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Butler-Turpin History

Established in August 12, 1931

The Butler-Turpin State Historic House located at General Butler State Resort Park is a place of remembrance for one of Kentucky’s foremost military families from Colonial times through the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican War and the great Civil War.

Thomas Butler brought his family to America from St. Bridget’s Parish in Dublin, Ireland as a result of a rebellion in the 1740s. Butler and his sons were already opportunely engaged in the gunsmith trade when the American Revolution became war. His gunsmith shop still stands today as an historic landmark in the town of Carlisle, Pa.

Thomas and his five sons, referred to as the “Gallant Butlers” or the “Fighting Butlers," fought in the Revolutionary War at Valley Forge under Washington, and at Monmouth. This is a family to whom Washington made his toast, “To the Butlers and their five sons.” Lafayette presented the youngest son, Colonel Percival Pierce Butler, with a sword and added, “When I wanted a thing done well, I ordered a Butler to do it.”

In 1792, when Kentucky received statehood, Governor Isaac Shelby appointed Percival Butler as Kentucky’s first Adjutant General. Butler conducted the duties of the position for 24 years, longer than any A.G. in Kentucky’s history. Today the Adjutant General presides over the National Guard but during Percival’s day it was the Kentucky Volunteers and the Militia.

Colonel Butler came to the mouth of the Kentucky River in the 1790s when the area was still considered the frontier. The land located along the confluence of the Kentucky and Ohio Rivers was the site for the new settlement that Percival would help build. This would be his family’s new home and it would also be where he would perform the duties of Adjutant General. However there was considerable danger, for all of the land along the Kentucky and Ohio Rivers and far into what is now called northern Kentucky was Native American hunting ground.

The settlement of Port William was little more than a blockhouse for defense against the Native Americans that were outraged by the intrusion of the white settlers. It was too volatile to venture outside the settlement to build homes on the farms. Advertisements that appeared in the Lexington Gazette read “inlots and outlots for sale at the mouth of the Kentucky River… come at your own peril”.

Despite the danger, river commerce provided opportunity with the importing and exporting of goods. The area also served as the radiating point for trappers and traders. Potential business endeavors between the white settlers and the Native Americans resulted in more peaceful living conditions for families like the Butlers, allowing them to eventually build on their land outside the settlement.

Working alongside their slaves, Percival and his wife, Mildred Hawkins Butler, built a two-story log home. The Butler Family Cemetery is located a short distance from where the log house once stood. At this home, the couple raised their five sons and five daughters. Three archaeological digs have been conducted at the log house site resulting in over 1,000 artifacts.

In addition to this family of soldiers steeped in military heritage, we also pay tribute to the contributions and sacrifices of the enslaved that lived and worked on the farm named “Butler Hill.” The Butler slaves, like other slaves, were skilled craftsmen, farmers, inventors, and caregivers. Some were exceedingly talented in the preparation of food, introducing their own customs into American households. Weaving, quilting, and pottery making were also among their artistic skills. Last, but not least, there was their music.

The slaves helped forge a new life at Port William Settlement for the Butler family. They constructed the houses and the dependency buildings that were necessary for the workings of the farm. They raised the crops, cooked the meals, and cared for the children and the infirmed.

The Butler’s owned slaves, but they also emancipated their slaves, from the early 1830s throughout the late 1840s. Many of these slaves became active in the Underground Railroad, along the Ohio River at Hunter’s Bottom, escaping to the freed community of “Georgetown” in Madison, Ind.

Throughout this time Butler slaves, including Sandy Dean, are very much suspected of working with Elijah Anderson and Chapman Harris in the Underground Railroad. The UGRR annals at Madison also refer to William Orlando Butler.

William O. Butler was the second eldest son to Percival Butler. He gained early notoriety for his bravery during the War of 1812: at the Battle of the River Raisin and the Battle of New Orleans. William wrote poetry about the hardships of war and fallen soldiers. He was one of the six Major Generals and the last Commander-in-Chief of the Mexican War. His last call to serve was to represent Kentucky at the Peace Conference just before the Civil War. But more importantly, William O. Butler was a man who understood freedom.

Sandy Dean, a former slave emancipated by William O. Butler, lived in the Georgetown section of Madison, Ind. This was a gathering point for leaders of the Underground Railroad during the 1840s and 50s and likely formed a liaison to free blacks and plantation slaves in Carroll County, Ky.

Deeds of Manumissions can be found among the court documents of Carroll County’s history involving both the Butler men and, surprisingly enough, the Butler women as well. The names of Eleanor Butler, Caroline L. Butler, Frances M. Butler, and Mary L. Butler (maiden names only) appear in testimony to set free their Negro man slave Peter, in 1840.

In 1859, just before the Civil War, the second generation Butler home was built on the family farm, known today as the Butler-Turpin State Historic House. It was the home to Percival’s oldest son, Major Thomas Langford Butler, known for his military service prior to and during the War of 1812. A house museum today, it contains furniture, objects, and documents that give a unique glimpse into the lives of family in pursuit of freedom.

Built in the Greek Revival style, it was home to Thomas, his daughter Mary Ellen, his son-in-law Philip Turpin, his grandchildren, and the slaves. Although the names of these slaves are not known, what is known is that based on the ages and gender of these men, women, and children it appeared to be a family of three generations.

Thomas Langford Butler’s direct promotions document signed by sitting President James Madison, dated 1809, hangs in his bedchamber. This document exemplifies the military accomplishments of this man who is known for sounding the first call at the Battle of New Orleans as aide to Andrew Jackson during the War of 1812.

Standing on a knoll tucked away on the west side of the park, with a commanding view of the Kentucky River Valley, is the house that pays homage to generations of the Butler family. The home retains many of its original features, which includes the woodwork, the fireplace mantels, the staircases, and the wood floors in the upstairs hall and bedrooms.

With the historic house as the main attraction, the park opened to the public as Butler Memorial Park in 1931. Over the next few years, along with an extensive restoration of the historic house, known then as the Butler Mansion, the Civilian Conservation Corps built the roads, the shelter houses, the ranger stations, the cottages, and recreational trails. After a complete restoration the historic house opened to the public in 1933 interpreting the legacy of the Butler family, as it continues today.

The house received few changes until 1990 when it underwent both an interior and exterior renovation. Since that time, improvements have continued. The collection has grown in both interpretive and original family pieces. Historic reproduction carpets, textiles, and wallpapers are now an integral part of the interior. In 2009, the park received a lost portrait of General William Orlando Butler, the man for whom General Butler State Resort Park is named. The original portrait hangs in the parlor keeping company with other family portraits in the home that once belonged to his older brother Thomas. Together they bring to life the story of the Butler family and their fight to win freedom for all.

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