La Grange in Oldham County, Kentucky — The American South (East South Central)
Colonel William Oldham
William Oldham was born in Berkely County, Virginia, June 17, 1753, the sixth child in a family of seven. His parents were respectable farmers. His mother was a first cousin to George Washington.
There is no doubt the Oldham family responded to the spirit of independence. Three sons in the family served with Virginia forces during the Revolutionary War. Will Oldham enlisted as a member of one of two Virginia rifle companies. His older brother, Samuel, served as a seaman in the Virginia Navy and younger brother, Conway, was an officer in the Virginia Line. Will and Samuel survived their military experience. Conway Oldham died in the Battle of Eutaw Springs.
After serving with the Virginia militia during Lord Dunmore's War against Indians, will Oldham enlisted in 1775 for service in the Revolutionary War as a member of Daniel Morgan’s Rifle Company. Morgan’s group supported General Washington in the siege of Boston, guarded Fort Ticonderoga in Northern New and was later part of the American attack on British forces at Quebec, Canada. The American army failed the Battle of Quebec, December , 31, 1775. Daniel Morgan was among those taken prisoner and 400 others were either killed or wounded.
Will Oldham managed to escape capture at Quebec. Sometime later, he became an officer attached to the Pennsylvania 5th Regiment. While with the regiment, he was involved
Arrival in Kentucky. Enlistments in the army were usually for one year periods. Will Oldham left the army in the spring of 1779. Like thousands of others, he sought opportunity beyond the Appalachian Mountains in a vast and unknown area of Kentucky. The area around the Falls of the Ohio had been surveyed in 1773 by Captain Thomas Bullitt, but there was no settlement until in 1779.
In frontier Kentucky, Will Oldham rose rapidly. He was resourceful able-bodied and recognized as a leader. By 1780, he was an officer in the local militia. In May of that same year the Assembly of Virginia enacted a charter for the new Town of Louisville. Colonel William Pope was assigned by Thomas Jefferson to survey a 1000 acre tract for the town and be one of its trustees. The first recorded meeting of trustees was February 7, 1781.
By 1783, Oldham had also been chosen as a trustee of the town. In 1784, the first 300 lots were sold at auction. He purchased a half-acre lot in the vicinity of 7th and Main Street. By fall of 1786, Will Oldham had been appointed Sheriff of Jefferson County (Virginia), which included present-day Oldham County.
Collins History of Kentucky, written in 1848 by Judge Lewis Collins, reports Will Oldham “was a chivalrous and enterprising man, brave and experienced officer, and very efficient in defending the country against the incursion of the Indians. He was one of the first magistrates of Jefferson County, an active, useful and public-spirited citizen.”
On July 19, 1783, Will Oldham married Penelope Pope, the daughter of Colonel William Pope, trustee and surveyor of Louisville. She was 14 years old and he was 30, a
Battle of the Wabash, St. Clair’s Defeat. Although they had signed the Treaty of Paris which ceded lands in the Northwest Territory, the British and their Indian allies refused to recognize American sovereignty. In 1791, President Washington directed Major General Arthur St. Clair to lead a military campaign to secure the Ohio country. Militia were requested from several states.
Will Oldham was ordered to lead a regiment of 1000 Kentucky militia in support of General St. Clair’s army. Because Kentuckians had little faith in the ability of federal officers to fight Indians, no one volunteered and only 450 men turned out for a draft. Many in Oldham’s group were untrained conscripts or hired to take someone else’s place.
From its starting point at Fort Washington (Cincinnati) in October 1791, St. Clair’s army was plagued by a series of unfortunate events, including bad weather, lack of supplies, poor equipment, unruly soldiers and misjudgments by General St. Clair, himself.
Late in the afternoon on November 3 1791, the army stopped along the headwaters of the Wabash River, 54 miles southeast of present-day Fort Wayne, Indiana. The army was exhausted from weeks of difficult traveling. A decision was made to wait until the following day to establish fortifications.
