Seeds of Knowledge with Sarah the Gardener

We’re ready for spring at Locust Grove, but it’s been a very productive winter! Our gardener Sarah conducts a great deal of research, and today, she’s sharing some insights from her favorite garden journal with us! Tell us more about sainfoin seeds, Sarah!


Sarah hard at work!


During those long, grey winter months, a gardener has more time to catch up on her reading, and what better to read than old garden journals! One of my favorites, which I return to again and again, are the journals of Joseph Hornsby. Mr. Hornsby, formerly of Williamsburg, VA, moved to Shelby County with his nearly-grown children and began his journal in Feb. 1798. Not just a simple listing of what seed varieties were planted where, he also used these pages to discuss health, social calls, family, weather, land disputes, and other affairs of his farm life.

Mr. Hornsby arrived in Shelby with sacks (literally) of seeds from friends in Williamsburg and abroad, and had a curious nature in regard to plants. One of the things I noticed early on was his mention (Oct. 22, 1798) of planting sainfoin seeds. My research reveals that this plant was introduced to the U.S. in 1786, but not much was done with it until the 1900’s, yet here was Mr. Hornsby, giving it a try! What is sainfoin and why would Mr. Hornby have had interest? It is a plant in the legume family which is grown much like alfalfa, yet it is more nutritious and non-bloating, making it an ideal forage plant for livestock, especially sheep. Mr. Hornsby never says how his experiment turned out, but I’m impressed with how forward–thinking he was!

His non-gardening entries were interesting, too. Suffering from headaches, he allowed himself to be “electrified” to seek relief. No such luck, though! His daughter Peggy experienced a mysterious, lengthy illness, for which the doctor bled her freely. He then posted ‘Doctor Moore went home early this morning & I think my daughter Peggy out of danger.’ ” Does he mean Peggy was cured, or that she’s safe now that Dr. Moore has gone? They spent a great deal of time visiting between neighboring farms, and a visit could last days, involving fox hunting and sending somebody out to barter corn for alcohol!

fall grounds

Mr. Hornsby was a slave holder, and I find his interaction with his enslaved population interesting. He elected to use the term “My People”, which initially confused me when I read that “The People” were in the corn crib! It’s not easy to find terms slave-owners used for their enslaved population, but it appears that variations on unpleasant terms, “servants”, “field hands”, and just plain “slaves” were more common terms. He was an odd mix of concern and indifference. He carefully noted which slaves were sick each day and seemed to have no problem sending for a doctor when needed, but he also had them working outside in foul weather, with inevitable results. On February 8th, 1803, he sent John to Doctor Knight to pick up pills for Alice. But on December 3rd of that year he dryly noted …”Clear and Cold, Mr. R. Merriweather set off after breakfast. Sally brought to Bed, Child Dead, John making shoes.” He had the same emotion earlier that year when he noted “One cow called young Nubb calved last night, the Calf dead.” Also, there seemed to be little division of labor, on gender lines, on Hornsby’s land when it came to outside work. His most constant gardener was a young woman named Dicey, who appears to be a “Jack of all trades” and quite capable of hoeing, grubbing stumps, making maple syrup, and helping in the kitchen when needed.

1840s hemp
What I would most like to find, however, is a connection between the Croghans and Mr. Hornsby. Shelbyville before modern travel is not exactly next door, but he made trips to Louisville and mentions, in March 1798, getting walnut trees from a friend in town. These plants, as well as English raspberries, English walnuts, English honeysuckle and weeping willow, came from a Mr. Moore, and Hornsby notes the garden was “formerly Mr. Lacasong’s (sic) Garden in his lifetime”. Is this somebody one of the Croghans knew? Mr. Croghan and Mr. Hornsby appear to be of roughly the same income and social standing, and had similarly-sized estates and enslaved populations. If I could just find a connection, I could argue that perhaps Locust Grove had the same plants and taste in garden design, perhaps from Hornsby himself!

