William Hardin

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Captain William Harden (1747 – July 21, 1821) was an American Revolutionary War soldier, farmer, rancher, marksman, hunter, Native American killer, namesake and founder of Hardinsburg, Kentucky, and the premiere pioneer of Breckinridge County, Kentucky.

Harden, aka "Big Bill" (because of his large stature), and "Indian Bill" (because of his many Native American kills), had black hair, a reddish beard, and he stood 6'4", and weighed 240 pounds.[1][2] William Harden could run all day, and he did so, along with Simon Kenton, Daniel Boone, and Benjamin Logan, fighting against Native Americans many times together.[3]

William Harden is the brother of the Colonel John Hardin for whom Hardin County, Kentucky was named.

William Hardin's Ancestors[edit]

Three French Huguenot brothers, to escape religious persecution in France, fled to Canada after the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre.[4] One of those brothers was William Hardin's great-grandfather, Martin Hardwyn, who was married to Madeleine du Sauchoy of France.

The extreme cold of the Canadian climate caused the three Huguenot brothers to emigrate to the English colony of Virginia. Two of the brothers settled there permanently, and the other emigrated to South Carolina. The Kentucky Hardins—John, Martin, and William—descended from the Huguenot brothers who settled in Virginia.

Martin Hardwyn and Madeleine du Sauchoy had a son named Mark, who was William Hardin's grandfather. Mark was baptized on March 26, 1681 in Staten Island, New York. Mark married Mary Hogue before March 1755 in Fauquier County, Virginia. Major John Hardin (1710-1789) was their son.

Contradicting Reports of William Hardin's Paternal Lineage[edit]

William Hardin is either the son of Martin Hardin or Major John Hardin (1710-1789).

Major John Hardin (1710-1789) of Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky married Catherine Marr Hardin (1711-1786). Major John Hardin was born in 1710 in Northumberland County Virginia, and he was murdered on October 13, 1789 by natives or renegade whites a short distance from Hardin's Fort on what is now the Old Brandenburg Road.[5] Catherine Marr was born in Virginia in 1711, and died in Augusta District in Virginia in 1780. John Hardin may have been William's uncle, if not his father.[6]

Martin Hardin immigrated from Fanquier County, Virginia to Pennsylvania in 1765, and settled on the Monongahela River. Martin Hardin had a family of 4 daughters and 3 sons, all of whom were born in Virginia. The sons were John, Martin, and William. Martin died in 1849 when he was 92 years old.

Early life[edit]

William Hardin was born in Augusta County, Virginia in 1747.

When William Hardin was 17 years old, he moved with his parents from Fauquier County, Virginia, to Pennsylvania in 1765, and settled on the Monongahela River. 3 years later, Hardin married his first cousin Winifred Ann Holtzclaw in 1768.

William Hardin's First Wife and Children[edit]

Winifred "Winnie" Ann Hardin-Holtzclaw was born in 1752 in Prince William County, Virginia to parents Johann Heinrich "Henry" Holtzclaw and Anne "Nancy" Hardin. In addition to the 9 children Winifred and William Hardin had, they also raised a niece and nephew along with their own children. Winifred and William Hardin's children are as follows: 1) Amelia Hardin (married Horatio Merry); 2) Jehu Hardin (never married); 3) John E. Hardin; 4) Winnie "Winny" Ann Hardin (born 1775; married William Comstock with a wedding dress she spurned herself from her own cotton); 5) Elijah Hardin (died 1805 or 1815 by gunshot by a Mr. Friend McMahon at Houston Springs in Hardinsburg or Hardin County, Kentucky); 6) Henry Hardin (born June 8, 1778 in Hardinsburg; married Rachel Biddle Walker, a widow; lived and died on a farm on Sugar Tree Run); 7) Melinda Ann Hardin (born February 2, 1780; married William H. Crawford); 8) William Hardin, Jr., (born 1781; married Cassandra Hardin, his first cousin; was postmaster in Frankfort for many years), and; 9) Mary Celia Hardin (born 1794; married William Davison). Mary "Polly" Hardin (married Benjamin Huff, the first Sheriff of Grayson County) was the niece Winifred and William helped to raise, and Daniel Hardin (married Alice Jolly) was the nephew. There's a strong possibility that Mary and Daniel Hardin were the children of William's brother, Jesse Hardin.

