Bullitt County History

Embry Lee Swearingen

The following biographical sketch of Embry Lee Swearingen is taken from Memoirs of the Lower Ohio Valley, [Volume I, Madison, Wisconsin: Federal Publishing Company, 1905, pages 278-280.] This is a book of what are commonly called "vanity biographies," so named because they were created to highlight the best of a person's life, and were often written by the person himself. Still, they often provide us with valuable information for the purpose of genealogical research.

Embry Lee Swearingen

EMBRY LEE SWEARINGEN, president of the Kentucky Title Company and the Kentucky Title Savings bank, of Louisville, was born at Millwood, Bullitt county, Ky., Jan. 27, 1863. He is a son of George W. and Mary (Embry) Swearingen, and is of the tenth generation from Gerrit Van Swearingen, the first of the family in America.

Gerrit Van Swearingen was one of the younger sons of a Dutch nobleman and a native of Beemsterdam, North Holland. In 1656 he was sent to America in command of a vessel laden with supplies for the Dutch colony at New Amsterdam, now New York. The good ship was lost in a storm off the Atlantic coast, which led Captain Van Swearingen to abandon the sea and the same year he settled in Maryland. His wife was Barbara De Barette, of Valenciennes. Four generations of the family lived in Maryland.

Toward the close of the seventeenth century the "Van" was dropped from the name and since that time it has been written "Swearingen."

In the year 1804 some of the family came to Kentucky and settled in Bullitt county. At that time William Wallace Swearingen, the grandfather of Embry L., was an infant, having been born in Maryland in 1803. He grew to manhood in Bullitt county and in time became a wealthy farmer and slaveholder. He married Julia F. Crist, daughter of Hon. Henry Crist, a native of Berkeley county, in what is now West Virginia.

Henry Crist was one of the distinguished pioneers of Kentucky. He was noted as an Indian fighter and served in the Kentucky legislature continuously from 1795 to 1806. In 1809 he was elected to Congress and served two years.

William Wallace Swearingen died in 1869 and his wife in 1838. He was widely known in Bullitt and adjoining counties and was an influential citizen.

George W. Swearingen, the father of the subject of this sketch, was born and reared in Bullitt county. He was educated at the Washington academy and Centre college, Danville, Ky., and after leaving school in 1856 taught for a year. In 1860 he purchased the old homestead and conducted it until 1866, when he removed to Louisville and there became actively identified with business enterprises. In 1869 he built the Mellwood distillery, which he successfully operated until 1890, its product being known far and wide as the equal of any in the market.

In 1890 he organized the Union National bank and was elected president of the institution, which office he continued to hold by repeated re-elections until the time of his death. He was also one of the organizers of the Kentucky Title Company and was for some time its president. In addition to these two concerns he was connected as a stockholder and in other ways with various undertakings that tended to promote the industrial and commercial prosperity of Louisville. He was recognized as one of the liberal minded, public spirited men of the "Falls City," one who was always willing to contribute from his time and means to the public welfare.

He was married in 1858 to Mary Embry, daughter of Samuel Embry, a veteran of the war of 1812, and a granddaughter of Henry Embry, who came from Virginia and settled in Green county, Ky., in 1790. One of her uncles, Ben T. Embry, was a prominent planter in Arkansas, served several terms in the legislature, and was once speaker of the state senate.

During the Civil war he commanded a regiment of Confederate cavalry. In this connection it is worthy of mention that some of the Swearingen family have been in every war in which the people of the United States have been concerned since the middle of the seventeenth century. Their names appear on the muster rolls of the early Indian wars, the French and Indian war, the Revolution, the war of 1812, the Mexican war, and the great Civil war, many of them as commissioned officers.

[George W. Swearingen's obituary is located on another page here.]

Embry Lee Swearingen was prepared for college at the Rugby school in Louisville. In three of the four years' course he carried off the first honors of his class and in the other year stood second. In 1878 he entered the University of Virginia but was soon compelled to leave on account of his health. A year later he returned to the university and after taking the academic course devoted three years to the study of special subjects, graduating from several different departments of the university. He then went to Philadelphia, where he became one of the partners in the establishment of a hosiery and knit goods factory.

A year later, after thoroughly familiarizing himself with all the different processes of manufacture, he returned to Louisville and established a factory there for the manufacture of hosiery, knit goods, woolens and jeans, one of the first factories of the kind in the South. He continued to conduct this business for about eight years, during which time he was constantly extending his trade into new territory, until his goods were sold in nearly every state of the Union. Toward the close of that period he employed about two hundred people.

Although the concern was a good advertisement for the city the profits were not satisfactory to Mr. Swearingen and he disposed of the plant to become general manager of the Kentucky Title Company. He continued as general manager until 1895, when he was elected to the presidency, and he has been continued in that position ever since. As the chief executive officer of the company he has been brought into contact with the real estate interests and great financial institutions of the city, and has impressed himself upon the managers and directors of these interests and institutions as a man of sound judgment, sagacity, and correct business principles.

In 1900 he organized the Kentucky Title Savings bank. Mr. Swearingen is also a director in the Union National bank; was one of the first members of the Commercial club; and an active member of the first City Development committee. In all these capacities his enterprise and public spirit have been made manifest in the promotion of various plans for the advancement of the city's prosperity.

He was married in 1887 to Miss Lalla Robinson, daughter of Lawrence and Amelia (Owsley) Robinson, a granddaughter of Rev. Stuart Robinson, and a great-granddaughter of Hon. William Owsley, who was judge of the Kentucky appellate court from 1812 to 1828, and who was elected governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky in 1844 and served four years. Mrs. Swearingen died in 1897, and in 1901 Mr. Swearingen was married to Miss Ada C. Badger, of Chicago, Ill., daughter of A. C. Badger, who came to Louisville from Portsmouth, N. H., when a boy and soon became identified with the business interests of the city as a partner in the well known banking firm of A. D. Hunt & Co. In 1850 he married Elvira C. Sheridan and in 1861 they moved to Chicago, where he became actively interested in banking and lumber business.

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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 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Saturday appointments are available by calling 502-921-0161 during our regular weekday hours. 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: 12 Jan 2024 . Page URL: bullittcountyhistory.org/bchistory/embry_lee_swearingen.html