John Amis was born 5 April 1773 in Bladen County, North Carolina to Thomas Amis (1744-1797) and Alice Gale (1744-1784) and died 15 August 1807 Manchester KY ( Clay County), Clay County, Kentucky of Executed. He married Catherine Bowling (1777-c1850) in Tennessee.

John married a descendant of Pocahontas (1595-1617).


Offspring of John Amis and Catherine Bowling (1777-c1850)
Name Birth Death Joined with
Thomas Judge Boling Amis (1796-)
Lincoln Amis (1798-)
Wilbourn Amis (1798-1874)
Alice Amis (1800-)
Willaim Amis (1803-)
Lucinda Amis (1805-1878)
Letha Amis (1806-1855)
Bolin Amis (1808-c1809)


Footnotes (including sources)

‡ General
¶ Death
  • John Amis settles on Kentucky River’s South Fork

John Amis settles on Kentucky River’s South Fork “That’s a god-damned lie!” cried out Joel Elkins as John Amis spoke to those gathered in the Clay County court. He reached behind the door, grabbed William Strong’s gun, purposely loaded and placed there, then shot and killed Amis. Accounts differ as to why John Amis was in that Kentucky court on August 5, 1807, and why Elkins shot him. “Judge John Amis, born in North Carolina, was of the first generation born in America, and was a successful lawyer, was Circuit Judge in Kentucky, and was shot by an outlaw while holding the first Circuit Court ever held in Clay County,” claims the 1891 volume “Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Western Arkansas.” “He was killed at the first session of court in Clay County in 1807 by Joel Elkins, whom he had partly reared,” recalled John Eversole, a Manchester, KY resident, in 1898. “It is said that a peddler had been killed, and Amis and this man were accused of the crime. The man told Amis that if he swore against him he would kill him. “Whether he testified against him or not I do not know, but the man came into the courthouse and shot Amis’ brains out, in the presence of the court.” More likely than these two interpretations, however, is that John Amis was on trial for provoking a ‘cattle war’ the previous year, between a group of farmers living on the Kentucky River’s North Fork and farmers on the Red Bird, a branch of the South Fork. Oneida, KY as seen from the area where Red Bird and Goose Creeks merge forming the South Fork of the Kentucky River., c. 1905-10. Amis had grown up in Rogersville, TN. His father Thomas had built a house at the mouth of Big Creek River, about four miles west of Rogersville. When the father died in 1797 he deeded to John “the tract of land he now lives on adjoining the town of Rogersville and lying the east side of the main road, also the lower part of my six hundred and forty acre tract of land to be laid off by a line to run square with the upper end of the above tract he now lives on, to him and his heirs forever.” It didn’t take long for the 24 year old John to run into trouble. By 1802 a ‘fieri facias’ (a writ ordering a levy on the belongings of a debtor to satisfy the debt) had been issued against him in “Richard Mitchell vs. John Amis (Hawkins County).” About 1800 he had moved with his wife Kate and their baby son into Madison/Clay County Kentucky, presumably to escape that debt and get a fresh start. John sold much of his land in Tennessee to purchase a partnership in the Goose Creek Salt Works, near Manchester, where the northern section of Goose Creek joins the Red Bird River to form the South Fork of the Kentucky River. So vital was salt to frontier life and trade that Daniel Boone had offered to re-route the Wilderness Road to pass the Goose Creek salt works. (He did not get the approval, however, and the area had no suitable roads for some time.) Clay County went on to become the leading salt producer in the state during the nineteenth century. The struggle behind the scenes to control the industry was fierce. “On August 12, 1806 John White made good to John Amis the title of one fourth of 375 acres including the Goose Creek Salt Works’ lower works, White reserving for himself the privilege of ‘wood and water’ for one furnace,” says historian Mary Verhoeff in ‘The Kentucky River Navigation.’ “Two acres of the most eligible and advantageous land of the tract was to be reserved for mansion houses upon which neither party could dig for water without the consent of the other. “Within one year the reservation was to be equally divided between White and Amis. The tract of land, including the salt works, had on June 22 of the same year been sold to Amis by John Crook for the sum of $2,300, one half of which was to be paid in cash and the remainder in ‘good salable salt at two dollars per bushel.’ By the deed one half of the buildings and half the garden owned by Crook were secured to John White.” At the same time John Amis was establishing himself on the south side of the Kentucky River, William Strong and a group of Virginia farmers and cattle ranchers were setting down roots on the North Fork of the river. “About the year 1800 or 1801, a party was organized in Scott Co., VA, to come to Kentucky,” relates Mrs. J. C. Hurst in ‘Strong Family in Kentucky .’ ”This party was composed of Edward Callahan and family ~ William Strong and family ~ Daniel Davidson and three sons Samuel, John, and Robert, with their families ~ also Roger and Robin Cornett. Some reports say that the Cornetts came a year or two previous to this time. The above-mentioned parties brought along with them their livestock ~ household goods ~ slaves and other possessions. “William Strong, Samuel Davidson and the two Cornetts had married daughters of Edward Callahan. After arriving in Kentucky the parties settled on the North Fork of the Kentucky River at and near the mouth of Grapevine Creek in (current day) Perry County. “William Strong acquired a tract of land on the opposite side of the river from the mouth of Grapevine. It extended from near what is now Chavies down the river so as to include Strong’s Branch. On this land he erected a log building where he made his home for some eight or ten years. He, as a deputy assessor, made the first assessment of all land and personal property on the North Fork, which was then embraced in the new county of Clay.” Trouble was about to brew between John Amis and William Strong. (end of part 1 of 2) sources: “The road to poverty: the making of wealth and hardship in Appalachia,” by Dwight B. Billings, Kathleen M. Blee, Cambridge University Press, 2000 “Strong Family in Kentucky,” by Mrs. J. C. Hurst, Lexington, KY, privately published, 1960 The Kentucky River navigation By Mary Verhoeff, Filson Club Publications/John P. Morton & Co, Louisville, 1917 (part 2 of 2) In April 1806 John Amis, who lived along the Kentucky River’s Middle Fork, went elk hunting in the area where his cattle were wintering. He discovered some cattle from North Fork farms grazing in what he thought were grass fields reserved for him and his cohorts. Amis proceeded to stab about twenty head of the North Fork cattle and drive them into the water where they sank and died. North Fork cattleman William Strong was outraged and immediately sought outside help against Amis’ actions. “The Strongs sent to Prestonburg for General White of that place, it was not General White of Goose Creek,” recounted Henry Duff to missionary Dr. John J. Dickey in the late 1890’s. “I am sure the Strongs appealed to the Governor for arms and ammunition, and the Governor asked White to help or gave him authority to help them.” And General Hugh White’s reply? A local poet of the time, Cana Baker, quotes White in ‘Cattle Wars:’ You have got yourselves in trouble Get out if you can, I’ll neither come to your assistance Nor send a single man Upon hearing of this, the North Forkers, led by Strong and including Joel Elkins and 12 men from the Stacey, Davidson, Lewis, Bolling, Eversole, Callahan, Cornett, Lewis, and Begley klans, went to Amis’ house. Amis wasn’t home, but his wife, Kate Bolling Amis, was there. The North Fork cattlemen shot the Amis horse and took twenty head of cattle from his farm to compensate themselves for the cattle that Amis had destroyed. Peter Stacy reportedly butted Kate in the face with his gun as the cattle were being rustled. They took Jugie and Frogie Burnt three fodder stacks And broke some rifle guns “As they started back Amis’ Negro man followed them supposed to have been sent by Amis’ wife, for the purpose of shooting at them,” relates John Lewis on July 27, 1898 to Rev. John J. Dickey, who recorded it in his diary. “At a turn of the road Peter Stacey concealed himself and as the Negro came in sight fired and struck his head. Stacey broke the gun, they brought back what cattle they could find. “Then Amis solicitated a company of 30 men and started to the North Fork for revenge.” John Gilbert, Amis’ brother-in-law, helped lead the group. There was one Capt. John Gilbert As I have heard them say He fed his men on run down venison Till Porter ran away (Porter, a dog that ran over to the other side) John Lewis continues the story: “William Callahan brought news to the North Forkers that they were coming and assembled at the mouth of Lick Branch concealing themselves in the ivy on the top of the cliff opposite the mouth of the branch, as Amis’ men came across the river. William Callahan fired at Amis and missed him. There was a general firing in which several horses were killed and Nicholson and Cox were wounded. Nicholson hid behind a log And hid just like a fox And presently came shivering & shimming along This poor half drowned Cox “Amis spurred his horse under the cliff to protect himself from the bullets. John Gilbert rode up the bank to the company and they took him prisoner. Some of the party wanted to kill him but Strong saved his life. [other accounts claim Strong said ‘Shoot him!’] John the Captain did miss killing All met with homely fare And he who came in last of all Is apt to lose his share “The plan was for Strong and Callahan to shoot Amis first which was to be the sign of attack. Strong was the best rifle shot in the county. Callahan shot before Strong, which prevented Strong from getting a bead on him. Callahan was accused of treachery for this act. “The North Forkers had 18 men, William Strong, (afterwards a preacher), Peter Stacey, James Lewis, William Callahan, John Bolling, Samuel Davidson and Jesse Bowling.” The Middle Forkers retreated to Cutshin and fortified, leaving portholes, expecting the enemy to follow them. Eventually, they all agreed to end the fighting and settle the dispute in court. However, on the first day of trial, August 5, 1807, John Amis was shot dead by Joel Elkins as he was testifying from the witness chair. “It appears from the Circuit Court Records that the Whites had him killed over the contract they signed with John Amis, who then owned the salt mine,” states genealogist Bonnie Miller. “This is how the Whites came to get the salt mine from John Amis.” Joel Elkins was employed at the Goose Creek Salt Works co-owned by John White and John Amis. The inability of the militia to be able to react in a timely manner and the failure to maintain law and order during the months before the trial had pointed to the urgent need for a local constabulary, organized through a smaller county structure with a sheriff. Thus, the Kentucky legislature established Clay County on December 2, 1806, from parts of Madison, Floyd, and Knox Counties. Having local law enforcement did not help maintain law and order, however: descendants of these combatants figured prominently in subsequent feuds that occurred in Breathitt, Perry and Clay counties, leaving a bloody heritage for future generations.

Robin Patterson