Winnifred Hardin and her children took refuge in a nearby cave at least once with William Hardin and others at Hardin's Fort when a possible Shawnee raid was rumored. However, it is probable that the cave was used more for the storage and preservation of meat than it ever was for hiding from native Kentuckians.[4]

Winifred "Winnie" Ann Holtzclaw died in 1807.

The Battle of Saratoga and the American Revolution[edit]

In 1777, William Hardin served in the Virginia Rifles under Daniel Morgan at the surrender of Burgoyne at the Battle of Saratoga during the Saratoga Campaign, under George Rogers Clark in Indiana and Illinois, and in command of expeditions against Native Americans in Illinois.[5]

William Hardin was a Virginia Revolutionary soldier, serving in Virginia's 3rd Regiment, as well as a private in Captain John Anderson's 5th Virginia Regiment. William Hardin enlisted to the American Revolutionary Army on March 25, 1778. Hardin's name appears on the company payroll for July 1778, and he was discharged nearly a year after enlisting on February 28, 1779.[1]

The Establishment of Hardin's Fort[edit]

William Hardin went to Kentucky in 1779, and founded Hardin's Fort (now Hardinsburg) the year after. The settlement was known as both Hardin's Fort and Hardin's Station in the 18th century.

In August 1779, William Hardin, his cousin Sinclair Hardin, Christopher Bush, and Michael Leonard came to Kentucky as an exploring party, and they visited the vicinity of Hardinsburg. William, Christoper, Michael, and Sinclair descended down the Wabasha (the Shawnee name of the Ohio River) in search of a good spot for Hardin's new colony. The party of 4 arrived at the falls of the Ohio (modern day Louisville), where there was already a settlement, but not liking the swampy nature of the country, the party of 4 reembarked, and floated down the Wabasha River reaching Stephensport, the mouth of Sinking Creek, up to its falls at Sample, where they landed with the intention of exploring the adjacent country.[4]

William, Christoper, Michael, and Sinclair tied their flatboat at the Falls of Sinking Creek, and started walking toward the site of what would become Hardin's Fort. The native Kentuckians allowed them to advance three miles into Breckinridge County before they divided: one group of the indigenous took possession of their boat, and the other group pursued the newly arrived white land speculators. Sensing that the natives who were following them were a vastly superior force, William Hardin's party of 4 decided to change the direction of their course, and began a 10-mile night-long trek toward the safety of Hine's Fort, and the forts in Severn Valley (the site of Elizabethtown in Hardin County, Kentucky), guided by the stars. In the early morning, the party of 4 reached a large spring near Rough Creek (most likely present day Big Springs, Breckinirdge County), where they stopped to slake their thirst and rest. When Sinclair Hardin stood up after drinking from the creek, one of the pursuing native Kentuckians shot and killed him, whereupon the other three in the party of 4 companions rolled away into the underbrush to conceal themselves.[4] When the native Kentuckians started to scalp Sinclair Hardin, 3 of them were killed simultaneously from the guns of Hardin, Leonard, and Bush. The remaining Kentucky aborigines fled.[3][4] Later on, Hardin's party of 3 reaches Hine's Fort.