Want to learn more? The diary is available online through the Library of Congress (just Google Joseph Hornsby’s diary) and there is a transcribed copy in our library as well. I would suggest reading it online, as you’re bound to find interesting and obscure words and terms which will send you on a mission of discovery!


Thanks for sharing, Sarah! We hope to bring you more updates on research related to understanding more about the Croghan family’s daily life and the lives of their neighbors over the next few months. What do you want to know? Ask us your questions–we always love hearing from you and we love sharing what we learn!

ask a curator.jpg

Happy Spring!



Those Caving Croghans: Locust Grove visits Mammoth Cave

This is a very momentous year for the National Park Service–it’s the National Park Centennial! To celebrate this occasion, Locust Grove staff and volunteers took a tour of Mammoth Cave, Kentucky’s only National Park and the longest known cave system in the world. Mammoth Cave has a noteworthy connection to Locust Grove–Dr. John Croghan, the eldest son of William and Lucy Croghan, purchased Mammoth Cave in 1839 for $10,000, and retained possession of the cave until his death in January of 1849. The cave is an important part of the Croghan family history and legacy, and it was a treat to learn more about its history. Let’s retrace our steps and hit the highlights of the day!


We found our park!

Our first stop once we reached the park was a special presentation by Ranger Chuck DeCroix. Ranger Chuck not only reminded us of the National Park Centennial, but told us that Mammoth Cave would be celebrating its 75th Anniversary as a National Park on July 1, 2016! Mammoth Cave receives roughly 4,000-5,000 visitors per day, with an annual visitation of 650,000. Locust Grove’s own Del Marie V. is a Barren County native and a member of Friends of Mammoth Cave, and she and her family have been a part of preserving Mammoth Cave’s legacy since its inception as a National Park. Guided cave tours have been conducted for 200 years!

In the early 19th century, Mammoth Cave was valued for the presence of calcium nitrate, which was essential for the production of saltpeter. An early map of the cave known as the Eye Draught Map, produced in 1809, showed the location of the niter soil so useful to making saltpeter. Original copies of this map were in the collections of Thomas Jefferson and Dr. Benjamin Rush. In addition to being a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Dr. Rush was also a prominent physician of the day, and Dr. John Croghan studied with him from 1809-1812. In fact, it has very recently been discovered that John Croghan first visited Mammoth Cave in 1815 while traveling on the Green River. Mammoth Cave researchers have just found his signature carved into the cave wall, dated February 26, 1815. Previously, the first Croghan family member to visit Mammoth Cave was thought to be Nicholas Croghan, who left a signature in candlesmoke in Gothic Avenue on May 7, 1825, barely a month before he died.

When Dr. John purchased Mammoth Cave on October 8, 1839 for $10,000, he bought the property from Franklin Gorin, an attorney who a year earlier had brought several slaves to the cave. One of these slaves was Stephen Bishop, who, according to Ranger Chuck, was one of the greatest explorers of Mammoth Cave of all time. Bishop and the other Mammoth Cave slaves were also purchased by Dr. John along with the Cave. Stephen Bishop was the first to cross the Bottomless Pit into previously unexplored parts of the cave, and served as a tour guide until his death in 1857. One of Bishop’s most notable contributions was a map of the Cave drawn from memory at Locust Grove during the winter of 1841-1842, which was the most complete map of the cave to date. His former owner Franklin Gorin said of him after his death that “his great talent was a perfect knowledge of man”, and Stephen Bishop’s legacy can still be felt at the Cave today.


A replica of Stephen Bishop’s map can be found in Dr. John Croghan’s office at Locust Grove.


