Bullitt County History

Thomas W. Bullitt
Grandson of Alexander Scott Bullitt

This biographical sketch of Thomas W. Bullitt appeared in A history of Kentucky and Kentuckians; the leaders and representative men in commerce, industry and modern activities by E. Polk Johnson, published in Chicago by the Lewis Publishing Company in 1912 (pages 606-609). It is transcribed from the archive.org site.

Although Mr. Bullitt was not directly connected with affairs in Bullitt County, this sketch does provide information about his ancestry, including his grandfather, Alexander Scott Bullitt for whom Bullitt County is named.

Thomas W. Bullitt. — Pure, constant and noble was the spiritual flame that burned in and illumined the mortal tenement of Colonel Thomas Walker Bullitt, who became one of the most distinguished members of the Kentucky bar, who attained to high honors as a loyal and public-spirited citizen, who served with marked gallantry as a soldier and officer of the Confederacy in the Civil War. who was a scion of one of the prominent and honored pioneer families of this Commonwealth, and whose deep appreciation of his stewardship was on a parity with the distinctive success which it was his to gain in connection with the practical affairs of life. Measured by its beneficence, its rectitude, its altruism and its productiveness, his life counted for much, and the generous qualities of the man himself gained to him uniform confidence and esteem and won to him warn and inviolable friendships. In his death, which occurred in the city of Baltimore, Maryland, on the 3d of March, 1910, Kentucky lost one of her most honored and distinguished citizens, and in his home city of Louisville was manifested a general sense of personal bereavement.

Thomas Walker Bullitt was born at "Oxmoor," the old family homestead in Jefferson county, Kentucky, about eight miles from the city of Louisville, Kentucky, on the 17th of May, 1838, and was a son of William Christian Bullitt and Mildred Ann (Fry) Bullitt. The family name has been long and conspicuously identified with the annals of Kentucky history, and Bullitt county, this state, was named in honor of his grandfather. The ancestry is traced back to staunch French Huguenot origin, and the original representative in America was one of those who fled from France to escape the religious persecutions incidental to the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. This worthy forebear, Benjamin Bullitt, left France in 1685, and took up his abode at Port Tobacco, St. Charles county, Maryland, on Chesapeake bay. From him Colonel Bullitt, subject of this memoir, was of the sixth generation in line of direct descent. Benjamin Bullitt, son of Benjamin, went from Maryland to Virginia, where he devoted the residue of his life to agricultural pursuits in Fauquier county. Colonel Thomas Bullitt, son of Benjamin, was a distinguished explorer and soldier, having served in the War of the Revolution, and having been an intimate friend of General George Washington. He made the first surveys of the falls of the Ohio river, in 1773. Cuthburt Bullitt, a younger son of Benjamin an ancestor of him whose name initiates this review, became an eminent jurist of the historic Old Dominion commonwealth, and was serving on the bench of the Supreme Court of Virginia at the time of his death. Judge Cuthbert Bullitt married Miss Helen Scott, a daughter of Rev. James Scott, who was a distinguished clergyman of the Protestant Episcopal church in Prince William county. Virginia, and one of the sons of this union was Alexander Scott Bullitt, who was the founder of the Kentucky branch of the family and who attained marked distinction in connection with public and civic affairs in this state. Alexander Scott Bullitt was born in Prince William county, Virginia, and about the time he attained to his legal majority he came to Kentucky, in 1783. Here he purchased one thousand acres of land in Jefferson county, and to this estate he gave the name of "Oxmoor," which has been retained during the long intervening years, throughout which the estate has remained in the possession of this old and honored family. Alexander Scott Bulliit was one of the must prominent and influential citizens in Kentucky in his day and generation. He served as president of the Constitutional Convention that framed the constitution of the state in 1799, and under this constitution he was the first lieutenant-governor of this commonwealth. He died in 1816, and was laid to rest in the old family burying ground at "Oxmoor," – the oldest cemetery in Kentucky and one within whose precincts sleep all of his descendants who have passed away, including the honored subject of this memoir. In 1785 was solemnized the marriage of Alexander Scott Bullitt to Miss Priscilla Christian, a daughter of Colonel William Christian, who settled in Kentucky in 1785, and who was killed in an engagement with the Indians in the following year. Colonel Christian's wife was a sister of Patrick Henry, the renowned patriot and statesman of Virginia, and she survived him by a number of years.

