June 13, 2013

Traces of Laurel: The founders of London

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Laurel County was established by an act of the Kentucky legislature in December of 1825.  This act specified that nine justices of the peace should be appointed as soon as possible to form a county government.  These justices met on March 26, 1826 at the home of John Jackson, located in what is now London but what was then mostly wilderness.

Who appointed the justices if there was no previous government?  Neither Russell Dyche nor Thomas D. Clark – both of whom wrote histories of Laurel County – gives a clear answer to that question. The original justices were:  Samuel McHargue, William Freeman, Jarvis Jackson, David Weaver, William Smith, James McNeill, John Pearl, Jacob Boyer and James Ward.  McNeill and Pearl resigned immediately and two new justices were chosen from four submitted names:  Jedediah Hibbard, Pleasant Young, Mark Dees and Abraham Baugh. Along with John Jackson, these men became the leaders of the new county.

The area that became Laurel County was taken from sparsely-settled portions of four other counties – Clay, Knox, Rockcastle, and Whitley – so the people living in the annexed portions of these surrounding counties became residents of Laurel County overnight, whether they wanted to or not.

John and Jarvis Jackson (father and son) spearheaded the campaign for countyhood. The Jacksons are prominent in the history of Laurel County. John Jackson was born in Virginia in 1762 and came to Kentucky (near Boonesborough) after the American Revolution, in which he served.  His wife was Mary Hancock and theirs is the first marriage recorded in Madison County. They later moved to the area that became Laurel County with their son, Jarvis, and are considered the founders of London.  They donated the land for the town and then took part of it back in return for funding the building of the first courthouse and jail. John Jackson died in 1833; his son, Jarvis, in 1883.  A commemorative plaque honoring John and Mary Jackson was placed in what is now A.R. Dyche Memorial Cemetery in London in the early 1940s and John and Mary’s bodies were removed from their first burial site to A.R. Dyche.   Jarvis Jackson is buried in the cemetery at the end of West 13th Street.

The historical society has much additional information on John, Mary and Jarvis Jackson and their descendants – too much to put in this column – and we welcome visits from anyone interested in knowing more about them.

I can never write about John and Jarvis Jackson without feeling that I must explain that they were not related to Levi Jackson, as so many people think.  How often have I heard someone say that Levi was the founder of London?  I don’t know.  I do know that Levi was born in 1816 which would have made him 10 years old when London was established.  Levi came to Kentucky from Tennessee with his father, Reuben Jackson.  He is definitely a big part of the county’s history but in a different era than John.  I’ll write more about Levi when I get to his time of service to Laurel County.  

If you are 80 years old or older, or know someone who is and who might like to participate in the oral history project, call the historical society at the numbers given below to arrange for an interview.

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The Laurel County Historical Society is located at 310 W. 3rd St., London, (formerly the Laurel County Health Department).  The library is open on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 12 noon.  For further information, contact 606-864-0607 during library hours, or 606-224-3767 at other times. Email the society at or Jan Sparkman at

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