Register Report First Generation

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Suit 733 #1: BOURBON CO., KY SUIT NO. 73317


Transcription and Introduction by Robert E. Francis

Timeline by Ronald T. Shawhan


In August, 1822, William Pugh entered a suit in chancery before the Bourbon Circuit Court, Bourbon County, Kentucky, against the heirs of Daniel Shawhan (1738-1791). Pugh listed the defendants as follows: "He (Pugh) therefore prays that, the said widow, the said John, Joseph, Daniel & Robert Shawhon, Isaac Williams & Nancy his wife, Wm Becket & Jane his wife may be defendants in this bill…" Pugh named John Shawhan, Daniel’s third son, as the primary defendant. The reader will note that the youngest daughter, Elizabeth, was not named as a defendant in the suit. The reason will become clear below.

The case is very complicated and requires some detailed examination of the points made by William Pugh in his suit. He claimed that he had purchased a right to 1/7th of the original 130 acres of land belonging to the heirs of Daniel Shawhan dec’d. In 1789, Daniel had purchased land from Reubin Rankin who provided him with a written bond with the promise that a deed was forthcoming. However, Daniel died before the deed could be drawn up; and, since Daniel died intestate, no formal division of the land took place between the widow and the children. This was the heart of Pugh’s argument and would become the basis for his claim to a portion of the land.

Pugh asserted that, since the land had never been legally divided amongst the heirs, no single co-heir could lay claim to the undivided property. Each child had a right to 1/7th of the remaining portion of the 130 acres after the widow’s dower. Pugh had a vested interest in this argument because on July 13, 1822, he had purchased 1/7th portion of the land from Elizabeth (Shawhan) and Eli Robertson. Elizabeth was the youngest daughter of Daniel and Margaret (Bell) Shawhan. In late September 1822, Pugh amended this claim to include a second 1/7th portion of the 130 acres after purchasing said portion from the eldest Shawhan daughter, Nancy, and her husband Isaac Williams. Pugh subsequently removed Nancy and Isaac as defendants in the suit.

Pugh directed his argument specifically against John Shawhan, the third son of Daniel. He accused John of fraudulently obtaining a deed for the land in his own name from a William Miller (the patentee for the land) on June 24, 1800. Pugh argued that, since the land had never been legally divided amongst the heirs, Shawhan had no right to an exclusive claim to the land. He stated that "John Shawhon, without the knowledge or consent of any of his brothers or sisters, except probably Joseph Shawhon who not long thereafter removed from sd land, obtained from Wm Miller the patentee, a deed for said 130 acres of land, in his own name without including therein any of the sd heirs of Daniel Shawhon dec’d". Additionally, Pugh argued that, since the deed was obtained illegally, 50% of the profits that came from the use of the land was now owed to the co-heirs of the land in question retroactive to the date of the illegal deed. I am guessing that this remuneration may have been a part of the "deal" that Pugh made with Elizabeth and Nancy. Pugh further argued that John Shawhan should pay the co-heirs and Pugh their rightful portion of "rents & profits that he has enjoyed" since illegally owning the land.

John Shawhan provided two responses countering Pugh’s claims. The first, submitted May 4, 1823, claimed that, because he had legally obtained a deed from William Miller for the 130 acres, neither Pugh nor any of his co-heirs had any legal claim to the land.. He argued that the co-heirs had verbally agreed upon the need of a legal deed and that he obtained the deed to protect the family against just such fraudulent claims as that put forth by William Pugh.

John’s amended response, filed in November 1826, showed a much more sober and legally savvy answer to William Pugh’s allegations. It seems that Pugh had called John on several points of his original testimony. John spent several pages of this 12 page deposition admitting that he had not clearly thought through the implications of his original deposition. He admitted to mistakes in judgement but denied having done anything wrong. He then painstakingly detailed the events leading up to the purchase of the deed from William Miller. The result of his testimony is an exceptional picture of life in the Shawhan family of Bourbon County, Kentucky, from the summer of 1789 until about 1810. John forcefully argued that he and his siblings had come to an agreement that he should purchase their interest in the land in order to keep the original 130 acres intact. He admitted that, while he and his siblings never entered into written agreements concerning the sale and transfer of their interests to John, everyone agreed to the arrangement. John considered these arrangements internal family affairs that, while informal, were nevertheless legally binding. Once these agreements were made, John then obtained a legal deed to the land in his name.

