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Our Rich History: David Leitch and Leitch’s Station; today, it’s Wilder, earliest settlement in Campbell Co.


by Steve Preston
Special to NKyTribune

The earliest settlement in Northern Kentucky’s Campbell County was Leitch’s Station, circa 1789-91. Founded by Revolutionary War veteran, Major David Leitch, it was located six miles up from the mouth of the Licking River in present-day Wilder, Kentucky.

By late September 1789, the settlement of what would soon become Cincinnati was underway. Fort Washington was being constructed to secure the frontier and to keep an eye on Indian incursions into Kentucky along the Licking River. As the soldiers constructing the fort looked south onto the banks of Northern Kentucky, it must have run through their minds that it was odd that no large settlement had yet taken place there. Indeed, Jacob Fowler was the sole occupant of what would later become Newport.

Settlement was slow in coming to Northern Kentucky. Enter Major David Leitch.

David Leitch built a cabin on a hillside about 160 yards east of Leitch’s Station, along what is now Licking Pike. Photo courtesy of Campbell County Historical Society.

David Leitch was born near Glasgow, Scotland, on September 11, 1755, the youngest son of David and Jean Leitch. The family was a member of the upper-class, as David Sr. was a Burgess and Guild Brethren. It appears that the family business stretched from Scotland to Virginia, as young David’s two uncles found success importing tobacco from Virginia.

According to available research, David Leitch accompanied his older brother, James, who left Scotland for Virginia. The date of their departure and arrival are unknown. Most likely the reason for their travel was to become familiar with the importing business. The brothers began their work in the tobacco trade in Warwick, Virginia. They also became involved in dry goods and opened several stores in the region.

During the American Revolution, it is speculated that David Leitch served with the “patriot cause” as a militiaman, though not prior to 1779. He was said to have mustered out of the Virginia Militia with the rank of Major, serving as an aide-de-camp to General Robert Lawson. Military rolls of state militias were often incomplete, inaccurate or simply no longer exist from the Revolution. No military records have been found to confirm his service, and he did not apply for a military pension. Sometime after the conclusion of the American Revolution, Leitch headed west to Kentucky.

David Leitch’s cabin. Photo courtesy of Campbell County Historical Society.

In the 1780s, during several of Kentucky’s Constitutional Conventions, Leitch was a delegate. He moved to Lexington in 1785. While being an area merchant, he also had entered a partnership with two other men and purchased thousands of acres of land in Kentucky. His landholdings included present-day Wilder, Cold Spring, Highland Heights, and Alexandria.

David Leitch visited Bryan’s Station, near Lexington, Kentucky in late 1790. There, in 1791, he married a young woman by the name of Keturah Moss. They chose his property along the Licking for their home.

News spread of Leitch’s available land on the Licking River, and he began to recruit settlers for a new settlement. Most sources state that about 20 people originally settled at Leitch’s Station. The Licking River was used by the Native Americans of the Ohio Country as a highway south to raid the settlements in the interior of Kentucky. Just nine short years prior, the Licking had been used by Captain Henry Bird and his combined force of British soldiers and warriors to raid Martin’s and Ruddell’s Stations near present-day Cynthiana, Kentucky. Settlement on this “Native American highway” would have seemed risky to many. David Leitch knew about risk though. He had taken many risks, starting with coming to the colonies.

When Leitch’s group arrived in Cincinnati, they found the tiny hamlet of around 40 settlers and 320 soldiers at the newly built Fort Washington. Depredations by Native American warriors were on the uptick. As many as 20 people had already perished from Indian raids. Leitch decided that his new bride would stay a guest of Colonel James Wilkinson at the fort, while Leitch’s new settlement was under construction.
Leitch’s little group headed up the Licking River, about six miles south on the eastern side of the river.

A historic plaque along Licking Pike pays tribute to Leitch’s Station.

The first settlement in Campbell County was built out of the wood from rafts and boats that brought the settlers. The settlers quickly built a blockhouse. They named the settlement Leitch’s Station. Leitch had a cabin built by slaves for him and his new bride. For roughly the first six months, the Leitchs continued to live out of Fort Washington rather than in the exposed settlement.

From the beginning of their wedded life, occupancy at Leitch’s Station was disrupted. Many Indian attacks in the area forced the newlyweds back to Lexington until April 1792. Wedded bliss was not to last long for them. David Leitch traveled much to attend to all his landholdings. During one of his trips, he came down with a cold that turned into pneumonia. He never recovered. On November 9, 1794, David Leitch died at the age of 41. He left his many land titles and worldly possessions to his wife, Keturah. Originally interred on the yard at Leitch’s Station, his remains were reinterred at Evergreen Cemetery in Southgate, Kentucky, in 1853.

In a strange twist of Campbell County history, Keturah Moss Leitch then married General James Taylor, founder of Newport (chartered in 1795). For the next 71 years, “Mrs. T”, as she became known, was a wife, mother of 11 children, later widow, and always, a fixture of Newport society. For further reading, check out David Leitch, Mysterious 18th Century Kentucky Land Speculator, an excellently researched book by Curtis Dewees, available at the Campbell County Historical Society in Alexandria, Kentucky.

Steve Preston is the Education Director and a Curator of History at Heritage Village Museum. He received his MA in Public History from Northern Kentucky University.


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