Thursday, October 29, 2009

Robert & Polly Hinkson: Lifelong Frontier Family

by David P. Sapp

The Hinkson name is well known today in Boone County, but few know that our creek and streets were named for Robert Hinkson. And fewer know anything of the life of Robert Hinkson. William F. Switzler, writing in 1882, said: "It is known that among the first white men who came to the country now comprised with Columbia township were old Robert Hinkson, whose cabin stood near where the St. Charles road crossed the creek that afterward bore and now bears his name."(Note 1) As to the time, Switzler says that Hinkson came to Boone county soon after peace was declared in 1815 ending the hostilities between the white men and the native Americans. Hinkson left his name on Boone County landmarks but what is the story behind Robert and Polly Hinkson?

To gain some understanding of Robert Hinkson we need to understand his upbringing. He was the son of Colonel John Hinkson, who was born about 1740 probably in present Pennsylvania. Colonel John was the son of John, a native of Ireland, who had emigrated to America. The émigré John died at an early age, leaving behind young John and a sister. Robert's father, when a young man, returned to Ireland for some patrimony. There he met and married Margaret McCracken. They remained in Ireland for two years, but returned to America about 1765, locating in the area beyond Penn's colony that would become Westmoreland county, Pennsylvania.(Note2) At the time, this was about as far as "civilization" extended. It was also about this time that their son, Robert, was born.

John and Margaret Hinkson had a family of at least four children by the spring of 1775 when John led a party known as Hinkson's company from Pennsylvania to future Kentucky in search of lands to acquire. In April, 1775 Colonel Hinkson cleared a piece of ground and erected a log cabin on the banks of the Licking, near the mouth of Townsend creek. Several other members of the party did likewise and they began to raise corn, with which they later furnished seed to a number of other improvers. Hinkson's settlement soon became a station and as such was the central source of supply. Shortly after the settlement there was a major engagement between Colonel Hinkson, who was in command of the station, and the notorious renegade, Simon Girty, of the Indian forces. When the ammunition ran out at the station, Colonel Hinkson was forced to surrender himself to the Indians. This he did under promise from Girty that the remainder of his men, women and children should be allowed to remain at the station unmolested and he, Hinkson, would be furnished with Girty's uniform as a guaranty of safety while a prisoner. Hinkson managed to escape and rejoined his family and friends.

In the fall of 1775 all of the Miller company and seven of the Hinkson party returned up the Ohio river to their old homes in Pennsylvania. In the spring of 1776, the Lyons company, consisting of ten persons, came from the Keystone state to Hinkson's station, where at the insistence of Colonel Hinkson, William Haskins conducted them to some rich lands which had not been taken up, the same being some miles to the east, probably in what is now Bourbon county. In June and July, however, a great number of Indians came from Ohio to their old hunting grounds in Kentucky. Finding them occupied by white settlers they commenced their depredations on the 7th of July, 1776, and in the ensuing skirmishes killed John Cooper, who was the first man to raise corn in Harrison county. Colonel Hinkson, together with other settlers--nineteen in all--not being strong enough to resist the terrible onslaught of Indians, fled to McClelland's fort at Georgetown, where they remained for a time, later returning to Harrison county.(Note 3)

It appears that Colonel John Hinkson died in early 1790.(Note 4) If this date is correct, his death came just a couple of months after his eldest, Robert, was married to Polly Hinch, daughter of Samuel Hinch, in Bourbon County, Kentucky, on January 26, 1790.(Note 5) The new couple apparently spent the first twelve years or so of their married life in the Bourbon County area. Bourbon county had been formed out of Kentucky county, Virginia, in 1786. In 1792, the state of Kentucky was organized, and in 1794 Harrison County was formed from Bourbon County. The Hinksons were a well known, established family in Cynthiana, the seat of the new Harrison county.

