This is a brief account of the life of Col. Joseph Hamilton Daviess of Kentucky, summarized from the Feb. 2, 1911, edition of the Gallatin North Missourian. Daviess County is named after this Kentuckian killed by Indians at Tippecanoe — 25 years before the county was organized.
Joseph (Jo) Daviess was born at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, Bedford County, near the peaks of Otter on March 4, 1774. His father was also named Joseph and was Irish. His mother was Jean Hamilton Daviess of Scottish descent.
The family moved westward to Kentucky because of the 1779 Land Law and settled in the Crab Orchard neighborhood, Boyle County, near the present-day site of Danville. In his youth, Jo is said to have been a husky woodsman of robust health, but did not like manual labor.
After the age of 12, Joe received a classical education (Latin, Greek, math and some English). At age 18 he joined Major John Adair to escort provisions to army outposts north of the Ohio River. This was a mounted unit of about 200 men.
On the return to Kentucky near Fort St. Clair, the unit was attacked by Chief Little Turtle and 500 of his warriors. Fewer than 15 whites were killed, but the Indians took all the baggage and horses. Joe Daviess saw his horse hitched to a tree on the outskirts of the forest and went back alone after it. Joe recovered his horse, and became the only mounted trooper of the unit.
After the unit disbanded, Joe began the study of law at Harrodsburg, KY. He was admitted into practice in June, 1795. That Septembe, Jo moved to Danville and his practice was mostly land litigation cases. It was Jo’s custom to walk to his cases clad in deerskin, leggings and coonskin cap. With his rifle on his shoulder, he ranged the woods from one court to another.
By age 26 Jo Daviess was a well-known public speaker but not popular as a politician since he was a Federalist. In 1800 Daviess was appointed U.S. Attorney for the District of Kentucky. He held that office until 1807. In 1803 he married Miss Anne Marshall, sister of Chief Justice John Marshall. They went to live in Frankfort, KY, then the social center of the west.
In November, 1806, Daviess led in legal charges against Col. Aaron Burr, charging him with efforts to levy war against the United States. Even though the fact was later proven against Burr, Daviess lost the case and lost popularity. Daviess moved to Owensburg to live on some of the land he owned, but, finding that he had no taste for farming, went back to the law practice at Lexington, KY.
The Indians to the northwest under Tecumseh and his brother, “The Prophet,” were trying to form a confederacy to stop the whites’ westward movement. They formed a village at the junction of the Tippecanoe and the Wabash rivers in north central Indiana. Governor William H. Harrison decided to form an armed force and strike a decisive blow on the Indian town.
Col. Jo Daviess became the Aid de Camp of the Kentucky Militia and was a major commanding a unit of Indian Dragoons. The Kentucky forces consisted of about 800 men of which 270 were mounted. The unit marched up the Wabash River to Tippecanoe. Tecumseh was not at the village, but “The Prophet” led a surprise attack on Harrison’s forces with a like number of warriors at 4 a.m. on Nov. 7, 1811. Harrison entered the Indian village and burned it.
Harrison lost 52 men and had 133 injured. Col. Jo Daviess was among those killed. He was shot in the chest while leading a small charge on the Indians. Col. Daviess was buried on the battlefield at Tippecanoe in an unmarked grave. He was 37 years old, married but childless.
Jo Daviess was remembered by many Kentuckians, and counties in Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri took his name as monuments to his memory.
Written by David Stark, published by the Gallatin North Missourian on Jan. 5, 1983