthbert was a leading lawyer who later became a judge of the Virginia Supreme Court. His brother, Thomas, was a soldier and surveyor of the westward lands. Thomas served as a captain in Colonel George Washington‘s Virginia regiment in the French and Indian War, and later when the Revolutionary War began, he saw action at a strategic bridge near Norfolk, Virginia held by Lord Dunmore‘s forces.
In 1761, Alexander Scott Bullitt – the future Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky (1800-1804) – was born in Prince William County, Virginia, to Cuthbert and Helen Scott Bullitt.
Like Father, Like Son… Not Quite
Cuthbert, wanted – more like expected – Alexander to follow in his footsteps. Alexander’s early schooling set him on the path to becoming a lawyer too. Alexander, however, did not have any interest in law. After hearing amazing stories of his Uncle Thomas’s adventures out west, Alexander chose to follow in his uncle’s footsteps instead, and in 1783, Alexander moved to Kentucky.
Alexander first settled in what is now Shelby County. It was a brief stay, as it was a very unsettled and isolated area, subject to Indian attacks. Alexander had heard about a town that his Uncle Thomas had surveyed in 1773. It was at the Falls of the Ohio. (This town would later be named Louisville by the Virginia legislature in 1800.) Alexander headed in that direction, and in 1787, he purchased 1,000 acres just 9 miles south of the Falls to begin his farm. He chose the name Oxmoor from the fictional farm in the book Tristram Shandy, which first appeared in 1759 by the writer Laurence Sterne.
A Move toward Politics
In 1784, Alexander became an officer in the local militia, and met with others at Danville in a convention that first moved toward a separation from Virginia.
Then, in 1785, Alexander married Priscilla Christian, the youngest daughter of Colonel William and Anne Henry Christian. Colonel Christian was Alexander’s neighbor. He owned Bullitt’s Lick tract that had been named after Alexander’s uncle, and Anne Henry Christian’s brother was Patrick Henry. While Alexander and Priscilla loved each other, it was a marriage that benefitted Alexander politically. Starting in 1792, he was elected to serve as a member of the first and second Kentucky Constitutional Conventions. He also served as one of the first State Senators until 1799, and became Kentucky’s first Lieutenant Governor in 1800.
A County named Bullitt
In 1796, the General Assembly passed an act creating a new county out of Jefferson and Nelson counties. On January 1, 1797, a new county was created and was officially named Bullitt, after Alexander.
Building a Home and a Family
In 1791, Alexander and Priscilla built their frontier colonial home, and quickly filled it with four children. They had two sons named Cuthbert and William Christian, and two daughters named Annie C. Bullitt and Helen Scott (Bullitt) Massie.
They also focused on their farm; growing hemp, tobacco, and corn. In 1787, Alexander owned twenty-three slaves that were used to run his farm, and by 1814 he had between 65 and 80 slaves working on the property between the farm and the house.
In 1810, he was the second largest slave owner in Jefferson County. He was “master of a showplace plantation and a member of the economic and political elite.” (Slave Life at Oxmoor by A. Young and J. Hudson)
In 1804, Alexander retired from politics and returned to his Oxmoor Farm. Shortly after, in 1806, Priscilla passed away. He soon remarried a widow by the name of Mary Churchill Prather. With Mary, he added two more children to the household. Together he and Mary had a son named Thomas James and a daughter, Mary “Polly” Bullitt.
Alexander passed away in 1816 and was buried in the Bullitt Family Cemetery at Oxmoor.
The 2nd Bullitt Generation at Oxmoor
Upon Alexander’s death, William Christian (Alexander and Priscilla’s youngest son) and his wife Matilda Ann Fry Bullitt, took over Oxmoor Farm as the master and mistress of the plantation. William focused on hemp and corn as his father had done, as well as garden produce, cattle, horses for transportation, and draft horses for farming.
Having eight children, William had a 1st floor brick addition added in 1829 to the back of his father’s colonial home, ultimately changing the direction the home faced. What had been the front of the home was now the back. With the new addition, his father’s home could no longer be seen from the drive.
The original home would become bedrooms and the new addition would include an entrance hall flanked by a dining room and parlor. A passageway would connect the old section to the new section. The new addition was built in the Federal Style of the period.
As I toured the Oxmoor home that night, it was literally like walking through time. I entered the home from the backdoor, which was originally the front door of the colonial section. Architecturally, I was reminded of the William Whitley home that had been built in the same time period. The trim on the stairs was very intricate, the ceilings were low, the rooms were small, and the woodwork was stained (not painted).
As soon as you step out of the original section into the “passageway” you can feel the transition. Looking into the entryway of the addition, everything opens up and becomes larger. The ceilings are taller, the rooms larger, woodwork painted, and light fixtures showing wealth.
I had fast-forwarded 50 years in just a few steps. I had never experienced anything like this in any other historical home I had visited. It was a very unique experience. Taking a few more steps, and it happened again! But this time, it was like time traveling 100 years.
The 3rd Bullitt Generation at Oxmoor
In 1863, due to dwindling slave labor and three of their sons fighting in the Civil War, William and Matilda closed Oxmoor house, rented out the land, and moved into Louisville. They never return to their home. William passed away in Lyndon in 1877, and Mildred in 1879. Upon William’s death, the Oxmoor land was divided among his six surviving children.
It was not until 1909 that Oxmoor house was opened again, and this time under the ownership of William Marshall Bullitt, William Christian Bullitt’s grandson.
William Marshall had begun buying parcels of land from family members in 1906, but it took time to put the pieces back together and to make the house livable again. In 1909, he moved in and a Bullitt family member has lived in the house ever since.
Adding on… Again
In 1916, William Marshall has a new wing added to the home that would include a kitchen and servants’ quarters.
In 1926, the second story was added to the brick addition, and in 1928 a second wing was added to the other end of the home. The second wing would house William Marshall Bullitt’s 60′ x 28′ library, along with an office.
The architecture of this section shows the Gilded Age of elegance and wealth. The walls and woodwork are painted green, a sign of wealth, as it was extremely expensive to mix this shade of green.
The library houses 10,000 books and is the largest personally owned library in the state.
Walking through this home was like walking a timeline through history. It was the most unique home I had seen. It was like three homes in one, and I could relate a historical home to each section of this home.
On this evening, the tour was self-guided and did not cover the other outbuildings on the property. I was so moved by the whole experience – the home and the Slave Dwelling Project – that I have every intention of returning for a full tour and taking my daughter with me. It will likely be this coming summer. While Oxmoor Farm is now giving tours, the family does still live on the property, so tours are very limited and must be scheduled in advance. Scheduled tours are the 1st Thursday of each month at 10am and 2pm. You can also fill out a form on their website for select Saturday tours.
I did not visit the Bullitt Family Cemetery on this evening. The cemetery actually sits across the street from the property near the mall that carries the property name. I have passed the cemetery many times, but this is the first time it all means something to me. I will definitely visit the cemetery when I make a visit to the home this coming summer.
If you have not had the opportunity to see this property in Jefferson County, I highly recommend that you do. You won’t regret it.