Bullitt County History

Captain Thomas Bullitt

In 1911, William Marshall Bullitt published his father Thomas Walker Bullitt's manuscript, titled, My life at Oxmoor: life on a farm in Kentucky before the War, that included his memories of living at the family home at Oxmoor. In this volume, William added footnotes to his father's text "for the sake of historical accuracy and completeness."

On pages 2-5 William includes the following notes regarding Captain Thomas Bullitt, who was an uncle of Alexander Scott Bullitt, William's grandfather.

Alexander Scott Bullitt (1762-1816) was the son of Judge Cuthbert Bullitt of the General Court of Virginia (1740-1791), who was the son of Benjamin Bullitt (1700-1766), who was the son of Joseph Bullitt (1660-1702), a young Huguenot of Languedoc, France, who after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes emigrated to America, in 1685, and settled near Port Tobacco, Md.

Captain Thomas Bullitt (1730-1778—uncle of Alex Scott Bullitt) was the founder of Louisville, having laid off the town and surveyed it in 1773. He was an ensign in the French and Indian War in the Virginia Regiment in 1754, under Colonel Joshua Fry, and continued under General Washington (when he succeeded to the command after Fry's death); became a lieutenant on October 30, 1754; was under Washington in building the line of frontier forts across the country; obtained a patent for three hundred acres of land where Hot Springs, Va., now is, and built the first hotel there (a portion of which remained standing as a part of the Homestead Hotel until the fire of July 2, 1901), devising the Hot Springs property to his brother; commanded a company in 1754 under Washington at Great Meadows; was at Braddock's defeat in 1755; became a captain and saved a part of the army from destruction at Grant's defeat in 1758, where his conduct won the special commendation of Washington, who under date of September 25, 1758, in his report to Governor Fauquier of Grant's defeat said, "Capt. Bullet's behaviour is matter of great admiration." On the same day, in a letter to Mrs. G. W. Fairfax, General Washington wrote:

"Your old acquaintance Captn. Bullet, who is the only officer of mine that came off untouched, has acquired immortal honour in this engagement by his gallant behaviour and long continuance in the field of action."

On September 28, 1758, Washington again wrote Governor Fauquier that the whole body of troops gave way in confusion "except the Virginians, commanded by Captn. Bullet, who were a means of preventing all of our people from sharing one common fate." (Ford's Life and Writings of Washington (1889), Vol. 2, pp. 99, 102, 104.)

Captain Bullitt's method of stopping the rout at Grant's defeat is thus described in an unpublished memoir by Thos. W. Bullitt, who derived it from his father, who in turn had gotten it from his father:

"Captain Bullitt having been left with a small detachment (doubtless his Virginia Company) to guard the baggage, when the routed forces retreated past him pursued by the Indians and French, drew up his little band in front of the baggage and awaited the onset of the enemy. He gave his men orders to trail their guns and not to lift a gun or fire a shot until he commanded it; and he was obeyed.

"The Indians, seeing them in this apparently desperate condition, thought they were an easy prey, and drawing their scalping knives and raising the war-whoop dashed toward them. The line never wavered; but, waiting until the Indians were but a few paces off, Captain Bullitt gave the order to fire, when instantly every gun was brought up, steadily aimed, and fired. Almost every shot is supposed to have taken effect, and the execution was such that the attacking force fell back and Bullitt retreated, covering also the retreat of the entire force, which otherwise would have been lost."

Subsequently a difference arose between General (then Colonel) Washington and Captain Bullitt, which is thus described in an unpublished memoir of Alex S. Bullitt:

"He was present at the head of his company at the battle of the Meadows, Braddock's defeat, and Grant's defeat, and at all times supported the reputation of a brave officer; but a difference which took place between him and General Washington (at that time Colonel Washington) not only retarded his promotion in that war, but was of infinite disadvantage to him all the remaining part of his life. The accident which gave rise to the difference was as follows: Two detachments from Colonel Washington's regiment (one commanded by himself) were out upon the frontiers endeavoring to surprise a detachment of French troops from Fort Duquesne (now Fort Pitt), but instead of falling in with the French, they met themselves (the day being remarkably dark and foggy); each party mistook the other for the enemy, and a very warm fire was immediately commenced on both sides. Captain Bullitt was one of the first who discovered the mistake, and running between the two parties, waving his hat and calling to them, put a stop to the firing. It was thought and said by several of the officers, and among others by Captain Bullitt, that Colonel Washington did not discover his usual activity and presence of mind upon this occasion. This censure thrown by Captain Bullitt upon his superior officer gave rise to a resentment in the mind of General Washington which never subsided."

Substantially the same account is given in Collins' Kentucky, p. 360.

He was in the expedition against Fort Duquesne and was one of the signers to the Address of the Officers of the Virginia Regiment to Colonel George Washington on his retirement as commander of the Virginia troops, December 27, 1758; he became surveyor in 1760, and in 1763 was a signer of the Articles of Association of the Mississippi Company, which Washington organized, the original of which, in Washington's handwriting, is now in the Congressional Library; he had a special commission as surveyor from the College of William and Mary; assisted Washington in 1771 in distributing the land gratuities to the soldiers of the 1754 campaign, receiving six thousand acres himself.

In 1773 he headed a surveying expedition to Kentucky and made a celebrated trip alone to the Shawnees at Chillicothe; he landed at the mouth of Beargrass Creek on July 8th, and in August, 1773, surveyed and laid out the town of Louisville and also Bullitt's Lick on Salt River.

He was one of the earliest to take part in the Revolution; commanded a company of regulars, and was Lieutenant-Colonel at the battle of Great Bridge in Virginia in 1775; was Adjutant-General of the Virginia forces; in March, 1776, the Continental Congress appointed him Deputy Adjutant-General of the Southern Department of the Continental Army, with rank of Lieutenant-Colonel; he served in South Carolina in 1776, and resigned because he did not receive a promotion he thought he was entitled to. He died at his home in Fauquier County, Va., in February, 1778, at the comparatively early age of forty-eight years. His will, dated September 17, 1775, was probated February 23, 1778 (Will Book I, p. 321, Fauquier County), and he left most of his estate to his brother, Judge Cuthbert Bullitt.


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The Bullitt County History Museum, a service of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is located in the county courthouse at 300 South Buckman Street (Highway 61) in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. The museum, along with its research room, is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday. Admission is free. The museum, as part of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization and is classified as a 509(a)2 public charity. Contributions and bequests are deductible under section 2055, 2106, or 2522 of the Internal Revenue Code. Page last modified: 18 Mar 2014 . Page URL: bullittcountyhistory.org/bchistory/thomasbullitt.html