Preston, Floyd, and Breckinridge; Revolutionary Names are a Link to the Past (Part 1)

I happened to be on my way to a DAR meeting the other morning, but I wanted to get a one-hour walk in before going. Based on where I was and where I was headed, I decided to swing by Brown Park in the St. Matthew’s area of Louisville to complete the task. I wasn’t on a “history hunt,” as I have now come to call my outings. I simply was out to get some exercise on a cool, beautiful Kentucky morning. As I have also come to experience on more than one occasion, history just happened to find me.

I was walking along one of the many paths within the park, came around a corner, and found a moderately tall brick wall. I knew it was a cemetery as soon as I saw it. Of course, I had to stop and take pictures. I finished quickly and returned to my walk, but as I did I pulled out my phone to Google “the cemetery in Brown Park.” Many links appeared, so I waited until I returned home later that day to finish my search.

Brown Cemetery Wall / Personal Photo

The Brown Family leads to More History

Upon returning home, I jumped right into my research. I learned that the Brown Family was buried within the brick walls of the Brown Park Cemetery. Being a born and raised Louisvillian, the Brown name was not a surprise. I continued my research because the Brown Family is a rather large family with significant Louisville history. I came across a newsletter that had been written in 2020 by what seemed to be someone within the St. Matthew’s city government. The article discussed the Brown Family as well as other historical families within the area. I highlighted, made notes, and texted my dad. I knew this would be a hunt he would enjoy. This “history hunt” wasn’t likely to be a beautiful home surrounded by beautiful gardens. This “history hunt” was going to be off the beaten path, hidden and maybe hard to find. This was right up his alley! We set a date and time to meet, and off we went searching for history. We found more than I ever expected. (We will come back to the Brown Family in another post…. stay tuned!)

Colonel John Floyd (1750-1783)

Colonel James John Floyd / Image CreditL Find A Grave

James John Floyd was born in Albemarle County, Virginia in 1750 to William and Abadiah Floyd as one of nine children. While little is known about his childhood or his education, the diary that he kept shows that he did receive a higher level of education than most young men during that time.

His penmanship was legible and his spelling almost flawless, something quite extraordinary during the Eighteen Century. …[H]is education seems to have been entirely of a practical nature, encompassing only the three Rs. There is nothing to indicate that he received any of the classical learning so popular in that day.

Anna M. Cartlidge

Knowing the importance of land acquisition in the 1700s, Floyd decided in 1770 to go to work for Colonel William Preston to become a land surveyor. It was a very well-paid position at the time and was seen as a gentlemanly profession. Before being hired for the surveyor position, however, Colonel Preston required Floyd to take on the role of School Master for 6 months to prove his “temper, diligence, habits, and trust-worthiness” (Anna Cartlidge). Floyd took the School Master position with Breckinridges, Smiths, and Colonel Preston’s children as his students.

After his 6 month probation period was complete, Floyd was hired on in a clerical role in the Surveyor’s Office. On August 11, 1772, Colonel Preston secured a new role for Floyd. He was commissioned as the Assistant Surveyor of Botetourt County from the President and Masters of the College of William and Mary at Williamsburg, VA. This role came to him because of his level of education. He was regarded highly, regardless of his young age, for his ability to read and write in a time when most men could not.

A New County is Created

Shortly after his commission with Botetourt County, the Virginia legislature divided the county. From Botetourt County they created Fincastle County. The new county included today’s Kentucky, West Virginia, and the counties of Washington and Montgomery in Virginia.

Colonel Preston was appointed Sheriff and Surveyor of the new county. Floyd was also commissioned as one of four Deputy Sheriffs and one of six Deputy Surveyors for Fincastle County.

With the new appointment came a new job. In 1774, Colonel Preston led three parties of surveyors headed by John Floyd, Hancock Taylor, and James Douglas into current day Kentucky. Their job was to lay out tracks of land that would be given to officers that had land warrants from their service in the French and Indian War. The parties were gone for four months, covering eleven hundred miles and surveying over fifty thousand acres.

