The Bullitt County History Museum

A Marker for Adam Shepherd

The following article by Charles Hartley was published on 31 Jul 2016.

This Friday, August 5th, a new historical marker will be dedicated in front of the courthouse in Shepherdsville; dedicated in honor of Adam Shepherd for whom Shepherdsville is named.

We've written about Adam Shepherd before, but now is a good time to remind ourselves of who he was, what he accomplished, and why we should honor him this way.

In March 1757 Adam Schaeffer was born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania to Peter and Elizabeth Schaeffer. He was named for his grandfather. Before long, Peter Schaeffer decided to Anglicize his name, and the Schaeffers adopted the name Shepherd.

Before moving to Baltimore in 1774, Peter Shepherd operated a series of grist mills in Pennsylvania. In Baltimore he was a land speculator, and was successful for a time.

When Virginia decided to raise money by selling land warrants in what was then Kentucky County in September 1779, numerous men of means, both in Virginia and in neighboring Maryland, invested heavily in these warrants with a view toward making a fortune in these virgin lands. Peter Shepherd himself paid £6,400 (English pounds) for the right to claim 16,000 acres of Kentucky land.

With the Revolution dragging on, it was more than a year later before John Fitch made the first survey based on Shepherd's warrants. Then the following March, in 1781, Benjamin Stansbury laid out two large tracts in Peter Shepherd's name alongside the Salt River. One was for 600 acres on the south side of Salt River, and the other was for 900 acres that would later include the site of Shepherdsville.

About this time, Adam Shepherd's name appears as a surveyor for a tract of land along Mill Creek in what was then Jefferson County. Then in January and February 1783 Adam surveyed a total of nine different tracts of land for his father, and two for himself, totaling over 9,000 acres.

Then in September through December, he surveyed eleven more tracts, six for his father and five for himself, totaling more than 6,500 acres in various parts of Kentucky.

The public papers of Kentucky Governor Keen Johnson (1939-1943) provide an intriguing bit of information about Adam Shepherd. In part it reads, "Shortly following the Revolutionary War, Matthew Walton and Adam Shepherd, engineers who served with General Washington's army, left Virginia to seek land in Kentucky."

We have not yet found collaborating documentation for this statement, but we know that the Corps of Engineers was established in 1779 to help design and construct facilities for the army, and that it was made up originally of civilian workers, members of the Continental Army and French officers. Since Adam Shepherd was a surveyor, it seems possible that he was also a member of the Corps.

During his travels in Kentucky Adam Shepherd met and married Rachel Drake on 20 Apr 1784 in Lincoln County, and they made their home in what would become Bullitt County.

On December 11, 1793, the Kentucky legislature passed an act establishing a town on 50 acres of the land of Adam Shepherd on the north bank of Salt River "at the lower end of the falls of said river, where the great road leading to Bullitt's lick crosses the same."

Benjamin Stansbury was given the task of laying out the town into 80 lots with intersecting streets. Then in 1809, James Shanks was called upon to resurvey the town's boundaries, and in 1811, the General Assembly made Shanks' survey the official version.

In 1897, Adam Shepherd's granddaughter, Eulalia Flaget Wathen wrote that he was so allured by the great prospects for salt trade that "he was known to have bartered away a tract of land in Shelby County for a salt kettle." It was likely the prospects of finding salt that attracted him to the valley along the Long Lick Creek. By the time he was finished he owned much of that valley, and this is where he came to live the rest of his life.

Adam represented Bullitt County in the Kentucky House of Representatives in 1799, 1800, and 1802.

We know of five daughters born to Adam and Rachel Shepherd. Of these, Charlotte married Samuel Benthall, Mary married Robert Pryor, Julia married Samuel Neill, and Elizabeth married Ben Chapeze. The fifth one was Sarah of whom we know little.

Adam Shepherd died in 1819, and Rachel lived until at least 1830. Without any living male heirs, the vast holdings of Adam Shepherd were slowly sold off to support his daughters and their families, with a significant part passing into the hands of his son-in-law, Benjamin Chapeze.

While their succeeding generations dwindled in numbers, there is no denying that Adam Shepherd left an enduring mark on this region, and deserves to have the town and now a fine new historical marker bear his name.

Copyright 2016 by Charles Hartley, Shepherdsville KY. All rights are reserved. No part of the content of this page may be included in any format in any place without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Saturday appointments are available by calling 502-921-0161 during our regular weekday hours. 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: 13 Jan 2024 . Page URL: