By Jan Sparkman
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — As a child I often went to Levi Jackson State Park to play on the swings and slides and walk the shaded trails. I don’t remember ever wondering about the man for whom the park was named, but once I became interested in the history of the county I realized that Levi Jackson, the man, was a big part of that history.
Levi was born in Tennessee on March 17, 1816 to Mary Elizabeth Houston Jackson and Reuben (Rubin) Jackson. According to information on file at the Laurel County Historical Society, Reuben and Mary Elizabeth came to Kentucky from Claiborne County, Tenn., about the time of the establishment of Laurel County in 1825. They lived on Laurel River where Reuben operated a mill. Reuben and Mary had a large family of which Levi may have been the youngest. Reuben’s will, filed after the death of Mary Elizabeth when he was married to Eva Ohler, is interesting but too long for inclusion here. It provides that his property be divided among his children and makes a special bequest to his son, Levi, of “my negro man Moses to have and to hold as his property forever after my death.” Moses’ grave may be found among those of Levi’s wife and children in the Levi Jackson Cemetery.
Levi Jackson married Rebecca Freeman, daughter of John Freeman and Rebecca Reid, on November 13, 1837. They lived out their lives in the old Freeman residence on (now) Barbourville Road and their two youngest children donated the first land for what became Levi Jackson State Park.
When the Kentucky legislature established the office of County Judge in 1850, Levi was elected the first man to hold that office in Laurel County. Russell Dyche writes: “Judge Jackson is remembered as the Democratic judge who succeeded in beating a Republican opponent, Andrew Black, by just 20 votes.” Levi remained active in local politics and other county concerns until his death which occurred July 17, 1879.
Levi and Rebecca had a large family and have many descendants still living in Laurel and surrounding counties. Probably no name in Laurel County’s history is more recognized today than that of Levi Jackson. A good photo of Levi still exists, too, making his face familiar. He has truly become Laurel County’s own and it is easy to get a feeling of having known him.
A few years back when I was writing the fictional life of a real Laurel County woman, Lucy J. Williams, I became acquainted with Lucy’s great-great-grandaughter who, it turned out, was also related to Levi Jackson, through Levi’s sister, Sarah, who married James Durham. This young woman, who had never visited our area, came to see me and I took her to the park and to Levi’s grave and helped her find more information about the family at the historical society. I will never forget how excited she was to stand beside Levi’s grave and make that connection with her family history.
You may be able to find your past at the Laurel County Historical Society’s library. We’re there to help.
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Some relics of Levi Jackson’s life were displayed at the recently closed Mountain Life Museum in Levi Jackson State Park.
We can only hope that they will be preserved. When “funding” is the issue, historical sites/artifacts always seem to be the first to go.
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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. Visit the historical society’s website: http://www.laurelcountykyhistoricalsociety.org. Email the society at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jan Sparkman at email@example.com.