A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Our Rich History: The Journal of Jacob Fowler, a wandering squatter, founder, surveyor

By Steve Preston
Special to NKyTribune

Before the founding of Newport and Covington and before Ohio, Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico existed as states, Jacob Fowler was there.

Jacob Fowler was born in New Jersey in 1764. By the time of the American Revolution, Fowlers were already living in Kentucky, although it is uncertain whether they were related to Jacob Fowler.

When General Taylor’s son, Hubbard, arrived in 1789 to lay out the land his father had purchased at the mouth of the Licking River, he found Jacob Fowler’s cabin already sitting on his property.

Journal of Jacob Fowler

Taylor allowed Fowler to remain on his land. In fact, Fowler purchased this lot of land once it was parceled out for sale in 1792. Hence, Fowler was the first settler of what is now Newport, Kentucky.

Fowler accrued more plots of land through purchase and as payment for clearing land. Fowler’s Tavern became the first community center for Newport. He received permission to open it in 1795.

Fowler fought in every major engagement against the Ohio confederated tribes. In his eighteenth year, 1782, he travelled with George Rogers Clark across the Ohio River to raid the Shawnee towns near Piqua, on Ohio’s Great Miami River. Jacob Fowler also participated in the ill-fated expeditions of Josiah Harmar and Arthur St. Clair of 1790 and 1791. He narrowly escaped with his life when the Confederated Tribes of Ohio and Indiana attacked St. Clair’s forces at present-day Fort Recovery, Ohio.

In 1791, Fowler was a surveyor, serving with St. Clair’s force heading north. In the ensuing battle and massacre of St. Clair’s troops by the Indians, he was shot at point-blank range by two warriors—so close, in fact, that in his account of the attack he says that he was enveloped in the smoke from the gun fire yet remained unharmed by shot. He made his escape across an open area littered with the scalped dead from the expedition. After surviving this encounter, Fowler continued working for the United States Army through their victory at Fallen Timbers in 1794.

In 1796, Jacob Fowler was appointed deputy sheriff for Campbell County. He was also a trustee of the Newport Academy. Keeping up with his busy schedule, he found time to start a bagging factory around 1817.

Fowler only spent another three years in Newport. In 1820, he moved across the Licking River to Covington. He wasn’t there long before wanderlust called him again.

In 1821, Fowler accepted a position as second in charge for an expedition exploring and surveying the Arkansas River Basin. Hugh Glenn and Jacob Fowler led a mission that would document the area that would include the later Santa Fe Trail. For 13 months and 13 days, the 57-year-old Jacob was part of the Glenn-Fowler Expedition. The expedition traveled through lands claimed by Plains Indian Tribes, such as the Kiowa and Arapahoe, without incident. In fact, the group was treated quite well by the two tribes, becoming especially endeared to the Kiowa. They kept them fully stocked with horses and food during their first winter. Other tribes, however, such as the Comanche and Crows, proved troublesome to the expedition party.

Fowler made it as far West as present-day Santa Fe, New Mexico. On the return trip, the expedition was split into two groups. This time, the trip was not as hospitable. Along the way, Fowler was instructed to build a home and horse corral in what is now Pueblo, Colorado. He lived there for about a month, making him the first resident of Pueblo. Faced with starvation, Fowler and his men were forced to start eating their horses.

The men survived the perilous trek, and Fowler arrived back to Cincinnati, by steamboat on July 27, 1822. During the expedition, Fowler had visited the future states of Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico.

Jacob Fowler quietly lived out his life, dying in Covington, October 16, 1849. Aside from being the first settler of Newport, Kentucky, Fowler, also visited five future states. He probably rests in Covington’s Linden Grove Cemetery although no record has been found to confirm this. It was a humble end to a larger-than-life story.

Steve Preston is the Education Director and a Curator of History at Heritage Village Museum in Sharonsville.

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