As early as May 1786, Robert became involved in the administration of Bourbon county in the capacity of deputy sheriff, possibly reporting to his father "Colonel" John Hinkson, who was referenced in 1790 county court records as "deceased, late sheriff of this county." Robert apparently continued in law enforcement because he was sworn in as the first Sheriff of the newly formed Harrison county in February 1794. He seems to have been building a substantial career, consistent with the respected Hinkson name. For reasons unknown, Robert and Polly Hinkson picked up their family, journeyed over 400 miles by river, and made claim to land on the banks of the Brazeau creek in present Washington County, Missouri, in 1802 or, more probably, 1803.(Note 6) Their reasons for leaving the relative security of the Cynthiana area can only be speculation, but Robert's rearing and early adult years had all been spent in virtual wilderness areas. Later events for which we have found documentation suggest an uneasy association with "crowds." It seems likely that the demands of expanding civilization were more than Robert and Polly wished to agree to. The land they chose for their new home was about thirty-five miles west of the Mississippi in Spanish controlled territory. Though the Spanish had retroceded the area west of the Mississippi to the French in 1800, it was done in secret and did not become known in the area until May 1803. Once again, the Hinksons were at the "edge of civilization."

It appears that Robert engaged in some fashion with the burgeoning lead mining industry around Mine á Breton. By the time the Hinkson family arrived, Mine á Breton consisted of no more than "twenty to thirty households, about half Creole and half American. It was more a mining camp than a town, however, and it continued to be troubled with violence . . . ." The violence arose mostly from squabbles between the small land holders, the many land speculators, and the sometimes despised, always domineering, Moses Austin with his questionable claim to 6,000 acres of land.(Note 7) In addition to the violence between the Europeans over land interests, there were also tensions between the frontier populace and the Big Osage Indians. And of the non-native people, it was the Anglos who were more hated by the Big Osage than the French Creoles with whom they had coexisted for decades. Obviously, Robert Hinkson with his small land claim and his Irish blood took substantial risks to locate in this area. Polly is not mentioned directly in the records of this time, but we know she must have been an incredibly strong-willed and tough mate. She was left to maintain the household, a very crude one it is sure, and raise the children in a severe environment. One of the few comforts for her may have been the presence of her father in Ste. Genevieve.

The Hinksons had other family ties when they moved to the Mine á Breton area. Robert's brother, William Hinkson, was in the general area where Robert and Polly settled, though we are not sure who came first. Polly's father, Samuel Hinch, was in Ste. Genevieve about the same time and may have even preceded his daughter and son-in-law. Interestingly, Hinch was a lawyer and was the first justice of the Ste. Genevieve Court of Common Pleas in 1805. Prior to this time, "there were no lawyers in colonial Ste. Genevieve, for the French monarchy had kept them out of Louisiana on the grounds that they bred contentiousness in society." Two hundred years later, some people feel the same way.

In the years from 1806 to 1813, Robert Hinkson was involved in no fewer than thirty court cases, either as a plaintiff or defendant in the Court of Common Pleas at Ste. Genevieve.(Note 8) It is not clear if this indicates a particularly litigious society or a contentious Hinkson, or both. Most of the cases were over matters of unpaid debts.

Hinkson's time in this area was marked by other references in the official records, mostly legal proceedings over his land. In 1812, the Missouri Territory was created out of the Territory of Louisiana. Beginning around 1810, land grants from the time before December 20, 1803 (the official date that the United States took possession of the part of the Louisiana territory below the Missouri River from the French), had to be presented for confirmation. Some people had lived on their land for years, with only the word of an official or with no recognized claim at all. Now they had to demonstrate that they had not only lived on the land but had made the proper improvements prior to December 20, 1803. Hinkson made three attempts in 1810 to get his land claim confirmed.(Note 9) In each case, the board of commissioners ruled that "his claim ought not to be granted," even though they had in 1806 "grant[ed] the claimant five hundred arpents [about 422 acres] of land, provided so much can be found vacant there." From these claims we learn a bit more about Robert Hinkson. In three different sworn statements, he said that he settled the tract in question "in the summer of 1803," or that he "settled the said tract of land in 1803; built a house on the same; that in January, 1804, he moved on it, raised a crop, and has actually inhabited and cultivated the same to this day;" or that he "cultivated the said tract of land in 1802, and did, prior to . . . the 20th December, 1803, actually inhabit and cultivate the same." It seems that Robert did not fully understand what the "right answer" was in these cases. For these claims to be upheld, he had to prove that he not only settled on the land prior to 20 December, 1803, but that he had also made the required improvements before that date. In his first pleading, he was too vague and did not address improvements at all. In his second pleading, he seems to be saying that he did not build a house and start any cultivation until early 1804, after the cutoff date. In his third, and apparently last, pleading, he moved back his claimed dates in an attempt to satisfy the requirements of the law and the whims of the commissioners. By that time, he had probably lost any credibility on his claim and it was also denied. Likely his first pleadings were most truthful and that he probably began settling and working the parcel of land in 1803. Of course, even then, due to the December 20th, 1803, cutoff date, he had incentive to "stretch" the truth.