When Dr. John purchased Mammoth Cave in 1839, he had high hopes for the tuberculosis treatment hospital he planned to open. Patients were housed in huts, of which two are still standing deep in the cave. In November of 1839, Dr. John wrote to his brother-in-law, General Thomas Jesup, of his plans for the cave, noting that “Owing to the uniformity of temperature throughout the year […] the dryness of the atmosphere and the continual purification thereof by the constant formation of salt Petre, I have no doubt there is no where to be found a spot so desirable for persons laboring under pulmonary affections […]” Unfortunately, the ten month experiment from the fall of 1842 into 1843 was a dismal failure, as none of his 15 patients improved and several died while undergoing treatment in the Cave. Nevertheless, the Croghan stamp is all over the Cave. There is a section called Croghan Hall and another called Clark’s Avenue, named for Dr. John and George Rogers Clark, respectively. Dr. John’s nieces and nephews inherited the cave along with his other property after his death from tuberculosis in 1849, and Serena’s Arbor bears the name of his niece, Serena Croghan, while Jesup’s Domes are individually named Lucy Ann and Julia for the daughters of his sister, Ann Croghan Jesup. 

During our cave tour, we were able to see two places of especial interest to fans of Locust Grove. One of our first stops was Gothic Avenue, where scores of visitors wrote their names in candlesmoke to mark their visit. One of these signatures was that of Nicholas Croghan, who visited in 1825. We  visited on June 18, and the next day, June 19, was the 214th birthday of Nicholas and his twin brother Charles. So naturall, we sang Happy Birthday to them in front of Nicholas’s signature!


Happy Birthday, Nicholas!

We also had the chance to visit the two remaining tuberculosis huts left over from Dr. John’s experimental hospital. This was a rather grim experience, as Ranger Chuck explained that visitors to the cave while patients were in residence described them as skeletons. I tried to take a picture of the huts, but the low light in the cave meant that my picture didn’t turn out so well. (You can see better images here and here.)


Actual photo taken by Hannah inside Mammoth Cave. Beautiful, right?

We denizens of Locust Grove spent almost two hours in Mammoth Cave, strolling down Gothic Avenue, admiring the various geological formations, and learning so much about the Cave that I’m sure I’ve forgotten something! It was incredible to think that the same Historic Entrance we used to enter and exit the Cave was used by Dr. John, Nicholas, Stephen Bishop, and thousands upon thousands of other visitors.


Heading down into the Cave by way of the Historic Entrance.

It was also just fun to spend the day together! We hope you’ll be able to join us for one of our day trips in the future!


We’re about to head down into the Cave! Can you spot George Rogers Clark in this photo?

All of us at Locust Grove are especially excited because it’s almost time for our favorite holiday–Independence Day! As is our tradition, admission to Locust Grove will be FREE on July 4 from 10-4:30pm, and will feature readings of the Declaration of Independence, period demonstrations, concessions by Sweet and Savory, and lots of 1816 celebratory flair! Come celebrate American Independence in 2016 by traveling back to 1816!

Yours in historical spelunking,


P.S. To receive updates on all the goings-on at Locust Grove, why not join our e-mailing list? Sign-up HERE to receive monthly updates! Or if you foresee numerous visits to Locust Grove in your future, why not become a member? Friends of Locust Grove receive free admission, invitations to members-only events, a 10% discount in the Museum Store, a copy of our quarterly newsletter, The Grove Gazette and much, much more! More information can be found HERE.

You can also follow Locust Grove on the web by subscribing to the blog on the right, and following us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. (We’re everywhere!)


This blog post is indebted to a presentation at Mammoth Cave to Locust Grove staff and volunteers by Ranger Chuck DeCroix on June 18, 2016.

Ashley Bowen-Murphy, “The Nation’s First Tuberculosis Hospital Was Built Inside a Cave.” Atlas Obscura, June 7, 2016.

Stacy Conradt, “John Croghan, the Man Who Built a TB Ward in a Cave.” Mental Floss, April 17, 2015.

Edward Forrest Frank, “Tuberculosis Hospital Remains in Mammoth Cave.” Black Guides of Mammoth Cave, October 22, 2013.

National Parks Service, “Physician, Heal Thyself.”

National Parks Traveler, “Mammoth Cave National Park Harbors More Than A Few Ghost Stories.” October 30, 2009.

Gwynne Tuell Potts and Samuel W. Thomas. George Rogers Clark and Locust Grove. Louisville: Historic Locust Grove, Inc, 2006. 


