Life and Times of Judge Caleb Wallace - intro


Judge Caleb Wallace, 1742-1814

Perhaps Judge Wallace was not sentimental. Perhaps there were other reasons, but he was not, apparently, a keeper of correspondence. That which passed through his hands was, for the most part, destroyed. Something of a written record, from which a substantial biographical account may be inferred, remains in other sources, including two prominent newspapers of the period, the "Virginia Gazette" and the "Kentucke Gazette"; the Draper Manuscript Collection; the "Founders of Washington College" in the Special Collections library of Washington and Lee University, Lexington, Virginia; and among collections of the papers of James Madison, who was a lifelong friend of Judge Wallace and who, fortunately, was meticulous in his documentation - handwritten copies of both incoming and outgoing correspondence having frequently been prepared by a secretary. Some few documents were preserved within the immediate family, and remained at least a sufficient time to appear in a late-nineteenth-century biography, "The Life and Times of Judge Caleb Wallace", by Dr. William Whitsitt, who was the husband of a great-granddaughter of Judge Wallace, which was published in 1888 as Filson Publication Number Four (Louisville, Kentucky), the existence of which is a source of irony. The Filson Club, which continues in present time the preservation of Kentucky history, was so named to honor a contemporary of Judge Wallace, John Filson, a pioneer entrepreneur whose surveys, maps, and publications did much to attract settlers to the Territory of Kentucky. The irony resides in the fact that only one of the proposed "about fifty" biographies of "important pioneer settlers of the State of Kentucky" ( Preface, "The Life and Times of Judge Caleb Wallace") was actually completed - and this dedicated to an individual who earned the enmity of Mr. Filson! In the latter part of the eighteenth century there arose a fierce competition in and around the settlements in Kentucky among educators of the time, who included John Filson, whose publicized efforts to recruit youths to his academy were derided, under a pseudonym, by Judge Wallace, who sought to promote yet another such fledgling institution - which survived to become what is now Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky. Mr. Filson's heated reply in the "Kentucke Gazette" seems a provocative public challenge; this series of articles is among those presented herein.

These documents follow in chronological sequence, with sources cited in context.

Caleb Wallace was born in 1742 and raised in the vicinity of one of the western (Charlotte County/Prince Edward County) Virginia Presbyterian colonies known variously as "Caldwell Colony" (after one of the founding families) and "Cub Creek Colony" (referring to its location). He was the son of Samuel Wallace and Ester Baker; his mother was the daughter of another of the early families in the settlement, that of Caleb and Martha Brooks Baker. There has been debate over the ancestry of Samuel Wallace; he came to the Cub Creek Colony as either the son of a long-settled Quaker family from eastern Virginia, or as the son of the deceased Peter Wallace, whose widow, Elizabeth Woods Wallace, came from Ireland with her brother Michael Woods and their families to settle in the valleys of western Virginia. Circumstances such as Caleb's later alliances with other descendants of the Woods family and his first marriage to a young lady, Sarah McDowell, who would have been a Woods cousin, strongly favor the latter connection.

Judge Wallace, as a Presbyterian minister, was among the protagonists in the struggle for religious freedom in late-colonial Virginia whose writings on the subject had a now-little-known but far-reaching influence in the development of provisions for freedom of religious choice, especially in Virginia, through the influence of Thomas Jefferson. While it does not appear that Wallace enjoyed Jefferson's favor, it is likely that his work reached Jefferson through a mutual acquaintance with James Madison.

Caleb Wallace graduated among a class of twenty-two from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) in 1770. In the year preceding his graduation he was among the founders of the American Whig Society ("Life and Times of Judge Caleb Wallace", p. 18). He continued, after his graduation, in the study of theology, was licensed to preach ("Life and Times", etc., p. 26) on May 28, 1772, and was ordained ("Life and Times", etc., p. 27) on October 13, 1774.

