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Charles Floyd

This biography is from a paper by George H. Yater originally presented at the 1991 annual meeting of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation in Louisville and subsequently published in "Nine Young Men from Kentucky," a May 1992 supplementary publication of We Proceeded On, the official publication of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation

Charles Floyd was among the youngest members of the party - only about 21 years of age. He was the only member of the Expedition to die on the long journey to the Pacific coast and back.

Floyd's Station spring house near St. Matthews
Floyd's Station

Charles Floyd was born about 1782 near Louisville, probably at or near Floyd's Station east of Louisville in what is now St. Matthews.1 Floyd's Station was a log-palisaded fort established in the spring of 1780 by his uncle, John Floyd. Charles' father was Robert Clark Floyd and his mother was Lilyann - or Lillian - maiden name unknown. The Floyds, a numerous clan in early Jefferson county, were from Virginia. Robert Floyd served in the Virginia forces during the Revolution and came to the Falls of the Ohio region in 1779, accompanying his brother John - and presumably brought his family with him, as did John, who had a claim to 2,000 acres in the present St. Matthews area. Young Charles, then, was born and came of age on the frontier, accustomed to the rifle and roaming the forest.2

Nothing concrete, however, is known of his early years. On October 14, 1791, his father, Robert Floyd, purchased jointly with Thomas Minor Winn 250 acres on the headwaters of the Licking Fork of Beargrass Creek - in the eastern part of Jefferson County and not far from Floyd's Station. A year before this, Charles Floyd's sister Betsy - Elizabeth - had married Thomas Minor Winn, so Robert Floyd made the purchase jointly with his son-in-law. The Floyds were living on this tract in 1793, as shown by the tax list for that year, which has survived. Robert Floyd owned one horse and six head of cattle - a modest estate.3

By the fall of 1799, however, the Floyd family had moved across the river to present Indiana - then still part of the Northwest Territory. By 1801 he and his son Davis Floyd kept a ferry across the Ohio River. Clark County was formed in 1801 and Charles Floyd was named the first constable of Clarksville Township. Floyd was only about 19 years old - perhaps 20 - and the fact that he was named keeper of the peace in a new and raw township says much about his abilities and throws light on his appointment as a sergeant on the Lewis and Clark expedition at a young age.4

William Clark would have been familiar with Charles Floyd - the Clark and Floyd families were well acquainted - and familiar with conditions across the river, since Clark's Army career included service at Fort Finney in present Jeffersonville in the 1790s and he had moved to Clarksville as a civilian in 1802.5

Floyd kept a diary, as members of the Expedition were required to do, and on June 4, 1804, along the Missouri River, he noted "A Butifull a peas a land as I ever saw ... level on both sides." This is the comment of an individual accustomed to evaluating land for its agricultural potential, a necessary requirement for the planter-frontiersman. Then on July 31 his diary entry reads: "I am verry sick and has been for Sometime, but have recovered my Helth again… This place is called Council Bluff." By August 20 the Expedition had reached the present site of Sioux City, Iowa, and on that date Clark recorded that Charles Floyd died "with a great deal of composure…" The young sergeant said poignantly to Clark: "I am going away. I want you to write me a letter." He was buried on a bluff a half mile below a small stream that the Expedition named the Floyd River. From the symptoms there is little doubt but that Floyd died of a burst appendix.

More than two years later, as the Expedition was returning, a stop was made at the burial site on September 4, 1806. Clark noted that "the grave had been opened by the natives and left half covered we had this grave completely filled up..." Today, Floyd's original gravesite is in the open air because of the meandering inclinations of the Missouri River, but a large obelisk covers what remains were rescued and reburied.

The letter that Floyd dictated would have been sent back to St. Louis in the fall of 1804 from the winter camp at Fort Mandan, the last report from the Expedition until its return to St. Louis in 1806. What a treasure it would be if it should turn up, as Floyd's journal did many years later.