More interesting than the discrepancies about his early days on the land are the three different family situations he swore to in these same claims. In the first one, he stated that in the summer of 1803 he had a wife and six children, only to state in the second one that he had a wife and four children! In the third record, he stated he "had then [1802 or 1803?] three children and one slave." These differing statements certainly did not make it any easier for the commissioners to rule in his favor. Regardless of Hinkson's affirmations, it appears that he and Polly were victims of the changing legal authorities and the "system" that was set up to deal with numerous cases of overlapping claims, undocumented claims, and, in some cases, outright fraud.

Hinkson, along with 562 other signers tried, in vane, to get redress of his grievances through the Congress of the United States. In a petition submitted in September, 1811, they stated that they were inhabitants of the Territory of Louisiana and that they had essentially been cheated in their claims and wanted to have a representative in Congress to represent them. Their petition may have helped support legislation creating the separate Missouri Territory, but it did nothing to help them get redress of their "just claims."(Note 10)

The loss of Hinkson's property rights in an area he had helped settle clearly was a severe blow. Probably some time in mid-1814, he left present Washington County to try and start over. Robert was now nearing 50 years of age, no longer a young man, and probably bitter at having to move again. But he had been hearing about yet another frontier--the bounteous Boone's Lick country to the west--and headed there despite the fact that the War of 1812 was on and Europeans in central Missouri who did not have protection were running big risks.

Robert Hinkson is listed as one of the men residing in Fort Hempstead during the War of 1812, though it seems he was there for only the last year or so of the war. The list of residents, though it includes some females, does not show any other Hinksons, especially not his wife, Polly, probably an indication that she and the children remained back in Ste. Genevieve with her father until the war was over and calm and relative safety prevailed again. Though there were no other Hinksons known to have been in the forts during the war, Robert's brother, Samuel, came to the area soon after the war concluded and married Polly Greathouse in February 1817.

The issue of land ownership at this early date is again critical to understanding Robert Hinkson's situation. After leaving Fort Hempstead in 1815, he may have scouted around the central Missouri area for a while but soon he decided to spend some time in what would later become Boone County. The newspaper account which follows proves that he had built a small cabin and was "settled" by Christmas of 1818. So, for now, we can only state clearly that between summer of 1815 and Christmas of 1818 he and his family built the rude, single-room cabin described below very near the junction of the St. Charles-Franklin road (the Boone's Lick trail) and the creek that would later take his name. It appears that he built on unowned land, possibly with the notion of obtaining legal claim to it later, though there is no record that he ever did. North Todd Gentry stated that Hinkson did not own real estate in Boone county because of judgements that had been rendered against him prior to his coming here.(Note 11) This certainly makes sense. If he purchased land, it could be seized to settle a judgement.

Dec. 25, 1818. Cruising this prairie in a horse train and after riding several miles through timber and brushwood, I came to a Mr. H___’s, where report said breakfast could be obtained, and which offered quite a contrast with the family of last night. The cabin was a single room of most primitive fashion, spice bush tea was a substitute for coffee, and the flesh of hog, bear, deer, and elk, was plenty of which the landlord showed me enough to supply a regiment. The corn-dodgers were cold and quite unpalatable; for the good woman had never learned the art of cleanliness and cookery. The man was a successful hunter, but probably understood very little of agriculture. I paid fifty cents for these accommodations--for my horse was lame and refused to eat.(Note 12)

As is clear from this wonderful first-hand account, Robert and Polly took in travelers to make ends meet. They did not necessarily want to but it was a way to bring in a little hard currency. When they first staked out their claim here, travelers were not as frequent, but they became more numerous in a short time. Also, even at this early time Robert knew that the hundreds of travelers that passed by his house, some of them stopping to claim land, were having an impact on the availability of the wild game which he depended on as a hunter. When they first arrived, he could easily find game near his cabin. Now he found he was having to go a little farther each hunt. He had seen this trend before and knew he had to find a way to survive without totally depending on the bounties of the original wilderness.

The first documentary reference we have that attaches the name Hinkson to the creek comes from the May, 1821, minutes of the Boone County Court (p. 5), wherein a report on road districts in the county mentions Hinkson Creek, so we know the name was in common use by that date.

