John Lafferty: County’s First Permanent Settler
By Mary Cooper Miller
The author of this article is a former school librarian who lives in Batesville and is a past president of the Batesville Genealogical Society.
The first permanent settler in Independence County was John Lafferty, who moved his family here in 1810. At that time Independence County was part of the New Madrid District of the Territory of Louisiana.
Born in Donegal, Ireland, in 1759, John Lafferty was one year old when his father emigrated to the United States where the family settled in Rowan, now Rutherford County, North Carolina. Both father and son fought in the Revolutionary War and Mr. Lafferty was killed in the Battle of Bunker Hill. John apparently survived the war without a scratch.
About 1786-1788 John Lafferty married Sarah Lindsey. Historians believe she was related to Eli Lindsey, the first Methodist preacher in this area, possibly his niece.
John and Sarah lived a short time in North Carolina before moving to Georgia, where their first three children—Elizabeth, Margaret, and John Lindsey Lafferty—were born. Then Lafferty’s roving tendencies moved the family to Tennessee, near the Kentucky line, where four additional children were born—Henderson S., Austin R., Jacob Binks, and Lorenzo Dow Lafferty—the latter born in 1800.
Hunting, trapping, and trading over a vast area, including the present-day states of Missouri, Louisiana, Arkansas, Kansas, and Tennessee, Lafferty provided a livelihood for his family. He also came to own a fleet of keelboats, and he traded with the Indians who lived along the White River, transporting their furs to New Orleans. His first visit to this area occurred in 1801 when it was still part of the Osage Indian hunting grounds.
After the November 1, 1808, Osage treaty and the January 9, 1809 treaty with the Cherokees, Lafferty began planning his family’s move to the spot on the White River he had chosen for his home place.
Lafferty’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth, had married Charles Kelly, evidently before the family left Tennessee. The young couple was with the caravan of Laffertys and Creswells traveling down the Mississippi River and up the Arkansas River a short distance to the mouth of White River. There Elizabeth Lafferty Kelly died and was buried, a bride of less than two months. Charles Kelly continues up the White River with the party, eventually married a second time, and was elected the first sheriff of Independence County.
Arriving in 1810, John Lafferty immediately built a log cabin which house his family through several political divisions of the Territory of Louisiana—Missouri Territory in 1812, Lawrence County in 1815, Arkansas Territory in 1819, Independence County in 1820, and Izard County in 1825. This log cabin was located on the south side of White River in present-day Stone County, east of the St. James community and across the river from the mouth of Lafferty Creech which was named for John. This area is about one mile above Lock and Dam No. 3. The river bottomland provided excellent forage for the large herd of livestock Lafferty brought with him from Tennessee.
During the December 16, 1811 New Madrid earthquake, the most powerful ever to hit the United States, Lafferty felt the enormous shock and witnessed a great explosion which opened a bottomless pit near his landing on the river and caused muddy water to flow across the river for a short time. He reported the pit to be about the size of a small cabin at the mouth, and it was sounded over 200 feet without finding any bottom. This pit is still visible, filled with water, more than 175 years later.
A patriot who valued freedom, Lafferty chose to fight for his country again in the War of 1812. In his 60’s at the time, he enlisted on December 24, 1814, in the 4th Regiment of Louisiana Militia and was discharged March 10, 1815, according to his service record.
During the Battles of New Orleans, in January 1815, he was wounded, and complications from the wound eventually killed him. He did return home after the war, however, and served on the grand jury for the April 1815 term of the Circuit Court of Lawrence County, Missouri Territory. This was the last event of his life to be recorded.
The exact date of John Lafferty’s death is not known, but it was sometime between the April jury duty and January 29, 1817, when his son, John Lindsey Lafferty, applied to the Lawrence County Probate Court to be appointed administrator of his father’s estate.