They visited the Bullitt’s Lick area where James Douglas surveyed 1000 acres for William Christian which included the salt lick.

The bullitt county history museum

The three parties ran into issues with American Indian tribes in the area including the Shawnee. Floyd and his crew were determined to complete their job however and continued on to the Falls of the Ohio. Along the way, Floyd surveyed off a tract of land for himself along the nearby Beargrass Creek. From there, they worked their way south to the Salt River. Upon discovering a beautiful branch off of the mouth of the river, the men named it Floyd’s River to honor their young and popular leader. Today, we know Floyd’s River as Floyd’s Fork. The area most popularly known is The Parklands of Floyd’s Fork.

Present Day Floyd’s Fork within The Parklands / Personal Photos

Virginia, Kentucky, and England

After more difficulties with the American Indians, Floyd and his men returned to Virginia. Floyd quickly raised a militia company in preparation for an ensuing battle against the Shawnee. Floyd joined the Point Pleasant Expedition, serving as Captain in Colonel William Christian‘s Regiment. He was spared from fighting in the Battle of Point Pleasant (what some consider the first Battle of the American Revolution) as the regiment arrived a few hours too late.

In 1775, Floyd returned back to Kentucky to continue his surveying, first establishing a camp later known as St. Asaph, and then serving as a surveyor and land agent for Richard Henderson’s Transylvania Company at Fort Boonesborough where he later helped save Jemima Boone and the Callaway girls from the Shawnee and Cherokee.

Fincastle County was abolished in December of 1776, so Floyd was forced to return to Virginia. Not able to find a job as a surveyor:

he embarked on a privateering enterprise, cruised extensively and destroyed much British shipping, but was made a prisoner and with his partner, Col. Radford of Bedford County, Virginia, was taken to Dartsmouth, England, and imprisoned for nearly a year; was assisted to escape by his jailor’s wife who had a brother in America and sympathized with the American cause, and was sent across the English Channel to France in a small vessel owned by a relative of the jailor’s wife. Benjamin Franklin, then American agent in France, aided him to return to America.

Genealogy Trails

A Marriage and a Return to Kentucky

Upon his return to America, Floyd went to the home of his dear friend Colonel Preston. It was there that he was reintroduced to Miss Jane Buchanan, one of his previous students from his time as a School Master.

Jane Buchanan was the daughter of Colonel Preston’s cousin, John Buchanan and granddaughter of Colonel James Patton, a pioneer-settler of the Valley of Virginia. Patton was killed by the Indians at Smithfield around 1738 and Buchanan died suddenly in 1769. With both her father and grandfather dead, Jane became the ward of Colonel Preston.

Jane was still living with Colonel Preston when Floyd came to visit. True love blossomed with the young lady (she was only 19 years old compared to Floyd’s 28 years of age), Floyd quickly proposed to Ms. Buchanan, and they married in 1778.

The Virginia Land Act of 1779 brought back the need for surveyors in Kentucky, so Floyd packed up his wife, his newborn child, William Preston Floyd, and his slave named Bob, and headed out to the frontier. In November 1779, Floyd and his young family arrived on the land he had claimed in 1774 along Beargrass Creek in present day Jefferson County. He quickly recruited settlers to help him construct a small fort including cabins and a stockade to be known as Floyd’s Station.

By the Spring of 1780, Floyd had convinced other pioneer settlers to construct forts along Beargrass, often times leasing his land to the pioneers for the stations. These stations became increasingly necessary as American Indian attacks had increased. In a short amount of time, there were at least 600 men living in the stations along Beargrass Creek. (More about these stations in an upcoming post.)

Left: John Filson‘s First Map of Kentucky, 1784 / Right: Zoomed in Section of Filson’s Map highlighting the Stations built along Beargrass Creek. / Image Credit: Kentucky Historical Society

“Hardly one week passes without someone being scalped between this (Beargrass) and and the Falls and I have almost got too cowardly to travel about the woods without company,” wrote John [Floyd in his diary]. Even traveling in large parties was no guarantee of safety.

