57 years of Bullocks:
Clark County clerk’s office

Published 9:00 am Friday, September 15, 2017

By Harry Enoch

The Shimfessel family enjoyed a long run — 45 years — in the Clark County clerk’s office.

After several terms as county magistrate, Beckner Shimfessel served as clerk for 16 years.

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He was followed by his daughter, Anita Jones, who served for 29 years, until her retirement in 2014.

Their tenure was exceeded only by the Bullock family who held the office for 57 years.

David Bullock was selected by the court as Clark’s first clerk in 1793.

Following his resignation in 1814, he was succeeded by his son, James P. Bullock, who held the office until 1845.

Finally, James was succeeded by his son, James W. Bullock, who served until 1850

The county clerk has many duties today, but some of them date back to the beginning. The main task has always been to maintain the county’s record of deeds, mortgages, marriages and estate settlements. Many of today’s records are kept on computer and before that, they are typed.

But when the office was created, each record had to be written out by hand. The clerk typically employed a stable of office boys to do the writing. Yes, they were boys.

Micah Taul went to work for Bullock in 1798. Having just turned 13, he also lived with him.

“I had a neat hand for a little boy,” he later wrote.

In his memoirs, Taul paints a vivid picture of our first clerk and is quoted extensively below. It is truly rare to find such a detailed personal description in the 18th century. I have not found any in Clark County to exceed Taul’s portrait of Bullock.

At that time (1798), Bullock kept the office at his house on Grassy Lick Road (now North Main Street), one mile from Winchester. That was not as unusual as it sounds.

We know Fayette’s first clerk, Levi Todd, kept the office in a cabin behind his home, “Ellerslie,” on Richmond Road.

The office burned in 1803 destroying most of the county’s records.

Taul begins, “I found Captain B. a plain, sensible well educated & very stern old Virginia Gentleman. He had been a Captain in the Revolutionary War & was a first rate clerk — wrote with more rapidity than any person I ever saw.”

Taul ventures a guess that Bullock “must have been very poor” when he was appointed, because “they lived poor during my residence with them,” then follows with a lengthy description.

“Captain B. was at the time I went to write in his office about 50 years of age inclining to corpulency. Was certainly one of the best & altogether Laziest man I ever saw. He was an inveterate smoker & had a great repugnance to locomotion. He went to the town of Winchester every Saturday and except that he scarcely ever went off the place. He was no farmer and did not keep an Overseer. Raised but little stock, perhaps pork enough to supply the family.”

On his second day at work, Taul was put to work recording deeds, and thereafter “he [Bullock] hardly ever had occasion to come into the office.”

He certainly came from notable stock. According to Taul, Bullock was “connected by blood & marriage with several distinguished families in Virginia & Kentucky, particularly the Clarkes, Hendersons & Lewises.”

Bullock was married to Susannah Moore — Taul says they were cousins.

“I never saw a man & wife so well matched, so perfectly congenial in their dispositions. She too was a great smoker, and they spent the principal part of their time in smoking & conversation. They were perfectly contented & happy. Lived in an indifferent cabin in a plain, simple manner. Their diet was of the most common kind, meat, corn bread & milk being almost the only articles. Tea & coffee were unknown.”

The couple raised two sons and five daughters.

“They did not educate their children, but I never could account for it, particularly as he was himself a well educated man. He was a first rate Greek & Latin scholar. The consequence was, when his children grew up, they labored under great disadvantages. His stingyness might have been the cause of his not educating his children, for he was the stingyest man I ever knew — and yet wife, daughters & all were perfectly cheerful & happy — and so was I.”

Taul added that “Captain Bullock sent his children to the dancing school, almost the only school he ever sent them to.”

Taul remembered his first visit to court day in Winchester. “There was an immense crowd of people at an indifferent Tavern…kept by an old Dutch woman.”

This was Ann Sphar, tavern keeper and wife of Theodorus, who left him and took up with William Smith in Winchester. Goff Bedford claimed she ran a bawdy house, which may be true.

Taul says when the passed the tavern, “so uproarious were the people that Captain B., altho a very moral man, had to stop & go in and, of course, the boys followed. The young Gentlemen of the bar I distinctly remember were there, as happy and as jovial a set of fellows as I ever saw. Many of the most respectful married men of the County were present & that house continued to be the center of attraction during the sitting of the Court.”

Taul continues, but we must move on.

Bullock gave up the office in 1814 and died the following year. His son James P. Bullock took over for a long run. He had served during the War of 1812 in Capt. Joseph Clark’s ill-fated company that was slaughtered at “Col. William Dudley’s defeat” during the siege of Fort Meigs (Ohio). James was badly wounded, taken prisoner and later paroled. He was allowed a pension on his disability.

He married Mildred Didlake and they raised a large family. James resigned his office in 1845 and, soon after, followed several of his children to Sumner County, Tennessee, where he died in 1848. Clark County Public Library has one of his law books on display — “William Littell’s Statute Law of Kentucky,” published in 1809.

When James left office, his son James Werter Bullock took over and held the position for five years, rounding out the family’s service at 57 years.

Harry Enoch, retired biochemist and history enthusiast, has been writing for the Sun since 2005