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Bartlett Searcy’s Death as an Indian Spy

Conflicts between the various Indian tribes such as the Shawnee and settlers in Kentucky continued after the end of the Revolutionary War (1781) but on a much smaller scale. Having lost their British support, Indians would travel in small groups and attack handfuls of settlers either traveling to KY or living at outpost settlements. The settlers would respond with “campaigns” into Indian territory with a few hundred militiamen to destroy the closest Indian villages and crops or they would patrol known crossing locations for sign of Indians.

The year 1790 was not much different;

In January two men were killed on the waters of "hanging fork on Dick's River." They were taking horses to the canebrake for range. Three men were killed at Fox's Station on Lee's Creek near Limestone. Also reported was the following, "..The Indians were on all frontiers, that they killed several whites on the head of Green River and on the road through the Wilderness, stole a number of horses from the Elkhorn.”

In March all settlers at Kennedy's bottom were captured by Indians; they attacked a large canoe on the Ohio killing 3 men on board and took the rest prisoner and attacked 3 boats on the Ohio 3 miles above the Scioto River. The settlers abandoned 2 boats and combined oarsman to escape. Two boats and property were lost, valued at £500.

Indian incursions continued in April with an attack on 5 boats traveling together on the Ohio. One boat fell into Indian hands and 1 man was killed. A small militia force under Gen'l Charles Scott crossed the Ohio River with a small army of KY Vols of 230 men to join Gen'l Harmar and his 100 soldiers to move on Indians at the Scioto River. In another incident 13 men pursued 4 Indians 15 miles and killed them at Eagle's Creek.

Indian attacks continued in May; they attacked 4 boats traveling down the Ohio that had stopped at "three islands" killing and captured 1 man and 12 women and children. A company traveling to KY through the Wilderness encamped on Rock Castle Creek was attacked; 1 man, 1 Negro woman and 3 children were killed. A company was attacked while going home from a Sunday church meeting on Brashier's Creek. One man was killed and a woman taken captive. When the pursuing men got close to the Indians, they killed the woman prisoner.

Meanwhile, Bartlett Searcy’s everyday activity demonstrated his continued growing stature in the newly formed Woodford County. In May Bartlett Searcy, about age 34, presented an appointment for the office of Deputy Surveyor and he took the oaths required by law. This was a continuation of his prior survey activity, which dated back to the early 1780’s. In early June, 1790, Bartlett Searcy was recommended by the court as a Captain in the Woodford Co militia. His rank as a Captain was never confirmed but he served in that capacity.

Bartlett Searcy last record was on June 06, 1790, when he and his longtime friend and surveyor William Steel laid off the corner and lines of part of Bartlett’s former land between his brother-in-law Morgan Morgan’s 100 acres and the 100 ac he had sold to his brother Richard Searcy (b.1759). He asked Steel to mark off a few more paces to give Morgan a full measure of land.

Pressure mounted for better control of the porous border between the two warring parties. In late May, President Washington authorized his agent Harry Innes to call out KY Lieutenants to raise a special service of scouts for regular patrol. Alexander Orr of Mason Co was named as colonel commanding the scouts. The network of scouts for KY’s nine counties was set up in early June; they were to provide their own horses, arms and provisions. As in past spying assignments the scout’s planned time away from home for several months and they would range hundreds of miles.

Bartlett Searcy’s Death:

Bartlett Searcy and his unnamed partner headed out in mid-June probably around June 11th or 12th. Bartlett’s first cousin Asa Searcy and his partner William Kavanaugh served this same role in Madison County, KY, They commenced on the 11th of June 1790 and were paid for 61 days at 5/0 (Shillings) daily £16.5.0.

Bartlett Searcy (b.ca.1756) was killed by Indians in mid-June 1790 about the 15th. Several accounts of his death are documented. The KY Gazette reported on 06-17-1790 “One of two spies from Woodford Co, KY returned. They tracked 6 Indians and fired on them. Four Indians returned fire and pursued the spies. One fell behind and it is believed that he was killed.” There is no doubt that this account speaks to Bartlett Searcy’s death, as he was one of only two appointed spies for Woodford Co, KY. Another account stated that Bartlett Searcy was killed by the Indians near Big Bone Lick in Boone County.

