Bullitt County History

Westerfield Massacre

Vince Akers wrote a three part report on the Westerfield Massacre that was published in Bluegrass Roots, the quarterly journal of the Kentucky Genealogical Society, in the Fall and Winter of 2017, and Spring 2018.

Mr. Akers wrote that "the Westerfield Massacre occurred as families were moving from the stations on Beargrass Creek east of Louisville to the interior around Harrodsburg."

In this report, Mr. Akers concluded that the massacre occurred in early April 1781. At that time the danger from Native American attack was such that anyone traveling from one place of shelter to another would have reason to fear for his life.

According to Mr. Akers, "a large caravan of several families, including two Westerfield families whose patriarchs were cousins, left Floyd's Station on Beargrass Creek on a Monday morning bound for Harrod's Station."

Floyd's Station was located on the Middle Fork of Beargrass Creek, near the present day Jamestown Apartments in St. Matthews. It had been established in November 1779 by Col. John Floyd.

Their destination had been founded by James Harrod in 1774, and by 1781 was well established. In these dangerous times, it was a relatively safe place.

To get there, the caravan intended to travel first to Bullitt's Lick, and then from there take the buffalo road that headed eastwardly along the Salt River.

By then Bullitt's Lick saltworks had been in existence for almost two years, and would have afforded the travelers a place to rest, and likely obtain needed supplies of salt before they continued eastward.

To get there they followed the buffalo path that lay mainly along what is today called Old Shepherdsville Road until it merged with the main path just east of the area known as the wet woods.

From here the pathway continued southward, passed a spring, later known as Brooks Spring, and trailed southwestward crossing several creeks before reaching the small Clear's Station. Past here, the trail passed through the Blue Lick Gap between two knobs and continued toward Bullitt's Lick.

However, they had not reached Bullitt's Lick before deciding to camp for the night. According to Mr. Akers, the attack commenced about three in the morning.

Mr. Akers carefully outlines the primary and secondary sources available to us as we attempt to discover the details of this terrible event. We will point to a few that are relevant to helping us understand there the attack took place.

Over fifty years later, John Ryker would declare in his 1834 application for a Revolutionary War pension that "In the month of __ 1781 went with a party of men under Floyd Whittaker to Bullets Lick to bring back families defeated and massacred by the Indians (such as survived) while moving from Beargrass to Harrodsburgh, massacre was at Clear Station. Went on 2nd trip to bury the dead. Distance not now recollected, suppose it was fifteen miles. Time occupied in going both trips was about 3 or 4 days."

In an account later reported in the Draper Manuscripts, the daughter of John Thickston stated that her father had accompanied the party, both to help transport their belongings and to visit Harrods for the first time.

According to her statement, her father escaped the attack, and ran until he heard roosters crowing which led him to Clear's Station.

From these, and other clues reported by Mr. Akers, we may conclude that the attack occurred within running distance of the small shelter at Clear's, but likely not close enough for any help to have arrived from there.

Those massacred included James and John Westerfield, James Swan, James McLaughlin, Thomas Pyburn, Garret Westerfield, and Becky Swan among others.

Among those who managed to survive were the cousins John and William Thickston, Mary Westerfield who hid in a sinkhole with three small children, Mary's grown son Samuel, her teenage daughter Leah, and Thomas Pearce who was badly wounded.

Deborah and Polly Westerfield were carried off into captivity at Detroit where they were sold to the British. They were later exchanged and finally returned to their remaining family.

A historical marker is scheduled to be erected near Brooks Spring in September 2019 to remember this event and honor those whose lives were touched by it.


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The Bullitt County History Museum, a service of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is located in the county courthouse at 300 South Buckman Street (Highway 61) in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. The museum, along with its research room, is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday. Admission is free. The museum, as part of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization and is classified as a 509(a)2 public charity. Contributions and bequests are deductible under section 2055, 2106, or 2522 of the Internal Revenue Code. Page last modified: 12 Aug 2019 . Page URL: bullittcountyhistory.org/bchistory/westerfieldmassacre.html