Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
By Dr. William “Bill” Ambrose
Zeno T. Blanks at a Collison of Cultures: Spanish Occupation, French Retreat, American Immigration, African Slaves, and Indian Dislocation in a Remote Transitional Land.
Shadrach Blanks was born in Charlotte County, Virginia in 1760. Charlotte County was the second political entity to declare independence from Great Britain; the county was replete with citizens like its own Patrick Henry. The Revolutionary War to the west, in Kentucky and Tennessee, had been primarily against the Indians — Cherokees to the south and Shawnee to the north. In the aftermath of the war and with additional Indian treaties, little was settled with the Native Americans; Boone’s Kentucky continued in dispute and outraging into the late 1780’s.
Daniel Boone opened the Wilderness Road in Kentucky in 1770. By 1775 Col. Benjamin Logan opened Logan’s Trace to the West, toward Crab Orchard and Buffalo Springs, where the Wilderness Road made its turn northward toward the Ohio River. Buffalo Springs became Logan’s Station and Crab Orchard, a frontier community; both became safe gathering locations for settlers heading into the western Kentucky wilderness seeking fertile ground and economic opportunity. Shadrack and Lydia Blanks moved to Crab Orchard in Lincoln County with the extended Perrin family. Shadrack had married Lydia Perrin in Virginia in 1781. Lydia’s parents had moved to Crab Orchard by 1785, acquiring 3461 acres of land in Fayette County. Lydia and Shadrack’s first child, Martha A. (Patsy) Blanks, was born in 1786. By 1792 the young couple had 3 children when they moved to Crab Orchard. Lydia’s father died in 1793 leaving her “one negro boy named Peter now in her possession” and her equally divided share of her father’s horses and cattle. Abundant fertile soil with other settlers nearby offered a farming opportunity likely unavailable in Virginia to the brave and industrious immigrants. But the opportunity did not come without risks.
From the Kentucky Gazette, this note was printed on Nov. 1, 1788: “A large company will meet at Crab Orchard the 19th of November in order to start early the next day through the wilderness. As it is very dangerous on account of Indians, it is hoped that each person will go armed.”
In 1790 11-year-old Sarah Shipley Mitchell was kidnapped by Indians during an attack on her family along Wilderness Road near Crab Orchard. After spending 1 year with the Indians near Detroit and 4 more years with a Frenchman as his slave, she escaped to civilization in Ohio, eventually being reunited with her family.
In 1782 Shawnee and Wyandot war parties attacked the Hamman and Baughman families near the town of Crab Orchard. 6 people in the related families were killed including the 7-day-old baby of Christina Hammans and Christina’s 85-year-old grandmother. Christina arrived in Crab Orchard wounded in the head with an arrow.
Kentucky statehood occurred on June 1, 1792. Four more children were born after the Shadrack and Lydia settled in Kentucky. By that time, Indian attacks in Kentucky had nearly ended. But the stories of those outrages would have been popular legend to tell around Crab Orchard; the children of Shadrack and Lydia would have heard the details of those Indian attacks throughout their childhood.
The wave of westward migration did not end at Kentucky. In 1797 Nathaniel Cook from Scott County, an Indian fighter during the outrages in Kentucky, was scouring the lands across the Mississippi River in Spanish Territory.
#4 In 1800 Cook received a Spanish land grant for 800 acres on a rich limestone upland plain inland from the French village of Ste. Genevieve, a French safe harbor west of the Mississippi River after the French lost the French and Indian War to the British and left the continent in 1763. Protestant British occupation from the Appalachian peaks to the Mississippi River followed, prompting the French Catholics to reunite with the Catholic Spanish Government on the west bank. However, the Spanish preferred American immigrants because of their disdain for the British – still in Canada and viewed as a threat by the Spanish crown. As Carl Sauer notes in his 1923 Geography of the Ozark Highland in Missouri, “The Spanish claims, as they are still called, form a mosaic of irregular tracts, large and small. They include most of the Fredericktown soils, a large part of the Hagerstown, (and) loess……These grants outline in some sections the most desirable tracts of land with great nicety.” Cook was attracted to the area by the natural beauty, fertile soil, fine springs, and choice hardwood forests. Unlike the French and earlier Americans who had come for mining and furs, the Kentuckians came to farm and found extensive upland regions inland from the riparian borders which held deep, rich limestone soils. These loess soil fields southwest of Ste. Genevieve had been ignored until the Americans came after 1796. Other than a few other Spanish grants, the region was owned by absentee French and Creole families, therefore unavailable for sale or settlement. As American Indians and transplanted Africans had been enslaved by the French since the 1720’s to work in the mines in the region, the area was rich in cultural diversity.
Cook needed a substratum of American first families to begin the settlement process. Apparently, the Perrin family filled that need. Lettice Blanks, Shadrack and Lydia’s fourth-born in 1793, had married Samuel Kinkead in Lincoln County in 1810. Some records suggest the couple was living in Missouri in Col. Nathaniel Cook’s settlement in St. Francis County by 1807. Lydia Perrin Blanks, born in 1764, had a several siblings including her little sister Edith, “Ede” to her family and friends. Ede married Andrew Harris in 1786. Their only son, Samuel Perrin Harris, was born on Jan. 12, 1790. Samuel Harris and his wife Elizabeth Kennedy moved to the Cook Settlement around 1810.