Bartlett’s brother Richard Searcy (b.1759) stated on 04-08-1797 in a bill of complaint against the heirs of his brother “..that Bartlett Searcy in about the year 1790 was appointed and hired by the officers of Government to range the frontier of KY as a spy to discover if the Indians were making incursions on our Inhabitants and in performing and carrying the duties of his office he the said Bartlett was unfortunately massacred & Slaughtered by the Savages..”

Edmund Searcy (b.1767)’s stated in a deposition on 01-09-1796 “That Bartlett Searcy deceased...was appointed as a spy in the service of the United States in which employment he was killed by the Indians five or six days after he had entered in the said employment.” Edmund said that as a friend of the widow he applied to Col Robert Johnson, Commanding Officer of the militia of Woodford Co, and obtained a certificate of Bartlett’s service and sold the same...for about the sum of 50 shillings.” 50 shillings equals 2-1/2 pounds; at a rate of 5 shillings per day (paid to Asa Searcy) the Col paid about twice the going rate.

Herman Bowmar’s deposition on 10-06-1854 stated that Bartlett Searcy was a Cpt in the KY militia. Herman served under Bartlett Searcy in 1789. He stated that Bartlett Searcy was killed by Indians in 1790 about 3 miles from Versailles according to his father’s family register. This location likely referred to Bartlett Searcy’s home, which was 3 to 4 miles from Versailles.

The last proof is from a letter from Sarah Searcy Dooley stating that” Dick and Bartlett were brothers and am cousins to our Grandfather Charles Searcy...Bartlett...and another man were sent out as spies, and Bartlett was killed by the Indians.”

Bartlett Searcy’s Will

Bartlett Searcy (b.ca.1756)'s last will and testament was proved 09-07-1790. His wife Nancy Searcy was named and confirmed as executrix, along with Morgan Morgan and John Morgan as her securities. She rejected the terms of the will (her dower) declaring she would not accept the legacies given to her in the will; Nancy Ann Searcy remarried to Joseph Rearden on 10-11-1791 and they and his brother controlled the balance of the estate for many years. The estate stayed in court appeals into the early 1820’s as Bartlett’s children and heirs never received any property from their father 400 ac settlement and 1,200 ac preemption or his personal property.

The other John Searcy: John Searcy (b.ca.1753) aka John Searcy, who died in Defense of the TN Settlements

The second John Searcy was a known historical figure (i.e., his heirs were granted 640 ac of land in middle TN due to his death prior to late 1784). The only published material on this family was the grant to Richard Searcy, John Searcy and Reuben Searcy. These newly discovered records appear to point to one individual who probably was a descendant of a Granville Co, NC clan; of the family of Bartlett Searcy (b.ca.1732). Keep in mind that this is a logical conjecture. The records are facts, but the identity as one person is a theory.

John Searcy’s Military Service

John Searcy enlisted in the army of George Rogers Clark on 01-10-1779 under Cpt Thomas Quirk. Clark's army was on the far western frontier in an area that became Jefferson Co, VA in 1780. John was assigned to Col John Montgomery as he reported to him on 06-19-1779 and requested payment from the time of his enlistment for caring "for myself, wife and two childring [sic]." Col Montgomery, a former resident of eastern TN, appeared to pull a few men from each of his companies and was sent by Clark on an expedition in the summer of 1779 into northwest Indian territory. John served until 05-28-1780, almost 18 months. There are no further records of John Searcy (b.ca.1753) in KY. Why did John resign in May 1780? Where did he go?