Eliza Croghan and Cholera in Kentucky

A few weeks ago, Louisville suffered a major water main break, which meant that much of the city, including Locust Grove was under a 24-hour boil water advisory. In the midst of this event, I started thinking, as one does, about the connection between cholera and the Croghans. You see, Eliza Croghan Hancock died of cholera at Locust Grove on July 12, 1833, 182 years ago today, during a major cholera epidemic in Kentucky. Cholera, a waterbourne disease, was a common cause of death in cities, like Louisville, that were connected by river traffic. Clean drinking water through standardized sanitation practices was of especial importance to fighting the disease, but could be difficult to come by on the frontier of Kentucky. Eliza’s death from the disease occurred during  the major pandemic of 1832-1833. Lexington was hit especially hard during this period, as more than 500 people in a population of 7000 people died of cholera during the summer of 1833.

Elizabeth (Eliza) Croghan was born on April 9, 1800, the fifth child and second daughter of William and Lucy Croghan. She, along with her older sister Ann, was educated at home by her mother, father, and aunt Emilia Clarke. Eliza and Ann briefly attended Louisa Keats’ Domestic Academy in Springfield in 1810, but Eliza was so homesick they returned home to Locust Grove to finish their education. Eliza married George Hancock, a Virginia planter and the brother-in-law to her uncle William Clark on September 29, 1819. The Hancocks owned and lived at Locust Grove from 1828 to 1834.

Eliza Croghan Hancock

Eliza Croghan Hancock

As morbid as it seems, I have pulled the following letters from the Locust Grove manuscript collection between Eliza’s husband, George Hancock, and her brother-in-law, Thomas Jesup, detailing the cholera epidemic in Kentucky and Eliza’s death. As death from cholera is relatively quick, it is likely that Eliza was already suffering from another illness before her death, as indicated by Hancock’s earlier letters. Before she died, Eliza was a lively member of the Croghan family, so the first letter presented here was written by a ten-year-old Eliza to her older brother, William, Jr. I thought it might be nice to commemorate her life as well as her death.

Eliza C. Croghan to William Croghan Jr.:

[December 25, 1810]

Dear Brother

As Mr Walker is going up to Lexington Mama told me to Wright to you.  Sister Ann is just return from Cousin Eliza Gwathmy wedding and brought us some cake to dream on she says they wear very mery at the wedding and Cousin Betsy looked very pretty but what devirted me most was the blusxder Coock Robin made Aunt had a large cake made of brown sugar for the servoants and Coock Robin thru mistake toock one of Aunts best cakes and left her the one that was made of brown sugar.  The pretty Miss sally hughs is married to Mr Wade the dancing Master Mr and Mrs Hughs was very much against the match and sent Mr wade away but Miss sally said she loved him so well if he did not come back she would die so they sent for Mr wade back and they were married.  The very same day Mr wade toock his wife have behind him on his horse to Louisville home Miss Polly Prather I believe to Mr Newman.

I suppose you will be supprised to hear we are at home we went as far as Uncle Andersons but when we came to part some body began to cry recan you think it was me Mama got uneasy and said she could not part with us so here we are at home.  I am trying to learn what I can under the tuishion of Papa Mama and cousin Emilia I often think of the girls at the academy & Mama Keats, but we should have had to part some tim or other.  I think by this time I have tired you and if you will only excuse my bad writing bad spelling & bad diction I will forever be your affectionate sister.

Eliza C. Croghan

George Hancock to Genl. T.S. Jesup:

Locst Grove Octr 26th 1832

Dear Genļ

We reached home 5 days since, after a very fatigueing journey.  We found William quite ill, but…will be soon restored to health.  I was anxious that Eliza should have remained in Lexington…I could not prevail on her to do so.  She was indisposed on the road, and after arriving at home was quite ill, she is now however much better, …

Th Cholera is I think subsiding in Louisville.  Most of the cases are mild, and 4 in 5 cured – deaths about 5 to 8 per day.  The deaths almost entirely among the dissolute; the Better classes almost without an exception are cured of it.  In some instances it has been severe on farms.  Judge Speed lost 6 nigro men in 2 days.  I have had 2 cases on this place – but both cured – & I take some credit to myself for their recovery, (there being no physician at hand).  In town we have lost 2 … I intended to remove all mine, Charles yours & the Doctors to L.G. but Dr Tompkins persuaded me that if I crowd them with those here, that all will be in danger.  I therefore have left all in town.