It is interesting to note that after this response John Shawhan became quite adept at the legal maneuverings of the court. He actively pursued the process of obtaining depositions from each of the siblings verifying the informal agreements of transfer, as well as witnesses to the original bond, the subsequent deed for the land, and a rather telling piece of paper showing that Mr. Eli Robinson and wife had agreed to sell their interest in the land for a horse.

In a will dated December 15, 1823, William Pugh named his nephew William Chiles as the complainant in the suit against John Shawhan and defendants. The will itself reveals some very interesting details. It looks as if William Pugh had made a deal with Nancy and Elizabeth and their husbands promising a "payoff" if the case proved successful. Eli Robertson and wife were to receive $200 and the Williams $50 for their bargain with Pugh! I wonder how John and family received this piece of information?

In passing, I should say a word about William Chiles. Chiles was something of an expert in litigation, having already been instrumental in another suit brought against John Shawhan brought by the Hoy family in 1821("Hoy Heirs vs. John Shawhan," Bourbon Circuit Court Suit #515). In this suit, Chiles petitioned the Court to have Shawhan’s property surveyed (see addendum). The Hoy’s ultimately lost the case. Chiles was also currently embroiled as defendant with several other families (including my 3rd great grandfather Nicholas Smith) in a law suit. This suit "Thomas Boone Heirs vs. William Chiles and others" made it all the way to the United States Supreme Court and was finally settled (in Chiles’ and my grandfather’s favor) in 1835.

While I am sure that Bourbon Circuit Court Suit #733 is a fairly unremarkable representation of civil suits of the day, from the standpoint of Shawhan family research, it is one of the most remarkable documents to come to light on our Bourbon County branch of the family. Until this time, we had no idea about the early years of this family. This researcher had assumed that the family moved to Bourbon County, cleared the land, established the now-famous Shawhan distillery, and became one of the more influential families of Bourbon and Harrison counties. The truth of the matter was that, after Daniel’s death and for several years following, the family barely eked out a living. John Shawhan assumed the role of the head of the household—and ex-facto father-figure—and determined to keep the family (and land) together against all odds. In the processing he may have succeeded in alienating some members of the family, especially Elizabeth, though this can only be conjectured.

The suit also clarifies some facts concerning the family that researchers have questioned for some time. Firstly, we now have definitive proof that Daniel and Margaret Shawhan had only seven children instead of the eight, as speculated in some quarters. The seven children are as follows: Robert, Daniel, Nancy, John, Jane, Elizabeth and Joseph. An eighth child, "Shawnson," mentioned in the Kentuckian-Citizen article "The Shawhans of Bourbon County," is now clearly ruled out. He is hereby relegated to the status of a "mystery" Shawhan.

Another little known family secret comes to light in this suit. Jane, the second daughter, had two children prior to marrying William Becket in 1802. The children’s names were Polly (born circa 1796) and Luke Shawhan (1799-1877). Polly married a Josiah Thomas and Luke married Nancy McComb. Nothing else is known about these children.

A small detail that could easily be missed is the bond between Reubin Rankin and Daniel Shawhan. Daniel’s signature is not on this bond. Why is this? Could it have been that Daniel was illiterate and another person, a "Daniel Mosby" signed for him? It’s pure speculation, of course, but worthy of consideration.

A final addition to our knowledge about this family is that Margaret Shawhan lived much longer than originally expected. If she was born in 1742 as family tradition reports, at the very least Margaret lived to grand old age of eighty-eight!

I have included a one page addendum to this suit from the above mentioned "Hoy vs. John Shawhan" suit because it provides the clearest survey plat of Daniel Shawhan’s property.

Robert E. Francis

May 10, 1999


August 17, 1822 – Bourbon County Court. File Box 733; suit filed by Pugh heirs vs. John Shawhan. (Amended May, 1823). Suit states that William Miller obtained 300 acres on Townsend (Creek), then sold them to Wm. Hoy. Hoy sold land to Reuben Rankin, Robert Bell, and Pugh; Rankin sold his 130 acres to Daniel Shawhan who occupied land and made improvements. Daniel Shawhan died in 1791, intestate and the land descended to his children, John, Joseph, Daniel, Robert, Nancy (m. Isaac Williams), Jane (m. Wm. Becket), Elizabeth (m. Eli Robinson); his wife Margaret was administrator. The widow and children continued to live upon said 130 acres, and John made considerable improvements, particularly by way of clearing and enclosing land. Daniel Shawhan did not obtain a deed from Rankin. About 1800, John Shawhan, without the knowledge of his brothers and sisters, paid Miller $19 for a deed in his name; John Shawhan demanded and obtained said sum from Rankin. On July 13, 1822, Pugh purchased from Eli Robinson and wife, Elizabeth, their undivided seventh part. On Sept. 4, 1822, Pugh obtained from Isaac Williams and Nancy, his wife, a deed for their undivided seventh part. The orator (Pugh) demands that John Shawhan answer how many acres of cleared and cultivated land there is, and that rents, profits, and land be allotted to him accordingly.