William Hardin remained at the fort in what is now Hardin County until the following spring, when Hardin and his party of 3 (Christopher Bash and Michael Leonard) returned to the mouth of Sinking Creek, during an overflow of the Ohio River, when much of the surrounding areas around the Sinking Creek, which they proceeded to the falls, where they disembarked at Sample. William Hardin cut a high water mark on a tree, which is said to still be discernible. Hardin's party of 3 explored Kentucky in a southeasterly direction, and finally reached the present site of Hardinsburg, "where, pleased with the location, Hardin determined to establish his colony".[4]

The first log cabin in Hardin's Fort was constructed by Leighton White in January 1779. White was assisted in constructing this cabin by Christopher Bush, Michael Leonard, John Tucl, Roger Barton and maybe others. Perrin's book While it was being built, a chuckling and appreciative William Hardin was often within hearing distance of the sounds of axes and falling trees, and even the voices of the workmen, but he never came near enough to see the work being done, nor to be seen by the builders. The reason for his amused detachment from the construction site stemmed from the fact that the cabin was being built on his own provable claim. It is said that in later years William Hardin often conceded that the station near present-day Hardinsburg was at first called "White's Station" and "White's Improvement", but he always added, "But it was my station."[4]

William Hardin was so pleased with the Kentucky countryside that he went back to Pennsylvania, and gathered a group of 12 families there, among whom were the Claycombs, Brashears, Bruners, Bargers, Haynesses, Rices, Jollys, Barrs, Deans, Spencers and others, and penetrated the wilderness of Kentucky.[7] William Hardin received 400 acres as an assignee of Benjamin Hardin (Warrant# 2586, dated February 14, 1780), and arrived at the present site of Louisville on March 6, 1780.[3]

In a court case in later decades, William Hardin claimed he moved to Hardinsburg with his family on April 19, 1780.[8]

They journeyed back to Hardin's Creek, a branch of the Ohio River, and on March 17, 1781, began clearing the land for Hardin's Fort which later became Hardinsburg, Kentucky.[3][4]

The first log cabin headquarters in Breckinridge County was a 16x16 foot log cabin built on the later site of the "improved" Hardin's Station, which was on the southwest end of a 50 foot high bluff less than a mile southwest of the present site of Hardinsburg. Perrin's book In 1782, William Hardin "improved" that first 16x16 foot log cabin by building onto and around that first cabin a small (perhaps 30x80 foot) palisaded wall containing perhaps six or eight smaller 12x12 log cabins, which were floorless and windowless. Buffalo hides were used as doors. Perrin's book Hardinsburg was laid out in 1782 by William Hardin. Hardinsburg failed to number a thousand residents in its first hundred years.

Hardin's Station was known as a "Surveyor's Fort". It sheltered more surveyors than it did families. A pond was dug inside of Hardin's Station for the livestock that shared Hardin's Station with the land speculators. Hardin's Fort was the furthermost west fort of any frontier fort in America at the time.

Sally McDonald Rescues Captain Hardin[edit]

The year after the fort was built, 1781, several acres of ground had been cleared and the colonizers were planting corn. William Hardin was guarding the fort while the corn was being planted. Mr. McDonald and his three daughters were working in the cornfield with hoes and a team of horses hitched by ropes to the plow that John Barbee had constructed. Alerted to danger by gunfire and a warning shout from William Hardin, McDonald and two of his daughters fled for the safety of the fort, leaving the team and plow in the field. The third daughter—Sarah "Sally" McDonald—bravely ran to help William Hardin, who, seriously wounded—shot through the lung—and stumbling badly, was trying to make his way across the cornfield toward the fort.[7]

One Indian warrior, realizing he was shot, came forward with his knife to take Big Bill's scalp. Sarah handed Colonel Hardin his rifle which he pointed at the Indian causing him to run back. Sarah finally succeeded in getting Colonel Hardin on his horse, but by this time the Indian was coming very close. Again Miss Sarah handed Colonel Hardin his gun and said, "Point it at him, Mr. Bill or he'll kill us both."[4] They finally got to the team of horses and plow. Hastily unhitching the horses, hurrying still, the remarkable girl helped William Hardin hoist himself upon one of the horses, scrambled onto the other herself, and they dashed madly across the cornfield and through the open gate of the fort, safely reaching the stockade.

The 1786 Battle of Saline Creek[edit]

The only sizeable expedition against the Native Americans that the Breckenridge County settlers participated in was the Battle of Saline Creek in August 1786.