Anna M. Cartlidge

Jefferson County and General Clark

In June 1780, the Virginia General Assembly abolished and then split Kentucky County into three new counties; Fayette, Jefferson, and Lincoln. (These new counties would continue to be a part of Virginia until Kentucky became a state in 1792.) With the Jefferson County newly created, the General Assembly was eager to have the settlement of Louisville – founded in 1778 by George Rogers Clark and named after King Louis XVI of France – officially laid out and a town established. Clark recruited John Floyd as one of the seven Board of Trustees given the power to lay out the town.

In 1780, he was appointed a trustee to establish Transylvania College, the first in Kentucky. In 1781, Floyd was appointed surveyor of Jefferson County and the County Lieutenant. In 1782, he was then appointed Judge of the first General Court of the district of Kentucky. Next to George Rogers Clark, Colonel John Floyd was the best known man in Kentucky and likely, the most loved. While he received so many distinctions, Floyd was often unable to perform these duties as he was often pulled away to help fend off American Indian attacks.

Although he always intended to earn his living as a surveyor, the nearly continual raids by northern Indians made life in the Kentucky settlements so precarious that Floyd was forced to spend most of his time in military pursuits. Indeed, in the two years prior to his death, he often served under General George Rogers Clark, and always with distinction.

“In a dangerous situation”: Letters of Col. John Floyd, 1774-1783

An Expanded Family

On April 29, 1781, Jane Buchanan Floyd gave birth to another son to be added to the Floyd family. This son was named George Rogers Clark Floyd. G.R.C. Floyd would go on to become a Colonel of the 4th Infantry in the United States Army and distinguish himself at the Battle of Tippecanoe.

George Rogers Clark Floyd, Born in Jefferson County, Virginia, 1781 / Image Credit: GENI

By the Spring of 1783, Jane was expecting again and Floyd was excited about his expanding family. Feeling more positive about how things were going in Kentucky since the Revolutionary War had ended and Indian raids had largely ceased, he was preparing to move his family outside of the stockades where he could build a larger cabin for them and fill it with furniture.

Shattered Plans

Sometime in late March/early April of 1783, the Floyd family suffered their first loss. John and Jane’s first son, William Preston Floyd contracted smallpox and died. (An exact date is not known, but using Floyd’s diaries and letters, an approximate date can be concluded, sometime between March 28th and April 8th.) Shortly after the loss of their son, the Floyd family suffered another tragic loss.

On April 8, John Floyd, his brother Charles, Captain Alexander Breckinridge, and a few others were traveling together to the saltworks at Bullitt’s Lick. They were expecting no trouble; indeed John Floyd was wearing a bright scarlet cloak, a tempting target for would-be attackers.

About a mile south of Brooks Spring, where the Wilderness Road crossed a branch of Brooks Run, shots rang out. One shot dropped Charles Floyd’s horse; another struck John Floyd. Charles, seeing his brother in trouble, sprang up behind him and fled the scene. According to one report, the two brothers made it back to the Fishpools where Colonel Moore had a cabin. However, John Floyd’s wound was fatal, and he died two days later.

Bullitt County History

Historians are not sure why Colonel Floyd and his small group of men were headed to Bullitt’s Lick that fateful day. They do believe it was for a special occasion of some form, because Floyd was wearing his scarlet red wedding coat. One possibility is that he was traveling there, in his role as Judge, to hold court.

Samuel Wells, one of the men with them, rode back to Floyd’s Station to bear the bad news to Jane. Later that evening, John Floyd’s body was returned to the Station. In his Will he requested to be buried on the knoll behind his home. This request was honored. On the day of his burial, Colonel John Floyd received “all the honors of war due his military rank” (Anna M. Cartlidge).