Detailed research into the route of the early Boone's Lick trail allows us to determine with some fair precision where Robert and Polly Hinkson settled down when they were in Boone County. A key piece of information is Switzler's statement that they settled "where the St. Charles road crossed the creek that afterward bore and now bears his name." Without going into the reasoning, the evidence that is available is clearly shows that the early road from St. Charles to the Boone's Lick followed closely present O'Rear Road, from its intersection with Route HH to Brown's Station. It would seem that the Hinkson home was within a couple of hundred yards of the present bridge on O'Rear Road that crosses the Hinkson Creek.

Hinkson also seems to have earned the questionable distinction of being involved with one of the first civil cases filed in Boone County. It was the "case of Henry Elliott & Son against Robert Hinkson, which was a suit on a judgement rendered by a justice of the peace of Ste. Genevieve county. This suit was filed on January 22, 1821, and John Slack . . . was the justice . . . . Hinkson lost, but he was successful on appeal to the circuit court."(Note 13)

Though Hinkson surely felt he had not gotten a fair deal with his land near Ste. Genevieve and was often embroiled in law suits, he remained involved in his new community. In February, 1822, he was appointed along with Sampson Wright and Peter Fountain to be a road commissioner to "lay out a road beginning at the county line where a road laid out by Callaway County intersects, thence the nearest route to meet a road laid out by Howard County at section 25, township 51, range 14, and report at next term of court." In May of 1822, the three commissioners made their report back to the county court. (p. 24 of abstract, p. 144 of County Court Record Book A.). He garnered a post office in his name in June of 1823, indicating that he was liked and supported well enough to satisfy the government's application process that he was an upstanding member of the community.(Note 14) In September of 1824, he posted notice in the newspaper as required by law that he had found two stray mares.(Note 15)

Then things changed. Hinkson lost another law suit and seriously compounded the judgement against him by resisting an officer. "In 1825, a judgement was rendered . . . against Hinkson for $14.50 debt and $1.06-1/4 court costs(Note 15), and an execution was delivered to Peter Kearney constable.(Note 16) This writ commanded the constable to levy the said debts on the goods and chattels of him the said Robert Hinkson, a laborer, and for want of sufficient distress, to take the body of said Robert Hinkson . . . to the common jail of said county . . . . In attempting to take the defendant to the county jail, a difficulty arose, and Robert Hinkson, Polly Hinkson, his wife, and Jas. H. Hinkson were indicted for resisting an officer with process. The defendants afterward moved to Washington county... Jas. H. Hinkson failed to appear at the February term of the court and his bond was forfeited. On proof that his failure was due to the fact that the Missouri River was filled with floating ice and the ferry had stopped running, the forfeiture was set aside. Jas. H. Hinkson was then tried, but the jury failed to agree . . . . Hinkson [requested] a change of venue . . . to Callaway county, where the case was dismissed." As is clear from this account, Robert and Polly did not just "move" from the area--they fled. As a result, Hinkson's post office was reported unexpectedly closed in May 1825, the mail redirected to the Columbia post office.(Note 18)

The Hinksons returned to the Washington County area when they fled Boone County, but they did not remain there long. Robert was granted a "Wine and Spirits" license in late 1825, so he apparently operated a dram shop or tavern for a while.(Note 19) By 1830, however, they had moved on to Pulaski County (Little Rock) Arkansas with their son, Samuel H.(Note 20) By this time, Robert was in his sixties and Polly was just a few years younger. They probably were no longer the primary decision makers in the family and most likely accompanied their son and daughter-in-law on the move to the Little Rock area. The territorial area may have appealed to Samuel for the same reasons that his father and mother always moved to the edge of the settled areas. Robert lived out his life with his son and died on 21 December 1834. (Note 21) As was usually the case with the women, Polly's passing was not noted in the local newspaper, so we can only assume that she also died in the 1830s in Pulaski County, Arkansas.

