All information and photographs on this page are courtesy of the Carnegie Center.

Floyd 1

The westward movement of the nineteenth century was one that was filled with hopes and dreams of new land, unimaginable wild game, and the promise of a new and better life. However, it was also filled with dangerous animals, Indians, rugged mountains, and wild adventures beyond anything ever experienced in the East.

Joining the ranks of the early adventurers were members of the Floyd family. They were men and women of tough character, trail blazers, and explorers. The Floyds were among the first settlers of the Falls of the Ohio Region, they became leaders of communities, and they were part of the epic adventure that explored the first overland route to the Pacific Ocean.


John Floyd

John Floyd

John Floyd

James John Floyd, usually known as John Floyd, was born in modern Amherst County, Virginia, in 1750. His family was of the “gentry” class. They owned some property and were better off than most Virginians, but were not among the “first” families. John Floyd knew, however, that the West was the land of opportunity. There his family could rise to the first rank of society.

In 1772 Floyd convinced the wealthy and powerful William Preston, the official surveyor of Virginia’s western lands, to hire him as an assistant. Preston would become a sponsor and father figure to the younger Floyd, a relationship that would continue until both died in 1783.

Floyd and a team of surveyors arrived at the Falls of the Ohio in 1774 to survey grants for Virginians who had served in the French and Indian War (1754-1763). He had bought land rights from a veteran and surveyed for himself a 2,000-acre tract along the upper reaches of the Beargrass Creek watershed in modern Saint Matthews, Jefferson County, Kentucky.

The summer of 1776 found Floyd living in Boonesborough, Kentucky, a recent settlement on the Kentucky River under the command of Daniel Boone. Here the young surveyor became something of a frontier hero when he joined a party that rescued three girls, including one of Boone’s daughters, who had been kidnapped by the Indians.

Just as Floyd was making a name for himself on the frontier, he was forced to return to the East. William Preston’s political enemies had managed to have Floyd’s surveyor’s license revoked. Out of work, but possessing a daredevil spirit, Floyd took work on a privateer—a ship licensed by the newly independent United States government to capture British ships on the high seas. He was captured in the Caribbean, ended up in a British prison, somehow managed to escape to friendly France, and, with the help of Benjamin Franklin (who was an American diplomat in France), managed to gain passage on a ship home.

By the fall of 1778 Floyd was back in Virginia, where he married Jane Buchanan, William Preston’s ward. According to family legend, John Floyd wore a brilliant, scarlet cloak he had acquired in Paris (probably true), and Jane’s shoes were ornamented with pretty, silver buckles that Queen Marie Antoinette had given the young groom for his bride to be (perhaps a myth).

In September 1779, Floyd, his bride, and brothers Isham, Robert, Charles, and sister Jemima, traveled the Wilderness Road to Kentucky in search of land and prosperity.

In the spring, the Floyds and their neighbors erected a stockade called Floyd’s Station. Before the end of 1780, there were at least six stations forming a community on the branches of Beargrass Creek. For the next five years, Floyd was a leader of the settlers along the Beargrass who were involved in a bloody war with the region’s Indians.

In 1781, George Rogers Clark, impressed with Floyd’s leadership, persuaded Governor Thomas Jefferson to appoint the former surveyor as colonel of the Jefferson County militia. Floyd was now in charge of protecting the settlements in a large part of Kentucky. Later that year Jefferson appointed Floyd the Justice of the Peace and surveyor of Jefferson County, and asked that he assist in laying out the town of Louisville. In early 1783 Governor Benjamin Harrison of Virginia appointed Floyd the first judge of the judicial district of Kentucky.

In September 1781, Floyd led a party of 27 men to rescue survivors from a raid on Squire Boone’s Station in modern Shelby County. His men walked into an ambush and over half of them were killed. Floyd’s horse was shot out from under him, but he jumped on another mount and got away. “Floyd’s Defeat,” as the fight came to be known, was a major setback for the Beargrass settlements.

John Floyd was killed in an Indian ambush in 1783 in what is now southern Jefferson County, Kentucky. His remains probably lie in the Breckinridge Cemetery in St. Matthews. It is so named, for shortly after his death, his widow, Jane Buchanan Floyd, married Alexander Breckinridge.


Davis Floyd

Davis Floyd's Corydon Home

Davis Floyd’s Corydon Home

Davis Floyd, older brother of Corps of Discovery member Charles Floyd, was one of early Indiana’s most prominent businessmen and political leaders. Davis, the oldest child of Robert and Lillian Floyd, was born in 1776 in Virginia. In 1779, Robert took his family to the Beargrass Creek settlements in modern Jefferson County, Kentucky. In his early twenties Davis married Susanna Johnston Lewis, and was later appointed 2nd Lieutenant of the Jefferson County militia.

During these years Davis Floyd befriended William Clark, the younger brother of George Rogers Clark. In the following years the Clarks would prove to be political allies and friends of the family. Both Davis and his younger brother Charles would benefit from this alliance.

In 1801, Davis relocated to Clarksville, Indiana, the fledgling town at the foot of the falls that George Rogers Clark founded in 1783. Like his father, Davis was named to the town board when the trustees met at his house in July 1801.

Davis Floyd quickly became one of the leaders of frontier Southern Indiana. Over the next five years, he was named Clark County’s first recorder, served as the first sheriff of Clark County, helped plat the town of Jeffersonville, and in 1805 Clark County voters sent him to the territorial Assembly. In addition, he and his father operated a ferry from Clarksville to the Kentucky shore, and Davis kept a tavern near the landing. In 1803 he became a licensed falls pilot—one of the men who guided boats through the treacherous rapids of the Falls of the Ohio.

In 1805, Davis became deeply involved in a conspiracy with Aaron Burr, who had been Thomas Jefferson’s Vice President. Burr seems to have had fantasies of establishing a personal empire in the trans-Mississippi West. However, that was treason! He claimed to have had President Jefferson’s secret support to lead an expedition of conquest against Spanish Texas or Northern Mexico. What he told Davis Floyd, we will never know.

Floyd and Burr were also members of the Board of Directors of the Indiana Canal Company, chartered by the territorial legislature in 1805 to build a canal around the north side of the Falls of the Ohio. This venture was probably tied to the conspiracy in some way, but no one has ever unraveled the details. The project failed and many honest investors lost their money.

In January 1807, Davis led a flotilla of armed men down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to meet Burr in Natchez. The rendezvous never took place. President Jefferson had become convinced the men were traitors. Floyd and his men were arrested. In June 1807 a Virginia grand jury returned indictments against Burr and six of his accomplices, including Davis Floyd, for treason! After the government failed to convict Burr, the charges were dropped against the others. However, many citizens questioned Floyd’s integrity and his career went into a decline for a number of years.

Floyd began to redeem his reputation by later serving in William Henry Harrison’s army at the Battle of Tippecanoe. Floyd undertook a dangerous mission to meet with the Delaware Indians and persuaded them not to join the other tribes fighting with the British. After this, his career began to flourish.

Floyd became auditor of the Indiana Territory in 1813 and moved to Corydon. He later served as the Indiana Territorial treasurer; secured bids for the building of a courthouse in Corydon, which became the first state capitol; served as a delegate from Harrison County to the state Constitutional Convention in 1816. Harrison County voters elected him representative to the first state legislature. Floyd’s life had completely rebounded from the misfortunes of 1807. In 1816 the widower Davis Floyd married Elizabeth Robards.

On October 13, 1817, Governor Jonathan Jennings appointed Davis Floyd judge of the Second Judicial Circuit. Although lacking extensive legal training, Judge Floyd was highly respected.

In 1817 he built a fine brick home in Corydon, which later became the home of Governor Thomas Hendricks. It is open to the public as a state historic site landmark today.

Sometime about 1818 Floyd opened a store in Corydon, becoming a prosperous merchant, and his political future looked bright. Then the national economy crashed in the Panic of 1819 and he lost both his store and home. It must have been a bitter experience for the man who had fought so hard to redeem a tarnished reputation.

Davis Floyd turned away from business to re-enter the life of politics. In 1822 he entered his name in a special election for one of Indiana’s three congressional seats, but was defeated by the popular outgoing governor, Jonathan Jennings.

Disappointed with life in Indiana, he accepted an appointment as United States Commissioner to settle Florida land claims. Little is known about the last twelve years of his life. He died in Leon County, Florida, in 1834. It is believed his body was returned to Corydon for a final resting place, to this day no one knows for sure where Davis Floyd is buried.

