Compiled by Teresa Martin Klaiber
Over the past several years the Adams family has crossed my desk, involved in different venues, more than a few times.
Richard and Elijah Adams were sons of Pleasant Adams [1803-1884] who died in Carter County, Kentucky. Pleasant had a total of 16 children and many descendants. At least 14 of them were alive and able to attend his funeral along with their families.
Richard Adams [b. 3 Jan 1829 in what was then Lawrence County, KY] married Sarah Elizabeth Devore 1 July 1855 in Carter County and settled in Flatwoods, Greenup County which became Boyd County in 1860. That alone is a mouth full.
Caught in the swirl of the Civil War, trying to establish a living farming, Richard Adams became indebted to William M. Baldwin. In a petition of equity filed in Greenup County, Kentucky one Alfred Hastings had been granted a judgment against Baldwin. In order to avoid sale of Baldwin's property, the sheriff had made arrangements for a settlement. The problem was that William M. Baldwin had been within the lines of the Rebel Government "voluntarily" for some time. Thus the county turned to Adams, who was indebted to Baldwin, to meet the judgment of Hastings. No further action seems to have occurred and Richard settled into a life in Flatwoods, Boyd County.
Richard's 1/2 brother Elijah was only 13 years old [b. 26 January 1849] and still living in Carter County during the court battle. Elijah would grow up and stay in Carter County for many years. He was residing with his father, Pleasant in 1880 but we can assume that the family communicated with Richard Adams family. After Richard's wife died in 1871, he had married Margaret Crooks and the family resided in Upper Ashland.
Much as been written about the murder of the Gibbons children in Ashland, Kentucky, Christmas Eve, 1881 that would become known nationally as the Ashland Tragedy. Three men were arrested. The accused [Ellis, Neal, Craft] were transported to Maysville. On 11 January they were returned to Ashland where the Grand Jury had already been appointed. Among the 16 on the Grand Jury sat Richard Adams. The Jury sat for 5 long days before returning an indictment for conspiracy and murder on Neal and Craft. The Grand Jury was dismissed and another appointed for Ellis a week later.
The papers went wild, the residents far and wide talked and were enraged. Without a doubt the Adams family had much to talk about. Ellis was lynched. As time moved forward National Guard came from Louisville to Catlettsburg to protect Craft and Neal. There was a change of venue to Carter County which upset the people more. There was a delay and the prisoners were to be taken to Lexington for their own protection. The people were furious. The steamboat Granite State commanded by Capt. William Kirker would take the prisoners and National Guard on their journey 1 November, 1882.
A train arrived in Catlettsburg bearing two hundred men and boys from Ashland some with old shotguns and pistols. They demanded the surrender of the prisoners and were refused. The Guard dragged a cannon on board and started down river. It is said a telegram notified Ashland that the Granite State had left and would soon be passing Ashland. Citizens gathered on Front Street and along the bank of the Ohio River. Among those watching was Richard Adams.
Richard gave his testimony of what he saw that day in the 16 November 1882 Ashland Daily Newspaper:
"A number, perhaps twenty-five or thirty, went on the ferry-boat, but some ten or fifteen came back off the boat before she pushed out. the ferry-boat pushed out, but she did not go very fast. The steamer whistled. I saw no signal from the ferry-boat. I was on an elevated place and could see both boats, and was not excited. The steamer had almost passed the ferry-boat, which ran out a piece with the bow down the river. The boats were 150 to 260 yards apart. I heard two or three reports of small guns, then a volley from the steamer, which drove everything from the bow of the ferry-boat back, and for a while the smoke was so thick that I could not see the ferry-boat. The next volley fired by the military was on the people standing where Col. Reppert was killed. I got down on my knees in the ditch and as I raised up another volley was fired. I then heard some one say there was a man dead. I saw Mrs. Serey after she was wounded. I did not see Col. Reppert until after the second volley was fired. Half the balls seemed to strike the bow of the ferry-boat."When the smoked cleared 21 had either died or were injured. Col. Lewis W. Reppert who Richard Adams spoke of was shot through the heart and died that day. He was buried in Ashland, Cemetery. Mrs. Jackson Serey was shot in the shoulder and breast and struggled with her wounds for some time.
Was Elijah Adams in Ashland when these awful events happened? He certainly had first hand information from his brother. Elijah Adams has been credited with writing what is probably the first version of a ballad, Ashland Tragedy. The ballad does not include the story of the fateful day with the Granite State. Ballad historians continue to debate who wrote what. One story says that Elijah got his story from James Hunter "a resident of Ashland." Actually I find James Hunter residing in Carter County. It is more likely that Elijah Adams got most of his information from his own brother.
At least one account states that Elijah Adams was "sometimes called Professor Adams" stating that he had taught school in his day. Census records show him as a farmer and even as a grocery store salesman but if he taught school, other than music,I have not located a record as of this writing.
Elijah Adams would become well known for yet another tragic ballad and story. In 1892 Lottie Yates was murdered in Carter County by her estranged husband Austin Porter. Yet another mob scene in Eastern Kentucky ensued and Porter was hung from a bridge. Elijah Adams wrote the Ballad of Lottie Yates. When Elijah Adams died 11 January 1916 in Mason County, West Virginia his talent for music was finally acknowledged on his death certificate with a simple entry under occupation "Music teacher."
Elijah's brother Richard lived for a little over two more years and died 8 April 1918 at Oakview in Ashland, Boyd County, Kentucky.