John Miller

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Major John Miller (1752-1815)

Born: 21 Sep 1752, Sherman Valley, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania

Died: 5 Sep 1815, Millersburg, Bourbon County, Kentucky Age: 62

Father: Robert Miller Mother: ? Smith

"The names and deeds of those who have wrought nobly in the past should not be allowed to perish and it is in the making of Perpetual record concerning such persons that a publication of this order exercises its supreme function. The name of the Miller family is one which is ineffaceably traced on the history of Bourbon county, Kentucky, and which has been identified with the annals of American history since the early colonial epoch. Strong men and true, and gentle and gracious women have represented the name as one generation has followed another upon the stage of life, and loyalty and patriotism have been in distinctive evidence, the while the family escutcheon has ever been a symbol of integrity, honor and usefulness. In Kentucky, where the family was founded more than a century and a half ago, there have been many worthy citizens to upbear the prestige of the name and thus there is peculiar consistency in offering in this publication a review of the family history.

Major John Miller, the founder of Millersburg, Bourbon county, Kentucky, and one of the earliest settlers of this section of the state, was born in Sherman's Valley, near Carlisle, Cumberland county, Pennsylvania, on the 21st of September, 1752, and he is the progenitor of many descendants resident of Bourbon and Nicholas counties at the present time. Major John Miller, in company with his brother, Robert, and several others, emigrated from Pennsylvania to Kentucky in 1775, having been induced to take this actiori by the Governor of Virginia, who gave to each of them a pre-emption grant of four hundred acres of land in that section of Kentucky, which was then a part of Fincastle county, Virginia. The long and hazardous journey through the wilderness was made on foot and the sturdy pioneers arrived at their destination without serious difficulty enroute. Major John Miller and his brother, together with William McClelland and William Steele, had the prescience to discern the special advantages and attractions of what is now Millersburg precinct, Bourbon county, and here they secured their respective allotments of land. In addition to his grant of four hundred acres, Major Miller entered an additional tract of one thousand acres, which he secured at the nominal expenditure of twenty shillings per hundred acres. While they were surveying their lands they were continually menaced by the Indians and on one occasion William Steele was wounded by one of the savages. Concerning the conditions and incidents touching the lives of these sterling pioneers the following pertinent record has been written, being from the pen of George W. Bryan, who was one of the representative citizens of Millersburg. But slight change is made in the phraseology in the reproduction of the article.

"To protect their families from attack and siege of the Indians, each of the Millers built upon his lands a log block house or fort, Major Miller's being built near the present boundary line of Bourbon and Nicholas counties, on the land now owned by his greatgrandson, William M. Layson. Robert Miller's was near the big spring on Isaac Chanslor's farm. These block houses were loop-holed and sufficiently large to accommodate the famiilies of the neighboring settlers, who often fled to them for refuge. - After, planting a few acres in corn by simply tickling the rich soil with the hoe, the pioneers returned in the latter part of the year to Pennsylvania for their families. In the following spring they began their return journey, traveling by land to Pittsburg and thence down the Ohio in flat boats, intending to land at Limestone, Maysville, and then to proceed to their settlement, forty miles distant, over the 'Old Buffalo Trace,' which is now the Maysville and Lexington turnpike road. The danger in making the voyage down the river. came not, however, from the water, but from the shore. From tree and bush, from rock and ravine the deadly bullet and the flint-head arrow, dipped in poison, singly and by volleys, kept constantly on the alert the harassed voyageurs, compelling them to keep their boats in the middle of the river, to be out of range. But with all their precautions, Robert Miller fell a victim to their attacks and his body f ell into the river and into the hands of the Indians. Owing to this hostility, the travelers did not land at Maysville as they had intended, but continued their river journey to Beargrass, Louisville, where there was a settlement and fort, and it was not thought safe to settle upon their lands until about 1785-6. But even then, as everyone conversant with the early history of the 'dark and bloody ground' knows, they were often subject to sudden attacks by wandering bands of Indians from beyond the Ohio, who resented the occupation of their hunting grounds by the whites.

"The settlement grew in population and importance, as it was on the highway of immigration into Kentucky from the east. So that in 1798 Major John Miller had surveyed one hundred acres, which was laid off in town lots and incorporated as the town of Millersburg. As the facilities of transportation were meagre and the eastern markets distant, a great many trades and factories were established to supply the necessities of the community. More, in fact, a great many more, before the incorporation than there is now, a century later.

"The flouring mill was built by the Millers on each bank of the Hinkston. Flour, together with jeans, linsey-wool and flax cloths, spinning wheels, furniture, etc., as well as the products of the farm, were hauled in road wagons to Maysville, and shipped by flat-boats down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans. The money received was mostly silver, and, as it was before the advent of steam, getting back was another matter. But many a return trip was made on horse-back, with saddle-bags containing the silver, not only to Millersburg, but on to Philadelphia, where merchandise was purchased, hauled by land to Pittsburg, and then by flat-boat to Maysville, where the road wagons received it for final delivery to purchasers."

Soon after coming to Kentucky Major John Miller returned to Cumberland county, Pennsylvania, where was solemnized his marriage to Ann McClintock, who accompanied him on his return to Kentucky. As noted in a preceding paragraph, some time had elapsed before he made final settlement on his land in Bourbon county, where he continued to reside until his death, which occurred on the 5th of September, 1815. His wife was born in Pennsylvania, on the 9th of July, 1755, and died at the old homestead in Bourbon county, Kentucky, on the 19th of December, 1825. Major Miller served with distinction in the war of the Revolution and-was known as an able commander having been major of his regiment. As has already been stated, Major Miller eventually surveyed one hundred acres of his land and platted the same into town lots, thus becoming the founder of Millersburg, which was named in his honor. He was a man of fine intellectual and physical powers and wielded large and beneficent influence in connection with the material and social development of Bourbon county, where he ever held a secure place in popular conndence and esteem. He became the father of four sons and two daughters and at the present time there are to be found in Bourbon and Nicholas counties many of his descendants, who have likewise played well their part in connection with the work of progress and development, as have also the intermediate generations. Within the pages of this publication will be found special mention of many representatives of this sterling family and the article here entered is given as a supplement to such individual sketches."


  • E. Polk Johnson, The History of Kentucky and Kentuckians, Vol. III, Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago, Ill., 1912, pp. 1243-1245


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