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A visit to the tavern of "Free Charles", 1840

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A visit to the tavern of "Free Charles", 1840

Posted: 1066793132000
Classification: Biography
Edited: 1116900943000
Surnames: Greenfield, Scott, Lyon, Wilson, Bishop, Hise


On the top of a high ridge, bordering the road leading from Madisonville, Ky., to Princeton, Ky., about twelve miles from the former place, there was in 1840 a row of five hewed log rooms neatly painted and smoothly besmeared over braolin mined in the neighborhood, that was more tenacious and nearly as white as lime. Two of the best rooms were kept and used for the entertainment of travelers, two for the family, and one, a little apart from the others, was employed as a grocery, whisky being the main commodity. This was the place of general resort for the residents in the near vicinity, where at leisure times, and most always on Saturday eve, they met, exchanged jokes, told about hunts, heard the news, discussed politics and religions, and treating each other, passing the time, as the liquor was pure, and not of the fighting sort, most joyously.
One cold winter evening, Major T.D. SCOTT, M.S. LYON and your humble servant rode up to the above place of entertainment and was cheerfully greeted by the landlord. He was a square frame, heavy set man nearly six feet high and of pure African descent. Major SCOTT introduced LYON and myself to Charles, the host, and telling him of our desire to pass the night with him, who in a proper and respectful manner said, "Cartainly, gentlemen: and I'll feel myself honored by doin' so. Light an' give me your hosses;" and as we did so, added, "Scott, you knows the way, take the gentlemen in the house; you'll find a good fire an' on the sideboard thars somethin' that will warm your inard,"
Chilled as we were no further preliminaries were needed, and into the main room the Major led us. There we saw common furniture, but all, as well as the room, scrupulously clean, and best and most cheering was the big rock fire-place full of blazing logs; and before we were fully thawed Major SCOTT invited us to join him in imbiding liquid calorifics. So by the Major's recommendation we took what he called black strap. It was made by the admixture of maple molasses and whisky, and both being of the best quality, we pronounced it good enough for a being. In a very short time afterwards we were thawed through and through, and our tongues being limbered most there were no pauses in their canterings; so it seemed but a time since we came when were asked out to supper. And such a supper greeted our eyes. There was baked venison, venison steak, Irish and sweet potatoes, corn bread and biscuits, butter, molasses, stewed fruit and other things not remembered--in all enough for a dozen more. Having had nothing to eat since early morn, our appetite keenly sharpened by the blackstrap was uncommonly active, and never did hungry person relish and enjoy a meal more than we did that supper. But after a time we were gorged, and, returned to the main room, resumed our gabbling. After a while, Charles came in and seated himself near the door opening into the supper room, quietly and respectfully listening to and enjoying our parley.
In a calm of fagging conversation, Major SCOTT, addressing Charles, said, "Charles, tell us about that Dutch peddler that stayed one night once with you." After a low giggle, Charles began: "Well, sars, 'twas jist this way: The sun was jist settin', an' I wus jist comin' frum 'tendin' to sum hosses that belonged to three travilers frum Eelenois, when a man rode up on a good big hoss, an' says he, 'Is this Charles' tavern?' 'Yes, sar,' says I, and then says he, 'Major SCOTT recominded your place as one I could git intertain fur the night; can you' commerdate me?' 'Yes, sar,' I said. Then he said he was more purticuler 'bout his hosse's keep than hisself, an' when I told him that I had good corn, good fodder an' sheave oats, an' I thought I knowed how to take cure uv a hoss, and he then said, all right an' gits down, an' took off his saddlebags, an' I saw that they wus mighty an' big, an' es he wus a very dark skin, low an' heavy set man, I guessed he wus a Dutch peddlar, an' I said to 'im take your saddlebags in the house, an' you needn't fear 'bout your hoss; I'll water an' 'tend to 'im all right, an' he said, ef you please, an' es he started to the house I said to 'im, you'll find on the sideboard some liquor, an' ef you want any jist help yourself.
Now, one uv them Eelenois men wus a mighty talkin' man, an' he wus in sich a big way arguin' with the other two he hardly noticed the peddlar. His talk wus all 'bout sum question in their State they had to vote on. Well, all the time they wus agruin', the peddlar sot thar, an' seemed not to take eny notice uv what they said. At last, that talkin' man turned an' axed the peddlar of he didn't think his side uv the question wusn't the best, an' the peddlar kinder beat shy, but the man kept dingdonin' till the peddlar got sorter waked up, an' said he didn't 'gree with him; an' then the way that talker pitched into the peddlar wus funny, an' arter a few rounds, the peddlar gettin' warmed up, an' then like a good leader in a pack uv hounds, an' the way he led that man wus funny fur sure, an' when he wus done so wus the Eelenois man; and arter a while they went to bed. The next mornin' that talkin' man axed me if I knowed who the peddlar wus. I told 'im I didn't know, but guessed he was a Dutch peddler. But he 'lawed he wasn't and asked me to find out who he wus. So jist as he wus bout to leave, I said, Mister, I keeps no writin' registar, but I likes to know who I endertain, an' ef you have no objection will you please tell me your name. "Cartinly: my name is Elijah HISE an' I live in Russellville.' Ef he'd knocked me down I wouldn't 've been astonished more. I pulled off my hat an' humbly bowed an' said, Sar, I'm proud in havin' the honor uv intertainin' a man uv your high standin'. Thank you, Charles, an' I'm abliged to you fur the good keep uv myself an' hoss, an' when he rode off I went back to the house feelin' prouder than I ever did in my life; and when I told the Eelenois men that 'twas Lige HISE they wus es much astonished es I wus, and' that talkin' man said, "I knowed he wasn't a Dutch peddler," and then axed where he was gwine. I told 'im he wus gwine to Princeton to speak thar, an that he spoke in town yisterday.
In every community in this land of the free there are more or less floating votes, and in this region there were a few, but Charles was a good Democrat, and, though uneducated, he by some means was better informed than many of his neighbors, and by his politic mien and by the judicous munificent handling of his whisky he was able to control or give pointers to those who could of all such voters.
Next morning, LYON and myself were surprised when we asked what was the price of our keep for the night, and learned it was the enormous sum of fifty cents.
Time works changes, and fifty years have produced wonders in this part of Hopkins county. Charles' place has changed its name to Charleston, and where there were only little patches and little log cabins, there are now to be seen large farms, commodious dwellings and many large and fine outbuildings. Where, over those gently rolling scenes deer and other game in droves roamed, feeding on the pea vines that hid the ground, now you see farms in every course. But who can say that with all these changes the people now are as happy as were those pioneers. (Source: Madisonville Hustler, Fri., Apr. 10, 1896) notes: Charles was freed by his master, Benjamin WILSON, in 1835 and used the surname of WILSON. When he married his wife, Maria, the property of Mrs. Isabella SIMS BISHOP, my ancestor, she was also granted her freedom. This was in accordance with the will of William BISHOP, Isabella's late husband. Elijah HISE (1802-1867) of Russellville, was a Democrat, U.S. Charge d'Affaires to Guatamala 1848-49, member of the Ky. State Legislature, State Court Judge, U.S. representative from Ky.'s 3rd District 1866-67. He died in office in 1867. This article, along with other writings of the late Ila Earle Fowler, will be used to hopefully erect a state historical marker in Charleston regarding it's naming. prb

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