Samuel Pottenger and Walnut Hill (published in Ky Standard newspaper, 1985)
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Written by David Hall and published in the Kentucky Standard 1985
Born in Prince Georges County Maryland in April 1754, Sam Pottenger was the eldest son of a large family. Reportedly, he came to the Kentucky wilderness at the age of 20, about 1774. Perhaps he was one of the young adventurers who flocked to Kentucky following Dunmore’s War. During that brief clash with the Indian tribes who resented the broken treaties and continuing incursions into their adjacent hunting grounds, a force led by James Harrod returned from the Kentucky wilds to fight in the fracas.

As noted in one journal of the times quoted by Chinn’s “Kentucky Settlement and Statehood” … “One of the most significant effects of the Battle of Point Pleasant … is that it provided an opportunity to communicate news about the settlement of Kentucky … the soldiers talked more about Harrod and the opening up of Kentucky settlement than the battle itself.”

Harrodsburg was permanently re-occupied on March 15, 1775. With James Harrod were 40 or 50 young men who had made the trip from Fort Redstone. Samuel Pottenger was probably one of them, but no lists containing the names have survived. Of one thing we can be certain, Samuel Pottinger was a friend and associate of the legendary James Harrod.

Our first knowledge of their activities in present day Nelson County dates from 1778. During the warm months Pottenger and Harrod explored the waters of a creek just north of the Rolling Fork, criss-crossed by a variety of buffalo roads or traces.

Nearby were several large “licks” the game animals had worn over the eons. The bottoms were lush with wild cane, and Sam Pottenger obviously liked what he saw. Surprisingly, the area appeared to be virgin. On their initial visit no earlier “improvements” had been made by white men to indicate land claims were noticed. Thus, Pottenger made what he thought was the first claim in the region, and his friend, James Harrod, dubbed the sparkling stream in his companion’s honor ---- Pottenger’s Creek.

It was shortly thereafter that Samuel Pottenger came across the log “pens” which had been left by the Jonah Heaton party two years earlier. Heaton’s friends had, at the time, dubbed the dtream “Heaton’s Creek.” But the later name conjured by James Harrod stuck because Pottenger took possession of the area, so to speak, shortly after his initial improvements were made, while the Heaton party only stayed a matter of days in the summer of 1776.

By Samuel Pottenger’s own words … “in the winter of 1778 I built a cabin on (my) settlement on (Pottenger’s) Creek and have made it my place of residence ever since except when absent sometimes on business.” Benjamin Lynn later recalled traveling the length of Pottenger’s Creek in the fall of 1778 and seeing no signs of settlement, but in the spring of 1779 he came across Samuel Pottenger and Henry Prather at the cabin which had been erected a few months before.

Also during that spring Pottenger, in company with Thomas Simpson, Patrick McGee and John Severns, made a variety of lottery cabin improvements on the lower waters of Simpson Creek below or north of present day Bloomfield. It was on this occasion that McGee proposed that the extensive watershed be called “Simpson’s Creek” and ever after it has been thus.

Perhaps unique is that Pottenger lent his name to one creek and played a part in the naming of another … both of which still bear the same names over 200 years later, although many have forgotten why.

Pottenger family tradition tells us that Samuel Pottenger returned to Maryland and enlisted as a private as the Revolution came to the Tidewater Region. One source has him present at Cornwallis’ surrender before Yorktown October 19, 1781. This closed the Revolutionary hostilities in the east and Pottenger must have wasted no time returning to Kentucky because all sources credit the date as 1781 when Pottenger’s Station was erected near the present day Abby of Gethsemani.

The late Forest Pottenger, who spent years researching his famous ancestor, gives us a long list of the Fort’s early inhabitants which includes Captain Pottenger’s nine brothers and sisters; an uncle (Pottenger) with seven children; another maternal uncle, Griffith Willett, with family; and various members of the Graft, Gilkey, Withrow, Masterson, Miller and Kincaid families. Naturally, there were many unmarried members of the various clans. Most sources credit the origins as follows:

The Pottengers, Willetts and Grafts came from Maryland: the Gilkeys and Withrows were from North Carolina (please note that the Withrow name was also prominent in Maryland and Pennsylvania); the Mastersons, Millers and Kincaids were from Pennsylvania (See Smith’s History, Nelson p. 24)

From its very inception Captain Pottenger’s Fort played an important part in the early affairs of Nelson County, and the descendants of Samuel Pottenger would play primary roles in the area’s growth.