Contemporary Events of May 1780

Other exciting news was happening south of Clark's KY frontier. Richard Henderson resurrected his claim in middle TN as part of the Watauga Treaty by financing a journey of eastern TN settlers to found Fort Nashborough; they arrived in the winter of 1780 to spark the expansion of TN. At the same time, Henderson and a Commission of NC surveyors were protecting their state's interest as NC and VA ran their common boundary westward to the Mississippi River. Oswald Townsend, Elizabeth Searcy's son, was employed as a hunter in Henderson's party. The survey was completed in early May 1780 near a temporary fort built by Gen'l Clark. The VA surveyors led by Daniel Smith returned to VA in the spring, meeting up one last time with Henderson in Harrodsburg, KY in the end of May. Smith later settled in Sumner Co, TN and surveyed the land grant for John Searcy’s descendants. Which one of these acquaintances may have crossed paths with John Searcy in late May 1780 to entice him to leave the army and possibly move to the Middle TN frontier?

John Searcy’s Wife

John Searcy (b.ca.1753) must have left KY for TN very shortly after his resignation in May 1780. The next step is the identity of John Searcy's wife (he was married with two children). In May 1781, VA passed a law to benefit poor families in KY. The three counties could provide up to 400 ac of vacant land at a reduced rate to destitute families. Jefferson Co, KY approved their list on 03-05-1782 including a Rachael Searcy. To qualify, Rachael had to be the head of a household (widow), a county resident of at least one year, too poor to buy land and had no access to land by law or equity. Rachael Searcy was the ONLY Searcy in early Jefferson Co, KY records other than John Searcy, who served in Clark's army. No Jefferson Co, KY grant was ever claimed by a Searcy.

It is interesting to note that Cpt Thomas Quirk collected all his records on 03-20-1782, which included John Searcy's initial enlistment and resignation. This record keeping occurred two weeks after Rachael was included on the grant list. Perhaps widows were seeking documentation for their deceased husband's service.

John Searcy’s Children

The children of John Searcy (of TN) were identified in guardianships at the 1st court session of Sumner Co, TN in 1787 - the same location as the land grant. Richard Searcy was 13 years old on 04-10-1787, making him born ca. 1774. The two younger boys were given separate guardianship. John Searcy was identified as the “next oldest...having just turned ten”, making him born ca. 1777. Reuben's age was not identified, but he lived past 1860, giving us his age (1850 and 1860 censuses). He was born between 06-1778 and 06-1780.

The land grant for the three sons was in an area cut off from Summer Co, TN to form Wilson Co, TN in 1799. John and Reuben lived many years in Wilson Co, TN, but Richard Searcy (b.ca.1774) sold off his lands in 1800 and 1802. He relocated to a portion of Davidson Co, TN that became Rutherford Co, TN in 1804 and died just prior to that time. The first court meeting of Rutherford Co, TN granted his widow the right of executrix. Coincidentally, William Williams Searcy, son of Bartlett Searcy (b.ca.1732) and new resident of Rutherford, appeared in court on the very same day to register his cattle crop mark. Perhaps he was the uncle of the deceased Richard Searcy?

A unique Searcy name - Rachael

There is no evidence to suggest how long Rachel Searcy lived. She could have lived far past assignment of guardianships for their children; that legal process had no bearing on the mother’s ability to care for her children. A possible descendant of one of the remaining two sons, Rachael Searcy, married Solomon Deloach on 09-12-1814 in Wilson Co, TN and later a Rachael (Searcy) Deloach married John Flowers in Wilson Co, TN on 01-27-1816. Perhaps she was named after her grandmother - Rachael Searcy of Jefferson Co, KY. Perhaps she was the widow Rachael Searcy herself, from KY.


This study ties the heirs of the TN land grant into the ages of John Searcy's two oldest sons when he reported to Col Montgomery with his wife and two children in May, 1779. John Searcy and later Rachael Searcy (who was apparently a widow) were the only Searcy's in Jefferson Co, KY during the time of this study. Much later, the widow of John’s son Richard Searcy (b.ca.1774) appeared at a new court location in Rutherford Co, TN simultaneously with William Williams Searcy, son of Bartlett Searcy and Lucy Searcy. We also have a descendant in Wilson Co, TN named Rachael, perhaps the widow or grandchild of John Searcy (b.ca.1773). Rachael was not a common name for the Searcy’s of KY or TN of this era.