…The farm has suffered awfully with Bilious fevers this fall, only one death however…but nearly all have been sick – some dangerously.  Chs McSorly was confined 3 weeks…my business of course much changed on the farm.  …

Yours truly

Geo: Hancock

Locust grove Nov. 1 1832

Dear Gen.

…Eliza is much recovered and in a few days will be well.  William has improved astonishingly and will be well in a week more I think.

Since my last we have had one case of Cholera – cured – and as the disease is said to be abating in Louisville, I hope we will soon have nothing to fear in the country – on yesterday a man belonging to Charles [Croghan] died very suddenly (Harry) only sick two or three hours.

…Doctr Tompkins stays constantly with us, and this of course [illegible] us somewhat to our being here.  …


Geo: Hancock

Locust Grove June 20th 1833

Dear Sir:

It has been a long time since we have heard from our friends in Washington, and I think the uneasiness on their account, felt by my wife, tends very much to retard her recovery from a violent Bilious (sic) attack.

Some days since we thought her nearly well, but within the last two days she has relapsed; and is now quite ill – Doctr Tompkins (who is with us) think her better since morning however; … the Cholera, and sickness of the neighborhood prevents my leaving home for Va.  …

–The cholera has made dreadful havoc in the country around us, on Mr Browns farm 12 men died in 36 hours.  Wm Bullitts, Wm Thompsons &c. have all suffered.  We have no case on the farm yet.  I keep us strict [illegible] and hope we may excape.

This morning it is reported that some Farmer (probably Judge Speed) has discovered an infallible remedy for it, in any Stages; having cured every case & having 40 cases.  – it is Cayenne Pepper mixed with Castor oil, and a warm Bath.  …

Geo: Hancock

Locust Grove June 24th 1833

Dr Sir

…Eliza is better today.  Mrs Pearce is with her, the Doctr thinks her convalescent.  The cholera is with us; we have 5 cases today – it yields readily to medicine and I hope none will prove fatal.  You can conceive nothing to equal the gloom spread over the country here.  No one leaves home.  Crops of wheat standing uncut, corn fields abandoned to winds. – and what makes all worse is it is incessantly raining; as yet there are few cases in Louisville.  … I hope Mrs Jesup & the children are well, and that they will come out with Mrs Croghan & see us again.

Yours truly

Geo: Hancock

Locust grove June 30th  1833

Dear Genļ

Since my last to you the Cholera has increased to an alarming extent.  We have not well ones enough to attend the sick – and it is difficult to get a Physician.  Dr. Tompkins is with us now and has promised not to leave us until Eliza is better.  I fear her situation is very critical.  My mother was taken with Cholera (I fear) tonight.  If Dr Croghan is with you for Gods sake send him on to us.


Geo: Hancock

     William Croghan, Jr.  to Charles W. Thruston:

Pittsburgh Sepr 8, 1833

Dear Charles

From my summer excursion, …I have in a great measure attained…my health, which is much improved.  The trip to Quebec, I did not make; learning when in New York of the decease of my poor dear Sister, my plans were all immediately changed, & forthwith, I hastened to Washington City, feeling a dub anxiety on the occasion for my aged Mother.  The safe return of the Dr about that time after a protracted voyage & in fine health, had a happy influence & I left her, doing quite well, & resigned to this heavy affliction.  …The Cholera here the past season, has offered to many … a pretext for not paying me my Rents, …

W. Croghan

While it was a trying 24 hours under the boil water advisory, 1833 was an even more difficult year for Louisville. I for one am certainly thankful for the Louisville Water Company, and the Lexington health ordinance that prevented pigs from roaming free in the streets.

With best regards for your continued good health,