William Hardin knew where the Shawnee villages were in relation to Hardin's Fort, but upon hearing that a new Shawnee settlement was being formed on Saline Creek, Illinois, William was spooked enough to call for volunteers to form a makeshift regimented militia to preemptively strike the Illinois Shawnee.

Captain John Dial, plus 4 or 5 men, came from Fort Nelson (present-day Louisville) on a flatboat to the Yellow Banks, where 30-80 male settler volunteers from Hardin's Fort had coalesced after William Hardin's call to arms. Among the eighty men who went with Colonel Hardin to dislodge the Native Americans in Illinois were: Christopher Bush, Samuel Spencer, William McDaniels, William Luce, John Jolly, William Weatherholt, Charles Hamiliton, John Bruner, James Jennings Brearshera, William Kelso, Henry Dean, Mr. Barger, Mr. Carlyle, Mr. Shiveley, Mordicia Lincoln, John Faith, Mr. Miller, Samuel Crawford, Edgar Pate, Adam Barr, Ben Huff, Ben Comstock, Horace Marry, Archibald Lochard, Daniel Meredith, Mr. Haynes, Mr. Hardiwas, Mr. Claycomb, Mr. Payne, William Perrin, Mr. Rice, Joseph Toby, Mr. Taul, George Robards, Richards Stevens, and Mr. Lampton.[4] Hardin's men proceeded down the Ohio River on the flatboat to a few miles below the mouth of the Wabash River, and a few miles above the mouth of Saline Creek. Hardin's militia then disembarked off the flatboat, and proceeded on foot.

When the Shawnee village wasn't found, Hardin's militia set up camp, and formed a hunting party to secure themselves some food. The hunting party spotted 3 Shawnee warriors on horseback watching their movements, and after Hardin gave the order, all 3 warriors were fired upon, killing 2. William Hardin killed one of the 3 Native Americans by shooting him through the collar bone. The third Shawnee warrior attempted to make his escape, but was shot down as he ran. He succeeded, however, in regaining his feet, ran fifty yards, leaped up a perpendicular bank six feet high, and then finally fell dead.

Eventually, Hardin's militia found the Shawnee village on Saline Creek, and began preparations for battle. In a timbered area, surrounded by flat plains on all sides, Hardin posted his men here, each man to a tree, so they could be concealed by the forest. William Hardin ordered his men to wait until the Shawnee were 25 yards away before they gave up their position with gunfire.

30 to 100 Shawnee warriors on their return home started walking towards the forest Hardin's militia were hidden in. When they were about 100 yards away, one of Hardin's men prematurely shot at them, and immediately, the Shawnee charged towards Hardin's men. After the first gun volley, William Hardin had been shot through both of his thighs, and his horse was killed underneath him. While wounded, William Hardin sat down on a huge fallen chestnut log, and continued to direct the battle.

The Battle of Saline Creek was fought mostly with hand-to-hand combat. In a battle lasting four minutes, 18 -30 Shawnee warriors were killed, and six wounded. The rest of the Shawnee retreated. Hardin lost many men himself, and many more were wounded. The plunder Hardin's militia carried away was 16 Shawnee warrior scalps, nine horses, 17 guns, and "a mighty nice sword".[4]

After the battle, Hardin's men hurried to their flatboat, crossed the Ohio River into Kentucky in it, and then they deliberately sank it. Hardin's men found a pirogue that they used to transport the badly wounded Hardin, and another wounded man unable to ride horseback. Hardin's militia assumed a large Shawnee warrior force were in pursuit of them, so Hardin's men hurried through the forest, and went for three and a half days without food, before they finally set up camp to hunt. The game was scarce, and the first animal they killed was a wolf. Eventually, Hardin's men made it to Vienna Fort (present-day Calhoun, Kentucky), where William Hardin recuperated before returning to Hardin's Station.