The widow of John Lafferty is equally famous, justifiably so, for she was the backbone of the family. She was responsible for raising her children almost singlehandedly, instilling her own moral values and religious beliefs in them and teaching them “reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic.” A devout Methodist, she attended church services whenever a circuit-riding preacher came through the area. She is remembered as a pious Christian lady, and her hospitality was legendary. White and Indian alike were fed and housed. Surrounded by Cherokee Indians who were family friends, she was unafraid. On his journey down the White River, Schoolcraft and his partner stopped for the night of January 17, 1819 at the Widow Lafferty’s “on the right bank of the river,” as recorded in his published journal.
The surviving children of John and Sarah Lafferty made significant contributions to this area. Daughter Margaret married James L. Creswell in 1813, and they settled at the mouth of Rocky Bayou. When the Izard County courthouse was moved to Athens, at the mouth of Piney Creek, Creswell was county land commissioner in charge of selling lots in the town of Athens and was a justice of the peace. He died in 1844, Margaret in 1863. They left a number of descendants who still live in the original independence County area: Mary Cooper Miller of Batesville; Linda Carol Cooper and her child, Marvin “Skeet” Cooper, his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren; and Lorene Walker Montgomery (all of Izard County); Owen “Bud” Cooper, his children, and Carl Sheid (of Baxter County.)
John Lindsey Lafferty was instrumental in the creation of Van Buren County where he served as the first county judge, representative to the state legislature for three terms, and as a member of the Constitutional convention in 1836. He was married at least three times. Almost 70 when he joined the Confederate Army in the Civil War, he died in 1862.
Henderson S. Lafferty was ordained a Methodist minister while living in Independence County. In 1836 he moved to Carroll County, where he opened the first general store and held the first religious service in the town of Carrollton. The Methodist Church transferred him in 1846 to the Texas Conference, where he served as the first pastor of the church in Corpus Christi. He died in Texas in 1870.
Austin R. Lafferty was the only child of John and Sarah to remain in Independence County. He became a justice of the peace in 1829 and performed many marriages for his friends and neighbors. The maiden name of his wife, Malinda, is unknown. Austin Lafferty died in 1843, she in 1857. Several descendants of this line live in Cleburne County—Thomas Binks Lafferty and his children, Don Lafferty, R. B. Lafferty, and Leland Lafferty.
Jacob Binks Lafferty married Sally Miller, daughter of Col. James Miller and sister of Gov. William R. Miller, in a double ceremony with his brother, Henderson S. Lafferty and Nancy Craig, daughter of Col. Craig. This was in 1821. By 1840 Binks had moved to Carroll County. Little is known of his activities there, and the date of his death is unknown.
The youngest son of John and Sarah Lafferty was Lorenzo Dow Lafferty who inherited his father’s roving tendencies. His playmates were the Cherokee Indians with whom he traveled countless miles on hunting and war parties. He fought for Texas in the war for independence from Mexico. After his return to Independence County, he married Elvira Creswell. In 1855 he left his family and returned to Texas, wandering in exile in that state until his death about 1876 near Corpus Christi. He left an interesting journal of his adventure-filled life, “The Life and Adventures of Lorenzo Dow Lafferty,” which is available in some libraries.
A descendant, Lorenzo Dow Lafferty IV, lives in Izard County.
Service records, Indian treaties, and census records from the National Archives, Washington, D. C.
Constitutional Convention records and Territorial Papers of Arkansas from the Arkansas History Commission, Little Rock
Arkansas Land Commission records
Deed, Probate, Tax, and Circuit Court records of Independence and Lawrence Counties.
Personal interviews with Lafferty descendants
Arkansas Gazette, Arkansas Banner, Batesville News, Independence County Chronicle, Izard County Historian, and Arkansas Historical Quarterly
Shinn: “Pioneers and Makers of Arkansas History”
Goodspeed: “History of Northeast Arkansas”
“Schoolcraft in the Ozarks”
Shannon: “History of Izard County”
Stockard: “History of Lawrence, Jackson, Independence, and Stone Counties, Arkansas”
L. D. Lafferty: “Life and Adventures”