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!



The Curious Case of Mr. Collins

Here at Locust Grove, we have an extensive research library for the use of our staff, volunteers, and docents, so everyone can continue to learn about the Croghan and Clark families, the history of the city of Louisville and the state of Kentucky, and everything about life in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. We are always growing our knowledge to better serve our visitors and answer questions, whether someone asks what herbs were planted in the kitchen garden to the best way to cure meats in the smokehouse. Our docents, to a man (and woman!) are incredibly skilled and knowledgeable individuals, and our corps of Costumed Interpreters volunteer copious amounts of time and endless resources to bring our family and their friends and neighbors to life.  Because we are always engaged in research, we often discover new and surprising things about Locust Grove.

Heather H., a docent, master photographer, and the queen of historical pastimes, works with our Costumed Interpreters as a plainclothes handler, and conducts a great deal of primary source research to enhance our interpreters’ knowledge of their characters’ lives. Heather has “a great fondness for historic obituaries” and states that she has “been working on locating obits and death notices for everyone that is portrayed by the costumed interpreter cast. I came across Mr. Collins when I was working on the notices for the Croghans.”

Now, you’re probably thinking, “Mr. Collins Who? Surely you must mean Mr. Clark or Mr. Croghan.” Mr. Collins is certainly not a name we hear around Locust Grove unless there’s a meeting of the Louisville Chapter of the Jane Austen Society in session.


Hugh Thomson, c. 1894

This Mr. Collins, however, had not walked right out of the pages of Pride and Prejudice and onto the porch at Locust Grove. Heather had discovered the obituary below of a Mr. John Collins, who has a curious relationship to Locust Grove.

John Collins obit

Published in the National Advocate (New York, New York) and also ran in the Long Island Star, the Connecticut Courant, the New York Daily Advertiser, and the Democratic Press. 

“At the residence of Maj. William Croghan, Locust Grove, on the 9th of January, mr. JOHN COLLINS, aged 102, a native of New Jersey.

The deceased had lived in the family of Major Croghan for the last 27 years, and has uniformly enjoyed remarkable good health; he affirmed before his death that he never, in the course of his life, been blooded or taken a single potion of physic. What was remarkable in the deceased, was, that he considered everything his own, and would frequently threaten to dispossess merchants in Louisville of their goods unless they kept their accounts uniform and correct, but in other respects was perfectly sane.”

WHOA. This Mr. Collins sounds like quite a character, and he has quickly become a favorite of the denizens of Locust Grove. Other death notices and obituaries only note his age, place of residence, and the date of his death, but we are nonetheless fascinated by his existence. Docent and historian Lynn R. remarks, “It’s just the most perfect story. Heather deserves extra cookies for finding him.” (I agree!)

No research has been discovered to support the idea that Mr. Collins was a blood relative of the Croghans, but it seems that he was a long-time part member of the household. According to Heather, our manuscript collection includes only one mention of a Mr. Collins in a letter written by William Croghan, Sr. in 1796:

“There are no surveys in either offices in Reynolds name, from the Situation of those Warrants & entries you should have got them Cheap from Mr. Reynolds. In my last letter to you I informed you that you omited one of your Warrants No 3580 for 2666 ⅔ are in the power you sent Mr. Collins to convey to me or any person I might direct, this warrant is the principal one, the (__) under being but five Warrants of 100 Acres each. If you intend letting me have it please to send a power to convey it by the bearer Mr. John. Gwathmey whom I expect will shortly return to this Country. I received the 100 acres by Mr. Sheppard for which shall credit your acct. I am dear sir. Your most humble Servt. W. Croghan”


William! Tell us more about your buddy!

The 1810 census includes three white males over the age of 45 living at Locust Grove. These men are most likely William Croghan, George Rogers Clark, and John Collins. Lynn Renau believes that Mr. Collins may have witnessed some of William Croghan’s legal transactions and did some recording keeping as well, as not all of the family accounts are in William Croghan’s hand. Lynn and Heather’s working theory is that some of these accounts could have been the work of John Collins, who may have been a clerk for the Croghans. We have no records of John Collins’ burial, and there is no record that John Collins’ grave was removed to Cave Hill Cemetery with the rest of the Croghans, so it is likely that he remains here at Locust Grove in the original family cemetery.


Where are you, Mr. Collins?

Heather notes that “I have no doubt there’s documentation floating around out there to help us fill in his story. It’s just a matter of finding the time to look for them. I do find it interesting that this man lived with the family for years and appears to have been a long time business partner of William Croghan’s, yet he is only mentioned in that one family letter […] I can’t wait to learn more about him when I have the time.”

As soon as we know more about Mr. Collins, we’ll be sure to update you all! Until then, we’re looking for volunteers to profile on this blog! Our volunteers are incredible, and they deserve the spotlight! If you’d like to be profiled, fill out the form located here. Thank you for all that you do!

We also want to hear from everyone who has ever visited Locust Grove, toured the house and grounds, followed us on social media, attended one of our programs and events, or even thought about Locust Grove! You can help us out by taking our quick survey here. Your thoughts really are  important to us as we look to the future of Locust Grove!

And don’t forget–the Spring Used Book Sale is March 4-6! Thousands of books are ready to make new homes on your shelves. We can’t wait to see you!



With sincere good wishes,



Huzzah for Encampment!

This past weekend, Locust Grove hosted our Revolutionary War Encampment,  affectionately known as 18th Thunder! It was a glorious weekend filled with good smells, stimulating conversations with reenactors, the occasional drop of rain, and a lot of fun! Encampment is more relaxed than Market Fair, but is no less exciting. It’s always fun to see how Locust Grove might have looked in the eighteenth-century, even though our main house wasn’t built until after the American Revolution had ended. Here are some scenes from the event.

Saturday dawned with blue skies and a perfect Spring day! Our reenactors had spent the night in tents on the grounds, simulating the conditions George Rogers Clark and the Illinois Regiment of Virginia might have faced in 1778.






In the kitchen, as the men of the Regiment prepared for marching drills, the women began preparing what would become the evening meal. In the 18th century, the largest meal of the day was usually the noon meal, but our reenactors enjoy their big meal in the evening as a group, after all the visitors leave. Visitors get the benefit of seeing a meal prepared, and the reenactors get to eat it! (Something about that seems unfair, but it just makes me want to be a reenactor even more!)





The dough being rolled would be cut into strips to make noodles for soup!



Noodles drying next to the dairy.

Noodles drying next to the dairy.

Some familiar faces from Market Fair returned for Encampment. Remember Benjamin? He’s now a year old, and a seasoned reenactor!


In fact, we had lots of young faces this weekend!


My new friend Riley.

My new friend Riley.

Riley and his family and their dog!

Riley and his family and their dog!

Taking a walk with Grandpa.

Taking a walk with Grandpa.


Benjamin helps out with the noodles.

Benjamin helps out with the noodles.

It was a perfect spring day to relax with friends, talk to visitors, and maybe hold a few drills.


Locust Grove’s Executive Director, Carol Ely, confers with the troops.






A regiment on the move.

A little young to go marching, but maybe in a few years!

A little young to go marching, but maybe in a few years!





By Sunday, the weather was a little less dry, but our spirits were not dampened! Visitors continued to stop by for house tours, and to chat with reenactors about life during the war.







Inside the Visitors Center, we had just as much fun as everyone outside!



I took the opportunity to practice my cup and ball skills. Also, the hat was reunited with its rightful owner!

Lynn and Susan were having the most fun!

Lynn and Susan were having the most fun!

We are so grateful to all of our volunteers, staff members, visitors, and reenactors who spent their weekend with us! And thanks to the Courier-Journal for the wonderful article! If you took a picture with our roving George Rogers Clark cardboard cutout, post it on social media with the hashtag #ThunderwithGRC. We’ve so enjoyed seeing the photos that have already been posted! Our Instagram account has been revived, so follow it here for more photos:

Thanks to everyone who joined us for Encampment–we certainly hope to see you at our upcoming summer events!

With warmest spring regards,