William Hardin Kills Another Kentucky Native[edit]

One morning, outside the fort's stockade, William Hardin test fired his gun, preparing to go out for a hunt. While Hardin was wiping his gun out, a Kentucky aborigine came out from his hiding spot, with his gun aiming at William Hardin. The Aborigine tauntingly exclaimed: "Ugh! Big Bill."[4] The pause was fatal to the Native American for William Hardin immediately knocked his gun aside, and with his own gun, clubbed out the Indian's brains.[7]

William Hardin's Second Wife and Children[edit]

After Winifred "Winnie" Ann Holtzclaw died in 1807, William Hardin married Susannah McGhee (McGee) on July 9 or the 10th, 1808, in Breckenridge County. Susannah beget William with two daughters: Hannah Ann and Lucinda.

After William Hardin died, Susannah married Robert Armstrong.

Kentucky Representative[edit]

William Hardin, from 1810 to 1813, was a member of the legislature of Kentucky.

$500 Bond for Ephraim Comstock[edit]

On April 16, 1821, William Hardin's grandson, Ephraim Comstock, was indicted on a felony of forgery. William Hardin, Sr. promised a $500 security bond for Ephraim to be released on his own recognizance. Ephraim left Kentucky, and didn't show up for court again. On October 15, 1821, a Monday, the Commonwealth's Circuit Court brought a suit against William Hardin for the $500, but notes that he "has departed this life and John E. Hardin is the acting executor of the Last Will and Testament of William Hardin, Senior".[8]


William Hardin died on July 21, 1821 in Hardinsburg, Kentucky. His granddaughter wrote in the margins of William H. Perrin's 1885 "History of Kentucky" that William Hardin was buried in McQuady, Kentucky.[4][6] Other reports claim Hardin is buried in an unmarked grave near US 60 and Hardin's Creek, or in William Hardin's own pioneer cemetery (Hardin #5).

Hardin's house stood on the bluff overlooking Hardin's Creek in the southern part of Hardinsburg, and for many years, was a well-known landmark. Hardin owned a great deal of land at one time in the present counties of Breckinridge, Hardin, Meade, Grayson, Ohio and Hancock, but his house was burned down, and his deeds and patents went up in flames thus he lost most of the land he was entitled to.


  1. ^ a b Daughters of the American Revolution Lineage paper # 109172, #119506 & #123802. The War Department. The Adjutant General's Office. "Collins History of Kentucky Vol II, p.97. County records from Hardinsburg, KY.
  2. ^ Holtzclaw, Dr. B.C. "Ancestry and Descendants of the Nassau-Siegen Immigrants to Virginia 1714-1750". Retrieved from http://familytreemaker.genealogy.com/users/b/e/a/Marvin-P-Beatty/GENE4-0006.html
  3. ^ a b c d Jolly, Henry C. 1902, April 25. "Interesting History of Indian Bill Hardin". The Breckinridge Democrat.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Perrin, W.H. 1885. A History of the State of Kentucky. pg. 1039-1042; 1081, 1082. Retrieved from http://www.texashistoryhunter.net/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderfiles/WH_Perrins_book.pdf and http://genealogytrails.com/ken/breckinridge/history.html
  5. ^ a b Briedenbach, S.H. (1971, June 19). The Genealogy of Mary Ellen Cox Storm of Hancock Co., KY. Retrieved from http://news.rootsweb.com/th/read/HOLDER/2013-08/1376279827 and http://mykindred.com/cloud/TX/getperson.php?personID=I52251&tree=mykindred01
  6. ^ a b "RootsWeb's WorldConnect Project: Jolly-Poteet Connections". ancestry.com. Retrieved 23 January 2015. 
  7. ^ a b c Powell, Burnett. 1976, July 4. Brave Beginnings. Breckinridge County Herald-News
  8. ^ a b Custer, Ron. 1821, October 15. Monday. Circuit Court Records. Vol. 5, p.193. S435. ged-ron_custer, Ron Custer, RootsWeb WorldConnect May 13, 2006 G:\Ron Custer's Family Tree Farm (Reliability: 1)