Enoch: Memoirs of Micah Taul

By Harry Enoch

The description of David Bullock, first clerk of the Clark County Court, in my last column was provided by Micah Taul.

This remarkable gentleman began writing his 163-page memoirs at the age of 63.

A digital copy of his handwritten document is available from the Kentucky Historical Society. A transcription was published in their journal, the Register, in 1929.

Micah Taul led an eventful life. He was born in Maryland in 1785 and came to Kentucky with his parents.

His father, Arthur Thomas Taul, settled on his 950-acre land grant located on the dividing ridge between Stoner and Hinkston creeks, near the Clark-Montgomery border.

Micah went to work as one of Bullock’s “office boys” at the age of 13. He would be appointed the first clerk of newly-formed Wayne County in 1801 — two months shy of his 16th birthday.

He raised a company during the War of 1812 and soon after was promoted to colonel in command of the 7th Regiment of Kentucky Volunteers.

After the war, he was elected to the U.S. Congress and served one term before eventually moving to Winchester, Tennessee, to practice law.

By an odd coincidence, this was where John Holder’s and Richard Callaway’s children — with whom Taul had been acquainted — had settle.

Taul later moved to Alabama and died there shortly after completing his memoirs.

His recollections of his youth throw light on the early times of Clark County.

One of the boys he worked with in Bullock’s office was named John Mitchell. He described Mitchell as “a very unpromising looking young fellow, probably 16 or 17 years of age, exceedingly awkward, uncouth in his appearance & wretchedly dressed. And yet this ‘ogre’ was a natural son of Gen. Daniel Morgan of Revolutionary Memory.”

“His father sent for him & had him taken to Virginia where he put him to school, intending as I understood to adopt him as one of his children. But before his death his legitimate children contrived to prejudice him against him & he died without making any provision for him.

“Upon Mitchell’s return to Virginia, his name was changed to Willoughby Morgan. He by some means obtained a liberal education & afterwards read law in the office of a distinguished lawyer of Winchester [VA] & in a short time gave promise of future eminence.”

Willoughby would distinguish himself in the War of 1812. Taul met him again in 1820 at St. Louis.

“He was beyond all question one of the noblest looking men I ever saw. His height 6 feet 2 or 3 inches with a perfect symmetry of form & with a many commanding face, and all in all a most elegant & accomplished Gentleman.”

I considered it quite a surprise that a son of Gen. Daniel Morgan worked in the Clark County clerk’s office.

Taul went on to describe court day in Winchester.

“The taverns were full of people from early in the day until the next morning. The people would quarrel and fight, as it seems to me now, just for the love of it.”

According to Taul, cock fighting “was a common and favorable sport in those days.”

“On Christmas day 1798, a main event was fought on the Public Square in Winchester for a large wager.” One of the parties was from Lexington, the other from “Slate Furnace,” near Owingsville.

“A Pit was prepared & an Amphitheatre erected around it for Spectators.” Nothing else was talked about for days.

Taul described the contest in hilarious detail.

“One of the Cocks in quick time cut down his adversary. The proud Victor Cock strutted round & about [then] jumped upon his prostrate foe & crowed. The dying Fowl, cut down in the prime of life, felt that his last end was near, but to be trampled upon & crowed over by his ungenerous foe was too much for the brave Cock, even in the last agonies of death. He summoned up all his expiring energies, threw his foe off his body and run one of his Gaffs entirely through his [opponent’s] head which produced instantaneous death.”

The victor “did not survive long enough to receive the congratulations of his friends on his unexpected victory.”

Taul reported other things people did for fun back then.

“Horse racing was an almost every day business. The people indulged in almost all sorts of amusements: playing cards, fives or ball, throwing long bullets & even pulling an old Gander’s head off, was no uncommon sport. Shooting, running foot races, wrestling, hopping, &c. was practiced at all public gatherings. A fist fight followed as a matter of course.”

Several of these are unknown today. Fives was a game resembling handball. Throwing long bullets was a game to see who could throw a heavy stone or metal ball (the bullet) a certain distance, say a mile, in the fewest throws. The game was usually played in public roads and was eventually outlawed everywhere.

Taul gave personal descriptions of the illustrious members of the Clark County bar in 1798. They included Gen. Levi Todd, James Brown, Henry Clay, George M. Bibb and Jesse Bledsoe.

“General Todd was an old man, was called the father of the bar, tho’ I don’t expect he was much of a Lawyer. A man of high character & universally esteemed. His brother, Col. John Todd, was killed at the battle of the Blue Licks. Mr. Brown was a gentleman of high literary & legal attainments. Was a man of towering & majestic person, very proud, austere & haughty. Was afterwards Senator to Congress & Minister to France. Mr. Clay, Mr. Bibb & Mr. Bledsoe were all three great favorites with the people & considered very promising. Mr. Clay, however, took the lead & kept it. Young as I then was, I paid particular attention to the speeches made at that Court & I determined then to be a Lawyer. Mr. Clay’s success & career are well known. Mr. Bibb also became highly distinguished as a Lawyer & has twice been on the bench of the Supreme Court of Kentucky, Senator in Congress & Secretary of the Treasury of the U.S. Mr. Bledsoe was a man of the first order of talents, a classical scholar, a man of exquisite wit, a poet & Orator. He soon acquired great eminence at the bar & was considered one of the best advocates in the State. He was afterwards in the Senate of the U.S. and a judge on the Circuit Court bench in Kentucky. He married [Sally,] the eldest daughter of the late Col. Nathaniel Gist of Clarke County. She was at the time one of the ‘belles’ of Kentucky. His besetting sin was ‘intemperance’ that impaired his usefulness.”

Taul came back to Clark County for a time (1817-1825).

He was a delegate to the Kentucky convention that nominated Henry Clay for president in 1824. The election was thrown into the House of Representatives when no candidate received a majority of electoral votes. This was when Clay was accused of making a “corrupt bargain” by supporting John Quincy Adams in return for being appointed Secretary of State.

In a show of support, Clark County citizens called on Taul to invite Clay “to partake in a dinner at Col. [Hubbard] Taylor’s, five miles from Winchester on the Lexington road. Mr. Clay attended and … delivered a very handsome and eloquent speech. The Dinner was one of the very best I ever sat down to. The day was spent in the utmost gaiety and hilarity. Conversation, eating, drinking, dancing etc. etc.”

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