10 February 2010

In Search of Catlett Burial Ground

From time to time I hope to include posts from fellow Eastern Kentucky Researchers. Today's post is from fellow researcher Stan Champers. He has dedicated several years on a quest to honor the Catlett family.

by Stan Champers
Retired Journalist

Few played a more prominent role in the earliest days of northeastern Kentucky's settlement than the Catlett family. But there is no monument to these pioneers. Even their graves are unmarked.

Thanks to references in local histories, we've always known that Alexander and Horatio Gates Catlett, father and son, were interred in the Catlett family burial ground in the county seat of Boyd that bears the family's name.

The precise location is unknown, a sad commentary considering the richness of the Catlett history.

In the 1790's when this area was still part of Mason County, Ky., Alexander Catlett of Virginia began buying up property from the heirs of Col. Charles Smith, a prominent figure from Clarke County, Va., acquaintance of General Washington, and veteran of the French and Indian War. For his military service, Colonel Smith received land as part of the John Savage Grants and his allotment took in all that today is encompassed by the community of Catlettsburg.

There is some question as to whether Smith or any of his heirs ever set foot on their Kentucky acreage. No such doubt exists with respect to Alexander Catlett, who moved in as soon as he had title to the land.

The property lies at the confluence of the Big Sandy River and the Ohio River, a hugely startegic position in the ever increasing flow of westward migration.

Catlett erected a tavern near the banks of the Ohio, and farther up the incline, in about 1806, built a cabin for his family. The cabin exists even today and is on the National Historic Register as the nucleus of a much larger home in Catlettsburg once occupied by Col. Laban T. Moore, a local attorney who served in the U.S. Senate, but better known as "Beechmore," home of the Patton family.

The tavern, or inn, has long since passed from the scene, but in its day was a widely known stopping off place for travelers, including some personages of national repute like Henry Clay.

Alexander Catlett died in 1823 at a time when Greenup County had been formed from Mason but before Boyd had been formed from Greenup, and was buried near the cabin he built for his family.

His son Horatio, in the early years of the community that grew on this site, became prominent as a property owner, a man of influence, and the town's first postmaster. It was actually for Horatio that the city was named.

In the 1840's however, Haratio's fortunes dwindled, and in hopes of improving them, he moved with his wife and children to the vicinity of St. Joseph, Missouri. The change didn't have much of the desired effect.

About 1847 or '48, Horatio Catlett took leave of his family and returned to Catlettsburg to check on his properties, but on arriving in the community was told that he had failed to pay his taxes and no longer had any property. Local references suggest that upon hearing this news, Horatio flew into a rage, and dropped dead on the spot.

All that time, there were still people in the community who had been acquainted with Alexander Catlett and knew where he was buried. With Horatio's wife and children in Missouri, the only thing to do was bury him next to his father -- in the Catlett Burial Ground.

Interest in the unmarked graves developed following publication of a column I wrote for a local newspaper, in which I suggested that finding them would add significantly to the appreciation of local history.

Teresa Klaiber was one of those who expressed an interest in the project, and for her part, began examining old deeds and maps for clues to the burial ground's location.

According to one of our references, the graves were very near Laban Moore's barn. Now, where was the barn? On one of the old maps, Teresa found it, clearly marked at a spot just south and slightly east of the Patton home and the Catlett cabin it embraces.

Her discovery narrowed the search considerably. while we still haven't actually pinpointed the graves, we know they lie in an area not much bigger than a good-sized back yard.

We've been making overtures for assistance that would lead to marking of the grave sites. I have contacted the Kentucky Heritage Commission and outlined our project for city officials in Catlettsburg, believing the town would be a beneficiary of the graves' discovery.

We welcome comments and ideas. the effort to finally bring due recognition to these pioneers is still very much a "work in progress."


  1. Might want to contact the Kentucky Department for Local Government [DLG]. They distribute Cemetery Preservation Grants to Cemetery boards. Fiscal Courts must submit a Scope and Budget Form, as well as a Cemetery Worksheet Form (both of which are found on their website) on behalf of the grant applicants.
    Please note that the website has not been updated with the latest guidelines but it would be a good way to get started. At least it gives you a good idea of what is required, plus the necessary contact info. Their website:
    The only problem I foresee is the fact that the graves have actually not been pinpointed at a specific location. Perhaps some type of probe/survey is needed to verify burials, such as Thermal Sensing and Imaging Diagnostic applications. If you pay for something like this, it could get expensive unless you have someone donate their time, services and equipment to do the survey like we had done with Buffington Battlefield. Unfortunately, the gentleman who did this work for us has passed away. Perhaps contacting UK may help scare up an interested professor and some of his students to do a survey for this project, provided you have permision from the property owner. There might be another contact I have for you. Need to check my files.
    Let me know if there's anything I can do to help. I'm willing to make phonecalls, etc.

  2. Thanx Marlitta I have been a member of the Boyd Cemetery board and the DLG does not have any funding because of the funding mess our nation is in at the moment. Many cems did benefit from the funding in our county a couple of years back. We were told that the Thermal Sensing will not work well in the type of clay we have but perhaps that needs to be explored further. We appreciate any and all suggestions, etc.

  3. This seems like such an ignominious end to the worthy for whom Boyd County's seat is named. Well, truly we know neither the day, nor the hour. Kudos to Mr. Champers, and Ms Klaiber for their research, publishing, and remembering Horatio Catlett.

    Sine Pari,

    CPT, IN
    USA (R)

  4. has this had no resolution?

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