From Scotland to Barnes Mountain


by Ralph Barnes


The Barnes clan arrived early in the state and share responsibility for transforming the Kentucky wilderness into the thriving community now known as Estill County. Barnes' family members are numbered among the county’s heroes as well as its villains. The best known promontory in the county, Bar-nes Mountain, is named in honor of the early Barnes pioneers that settled in the area. The patriarch of the Estill County Barnes clan is believed to be Brinsley Barnes I, born in Ulster, Ireland around 1715 of Scottish parents. Although Brinsley did not actively serve in the military, he lent a horse to the Colonial Army. Because of that patriotic act he is listed among the pantheon of war heroes that have been dei-fied by the Daughters of The American Revolu-tion. Brinsley’s elevation to the status of "Hero of the Revolution" (not to be confused with the Russian award of the same name that we do not honor) earned the family an elevated niche in the American hierarchy not normally accorded to the Scotch-Irish. As a result, Brinsley’s descendants are entitled to bask in his reflected glory by joining that hallowed organization. Nearly a century later Colonel Sidney Barnes earned accolades when his regi-ment of Union troops was the first to reach the summit of Lookout Mountain during that celebrated Civil War battle. The fact that the Rebels had vacated the mountain top the previous night does not detract from the heroic dimensions of that remarkable feat. Most families are thrilled if they can count among their members only one distinguished personality. Even two legendary figures are simply not enough for a family with hereditary rights to the Daughters of the American Revolution. Those virile Barnes genes produced yet another family swashbuckler who is better known and more highly regarded for his exploits than old Colonel Sidney and perhaps even Brinsley’s horse. The same Barnes blood that surged through the veins of those noble warriors also drove the heart of Edward "Ned" Hawkins who murdered seven men and sullied the reputation of a host of innocent young maidens before he was hanged in 1857. Ned was a handsome devil according to his contemporaries who could, if need be, talk his way out of Hell (a skill that surely was put to a stern test upon his demise). In Edward’s short but brilliant career, he became adept at counterfeiting, smuggling, larceny, polygamy, robbery, horse-stealing, pick-pocket-ing, card-cheating, forgery, storehouse-breaking, impersonating others for gain, murder and many other career skills too numerous to mention. Had Edward Hawkins life not been cut short by his untimely death, he undoubtedly would have entered politics and brought great honor to the family.

The one defining characteristic that sets the Bar-nes clan apart is euphemistically referred to as the "Barnes Temper." This peculiarly Barnes family trait, believed to have been inherited through Viking blood, has caused the demise of more than a few family members. The tendency for male members of the clan to "die with their boots on" continues into the modern era. Since the vast majority of the Barneses are "Yellow Dog" Democrats, the Republicans have been the target of choice of much of the Barnes rage. Fifty or sixty years ago the Republicans were nearly hunted to extinction. However, due to a sound conservation policy and admirable Barnes restraint the Republican numbers have increased dramatically in recent years as is evidenced by their recent takeover of Congress. Most of the early Barnes settlers in Kentucky have a common ancestor and it must be assumed that all people with the Barnes surname are afflicted with the "Barnes Temper." Unfortunately, carriers of the flawed temper gene have intermarried with many other families. The prudent thing would be for all people with a link to Estill County to check their family trees to see if they have been tainted with Barnes blood. Those with even an infinitesimal amount are subject to uncontrollable fits of rage and should avoid political debates, sports contests, lovers' quarrels and other emotional events. The Barnes strain of the temper virus is easily recognized. A Barnes in fit will froth at the mouth while the face flashes brilliant shades of red and an incoherent torrent of obscenities issues from the mouth. The subject may jump up and down and make threatening gestures with anything at hand while blaspheming everything and everybody within sight or hearing. The fits normally do not last more than ten minutes or so except when the subject of the rage is a Republican. Republican caused fits may last for days and are much more intense than the average run of the mill fit. There are people who swear that a Barnes in a Republican rage can produce tornadoes, earthquakes and other storms of mass destruction. Self-explosion during tantrums is second only to lead poisoning as the leading cause of death among Barnes males. The force of a Barnes’ rage explosion is so potent that very little is left of the subject except a bit of bone or a hank of hair. That is why so many Barnes women weep inconsolably when they hear the song "I Fall To Pieces."

Since there was a multitude of Brinsleys in the Barnes family, a great deal of confusion remains as to the exact lineage of each. Barnes' descendants throughout the country are trying to sort through the early Barnes genealogy and hopefully one day there will be a more accurate record of who sired whom. The Barnes clan probably descended from the Viking raiders that came to England in the eighth century to plunder the countryside. Many remained and set-tled in the area near the Irish Sea known as the Scottish lowlands. As Brinsley's Viking heritage burdened his descendants with a violent temper his Scottish ancestry provided them with an economic advantage. It was in Scotland that the Barnes clan learned to make the good whiskey that became the vocation of choice for so many of their Estill County descendants.

