Bullitt County History

John D. Colmesnil

The following brief biographical sketch of John D. Colmesnil comes from The Biographical encyclopædia of Kentucky of the Dead and Living Men of the Nineteenth Century (Cincinnati, J.M. Armstrong, 1878, pages 635-6).

COLMESNIL, JOHN D., was born July 31, 1787, in Hayti, where his father then resided, near St. Mark's. His father was an extensive cotton, sugar, indigo, and coffee planter, and owned nearly three thousand slaves, with which he carried on his large planting interests.

At the time of the insurrection, a fortification, built on one of his plantations, was attacked by the blacks and taken; and all who did not escape were massacred—his mother, three sisters, and two brothers being among those cruelly murdered. His father and himself, the only remaining members of the family, were saved through the friendship of old servants of the family. At St. Mark's, his father chartered a vessel, which he loaded with coffee, sugar, and indigo, and sailed to Philadelphia—a considerable number of his servants choosing to follow him to the United States.

Louis Gabriel de Colmesnil, his father, was a Frenchman; his family belonging to the nobility of France. He settled, with his infant son and his servants, near Trenton, New Jersey, where he remained until 1800; when he moved to Georgia, settling near Savannah, where he died; and by his will provided that his slaves should be freed, giving to each a small sum of money. His son worked the plantation one year, to raise means in order to carry out his father's will in reference to the slaves; which he did by sending them to New York and Philadelphia, as, by the laws of Georgia, they could not be freed in that state.

John D. Colmesnil received a grammar-school education, after which he went into business as a clerk in a shipping-house at Savannah; subsequently, made three trips to the West Indies, as a supercargo; visited his native place, where he recovered a large amount of silver-ware, which he lost in transferring it through the country.

On one of these trips to Havana, through some misconduct of his agent there in avoiding customs, he was arrested and confined in Moro Castle, but was subsequently released by Don Vivas, the Captain-General, who had been an intimate friend and college companion of his father.

In 1801, he first visited Louisville, Kentucky. In the following year, he made a very prosperous trip to New Orleans; and afterwards returned to Louisville, where he engaged actively in business, but mainly confined his attention to trading on the river from that city to New Orleans.

After engaging several years with Stewart, Tyler & Co., he was engaged with I. A. Honore. But, in 1817, he again returned to the river business; and, after the days of steamboats began, he owned the "Grecian," "Huntress," "Louisiana," "Peruvian," "Java," and "Homer," with which he did a profitable business. He afterwards became greatly involved through the failure of a house in New Orleans, and others whom he favored by his credit, but subsequently paid the large indebtedness brought upon him in that way, maintaining his credit as one of the most determined and upright business men that Louisville ever had.

He finally became dissatisfied with trade, and purchased a beautiful home in Shepherdsville, in Bullitt County, where he hoped to spend the remainder of his life. But, during the civil war, his home was shorn of much of its beauty and comfort; and, in the Spring of 1871, he again moved to Louisville, where he died, on the thirtieth day of July in that year.

Mr. Colmesnil was twice married; first, to Miss Honore; and, after her death, to the daughter of Edmund Taylor, about 1826. His wife survived him, as did their children: Lodiska, wife of Col. H. M. McCarty; Courtney, wife of William Murphy; and James G., Charles C, and William T. Colmesnil, all residents of Louisville.

Follow this link to a more detailed description of the life of John D. Colmesnil. Also see Audrea McDowell's article on "The Pursuit of Health and Happiness at the Paroquet Springs in Kentucky" for more details on Colmesnil's Shepherdsville home.


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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: 13 Jul 2015 . Page URL: bullittcountyhistory.org/bchistory/colmesnil.html