As the conflict with Great Britain grew toward open revolution, the young minister, having eventually returned to his childhood home, became, at the direction of his Presbytery, active in the causes of both religious freedom and education. The association of his name with the advancement of education continued throughout his life; Wallace was among the founders of Prince Edward Academy (which has become Hampden-Sidney College); of Liberty Academy at Lexington, Virginia (now Washington and Lee University); and, in Kentucky, of Transylvania Seminary (Transylvania University, Lexington, Kentucky). It is also probable that he was the author of the enabling legislation which provided for the establishment of these "academies", supported by conveyance of ownership of public lands, in each of the counties in existence at the time (1798) within the new state.

After the death of his first wife, daughter of his cousin and mentor Samuel McDowell, Sarah McDowell Wallace, he married Rosanna Christian, daughter of Israel and Elizabeth Starke Christian, whose brother, William, married Anne, sister of Patrick Henry. Caleb and Rosanna named their first-born for Calebís first father-in-law - Samuel McDowell Wallace.

Wallace left both the ministry and Virginia for an appointment to the "Commission for the Adjudication of Western Accounts" in September of 1782, at about which time he moved his family to Kentucky. This evolved into appointment to the "Supreme Court of the District of Kentucky" (<"Life and Times", etc., p. 108) on July 2, 1783. He also served briefly as a Kentucky representative in the Virginia legislature in 1783. With the attainment of statehood in 1792, the Kentucky Court of Appeals was constituted, composed of "Harry Innes, Chief Justice; Benjamin Sebastian, Second Judge, and Caleb Wallace, Third Judge." ("Life and Times", etc., p. 146). Wallace remained in this position until his resignation was pressed in 1813, the year before his death. He had amassed a substantial estate near what is now Midway (between Lexington/Versailles and Frankfort, Kentucky), with other holdings in northern Kentucky and southern Indiana. This is in the heart of the "Bluegrass" region; nearby is the Kentucky Horse Park, a state park which occupies three thousand of the nine thousand acres granted to Wallace's brother-in-law, Col. William Christian in 1777 in settlement for service in the Indian wars and in the Revolution.

Judge Wallace was a "perennial" delegate to Kentucky's several constitutional conventions, in whose behalf he frequently sought the advice and intercession of his younger friend, James Madison; Kentucky's on-again, off-again progression to statehood became the subject of derision in the Virginia legislature - "the perennial problem of Kentucky" - until a constitution was eventually ratified in an "illegal" convention which followed expiration of Virginia's authorization. Wallace, knowing that this was the first opportunity to accumulate a favorable vote, had written again to Madison beseeching an extension of legislative authority. While this state of affairs is sometimes presented in historical accounts as evidence of rebelliousness in Kentucky, nothing could be further from the reality of the times; many Kentuckians were, instead, so fearful of severing the tie with (and financing and protection from) the mother state that it had become impossible to procure approval of a separate constitution. During this period, also, several prominent Kentuckians began looking for alliances elsewhere; because of fear of invasion by way of the Mississippi to Ohio Rivers, negotiations were surreptitiously conducted at the instigation of the Spanish ambassador from New Orleans in what has been vilified as the "Spanish Conspiracy", with which Wallace's name was linked. There is no doubt that he was aware of these transactions as they involved men among his closest associates, but it is improbable that he would, at the same time, have so actively maintained his relationship with the Virginia legislature and have so vigorously pursued the cause of statehood for Kentucky. This taint, however, eventually forced Judge Wallace's retirement from public life.

What follows here deals with perhaps the more mundane, or at least less glamourous, side of the American Revolution - the establishment and maintenance of a new government, of order, social structure, education and faith, in the midst of the raging battles and political machinations. This account of the times, of the period between 1767 and 1814, lacks description of the acts of war but instead demonstrates and recounts the effects and repercussions in the lives of some who lived, and influenced, this seminal age of America.

Dennis Boyer

September 7, 1998

Law office on Wallace estate near Midway, Ky., from an old photograph in possession of a descendant

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