Just twelve days after Colonel John Floyd’s death, Jane gave birth to a third son on April 24th. She named him after his father, James John Floyd Jr. John Floyd, Jr. would eventually marry Letitia Preston (daughter of Colonel Preston), return to Virginia, and become their Governor in 1830. His own son, John Buchanan Floyd would also go on to become the Governor of Virginia, along with the Secretary of War.

Jane Buchanan Floyd Remarries

With the death of her husband, Jane (only 24 years old) was left with two young children and Floyd’s Station, which John had willed to her. (The remainder of his land likely went to his sons which included the stations of Hoagland and New Holland, and thousands of acres in both Kentucky and Virginia.)

It was just a matter of time that Jane would remarry. She was young, caring for two young children, out on the frontier, and no way to go elsewhere.

Soon after Col. Floyd’s death, Captain Alexander Breckinridge obtained the surveyor’s
place in Jefferson County. One year only had elapsed, when three brothers
of the Breckinridges made suit for the hand of the beautiful, rich relict
[widow] of Col. Floyd. Alexander, Robert and William. The preference
was given to Robert. An engagement took place. Robert went to Virginia to
settle some business he had there [and] failed to write or at least his letters
never reached Mrs. Floyd. Meanwhile, Capt. Breckinridge urged his suit,
was successful, and became the husband of Mrs. Floyd.

Letitia Preston Floyd’s “My Dear Rush” Letter

On December 9, 1784, Jane Buchanan Floyd married Captain Alexander Breckinridge who had been with John Floyd when he died. Together they had three sons; James Douglas Breckinridge, Henry Brown Breckinridge, and Robert Breckinridge.

Cpt. Alexander Breckinridge died in 1801 and was buried in the same cemetery with Colonel Floyd. Jane died in 1831 and was buried beside Colonel Floyd “with his scarlet coat wrapped around her” (Anna M. Cartlidge).

From 1806 to 1884, all or parts of fifteen other Kentucky counties were formed from Floyd’s original tract of land.

Explore Kentucky

Our Exploration – The Cemetery

Now, let me take you back to the “history hunt” I was on with my dad. The newsletter I found online mentioned the “Floyd-Breckinridge Cemetery” and a stone spring house being the only two things remaining of Floyd’s Station. I wanted to start there. (The newsletter discussed additional history of the area and we’ll address that in another post, so again… stay tuned.)

I had addresses and street names, so I entered them into my map app and directed my dad where to go. We worked our way into a subdivision right off of Breckinridge Lane. Now, at the time, I didn’t know all the history I just told you above, so I hadn’t made the connection. A few turns later and directly in front of us was a stone wall in between two houses.

Stone Wall surrounding the Floyd-Breckinridge Cemetery / Personal Photo

We walked up the set of stairs on the outside of the wall, stepped over the wall, and down the stairs on the other side. Once inside the walls, we explored the various headstones and tried to tie the pieces together. We both began to note the names…. Floyd, Preston, Breckinridge. All names that are common within Jefferson County.

Without the history context, putting the pieces together was a little tricky, but now with the history, most of the relations make sense.

In addition, we found the headstone of William McAfee. “In 1774, William went with his older brothers James Jr., George, Robert, and Samuel to survey land in Kentucky. The McAfees were one of the first families in Kentucky along with the Harrod family and Daniel Boone…. During the Indian Wars, William was a Captain in General George Clark’s expedition to destroy the Shawnee Indian strongholds along the Ohio River. William McAfee commanded the company raised at Harrodsburg.” To read more about Captain McAfee click here.

Our Exploration – The Spring House

We finished up at the cemetery, thoroughly happy with what we had found. Our next stop was to find the Spring House. It was said to be the only thing remaining from Floyd’s actual Station. We followed the map directions into the nearby apartment complex just a few streets over from the cemetery. At first, I wasn’t really sure it was there. All I saw was a chain link fence, covered in vines and weeds, surrounded by apartments. We parked the truck and got out to take a closer look.