Sgt. Charles Floyd

Charles Floyd Diorama

Charles Floyd Diorama

This was the first man to volunteer for Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery and a “man of much merit,” according to expedition co-leader William Clark. Sadly, his was the only fatality on the Lewis and Clark expedition.

His name was Charles Floyd. Born in 1782, probably near Floyd’s Station in present-day St. Matthews, part of Louisville, Kentucky, Charles was the son of Robert and Lillian Floyd. Robert Floyd, the son of “gentry” Virginians, served in the Continental Army during the Revolution.

Charles Floyd came of age in the turbulent and violent days of frontier warfare. His uncle John Floyd commanded the Jefferson County, Kentucky, militia, charged with defending the new, little settlement at Louisville and others nearby.

In 1799, the Robert Floyd family moved across the river to present-day Clarksville, Indiana. Charles’ father, a friend of Gen. George Rogers Clark, became a town trustee. The Floyd family became prominent in the new Clarksville Township. Davis, Charles’ older brother, became a political and business leader. 19 year-old Charles was named the first constable of Clarksville Township which extended all the way to Blue River. Soon, Charles received the contract to deliver mail in the area. No doubt these journeys through the wilderness added to his outdoor skills.

In 1803, when Meriwether Lewis asked his friend William Clark to recruit a group of young, unmarried and skilled woodsmen and hunters for an expedition to explore the West, Clark turned to his close friend Davis Floyd. Perhaps Clark, as young Charles Floyd’s neighbor in Clarksville, had already seen what Davis might have told him, that Charles was an accomplished young man of great ability.

Hundreds of young men from the region wanted to sign on to the Corps of Discovery but Clark chose just nine. Among the first? Charles Floyd and his cousin Nathaniel Pryor.

On October 14,1803, Lewis arrived at the Falls with several boats, including a 55-foot keelboat. The next day, Lewis hired several Falls pilots to take his boats to Clarksville. Lewis and Clark met at the Clark cabin. On October 26, the party pushed off. The expedition had begun.

During the first several weeks of the journey, as the party moved down the Ohio, then up the Mississippi, Charles Floyd lived up to Clark’s estimations. He was put in charge of one of three squadrons and given the trusted job of running messages between Lewis and Clark and to local officials.

After wintering in modern day Illinois near the mouth of the Missouri, the party moved up the Missouri in May, 1804. Floyd kept a daily journal, recording weather, events and the trip’s progress.

For the events of May 14, 1804, he wrote:

“Showery day Capt Clark set out at 3 oclock for the western expedition the party
Consisted of 3 Serguntes and 38 working hands which manned the Batteaw and
Two Perogues we sailed up the missouria 6 miles and encamped on the N side of
the river.”

Over the summer, the Corps moved into Indian country, ascending the Missouri and seeing vast prairie grasslands for the first time. By late July, the men were on the edge of the Great Plains.

On July 3rd, Floyd recorded in his diary:

“I am verry sick and Has ben for Somtime but have Recoverd my helth again.”
On August 19, Floyd collapsed in pain. On August 20 he died, under sail with the men of the Corps, under a bluff on the Missouri River. Before he died, his words to William Clark were, “I am going away. I want you to write me a letter.”

Floyd was the first American solider to die west of the Mississippi.

Today, a monument commemorating his life stands near his gravesite at modern day Sioux City, Iowa. Lewis and Clark named a small river nearby Floyd’s River, a name it holds still.

Facial reconstructionist Sharon Long of Laramie, Wyoming cast Sgt. Floyd’s head and face from a mold of his original skull. She is one of a handful of experts who has earned the admiration of many noted forensic anthropologists, law enforcement officials, museums and educational institutions in the nation. In collaboration with scientists and anthropologists, she has completed reconstruction on human skulls found at numerous historic and prehistoric excavation sites such as Easter Island, Chili, and Jamestown Fort, Virginia.

Upcoming projects include reconstruction of a Chamorie culture skull from Saipan and the eight men who drowned on the Hunley Submarine that sank at Charleston Bay, South Carolina during the Civil War. Ms. Long has appeared in five documentaries, including National Geographic Explorer TV, The Discovery Channel and PBS.

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