Kentucky Frontiersman James Girdler (1751)

By Ronald “Ron” Clay Belcher, 5th Great Grandson

The British surrender at Yorktown initiated the ending phase of the war. The Kentucky Territory suddenly found itself accessible to an increasing number of eager settlers. The Ohio River remained a hostile and dangerous course for all those traveling by flatboat. Rafters, seeking an eventual disembarkation at the Falls of the Ohio, faced perils from the river as well as threats from the native Indians hidden along the river’s northern shore.


From the Falls of the Ohio, the Ohio River can be traced upriver to Ft. Pitt in Pennsylvania. At that locale, on 30 September 1783, James Girdler received his military discharge from the 8th Pennsylvania Regiment of the Continental Line[i]. Within a few short months, James Girdler settled on the wilderness frontiers of Kentucky, traveling most assuredly by flatboat from Ft. Pitt. James is the progenitor of those many Girdler descendants in that state[ii].


Tracing the origin of the Ohio River proved far easier than tracing the origin of James Girdler. The search for his origin had perplexed researchers for the last 75 years. James Girdler appeared at his Ft. Pitt enlistment, as if spontaneously stepping from the shadows of history. Time and absence of information led many of his descendants to believe that his origin of birth would forever remain a secret. The knowledge of his place of birth was feared to have been buried with his children and grandchildren. No family lore told his tale. At 91 years of age, James Girdler was quietly buried in Pulaski County in the year of 1842[iii].


James Girdler’s mysterious past has now emerged, no longer a detail hidden in the shadows. The fortunes and kindness of research recently revealed the long kept secret of his origin of birth. In 1751, James Girdler was born in England. James had immigrated to the American colony. The declaration of that fact was recorded 129 years following James Girdler’s year of birth. The son and grandson of this early immigrant settler disclosed that information in their 1880 Pulaski County, Kentucky, US Census[iv]. The son, Thomas Hayden Girdler[v] at age 79, and the grandson, Joel Haden Girdler[vi] at age 52, were both living in the same household in Somerset at the time.


James Girdler, the immigrant, was recorded in open court of Kentucky county of Jefferson in April, May and October of 1785[vii]. During June of 1785, James Girdler married Linny Miles, daughter of Clergyman Isaac Miles, at Nelson County[viii]. James Girdler signed the petition to form a town in Bourbon County[ix], resided in the vicinity of Limestone and signed two petitions to form Mason County[x], acquired 100 acres[xi] in Washington City[xii], now shortened to Washington. James was afterward recorded in Lincoln County[xiii], Shelby County[xiv], newly formed Bullitt County[xv] and eventually became an early settler of Pulaski County. Kentucky Legislative Land Warrants[xvi] for 469 remote and unsettled acres along Waters of the Cumberland, Clifty Creek and South Green River were issued in 1806 and 1807 to James. James Girdler and Linny (Miles) Girdler had four sons and two daughters from their marriage. Girdler descendants remain today in many Kentucky counties, including but not limited to, Nelson, Pulaski, Knox, Casey, Boyle, Jefferson and Bullitt.


The resume of James Girdler, progenitor of Girdler’s in Kentucky, records him to be an immigrant, Indian fighter, patriot, frontiersman, wilderness settler and first generation to have citizenship in the newly formed and united colonies of America. James Girdler’s contribution to the settling of Kentucky was not intended to be historical.  However, the saga of his circumstance and life is now legendary to each of his many Girdler descendants.

[i] National Archives & Records Administration. Military Record of Revolutionary War Soldier, James Girdler, 8th Pennsylvania Regiment of the Continental Line. Washington, DC

[ii] U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. 1810 US Census for Kentucky, Retrieved 5 November 2007,  from

[iii] US Department of Veteran Affairs, Nationwide Gravesite Locator, Veteran James Girdler (1751-1842), Retrieved 5 November 2007,  from

[iv] U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, 1880 US Census of Pulaski County Kentucky. Somerset Pct. #1, 16 & 17 June 1880, Enumerated by J. D. Pylis, Joe H. (Haden) Girdler Head of Household, Retrieved 5 November 2007,  from

[v] Open Court Records Pulaski County Kentucky, Date of 26 February 1821. Personal Appearance For Pension Eligibility, War Pension No. 6413, Statement of Relationship for James Girdler, Presiding Judge Geo. Alcorn.

[vi] U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, 1880 US Census of Pulaski County Kentucky. Somerset Pct. #1, 16 & 17 June 1880, Enumerated by J. D. Pylis, Joe H. (Haden) Girdler Head of Household, Retrieved 5 November 2007,  from

[vii] Early Kentucky Settlers. The Records of Jefferson County, Kentucky. From the Filson Club History Quarterly. Genealogical Publishing Company, Inc. Baltimore, 1988. Page 160, 171, 192.

[viii] Marriage Records Nelson County, Kentucky Territory, State of Virginia, dated 4 June 1785. Marriage Bond Issued for James Girdler marriage to Linny Miles; Proctor Ballard co-signer. Book #1, Pg. 117.

[ix] Clift, Glen G. History of Maysville and Mason County. Volume One. Translyvania Printing Company. Lexington, Kentucky. 1936. Pg. 56-57.

[x] Clift, Glen G. Pg. 58-59, 66-68.

[xi] US War Office, 1799 March 13th. Issued to James Girdler for service in the 8th PA Regiment, 100 acres. Retrieved 5 November 2007, from

[xii] Pulaski County Kentucky Wills, probated 1842, February 21st. Estate of James Girdler, Heir Thomas Girdler, Witnessed by Joel Salle and W.H. Dollarhide. Pulaski County Court Will Book 1, Page 7-8.

[xiii] Lincoln County Kentucky Court Records, 1791-1794.  James Girdler, Ptlf. Against Stephen Kelly, Deft., Order Book 1791-1794.

[xiv] Tax List Shelby County Kentucky, 1797. James Girdler 2 horses owned. Retrieved 7 November 2007 from

[xv] Tax List Bullitt County Kentucky, 1800. James Girdly (Girdler) unspecified location of 100 acres owned. Retrieved 7 November 2007 from Also, Clift, Glenn. Second Census of Kentucky – 1800. Kentucky Historical Society. Genealogical Publishing Company. 1966. Page 109.

[xvi] Pulaski County Kentucky Surveys, 1807 March 30 and 31. Survey Entry for 69 acres and 400 acres on behalf of James Girdler, Warrants #8092 and #8093. Pulaski County Survey Book #1, page 98 and 99.

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