William Christian Bullitt, son of Alexander S. and Priscilla (Christian) Bullitt, was born at Oxmoor, February 14, 1793, and there he passed the greater part of his life, as one of the extensive planters and valued citizens of his native county and state. He was afforded excellent educational advantages and became one of the representative members of the Kentucky bar. He inherited the ancestral homestead and for only a short period did he maintain his abode elsewhere. He left Oxmoor and moved to Louisville, where he was engaged in the practice of law for a brief interval, but ill health compelled him to abandon the work of his profession, whereupon he returned to Oxmoor, where he passed the residue of his life. Concerning him the following pertinent statements have been made: "His deep interest in the questions and issues that concerned the welfare of state and nation was strongly felt, though he never sought the honors of public office. However, he served as a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1849-50, and therein he labored earnestly for the adoption of a constitution that would prove a firm foundation on which to rest the commonwealth. In early life he advocated Whig principles, but in 1852 he supported Franklin Pierce for the presidency and was thereafter a stalwart Democrat." He married Miss Mildred Ann Fry, who was born July 9, 1798, in Albemarle county, Virginia, and who was but three years of age at the time of the family removal to Kentucky. She was a daughter of Joshua and Peachy (Walker) Fry, who settled at Danville soon after their arrival in Kentucky. Well worthy of perpetuation in this volume are the following appreciative words concerning Mrs. Mildred Ann Bullitt: "She possessed a beautiful Christian character and held membership in the Presbyterian church, as did also her husband. With him she delighted to extend the warm welcome of their truly hospitable home, which was ever open to their many friends and to many a traveler, who found rest and gracious entertainment within their gates. Oxmoor was usually tilled with a happy party enjoying the many pleasures which formed the charm of Kentucky home-life a half century or more ago and which won the state its enviable reputation for hospitality." William Christian Bullitt died at the residence of his daughter, Mrs. Henry Chenowith, near St. Matthews, on the 28th of August, 1877, at the age of eighty-four years, and his cherished and devoted wife was summoned to the life eternal on July 12, 1879. at the age of eighty-one years. They became the parents of ten children, all now deceased.

Joshua Fry, maternal grandfather of Colonel Thomas W. Bullitt, was a grandson of Colonel Joshua Fry, an English gentleman who after his graduation in Oxford University came to Virginia and became professor of mathematics in William & Mary College. He was colonel of the regiment of Virginians that was sent with the first expedition against Fort Duquesne, in 1754. and George Washington was lieutenant colonel of the same regiment, in which he be[came] colonel after the death of Colonel Fry. Joshua Fry, grandfather of Colonel Bullitt, was a prominent pioneer educator in Kentucky, and his wife was a daughter of Dr. Thomas Walker, who was commissary general of General Braddock's army and who was one of the first six white men to penetrate the wilds of Kentucky, in 1750.

Colonel Thomas W. Bullitt passed his childhood and youth under the gracious influences of a cultured home and his early education was secured in the private schools of the neighborhood. He finally entered Center [Centre] College, at Danville, this state, in which he was graduated as a member of the class of 1858, and in preparation for the work of his chosen profession he went to the city of Philadelphia, where he began reading law under the able preceptorship of his elder brother, John C. Bullitt, a leading member of the Pennsylvania bar. He further fortified himself by completing the prescribed course in the law department of the University of Pennsylvania, in which he was graduated in 1861, and from which he received the degree of Bachelor of Laws. He was forthwith admitted to the bar in Pennsylvania, and began the practice of his profession in association with his brother in Philadelphia.

The Civil war was then in progress and the young barrister could not possess his soul in patience when he felt the call of duty, so he returned to Kentucky and promptly tendered his services in defense of the cause of the Confederacy. In the spring of 1862 he enlisted in the command of General John Morgan, which he joined at Kirksville, Tennessee, in June of that year. He initiated his military career as a private in Company C, in the regiment commanded by Colonel Basil W. Duke, who later attained the rank of general and who is still numbered among the distinguished citizens of Kentucky. Colonel Bullitt soon won promotion to the office of first lieutenant, and during the winter of 1862-3 he was on detached duty, serving as regimental commissary. In the following spring he returned to his company and he was with General Morgan on that gallant commander's memorable raid into Ohio. He was wounded and captured by the enemy. In company with General Morgan and about seventy-five other Confederate army officers. Colonel Bullitt was at first confined in the Ohio state penitentiary at Columbus, whence he was later transferred to Fort Delaware, that state, where he was held as a prisoner of war until March, 1865, when with other sick and disabled Confederate soldiers he was sent through the lines for exchange, but as the war was drawing to a close the exchange was never effected. Concerning his self-abnegation in connection with the escape of General Morgan and other prisoners the following statements have been made: "Colonel Bullitt was confined with General Morgan and other Confederate prisoners in the Columbus penitentiary. He aided in digging the holes through the wall by means of which General Morgan and most of the other prisoners escaped, but before General Morgan made his escape it was decided that some of the prisoners must remain in the penitentiary to keep the guards in ignorance of the escape as long as possible. Although in sight of actual freedom. Colonel Bullitt at once said to General Morgan that if the latter thought he was the man to stay in the prison he would give up all plan of escape. General Morgan did so decide, and Colonel Bullitt, after assisting his companions to escape, remained in the penitentiary and kept the information from the guards until General Morgan and his companions had sufficient start to make their freedom sure."

After the close of the war Colonel Bullitt established himself in the practice of his profession in Louisville and he won high honors and marked distinction as one of the most brilliant and successful members of the bar of his native state. He made a specialty of corporation law and his mastery of its intricate problems gained to him a large and important clientage, involving the handling of the legal business of many large banking, railroad, industrial and commercial corporations. He was a member of the directorate of a number of the corporations with which he was thus concerned, and notable among these was the Fidelity Trust Company of Louisville, of which he was the organizer. This was the first trust company established west of the Allegheny mountains, and later he organized the Kentucky Title Company, of which he was a director until the time of his death. He was also a member of the directorate of the Kentucky Title Savings Bank, the Union National Bank, and the First National Bank.

