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Sunday, June 19, 2016

Freedom Tour -- Day 15

Greetings from St. Louis, Missouri! Today is actually Day 20 of my Freedom Tour, but I fell behind on my blog posts.

This post is about a wonderful and emotional discovery five days ago on Day 15 (Tuesday).
About half an hour outside of Lexington, Kentucky, down a lush little road that winds past many a grand thoroughbred horse farm, there is a historical marker indicating the nearby site of a frontier fort called Bryan's Station, an important fortified settlement in this area during the last days of the American Revolution

I have known about Bryan's Station ever since it popped up when I was doing some family genealogy research on the maternal line of my family tree a few years ago. The history of Bryan's Station is very important to me and I was thrilled to be able to seek it out.

I am a direct descendant of 12 people on various branches of my family tree who were personally involved in the American Revolution (yes, I am a proud member of DAR). 

This list includes one woman, which is very unusual!

Before I get to her role, here's a little historical context.
My fifth great-grandparents, Edward Nelson (1738-1805), a frontiersman, and Harriet Morgan Nelson (1752-1822) were born in the British colony of Virginia and, with their two sons, were among the first settlers at Daniel Boone's Fort Boonesborough in 1775, the first year of the American Revolution, in what is now Kentucky.  

This is a historic depiction of Fort Boonesborough I found online with no source credited.
At the time, this region was called Transylvania, was not one of 13 British colonies and was bordered to the north by Canadian territory. Battles in this region before, during and shortly after the American Revolution were fought primarily between white settlers, Canadian Rangers and British-aided natives who were paid to attack and kill settlers.

In 1778 Edward and Harriet Nelson and their brood of now five children settled at Bryan's Station, a fortified settlement that had just been built with about 40 cabins and corner blockhouses on a ridge near North Elkhorn Creek. The American Revolution was well underway and Edward was among about four dozen militiaman keeping a vigilant eye at the fortress. 

This depiction of Bryan's Station is courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society.

Although British General Charles Cornwallis had surrendered at Yorktown, Virginia, on Oct. 19, 1781, ending the Revolutionary War in the colonies, it wasn't over yet in what is now Kentucky.

A few months later a British officer ordered all settlements south of the Ohio River destroyed. 

For three days in August 1782 a force of some 50 Canadian Rangers and 300 allied natives from several tribes crossed the Ohio River into what is now Kentucky with the intention of destroying the settlement at Bryan's Station and killing the settlers, which included 95 women and children. The 40 men held them off until a Patriot militia force under the command of Col. John Todd and Daniel Boone came to the rescue.

And here is where Harriet Morgan Nelson comes in as an American Revolution heroine. 

During the three-day siege and before the arrival of reinforcements, natives were shooting fiery arrows at Bryan's Station. Some of the women, including Harriet, prevented the fortress's destruction by going to the creek, in full view of the natives and Canadian forces, and carrying bucket after bucket after bucket of water from a spring near the creek to put out the fires and provide hydration for the others at the fortress. The women barely stopped to rest over the three-day period. It is not known why the attackers did not kill the women.

This is an 1851 lithograph, courtesy of the Library of Congress, depicting the women of Bryan's Station gathering water 

After the arrival of the reinforcements, the Canadian forces and the natives skedaddled. All of the livestock, crops and structures outside the fortress had been destroyed, four settlers had been killed and several had been injured.

But that's not the end of the story!

The other day, my adventure was just beginning!

On Aug. 18, 1896, the Lexington chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution dedicated a monument to the 28 women who risked their lives drawing water from the spring as well as the male settlers who defended Bryan's Station during the siege.

I knew of this monument and was hoping to see it, but once I got to Lexington I learned it is on private property -- one of the thoroughbred horse farms. 

I made an assumption that the property was the one with the old stone wall just behind the road marker, which is on Bryan Station Road three miles north of New Circle Road..
So I figured it doesn't hurt to ask.

I entered the driveway and pressed the button on the intercom in front of the gate.

A woman's voice asked the nature of my business and I explained briefly that I am a direct descendant of settlers who protected Bryan's Station during the siege.

"Come on up," she said.

I drove up the pretty road toward the stately home and was met by a worker who led me down a path to the DAR monument, which sits in an open field that was chosen for its proximity to the spring, which sits just off a tributary of Elkhorn Creek.

There are panels on the monument, one of which lists the names of the women of Bryan's Station who helped save the day. 

The top line on this panel reads "The women who carried the water." Harriet Morgan Nelson's name is in the column on the right, second from the bottom. The base of this panel reads "The women of ancient Sparta pointed out the heroic way: The women of pioneer Kentucky trod it."

There are two vertical panels, one on each side of the entrance to the monument, both of which read at the top "The men who defended the fort." Edward Nelson's name is listed first on the right-side panel.

And this panel is on the inside of the monument:

It reads "In honor of the women of Bryan's Station who on the 15th of August 1782 faced a savage host in ambush and with a heroic courage and a sublime self-sacrifice that will remain forever illustrious obtained from this spring the water that made possible the successful defense of that station."

This was one of the experiences that made my several days' stay in Kentucky so worth it!

Final thoughts on Tuesday:

I am honored to be a direct descendant of Edward and Harriet Nelson and so many other Revolutionary War ancestors.

As was the case at the Perryville Battlefield four days earlier that I blogged about here, it was an awesome experience to stand on the exact spot where my fifth great-grandparents served so courageously. They exemplify everything that is beautiful about our American spirit.

Stay tuned for more of my adventures.

I'm loving my Freedom Tour!


  1. What a wonderful discovery!!! All 4 of my grandparents were immigrants here in the early 1900' no way can I match this!!! Have a wonderful trip!

  2. How absolutley marvelous!!! What an experience. I hope I can follow in your footprints one day and discover my people. I've taken them online back to early 1700s and I know I could go further in person. Love you Ann and am so thrilled with your trip and you sharing your joy with us.

  3. My great-grandmother's maiden name was Morgan. They were from the Carolinas and Virginia. I wonder...