Where in the World: The history of ‘Clarke County’

By Harry Enoch

On Dec. 6, 1792, the Kentucky General Assembly formed a new county from a portion of Fayette and Bourbon.

After defining the boundaries, the establishing act stated that the county was to be “called and known by the name of Clarke.”

When the appointed county justices met the following March and began keeping official monthly records, they always used the spelling “Clarke County.”

Today, of course, we are only familiar with the “Clark County” spelling. This raises several questions: How did the original spelling with the “e” come about?  When did the “e” get dropped?  (While these sound like trivial issues, they are fascinating to me.)

Our county was named in honor of Gen. George Rogers Clark, who is remembered as the heroic young commander who led a small force of frontiersmen through freezing waters in the Illinois country to capture Vincennes from the British in 1779.

Clark always wrote his name without the “e.”

A number of historians have speculated that a careless clerk may have been responsible for the “erroneous” spelling of Clarke County.

That’s not quite fair, or accurate, however, because wherever George Roger Clark’s name appeared in print, it was just as likely to be spelled with the “e” as not.

For example, his first land grant in Kentucky, signed by Gov. Patrick Henry, awarded 400 acres to “George R. Clarke.” In 1783, the U.S. Congress set aside 150,000 acres in Indiana for “general George Rogers Clarke” and his men. When his name appeared in military records, newspaper accounts, and even history books, the spelling invariably included the “e.”

(A similar thing happened with Daniel Boone’s name, in reverse. He always wrote it “Boone.” Contemporary records and publications dropped the “e.” Thus we had “Fort Boonsborough,” “Boon Creek,” “Boonville,” etc. Why did this happen? Who knows.)

What we do know is when the spelling change occurred: Our official county records — deed books, will books, etc. — dropped the “e” in Clarke County after May 1850.

On the 27th day of that month, the county court accepted the resignation of their clerk, James W. Bullock, who moved to Sumner County, Tennessee. That ended a run of Bullocks in the clerk’s office of 57 years: David had served from 1793 to 1814, James Patterson from 1814 to 1845, and James Werter from 1845 until 1850.

During all those Bullock years, under father, son and grandson, the county clerk made sure the name was recorded as “Clarke County.”

On the same day James W. Bullock resigned, the court appointed Cadwallo Jones to fill the vacancy. From that day forward, the county name was rendered as “Clark County.”

Although Cad Jones served only a brief term — less than four years — his revision of the spelling would remained unchanged.

A Jones family history states that Cad could not practice his profession “on account of delicate health.” He died, unmarried, in 1862.

While the county remained consistent, the spelling of our name elsewhere took some time to come around.

For a decade, area newspapers used “Clark County” and “Clarke County” almost interchangeably, until the latter gradually faded away.

The state of Kentucky took even longer to make the change. The journals of the Senate and House of Representatives used the “Clarke County” spelling until 1866.

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