By Jim Pritchard
Program Manager, ERG, LLC
I have had the good fortune and joy to work as a professional archaeologist in Kentucky for many years. I have investigated prehistoric sites that span the 12,000 years of Native American occupation of Kentucky and historic sites that date from the Revolutionary and Civil Wars and the early pioneer period through the mid-twentieth century. But of all the sites that I have studied, one of the most interesting to me was the remains of an early nineteenth century farmstead at Fort Knox, as it was the home of my great great great great grandparents.
My Montgomery family came to Hardin County, Kentucky at the turn of the nineteenth century. The first of my family to arrive here was William Montgomery who immigrated during the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Fleeing Ireland, he came to Baltimore with friend and fellow Irishman Robert Bleakley. Together, they established a mercantile called Bleakley & Montgomery. Soon after, like many others who crossed the Appalachians to settle Kentucky after statehood, the pair relocated their enterprise to Elizabethtown where they operated Bleakley & Montgomery on the town square.
William and Robert married sisters, Elizabeth and Dorcas Bleakley, daughters of Revolutionary War veteran William Withers who served as the Sheriff of Hardin County during the early nineteenth century. Withers received a large land grant in the vicinity of West Point at the confluence of the Salt and Ohio Rivers in Hardin County. Montgomery and Bleakley purchased adjoining tracts from their father-in-law ca. 1810 and the newlywed couples established their farms in what was later to become the rail boom hamlet known as Tip Top. This land was acquired by Camp Henry Knox in 1919 in the early stages of the development of Fort Knox.
Through the early 1800s, Bleakley and Montgomery successfully operated their mercantile operation in Elizabethtown. While the two men were locally prominent, today few are familiar with Bleakley & Montgomery except those Lincoln scholars who know that Thomas Lincoln, father of Abe Lincoln, was an employee. Bleakley & Montgomery’s Ledgers A and B detail Thomas Lincoln’s business transactions in Hardin County up to his marriage to Nancy Hanks, and then again for a brief stint before the Lincolns, with son Abe in tow, left the Bluegrass for Indiana.
In 1996, Pam Schenian who was at the time the Fort Knox Archaeologist, undertook the initial investigations at the William Montgomery and Robert Bleakley farmsteads. At both historic sites, Schenian recorded stone foundations and household artifacts that provided evidence of the daily activities of these two farming families. Coupled with the two men’s local significance to the development of the area and their dealings with the Lincolns, Schenian recommended the archaeological sites potentially eligible to the National Register.
Archaeologists, as a rule, are fascinated by the past possessions of the long since dead. After digging at the Montgomery farmstead, I can tell you that I have found nothing quite as unique as handling the small things once used and forgotten by my own Kentucky family.