1. Some early references to Hinkson's Boone County home place put him in Columbia township, whereas the point of crossing of the Boone's Lick trail and Hinkson creek is in Rocky Fork township. This can be explained by a change that occurred in the northern boundary of Columbia township. Originally, it was laid out to be two miles farther north than it is presently. Early on Hinkson's was in Columbia township, whereas it is now in Rocky Fork township.
2. The information about Robert Hinkson's parents and his grandfather, John, is from the Draper Manuscripts, 2S, an 1845 interview with John Hinkson (Robert's brother).
3. A History of Kentucky and Kentuckians by E. Polk Johnson. Lewis Publishing Co., Chicago-New York, 1912, Vol III, pp. 1587-1589.
4. Based on his estate inventory, it’s estimated that he died 24 March 1790.
5. Bourbon County, Kentucky, Marriage Records 1785-1851, n.d., n.p. call # 929.3 K419bou, at the State Historical Society of Missouri, Columbia.
6. Houck in his History of Missouri, vol. 1, p. 386, states that "other settlers in Brazeau bottom and at Brazeau creek were Robert Hinkson (1800), Joseph James (1801), David L. Johnson (1802), . . . ." I have chosen to give most credence to Robert's own declarations in the land cases (discussed later) as he would have every reason to establish the earliest possible date that he could. Had he truly arrived as early as 1800, his later claim would have probably been upheld.
7. This is the same Moses Austin who developed lead shot technology in Virginia, moved to the area around the lead mines near later Potosi in 1798, and who later moved to Texas and received permission from the Spanish to establish a colony. His son, Stephen F. Austin, spent his early business years in the area where Robert Hinkson was and went on to be immortalized as the "Father of Texas."
8. From a finding aid at the Missouri State Archives, Jefferson City, MO, titled Sainte Genevieve County Index to Territorial Records, Court of Common Pleas (Microfilm).
9. The three "cases" cited are from: First Settlers of the Missouri Territory: Containing Grants in Present States of Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma, by Carolyn Ericson and Frances Ingmire, 1983, pp. 51, 53, and 128.
10. Territorial Papers - Louisiana-Missouri Territory, 1806-1814, Volume XIV pages 471-479.
11. Gentry, N.T. papers, Collection #49, folder #143, Western Historical Manuscripts Collection--Columbia, Missouri.
12. This account from the [Columbia] Missouri Statesman of 3 April 1857, p. 1/col. 5, is from the diary of the Rev. J. M. Peck, written on Christmas, 1818, as he traveled the Boone’s Lick trail. A careful reading of the full account leads to the conclusion that “Mr. H__” was indeed Mr. Hinkson. It was a common device used by newspaper editors, and maybe preachers, to play a bit coy when a reference may not be all that flattering.
13. Gentry, North Todd, The Bench and Bar of Boone County Missouri, published by Gentry, Columbia, Missouri, 1916. In addition to this published summary, one can refer to the Boone County Circuit Court Records, Vol. A, 1821-1831, p. 8 (Aug. 6, 1821), which is the official record of Judge David Todd's decision in the appeal. The case was heard by a twelve man jury which favored Hinkson, allowing him to avoid the original judgement and to attempt to recover his costs to defend himself from Elliott.
14. Microfilm records of U.S. Appointments of Postmasters, 1825-1827, p. 100.
15. [Fayette] Missouri Intelligencer, Sept. 4, 1824, p. 3, col. 4.
16. The monetary amount is an interesting, if obscure, reminder of the money situation in the early 1800s, especially in the frontier areas. 6-1/4 cents was called a "picayune," another name for the Spanish medio or half reale. They were most common in Louisiana territory and Florida.
17. Kearney was one of the early occupants of Smithton, and then Columbia. He appears to have been the first grocery merchant in both places. [Switzler, pp. 145, 162-3].
18. [Fayette] Missouri Intelligencer, May 28, 1825, p. 2, col. 4.
19. [St. Louis] Missouri Republican, Dec. 12, 1825, p. 3, col. 5.
20. Samuel Hinkston was enumerated in Pulaski Co. in the 1830 Arkansas Territory census, p. 235. Besides Samuel, there were 2 males <5, 1 male 50-60, 1 female 5-10, 2 females 10-15, 1 female 30-40, and 1 female 50-60. The oldest male and oldest female were certainly Robert and Polly, maybe shaving a few years off their ages.
21. His obituary was summarized in Arkansas Newspaper Abstracts 1819-1845, originally c. 1981 by James Logan Morgan, reprinted by Arkansas Research, Conway, AR, 1992. Vol. I, p. 27. It said that Robert Hinkson was 68 when he died and formerly of Missouri. He died at the residence of his son, Major Samuel H. Hinkson, of Big Rock Township, Pulaski Co., Arkansas. Original was in the Arkansas Gazette of 23 Dec 1834.

© Copyright David P. Sapp 2009

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