Except for the occasional intemperate outburst caused by their hot Viking blood most settled down, accepted Christianity and eventually became English citizens. Not too long after Brinsley’s Norse ancestors converted to Christianity, an affair of the heart in the royal court altered the history of England. In fact, the Barnes family is in Estill county today as a result of a love triangle that occurred in 1527. Henry VIII lost his heart to Ann Boylen (she later lost her head to Henry) and asked the Pope to grant him a divorce from the Queen so that he could marry her. The Pope refused and that made Henry mad. So the King decreed that henceforth the English would worship as Protestants rather than Catholics. All of this must have been very confusing to our forefathers. The Vikings were persuaded to stop worshipping Thor and convert to Catholicism as the only sure path to Heaven. Now the good citizens were told they couldn’t be Catholics anymore because the King had taken a fancy to one of his court maidens. One can imagine the befuddlement of the peasants as they tried to make the connection between Henry’s aroused hormones and their need to embrace Protestantism. Although the Barnes family is not noted for being quick on the uptake, some of our ancestors must surely have wondered if giving up Paganism had been such a good idea. Most of the English, including the Barnes clan, acquiesced and Anglicanism became the official religion in England. However, the Irish were not overly concerned about the state of Henry’s hormones and remained loyal to the Catholic Church. The English, of course, were outraged at the Irish for not supporting old Henry. Tensions developed that eventually resulted in open conflict. In time England managed to conquer the Irish but many of the Clans continued to resist English rule. The King and Parliament felt that Ireland could be best pacified by sending over settlers from Scotland to keep the Irish in check. Since the majority of the English had converted to Protestantism the government also felt a divine obligation to provide a Protestant presence in heavily Catholic Ireland. Brinsleys' ancestors and their Scottish neighbors were encouraged to immigrate to Ireland in the early part of the seventeenth century and consequently became known as the Scotch-Irish. As often happens with divinely inspired political decisions, the move proved to be a disaster resulting in a bitter struggle between the Catholics and the Protestants that is yet to be resolved. To entice the Scots to immigrate to Ireland one hundred years leases on farmland at very nominal rents were offered as inducements. When the leases expired during the first half of the eight-eenth cen-tury, the landed aris-tocracy immediately raised the rents. The increased rents were much resented by the tenants. After a century of cheap rents, the descendants of the original settlers had grown accus-tomed to the low rates and being true to their Scottish heritage refused to pay. Fortunately for Brinsley and his fellow Scotch-Irish compatriots there was plenty of cheap land available in the New World. So, they told their landlords where to stick their leases, boarded a ship and headed to America.

Brinsley originally settled in Kennett Township, near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where he married Elizabeth Lindley. They were living in Orange County, NC near Durham by 1768 when Brinsley was one of the signers of a petition to the English Governor and the House of Burgesses in Williamsburg requesting lower fees for recording property deeds. In addition to being renowned for their temper the Barnes are noted for their predilection to parsimony as well. The family later moved to Taylorsville in Wilkes County North Carolina near the Kentucky-Tennessee border where Brinsley died in 1795.

Among the children born to Brinsley and his wife Elizabeth, while they were in Pennsylvania, was a son named for his father. When the junior Brinsley grew up, he met and married a girl named Isabella and they eventually added an-other dozen or so family members to the rapidly growing clan. Around 1780, while the colonists were still struggling to free themselves from British taxes. Edward Barnes, patriarch of nearly all Estill Countians with the Barnes surname, became the sixth member of Brinsley Barnes Junior's. brood.

Near the turn of the century Brinsley Barnes Jr.and Isabella moved their family, including Edward, to Fayette County Kentucky. They probably traveled the Wilderness Road; a series of buffalo traces and Indian trails that stretched from the western reaches of North Carolina through the Cumberland Gap to the Bluegrass region of Kentucky. Both courage and desperation were required of the pioneers that made the trek to Ken-tucky. The trail was difficult with many mountains and streams to cross. Those that survived the rigors of the trip faced a lonely and difficult life while trying to establish a homestead in the wilderness. Because of the distance from civilization, the settlers had few of life's necessities and lived under primitive conditions that moderns can never fully appreciate. Food was scarce and the pioneers hunted and fished to sustain their families until land was cleared and crops were planted. Some wags have insinuated that the Barnes men got addicted to hunting and fishing at that time and came to prefer it over work. That probably explains why the family has produced more hunters and fishers than captains of industry. Life was difficult but the clan survived and eventually the Barnes family was established in Kentucky.

On June 28, 1811 Edward married Polly Shiply, daughter of Richard Shipley, and moved to Estill County where some of his relatives were already living. Thus the Edwardian branch of the Barnes clan became one of the principal families in Estill County. Only two months earlier Susannah Clubb of Fayette County had cited Edward into court on the first known bastardy charge recorded against a member of the family. However he was not the last Barnes to dally and several of his descendants have been similarly charged. His guilt or innocence is not recorded but Polly Shiply decided to marry him anyway. Edward sired at least eight children with Polly and after her death married Catherine Crouch in 1833 and had two daughters by her. Edward died in 1837 leaving a wife and two small daughters. At least one of Edward’s children was still living in 1920. Nearly all Estill Countians with the Barnes surname are descended from Edward. Today, the descendants of the original Barnes settlers include hundreds of known members scattered throughout the country. The number would be much greater if unacknowledged Barnes’ progeny could be counted.