Sure enough, under the vines and weeds was a stone Spring House. Getting as close as we could and trying to peer between the vines, we caught a glimpse of the spring (yes, it’s still providing water), the doorway to the building, the retaining walls built to protect the building, and the roof which had holes in it.

My immediate reaction upon locating the Spring House was like a kid finding a treasure. It was hidden in plain sight and I doubted than many knew it was there, AND if they knew it was there, I really doubted they knew what they were looking at. There was absolutely no signage to mark its existence or its history. How on Earth had we allowed this to happen to a Revolutionary War Historical Site? This Spring House dates to 1779!

I told my dad right then that I would do more research to find out who owned the property and what, if anything, we could do to save and protect this priceless piece of Kentucky history. With holes in the roof and grapevines growing over the walls and roof, damage will quickly be done to the structure.

Upon return home, I searched with no luck of finding the owner of the site. I emailed the City of St. Matthews along with a few connections I have with the Daughters of the American Revolution. At the writing of this post, I have not heard anything from anyone.


Where do I start on this reflection?!?

First, my day with my dad was awesome and I have so many more stories to tell about the additional findings that day. As you see, I couldn’t possibly put them all in this post. There will be many more posts to come.

Second, I absolutely recommend to the history buff that you take time to check out the only two things that remain of Floyd’s Station. You can find the cemetery by searching for it on your map app. I am torn between wanting the cemetery better marked and making more people aware of its history. I mean its a Revolutionary War Cemetery tucked in a subdivision, easily forgotten if its history is not told. At the same time, I know cemeteries without proper gates and locks can often be vandalized, so making it well-known may backfire. (Sad, but true.) I am relieved however to know that the Filson Club knows that it’s there, along with the Sons of the American Revolution, who seem to be caring for the cemetery and marking the veteran’s graves with flags.

Thirdly, I’m disappointed with the condition of the Spring House. I’m not sure why it’s allowed to be in the state it’s in. I am committed to finding out what can be done to save it. My next step is to reach out to the Filson Club, the Kentucky Heritage Council, and anyone else I can think of that might be of help with the endeavor. I also plan to return in the winter when the weeds and vines have died back, to get better pictures of the building.

Fourth, after all my research and putting the story together, I am in awe of Colonel John Floyd. He was so young and yet accomplished so much. Had he survived, he would likely have done great things politically. He was certainly well on his way. He deserves more time in the history books. He’s as equally important as Daniel Boone or James Harrod and yet, we seem to have nearly forgotten him. Ask any fellow Kentuckian who Boone is and they’ll know, but ask about Floyd and I doubt the name will be familiar to them. We need to do better. We also need to do better educating our next generation about our patriotic women, such as Jane Floyd Breckinridge and Rebecca Boone.

Finally, while many of our historic sites from the Revolutionary War period are gone, the names remain. Preston Highway, Prestonburg, Floyd’s Fork, Floydsburg, Floyd County, Breckinridge Lane, Breckinridge County, and more remain as a reminder of the people from a time gone by. The very people who deserve to be remembered, who’s story should be told because they were the brave, the adventurous, and the persistent who created this country, this state, and these towns and cities that we know and love today. If it were not for them, we may very well be speaking with a British accent and flying a completely different flag.

Signage for John Floyd’s resting Place on Breckinridge Lane in Jefferson County, Kentucky / Personal Photo

Coming up next; the history of other Stations along Beargrass Creek, the story of the Brown Family, and more. I also hope to be able to give you an update on the Floyd’s Station Spring House.

Happy Travels!

3 thoughts on “Preston, Floyd, and Breckinridge; Revolutionary Names are a Link to the Past (Part 1)

  1. Thank you for sharing this, so interesting and how exciting to find the cemetery and springhouse. It amazes me how many historical sites are still to be found in Kentucky and right under our noses. It was meant to for you to take that walk and discover this lost treasure.

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