A son, Zeno Temple Blanks, was born at Crab Orchard to Shadrack and Lydia on May 10, 1804. The Crab Orchard region had fertile soil; the risk of death from Indian attacks was great, but the rewards for Shadrack and Lydia were great as they successfully raised a family of 6 children there. Shadrack died in 1809 in Madison County, Kentucky. Sometime over the next few years Lydia and youngster Zeno moved to Liberty Township, St. Francois County, Missouri. They undoubtedly lived with some of the extended Perrin family already living in Missouri. Libertyville became the name of the community that developed at Cook Settlement by 1810. In Farmington, Missouri, The First 200 Years, 1798 – 1998, among the earliest settlers listed at Libertyville are the Harris, Kinkead (Kinkaid), and Blanks families. In 1822 the Libertyville Christian Church was established with Samuel Kinkead as an elder and Zeno T. Blanks as a deacon. Kinkead was a member of the first Grand Jury in St. Francois County in 1822. By 1846 Samuel Kinkead was the first postmaster in the little community. Elm Street in Libertyville was a portion of “The Old Jackson Road” from Jackson to Farmington, Missouri, the main north-south travel route through the region.
The decade of the 1810’s must have been very rewarding financially for the extensive Perrin clan. They must have accumulated significant money by farming. By 1824 the region had been surveyed by the Federal Government and public lands became available for sale. #5 During 1824 Samuel Harris and Samuel Kinkead purchased multiple land units of highly productive agricultural land from the government along and near the Old Jackson Road, seen here on this slide, mostly north of Cook Settlement and toward the Murphy Settlement. Note that the road crosses Section 14 diagonally at its southwestern third. #6 Starting in 1837 Zeno T. Blanks bought land along the road just a mile north of what was by then extensive land holdings by the Harris and Kinkead families. These first families from Kentucky had, by 1837, amassed fortunes in landholdings and slave chattel. #7 Their farms had become full-blown plantations in the southern style, cropping for tobacco and hemp for economic gain and staples to sustain their farming efforts. Of course, the manpower for these farms was black slavery. Slavery of Native Americans in Missouri, common in the mining region nearby and in St. Louis, had ended in 1834 with a Missouri Supreme Court decision confirming a circuit court jury trial.
In the fall of 1837, Lt. B.B. Cannon marched his volunteer Cherokee detachment northward through St. Francois County on the Old Jackson Road. The Cherokees had black slaves with them, yet would have been amazed by the size and efficiencies of these plantations and their productive limestone-based soils. Lt. Cannon listed the following on invoices at “Zeno T. Blanks, Cook Settlement, St. Francois County, Missouri, for subsistence of a detachment of Cherokees on their way west”:
- 470 pounds salt pork @ $.09/lbs $42.30
- 156 pounds of bacon @ $.09/lbs $14.04
- 218 pounds of beef (hind quarters) @ 3 ½ cents/lbs $7.63
- 239 pounds of beef (fore quarters) @ 3 cents/lbs $7.17
- 7 bushels corn meal @ 50 cents/bushel $3.50 Totals $74.64
Neither before or after on the trail had Lt. Cannon been able to procure this amount and variety of essential supplies. Clearly the fact that Zeno Blanks’ farm was a “southern plantation” with many hands for labor and many mouths to feed made it essential to have food reserves on hand. Other important factors that should be remembered are that the land in the area was extremely fertile and that the farmers were focused on a commercial model of agriculture with an organized business approach. Ready markets for cash crops were just a few miles away on the Mississippi River wharf in Ste. Genevieve or north or south to mining communities. Some would argue that Zeno agreed to this transaction for the sole purpose of making money. Others will argue that with 10 or more slaves to feed along with his own family, Zeno would have needed this food to help meet the nutritional needs of his farm for that winter, and that he agreed to the sale after seeing the need of the weary travelers with faces which resembled the warriors described by the surviving victims of the frontier Indian attacks at Crab Orchard.
We have no other invoice records for the Trail of Tears in Missouri from other detachments; 10 more detachments of approximately 1000 Cherokees each followed the Cannon Detachment’s route over the next 2 years. In this amazingly fertile region with plantation farms, likely those later detachments knew to load up with supplies as they crossed this upland limestone plain, as the trail ahead was across a far less fertile region and far less settled. Even with the plantation model, an extra 10,000 mouths to feed within the narrow corridor of the trail, even in this abundant reach, would have stretched the food supply to its limit – regardless of the cost!
The price was set by the government. There was no negotiation about the price.
When only considering the known Perrin Family shown on this image, the 1850 slave census of the region details the more than 60 enslaved individuals under the family’s control.
One has to assume that many more of the Farmington plain farmers along the Old Jackson Road provided food and supplies for the subsequent detachments over the next two years.
The Cannon Detachment had passed through Jackson on November 16, 1837. Marching each day on the Old Jackson Road, they reached Farmington on November 20, 1837, a 70 miles distance. That night the detachment camped on Wolf Creek just south of Farmington, depicted on this Lesueur sketch done in 1826. The Old Jackson Road is the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail in this reach as shown on NPS maps.
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