Sept. 20, 1822 – Allegheny Co., PA deed filed that Isaac and Nancy Williams received $75.00 and conveyed their interest in 1/7th of the 130 acres where John Shawhan resides to Wm. Pugh and his heirs.

May 24, 1823 – Bourbon Co. Court. John Shawhan response to bill filed by William Pugh. Stated that the original bond of said Rankin to his father Daniel Shawhan, was dated Aug. 1789; that his father built a house on the land and his brother Daniel, who was married, built on another part of the land. Stated that William Miller obtained patent "on the waters of Townsend" for 330 acres, but denies that said Miller ever sold said land to Wm. Hoy or anyone else, though he had heard of a claim filed by Pugh, Rankin, and Bell for 330 acres. Stated that he (John) had made diligent search in offices of record for evidence showing sale of land from Miller to Rankin; admits that his father Daniel did purchase 130 acres of land from Rankin for the sum of $200 in 1789 and settled thereon. Some years later, as sisters were coming of age and getting married, and the land was too small to divide among all seven children, over the years, John made arrangements to obtain the land interests of his brothers and sisters, through their general willingness and consent. This included payment, on July 22, 1799, of a horse and additional dollars to Eli Robinson and his wife Elizabeth. for their interest, executed in writing. In July 1809 he contracted with his sister Jane. Other agreements were made with his brothers Daniel and Joseph. His brother Robert, and sister Nancy Williams, had stayed in Pennsylvania; and had already received land from their father Daniel. During this time, Wm. Miller informed John that the land on which he lived belonged to him (Miller), and threatened a suit; Miller exhibited title papers and said that he had never conveyed the land to any person – that Rankin’s claim was worthless. Miller asked for 19 pounds, 10 shillings for the land. John took time to examine the validity of Miller’s claim before concluding to pay the requested sum to Miller, with the knowledge of John’s coheirs, on June 24, 1800. Stated that Pugh had thrust himself into the family’s affairs for the sole purpose of making mischief.

Dec. 15, 1823 – Will signed by Wm. Pugh grants his claim against John Shawhan to his nephew, Will Chiles; filed with Bourbon Co., Court, July 1824.

Nov. 1826 – Bourbon Co., KY Court -- Amended Response of John Shawhan, John showed a much more legal response to William Pugh’s allegations. He spent several pages admitting that he had not clearly thought through the implications of his original response. He admitted to mistakes in judgement but denied having done anything wrong. He detailed the events leading up to the purchase of the deed from William Miller. John argued that he and his siblings had come to an agreement that he should purchase their interest in the land in order to keep the original 130 acres intact. He admitted that, while he and his siblings never entered into written agreements concerning the sale and transfer of their interests to John, everyone agreed to the arrangement, including his sister Nancy Williams in Pennsylvania. John considered these arrangements internal family affairs that, while informal, were nevertheless legally binding. Once these agreements were made, John then obtained a legal deed to the land in his name.

Nov. 16, 1826 – Deposition of Elizabeth Pugh, Bourbon Co., KY. Elizabeth was wife of Joseph Pugh. Stated that Daniel Shawhan had contracted to purchase 130 acres of land from Reuben Rankin, land which had formerly been "laid off by said Rankin, (my husband) Joseph Pugh, and Robert Bell" under a contract between them and Major Wm. Hoy. Also stated that her husband, John Shawhan, and others had settled with Wm. Miller.

Nov. 16, 1826 – Deposition of John Tucker, Bourbon Co., KY. Stated that he recalled a contract between Reuben Rankin, Joseph Pugh, and Robert Bell for 330 acres with Major Wm. Hoy; that Daniel Shawhan took possession of Rankin’s part. Also stated that Rankin had given a horse to John Shawhan as remuneration for the money that John had paid Miller.