As one of the most prominent members of the bar of the entire south, Colonel Bullitt was identified with some of the most famous cases of his day. After he began to practice law in Louisville probably his first important case was the litigation between the Northern and Southern Presbyterian churches, for which latter he appeared as chief counsel. The case was taken to the Court of Appeals of Kentucky, before which tribunal he won a distinctive victory for the Southern church. This decision was later reversed by the Supreme Court of the United States. For many years Colonel Bullitt was leading counsel for the American Surety Company, and as such he prosecuted their most important cases. He was a formidable adversary in forensic contests, as he had not only profound knowledge of the law but was also exceptionally versatile and a master of expedients in the presentation of his causes before court or jury. His careful observance of professional ethics, his dignity and courtesy under all conditions, gave him a secure place in the respect and confidence of his confreres, even as he held the high regard of all who came within his sphere of influence in other walks of life. The intrinsic strength and nobility of his character made him a man in all that the word, implies, and not only inviolable integrity of purpose was ever his. but tolerance and deep human sympathy were his abiding guests. At the time of his death the bar of Louisville passed resolutions of respect and bereavement and held a special memorial meeting, at which addresses were made by General Basil W. Duke, his commander in the Civil war; Colonel Harry Weissinger, his comrade; and Judge W. Overton Harris, a former associate in the practice of law. Other intimate friends gave appreciative tributes of honor and appreciation, and, as was well said in a Louisville paper at the time, "Few men have so lived and have been so loved as to elicit from friends and acquaintances and associates in their professions such a general and profound expression of honor as was that accorded to the memory of Colonel Thomas W. Bullitt at this special meeting of the Louisville bar." General Duke spoke of the lifelong friendship and intimacy with Colonel Bullitt; how he saw him grow into a man, beyond all else manly and reliable. He was absolutely truthful. He was honest intellectually as well as morally. He was by no means lacking in the amiable traits of character. He was aggressive but not combative; genuine, frank and sincere, but never obtruded his opinions on others, and always was respectful of the honest opinions of others. As a soldier Colonel Bullitt was of the very highest type. In all respects. General Duke said, Colonel Bullitt was a great and noble man. Colonel Weissinger said: "Tom Bullitt was a soldier before he was a lawyer, a high-born gentleman before he was either. As a soldier and citizen he lived a life that did credit to his distinguished ancestry. Unobtrusive in his Christianity, he taught more by example than precept. I never heard him utter a profane word. I never heard him give vent to a vulgar expression." Resolutions were adopted by organizations with which he was identified, and these tributes all showed forth popular appreciation of the sterling worth and exalted character of the man.

Colonel Bullitt led too busy a life to have aught of inclination for public office, but he always took a lively interest in politics and local affairs of a public nature. He was by tradition and early association a Democrat, but after the presidential nomination of his party in 1896 his convictions led him to repudiate the financial heresy advocated and he thereafter maintained an independent attitude, as shown in his support of McKinley for the presidency in the campaign of 1900. He always showed a deep interest in all that concerned the welfare of his home city and state and he served for two years as a member of Board of Park Commissioners of Louisville. He was for many years an elder in the Second Presbyterian church, and his faith was of the type that begets faithfulness in all things. He was most zealous in the support of the church work, both local and general, and was one of the stanch pillars of the church society with which he was so long identified. Colonel Bullitt was a valued member of a number of the representative social organizations of Louisville, including the Golf Club, the Country Club and the Tavern Club, and in New York City he held membership in the University Club and Reform Club. He was identified with the United Confederate Veterans and ever manifested a deep interest in his old comrades in arms.

On the 21st of February, 1871, was solemnized the marriage of Colonel Bullitt to Miss Annie Priscilla Logan, who was born in Woodford county and reared in Jefferson county, this state, and who is a daughter of the late Judge Caleb W. Logan, of the Louisville chancery court; her mother, whose maiden name was Agatha Marshall, was a daughter of Dr. Louis Marshall, a brother of distinguished John Marshall who was chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Colonel Bullitt is survived by six children, — William Marshall, Alexander Scott, Keith L. and Misses Agatha and Mirah, all of Louisville, and Dr. James B., who is dean of the medical department of the University of Mississippi at Oxford. Two sons in Louisville were associated with their father in the practice of law at the time of his death, which was the sequel of a stroke of apoplexy which occurred while he was visiting in the city of Baltimore. In his death the bar of Kentucky lost one of its most distinguished members and the state lost a citizen whose influence was ever given for what is best in civic life. The nobility of the man found its most perfect expression in the sacred precincts of an ideal home, and to those nearest and dearest to him must remain the greatest measure of consolation and compensation in the memory of his tender, faithful and generous nature, which it was given them to touch most closely and with appreciation.

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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 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; and from 9 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: 24 Jul 2021 . Page URL: bullittcountyhistory.org/bchistory/thomas-w-bullitt.html