It was no doubt addressed to Floyd's father, Robert, who by 1806 had moved back to Kentucky from Indiana. On January 15, 1807, Meriwether Lewis wrote in the official muster roll of the Expedition that Clares Floyd's father "who now resides in Kentucky, is a man much rispected, tho' possessed of but moderate wealth."6 Yet he never sold Charles Floyd's land bounty warrant. It remained in the family, passing on to the sergeant's brothers and sisters. Not until November 1, 1839, was it sold. It was then in the possession of Mrs. Mary Lee Walton, the youngest of Robert Clark's children. She was only ten years old when her brother died on the Expedition. She sold the warrant for $640 to John G. Berry and John T. Winn. The latter, I would surmise, was her nephew, the son of her sister Betsy Winn.7

Some researchers have concluded that Sergeant Floyd was the son of Charles Floyd, the near-neighbor of the Field family on Pond Creek. This confusion is understandable, since Charles Floyd also had a son named Charles, the first cousin of Sergeant Floyd. A scrap of a letter may also have contributed to the confusion. This letter, apparently now missing, was once in the possession of the Floyd Memorial Association in Sioux City. It is from Nathaniel Floyd, son of the elder Charles, to his sister Nancy. He had apparently just read the letter that Sergeant Floyd had dictated to Clark. Nathaniel wrote that: "Our dear Charles died on the voyage of colic. He was well cared for, as Clark was there, my heart is too full to say any more ... I will see you soon, your brother Nat." Nat was speaking of his cousin, but it would be easy to conclude that he was speaking of his brother.8

That Robert Clark Floyd was the sergeant's father is obvious from the heirs who actually came into possession of the land warrant. Also, on November 26, 1807, in the same letter that recommended to the War Department a lieutenancy for Reubin Field, Clark also recommended a captaincy for an R.C. Floyd. Only one Floyd had those initials - Robert Clark Floyd. It was probably Clark's way of compensating in some measure for Robert Clark's loss of a son. Robert Floyd served as an officer in the Kentucky militia and in 1796 had been promoted to major. Finally, Mary Lee (Floyd) Walton, Sergeant Floyd's youngest sister, noted in a letter to Lyman C. Draper, that remarkable collector of manuscripts and recollections of the early West, that her father's name was Robert.9



FOOTNOTES

  1. Anna Margaret Cartlidge, Children and Grandchildren of William and Abidiah (Davis) Floyd, (Baltimore: the author, 1966), unpaged.

  2. Neal O. Hammon, "Early Louisville and the Beargrass Stations," Filson Club History Quarterly, 52 (April 1978), 147-165. Draper Manuscripts 17CC131.

  3. Abstracts of Jefferson County Deeds-Deed Book 2, 178, Robert Floyd and Thomas Minor Winn from Philip and Tabby Buckner, October 14, 1791. (Deed Book 2 is now missing. The abstracts were made by The Filson Club before the book was lost.) Jefferson County Marriage Book 1:11, October 25, 1790. "Jefferson County Tax List 1793," The Kentucky Genealogist, 21 (July 1979), 95.

  4. On October 28, 1799, Robert and Lillian Floyd, described as residents of the Northwest Territory, sold 500 acres on Chenoweth Run in eastern Jefferson County to their son, Davis Floyd: Jefferson County Deed Book 5:155. Minute Book 1, Clark County Court of Quarter Sessions, Indiana Territory, April 1701. (Indiana Territory was carved from the Northwest Territory in 1801.) The Minute Book is quoted in Lewis C. Baird, Baird's History of Clark County, Indiana (Indianapolis: B.F. Bowen & Co., 1909), 49.

  5. James Alton James, The Life of George Rogers Clark (University of Chicago, 1928), 460-461, quoting a letter of George Rogers Clark to Thomas Jefferson.

  6. Robert Floyd, described as a resident of Jefferson County, purchased 112 acres of land on Floyd's Fork in that county on August 10, 1802: Jefferson County Deed Book 5:262. On the same day, he sold 500 acres on Floyd's Fork, Ibid., 252. Donald Jackson, Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1962), 366.

  7. Jackson, Letters, 381. Cartlidge, Children and Grandchildren, unpaged.

  8. Jackson, Letters, 370. Cartlidge, Children and Grandchildren, unpaged.

  9. Jackson, Letters, 371. Cartlidge, Children and Grandchildren, unpaged. Letter of Mary Lee (Floyd) Walton of Vicksburg, Miss., to Lyman C. Draper, October 5, 1872, Draper Manuscripts 13VV120.


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