Nov. 17, 1826 – Deposition of Joshua Hall, Bourbon Co., KY. Stated that he had seen the original receipt, dated July 1, 1803, that John Shawhan made out for receiving a horse valued at 19 pounds, 10 shillings, from Reuben Rankin.

Oct. 9, 1827 -- Deposition of Jane Shawhan Becket and Margaret Shawhan, Clark Co., IN. Jane was present in 1799 when Eli Robertson sold his share of the land to John Shawhan. Margaret attested that she witnessed Eli and Elizabeth (Shawhan) Robertson sign the July 22, 1799 release of their share to John Shawhan.

Oct. 25, 1827 – Deposition of Joseph Shawhan, Bourbon Co., KY. Stated that John Shawhan purchased the interest of Eli Robertson and wife by giving them a horse. Joseph witnessed seeing the receipt for said horse.

July 25, 1829 – Deposition of Jane Becket, Clark Co., IN. Stated that Daniel Shawhan bought 130 acres of land from Reuben Rankin and had Rankin’s bond for the title; the land was not surveyed. Daniel built a cabin adjoining corner of Robert Bell’s land. Her brother John became head of family. Land was too small to divide among heirs, so John commenced buying interests of other heirs. In the 1790s Wm. Miller made a claim on the land. The coheirs became alarmed and directed John to offer a compromise with Miller and to take a deed from Miller in his (John’s) own name. Stated further that John had purchased her interests and had also sold her brother Daniel’s share to Joseph and some 12 – 15 years later bought it back from Joseph; there were no deeds exchanged for these transactions.

July 25, 1829 – Deposition of William Becket, Clark Co., IN. His wife Jane sold her share of the land to John Shawhan shortly before their marriage, and received payment after their marriage. The transaction occurred after John had obtained deed from Wm. Miller.

Aug. 1, 1829 – Deposition of Daniel Shawhan and wife Mary, Rush Co., IN. Wm. Pugh came to Daniel’s house in 1822 or 1823 to purchase his interest in the land that his father Daniel had purchased from Reuben Rankin. Daniel told Pugh that John Shawhan had already purchased the land from him as well as from the other children -–i.e. Jane, Elizabeth, Joseph, Robert, etc. Daniel also stated that the deed from Wm. Miller to John Shawhan was "right and just". He further stated that he, Daniel, lived on the land from 1789 –1796 and, until 1825, was "not more than a day’s ride away".

April 22, 1830 – Deposition of Margaret Shawhan, in Clark Co., IN. Her husband, Daniel Shawhan, moved to KY in May 1789. That summer he purchased 130 acres from Reubin Rankin – the family moved to the property in October or November of 1789. Daniel died May 1791. Six or seven years later, her daughter Nancy (Shawhan) Williams visited from PA and Margaret returned to PA with her. Nancy told Margaret that she and John had arranged for John to have her share of the 130 acres.

May 1830 – Bourbon Co. Circuit Court. Sustained John Shawhan objection to filing of deeds by Isaac William and wife, and by Eli Robertson and wife, as having non-legal authentication.

April 16, 1834 – Kentucky Court of Appeals. Affirmed Circuit Court decree.

Aug. 13, 1789 – Bond by Reuben Rankin for sale of 130 acres to Daniel Shawhan for 250 pounds – that part of purchase made by Rankin, Robt. Bell, and Joseph Pugh.

June 24, 1800 (?) -- Deed for sale of land by Wm. Miller to John Shawhan

April 22, 1802 – Agreement between John Shawhan and Jane Shawhan for John to acquire Jane’s land interest; he will pay Polly and Luke Shawhan Becket when they arrive at age.

June 30, 1803 – Note from Joseph Shawhan to Mr. Rankin, stating that John Shawhan had satisfactorily divided the land.

July 1, 1803 -- Receipt by John Shawhan for horse from Reuben Rankin regarding the sum paid Wm. Miller for land, of 19pds, 10s.


August 13, 1789

Know all men by these presents that I Rubin Rankins of the county of Bourbon and State of Virginia and held firmly bound unto Daniel Shawhorn of the said county & state above mentioned in the just & full sum of two hundred and fifty pounds current money of Virginia to which payment well and truly to be made I bind myself my heirs Executors, Administrators & Assigns firmly by these presents witness, my hand and seal this 13th day of August 1789. The condition of the above obligation is such, that as the above bound Rubin Rankins has bargained & sold to the said Daniel Shawhorn a certain tract of land containing one hundred and thirty acres lying & being in the county of Bourbon on the waters of Townsends Run it being a part of a purchase made by the said Rubin Rankins Robert Bell & Joseph Pugh in partnership and if the said Rubin Rankins or his Heirs shall make a good and lawful deed with a general warrantee unto the said Daniel Shawhon his Heirs or Assigns—the Deed to be made as soon as opportunity will admit then the above obligation to be void or else remain in full force and virtue in law.

