James and William Elder of Livingston County established a ferry from their land on the Kentucky shore to the ferry landing of James McFarlan on the Illinois side of the Ohio river on the 29th of January 1829. William Elder and McFarlan formed a partnership to ferry people, horses and goods from one side of the river to the other, but that partnership turned sour. The reason for the dissolution of the partnership is unknown, but by 1833, the men were neither partners nor friends.
The Elder ferry was located in that part of Livingston County that would be in Crittenden County today and the McFarlan ferry was located at what is today Elizabethtown, Hardin County, Illinois.
On the 13th of August 1833, several people, including three children of William Elder, left the Kentucky shore in a skiff belonging to their father and headed toward the Illinois side of the river. In crossing the river, they drifted some distance below the landing place and, as they approached the shore, they saw James McFarlan, who walked along the shore, keeping opposite the boat until they got near the river bank. McFarlan then stepped aboard, grabbed the chain, declared the boat his property and ordered the occupants off the boat. When William Elder’s son, James, stated they would not give up the boat, McFarlan raised the tomahawk over his head and said if they did not he would split James Elder’s skull. McFarlan stepped on shore and with the chain, drew the boat toward a place to fasten the boat. At that time, James McFarlan’s son approached the boat and declared, “Well old man. You have found a prize.” James McFarlan replied that he had, indeed, and intended to keep it. The occupants of the boat were then taken back to the Kentucky shore, but McFarlan kept the boat, which was valued at $50.
Unhappy with the treatment of his children and the confiscation of his boat, William Elder filed suit on a charge of trespass in Livingston County Circuit Court against James and John McFarlan. Depositions were taken by both sides with the defendants’ witnesses claiming William Elder had been violating McFarlan’s ferry privileges by carrying passengers from the Kentucky shore to McFarlan’s landing in Illinois. McFarlan did not deny confiscating the boat, but did deny threatening to use a tomahawk.
On the 3rd of June 1835 returned the following verdict: “We of the Jury find for the plaintiff against James McFarlan, defendant, $304 in damages and against John McFarlan, $204 in damages.” The defendants’ attorney objected, but was overruled.
Livingston County, Kentucky Circuit Court Order Book G, pages 365, 377
Livingston County, Kentucky Circuit Court Order Book H, pages 11, 171, 175, 256, 261
Livingston County, Kentucky County Court Order Book G, page 364
Elder vs McFarlan, Livingston County, Kentucky Circuit Court Case File September 1833, Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives