Pioneer Justice Was Swift And Usually Fairly Harsh

Taken from the Corbin Daily Tribune 75th Anniversary Edition, 23 Feb 1967. 

Records stored in the Knox Co. Courthouse show that the Knox Co. part of the Old Wilderness Road began at Cumberland Gap, passed through what is now Pineville, through Flat Lick, Barbourville, and on to the Rockcastle River. The Knox part of the road was divided into sections, and a surveyor was appointed by the fiscal court to maintain the road. Failure of citizens to work was a violation of the law, and there are many reported cases in which the surveyor was called into court to answer such charges as allowing it to be fenced or allowing fallen trees to block the way. A toll was charged persons traveling the road, but records show that the toll was paid with everything from buttons to deer meat to whiskey. 

One early indictment by the grand jury shows a true bill that "Jacob CHESTNUT and Abraham CHESTNUT, without the fear of God before their eyes and induced by the spirit of the devil, did commit the offense of assault and battery on one John FREEMAN." 

During a later term of court "one John FREEMAN" was the first man in the county to be charged with murder, the victim being Presley FARRIS. Freeman was found not-guilty. 

The accused in the second murder case fared not so well. Three men were found guilty of the charge and were "remanded to the custody of the Sheriff who shall cause a scaffold to be built one half mile of the courthouse at Barbourville and on May 14, 1814, within the hours of 7 O:clock in the morning and 5 O:clock in the evening shall be hanged by the neck until dead." 

The customary ending, "And may God have mercy on your soul", was not added to the sentence, the first hanging on record in Knox County. 

For uttering profanity, one person was fined eight shillings. During the same term of  court and for the same offense a second was fined sixteen shillings, probably because he cursed louder and longer than the other. 

Punishment for larceny in 1815 was two to eight lashes. An example of a sentence in a larceny case was, "He shall receive eight lashes across his bare back." 

In 1809 one John PIERCE was charged with passing counterfeit money, but he was found not guilty. 

In 1815 the first woman to be tried in the Knox County Courts, Polly CARTER, was found not guilty of murder in the death by stabbing of a man named LEWIS. The jury found her "not guilty of murder but without malice aforethought guilty of manslaughter" and fixed her punishment at 10 years in the "penitentiary house" in Frankfort.  

submitted by Shawn Byrd-Johnson  


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