In presents of Reubin Rankins (seal)

Robert Wilmott Daniel Mosby (seal)

Anthy Livstad

Robert Bell

July 22, 1799

Then received of John Shawhan a gray hors at 45 dolar in payment of my wife Elisebeths part of the land that said John Shawhan now lives on Received by me

Witness present Eli Robertson

Joseph Shawhan


Margrit Shawhan


This is to certify that I Eli Robertson and my wife Elizabeth do asign over to John Shawhan our full right of (word illegible) Heirship of a bond from Reubin Rankin to Daniel Shawhan having date 18th of August 1789.

Witness before sind Eli Robertson

Joseph Shawhan her

her Elizabeth Robertson

Margrit Shawhan mark


June 24, 1800

William Miller deed to John Shawhan

This indenture made this twenty fourth day of June in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred between William Miller of the County of Garrard and State of Kentucky of the one part and John Shawhan of the County of Bourbon and State afores’d, of the other part. Witnesseth that the William Miller for and in consideration of the sum of £19.10 current money of Kentucky to him well and truly in hand paid at before the sealing and delivery of the presents the receipt whereof he doth hereby acknowledge and is therefore satisfied have granted, bargained, sold, conveyed, and released; and by these presents do grant, bargain, sell, convey, and release unto said John Shawhan, his heirs or assigns, all his Right Title and interest which he now hath to all that certain tract or parcel of land situate lying and being in the County of Bourbon—and on Townsend’s Run a branch of the south fork of Licking it being a part of John Townsend’s preemption and bounded as follows (towit): Beginning at an elm ash and hickory corner to said Townsend’s settlement turning thence North forty-five degrees East one hundred and seventy six poles to a (illegible word)_ (illegible word)_ and Hickory, North forty five degrees West one hundred and eighteen poles to a Hickory Box elder and Hackberry, South forty five degrees West one hundred seventy six poles to a Dogwood Hickory and Ironwood in said settlement line then with the same south forty five degrees East one hundred and eighteen poles to the beginning containing one hundred thirty acres. To have and to hold the said tract or parcel of land is as above butted and bounded with all and singular the (illegible word) and appertenances thereunto belonging to the said John Shawhan and his heirs and assigns forever and the said William Miller for himself and his heirs the said tract of land unto the said John Shawhan and to his heirs and assigns shall and will warrant and forever defend against the claims of him the said Miller and his heirs, and no other person or persons whatsoever, but it is to be further understood that if the above mentioned tract or parcel of land or any part thereof should be taken by a prior or better claim then the said Miller is to refund the said purchase or so much thereof in proportion to the land so taken.

In Witness whereof the Parties first named in this Indenture have hereunto set their hands and seals the year and day above written.

Wm Miller (seal)

John Tucker

William McCune

Alexander Tucker

Joseph Pugh

Bourbon County August 19th 1800

I do testify that this deed of bargain and sale from William Miller to John Shawhan was proved before me by the oath of John Tucker, William McCune and Joseph Pugh, witness thereto and ordained to be recorded

Tho. Arnold, clk.

Wm. Miller to Jno. Shawhan deed

Record Bk. I, pa. 370—end

April 22, 1802

Article of an agreement between John Shawhan and Jean Shawhan of the County and State aforesaid this is to certify that sd John and Jean Shawhan have made and agreed on this that the sd John Shawhan is to give Polly and Luke Shawhan her son and daughter forty dollars in good property when they arrive at the age sufficient to do for themselves in and by way of satisfying her in full for any right or claim—or her heirs after her might have of a certain tract of land being the land that Daniel bought of Reubin Rankin in placing such confidence in the said John to preform (sic) the said agreement. I do (sic) now sign over any right or claim that might fall to me by heirship in the said piece or tract of land he now lives on being the same tract of land purchased of the above mentioned Reubin Rankin by my father Daniel Shawhan. Whereunto I do set my hand and seel (sic) this 22d day of April 1802.

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