At daybreak the following morning, a large confederation of Indians hurled a surprise attack against the Kentucky militia and then against the main body of the army. A fierce battle ensued for several hours, during which Colonel William Oldham and 631 other soldiers and nearly 200 camp followers lost their lives. An additional 264 soldiers were wounded. Sensing the loss of his entire army, General St. Clair ordered a retreat.
William Oldham’s body was not recovered. The dead, and those wounded
The ‘Battle of the Wabash,’ also known as ‘St. Clair's Defeat,’ stands as one of the worst defeats ever suffered by the American Army. It is also the largest victory ever won by American Indians.
Kentucky was admitted to the Union as the 15th state on June 1, 1792. More than 30 years later, as a new county was formed, the memory of Will Oldham and other Kentuckians who lost their lives along the Wabash River remained strong. A final salute was extended to Colonel William Oldham by the naming of a new county, Oldham County.
General Washington had recommended that Daniel Morgan and Hugh Stephenson be Virginia’s company commanders. Morgan’s Rifle Company included 22 year old junior officer, Will Oldham.
In July 15 and 16, 1775, about 120 back-country marksmen left in two groups from Berkley and Frederick Counties in Virginia on a 600 mile march to support George Washington’s forces in Boston.
The two groups competed for the honor to be the first to arrive in Boston. Newspapers record cheering and high spirits among townsfolk who witnessed the processions through their villages.
At daybreak, as soldiers stacked their weapons and paraded to their morning meals, hundreds of Indians began attacking. The Kentucky militia was hit first. Many of the militiamen were inexperienced and froze without fighting or fled across the river without their weapons.
The army was surrounded by a staggering alliance of Indians, possibly as many as 1400. Over the next three hours, a fierce battle continued. Colonel William Oldham was killed, as was General Richard Butler, St Clair’s second in command. The Indians were described as “fighting like the hounds of hell.” Sensing the imminent loss of his entire arm General St Clair ordered a retreat.
Exact numbers are unknown. Of the near 1250 Americans present, about
Wayne’s army, called the Legion of the United States, returned on Christmas Day 1793, and began building a new fort at the exact location of the 1791 battle. They also continued the grim process of recovering the remains of the dead. After debating several choices, Wayne chose the name Fort Recovery to signify the army’s intent to recover from its crushing defeat in 1791.
In 1794, Wayne’s legion easily defeated the Indian alliance at The Battle of Fallen Timbers, ending the Northwest Indian Wars.
Colonel William Oldham was the second highest-ranking officer killed at St. Clair's Defeat. His name, along with that of 31 other officers, is inscribed around the base of an obelisk authorized by Congress and erected in 1912 at Fort Recovery, Ohio. The remains of Will Oldham, along with other soldiers who died under the commands of Arthur St. Clair and Anthony Wayne, are buried in the memorial.
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Agriculture • Settlements & Settlers • War, US RevolutionaryWars, Non-US. In addition, it is included in the Former U.S. Presidents: #01 George Washington series list.
Location. 38° 24.455′ N, 85° 22.764′ W. Marker is in La Grange, Kentucky, in Oldham County. Marker is on West Main Street west of South 1st Avenue, on the right when traveling east. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 100 W Jefferson St, La Grange KY 40031, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Veterans Memorial (within shouting distance of this marker); William Berry Taylor of Spring Hill (within shouting distance of this marker); 104 East Main Street (within shouting distance of this marker); James and Amanda Mount Home / J.C. Barnett Library and Archives (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); Funk Seminary Site (about 400 feet away); Oldham County, 1824 (about 400 feet away); A Masonic Leader (about 600 feet away); William T. Barbour House (about 800 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in La Grange.
Also see . . . Why Oldham County Has A Statue That Looks Like Bonnie Prince Billy. 2018 radio article by Ashlie Stevens for WFPL. (Submitted on July 3, 2019.)
Credits. This page was last revised on January 5, 2020. It was originally submitted on July 3, 2019, by J. J. Prats of Powell, Ohio. This page has been viewed 154 times since then and 4 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. submitted on July 3, 2019, by J. J. Prats of Powell, Ohio.