Rev. John Whitaker, A Pioneer Preacher
By Leonard E. (Gene) Smith

Submitted by Herman Standiford
(with permission of Ruth Standiford)

Note: Rev. Whitaker was the father of Hannah Whitaker, wife of Ephraim Standiford.

BAPTIST PREACHER DIVINE!  What a beautiful title.  He was a 5th great grandfather of mine and I am proud to share his story as I have studied his family and his history.

        John Whitaker was born July 2, 1722 near Baltimore, Maryland on land, founded by his grandfather from Wales, known as "Whitaker's Ridge".  He was the son of Charles and the "widow" Mary Kemball Whitaker.  (John's grandfather, the found of this line of Whitakers in America came from Wales before 1699 as John Whitacre).  Rev. John married about 1741 Mary McComas at Baltimore.  He and his four brothers and three sisters were orphaned when his father and mother died within two months of each other in 1739.  John being the oldest at age 19 became the head of the family.  His story became one of leadership and pioneering efforts to preserve the family life and keep them together.  He made the decision to move to the new frontier due to the problems of religious freedom and excessive taxation caused by the King of England in the eastern Colonies.  Selling off all of the Whitaker holdings, he led the family west and settled a homestead of several thousand acres on the Monongahela River across from Fort Duquesne in then Youghioheny County, Virginia, which is now Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.  Pennsylvania became the second state on December 12, 1787.  There he founded the Village of Whitaker where a dedicated park is today and some of his relatives are buried there.  U. S. Steel Corporation bought much of the original Whitaker land for it's huge steel plant there.  He and some of his brothers and their sons fought in the Revolutionary War.  James (1726-1789), a brother and Aaron (1751-1833) and Aaron's son James (1790-1868) who was in the war of 1812, are all buried in the park mentioned above.  A log cabin stood there until just a few years ago.  Whitaker, Pennsylvania can be seen on a city map of Pittsburg.

        Near the Whitaker family on the Monongahela River lived the family of Michael Humble, another Revolutionary soldier.  John's son Abraham, Hero Revolutionary Private (1751-1814) was my 4th great grandfather, met and married Susannah Humble in 1778.  Another son Aquilla was a Captain in the Revolution.  For some reason Rev. John and his family decided to move on to the even new frontier of Kentucky, leaving his brother James to the holdings in Pennsylvania.  It is believed that the Whitaker and Humble and other families came together by flat boat on the Ohio River and landed at Beargrass Creek, then moving inland to now Shelby County.  There are documents of Rev. John, sons Abraham, Aquilla and Charles being at Fort Boonesborough and Fort Harrod as early as 1780.  A Baptist record indicates that Rev. John Whitaker was one of five frontier Baptist Preachers active in Kentucky in 1780.

        His sons went on to be very active and beneficial to General George Rogers Clark in the conquering the Northwest territory.  Abraham and Aquilla Whitaker, along with Michael Humble, were members of Captain Wm. Harrod's Company at the Falls of the Ohio at Louisville in 1780.  Some of them fought with General Anthony Wayne in the "Battle of Fallen Timbers" in northwest Ohio.  There are many stories of them in historical writings which I could relate, but I will concentrate on their father in this story.

        Beargrass as seen in the roadside sign historical marker was a common name to many early Kentucky settlers.  Beargrass Creek near the "Falls of the Ohio" at now Louisville was the place where flat boats were brought ashore to unload family, cattle and supplies for their trek inland to build cabins and start farms.  Beargrass Creek branched out to the south, east and southeast from this point.  It was near one of these creek branches that Rev. John founded the Beargrass Baptist Church, one of many Baptist Churches he would help establish in northern Kentucky.  The marker stands today on the south side of U. S. Route 60 just east of Louisville at the town of St. Mathews in front of a shopping center.

        Rev. John finally settled on a plot of land just south of Shelbyville, Kentucky.  It was stated he was active in his ministry up to his death at age 76.  As was the tradition of the Whitaker family and most early colonial settlers of naming their land, he named his home "Red Orchard".   It is now part of a larger farm and there is said to be a family burial plot where Rev. John, Mary his wife and some other family members are buried.  I hope to visit it sometime.  John died about 1798 and Mary 1802.  It is said that they lived near Abraham Lincoln's grandfather whose name was Abraham Linkhorn (spelling changed later to Lincoln) and was killed by Shawnee Indians.  One story says that Mary McComas Whitaker saw the Indians attacking Mr. Linkhorn and fired at them with her rifle, killing one of them from her cabin and driving the others off.  He was killed in 1787 near the Long Run Baptist Church near the Jefferson-Shelby County line northeast of Middletown, Kentucky.  This is also near where the famous Massacre of the Richard Chenoweth family occurred on July 17, 1789.  The Chenoweth's are my wife Betty Ann Legan's ancestors and we have visited these historical site.

        There are stories that tell of man riding off to fetch Rev. John Whitaker to perform weddings and being attacked by Indians.  Frontier preachers riding their circuits on horseback were in demand to meet the religious needs of the people and perform frontier marriages.  I have read where a couple would declare their intent to marry to the people of the fort or village, called a broom stick wedding and start living together, then several couples would get together for the formal wedding vows when the circuit preacher arrived later, sometimes months later.

        To continue Rev. John's line of family to Johnson County, Abraham and Susannah Humble Whitaker's son Nimrod married Sally Bracket, daughter of Hawkins Bracket on March 19, 1912 and their son M. B. Whitaker married Sarah E. Crim, daughter of Willis and Nancy Adams Crim on March 16, 1837.  M. B. and Sarah Whitaker migrated to Johnson County in the 1840s and settled in Pleasant Township.  My great grandmother, Matilda Adeline Whitaker born November 6, 1852 married John Shutters, a civil war soldier in 1871 and lived northwest of Whiteland.  Elmetta Mae Shutters married Bert Merideth in 1905 and their daughter Dorene married my father Harvey Smith in 1927.  The late Dault Whitaker, well know Whiteland area resident, was my sixth grad teacher at Whiteland School and my second cousin once removed.

        The Reverend John Whitaker line has many descendants which can be proud of their heritage.  I wish I had time and space to tell about all of the information I have found.  By accident I found a cousin while researching history at a library in Cleveland Ohio named Ruth Standiford who descends from Rev. John's daughter Hannah.  I found another cousin at my wife's Legan/Admire reunion in 1996 in Olney, Illinois named Earline Whitaker Smith of West Salem, Illinois who descends from his son Jesse Whitaker.  As genealogists, historians and  cousins, we share family information.

        My history lessons in school over 50 years ago never told me that now I would be finding my ancestors living the American and Indiana history that I had studied.  What a legacy and how proud I am when I now get to know them.  Their hardship, struggles and dedication to fellow pioneers was commendable.  The love of family and propagation of life made it possible for many of us to live today.

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