Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Wells, Barner & Co. 1841

Isn't it amazing that you can have a piece of information for years and suddenly see it in a different light?  That is the case with the following newspaper ad for the new firm of Wells, Barner & Co. of Smithland, Kentucky. I knew these men were in business together.  It is the date they established the business that went right over my head.  Sterling Barner was not on  the 1840 Livingston County census or tax list, but he does appear on the 1841 tax list. This newspaper ad, which is dated 28 January 1841, tells me Sterling moved to Smithland after the tax list was compiled in 1840 and before January 1841.  I did not realize the firm was organized shortly after Sterling Barner arrived in Smithland.  Let me explain, but first some background.

Benjamin Barner and Sterling M. Barner were brothers and Henry Wells was their brother-in-law, having married (1) their sister, Mays Barner, 10 January 1830[1] and, after her death he married (2) another sister, Martha Barner Egan, 5 March 1837.[2] Henry Hand was  younger than the other men and did not remain in business with them very long. By 1843, he had moved to Benton, Kentucky.[3]

Henry Wells arrived in Smithland before the Barner brothers. By 1824, Wells had moved to Smithland and that year purchased part of Lot #3, the same lot on which Bell Tavern, later called the Gower House, was situated. [4] By 1827, he also owned Lots #39 and #94.[5] He was well established in Smithland by the time the first Barner brother arrived in town.

Benjamin Barner had been working with his brother, Sterling M. Barner, in the mercantile business in Russellville, KY and later in the steamboat business in Nashville. Benjamin was a clerk and his brother achieved fame as the pilot of the "second steamboat to reach Nashville, coming  up to the wharf on Thursday, February 10, 1820, under command of Captain Sterling M. Barner, one of the best pilots of the early days."[6] Sterling was also a personal friend of Andrew Jackson.

After Sterling retired from steamboating, he  moved to Smithland. Two children were born to him and his wife, Sarah Jane, about this time - Joseph in 1840 and Mary E. in 1842. Both children were born in Tennessee so either Sarah Jane did not move to Smithland right away or she returned  to Nashville to have the children.  At any rate, Sterling M. Barner first appears on the Livingston County tax list in 1841, the same year the new firm of Wells, Barner & Co. was established.  

The partners in the new firm were commission merchants. They had a facility to "receive, store and forward produce, merchandize ..." [7] The location of Smithland at the confluence of two navigable rivers was ideal for this business. Benjamin Barner, who had experience clerking in a store, had the knowledge to handle merchandise efficiently and Sterling, as a former steamboat captain, knew the idiosyncrasies  of the rivers.

Not only did the Barners work together, they also lived together  in Benjamin's house on Lot #38 at the end of Charlotte Street, just one block from where the Cumberland and Ohio Rivers meet and merge.  Did Sterling retire and move to Smithland to go into business with his brother or did Benjamin invite him to join the business after he moved to Smithland?  Whichever it was, now we know it was probably the latter half of 1840 when he arrived in Smithland.


Nashville Union, Monday, 31 May 1841, p. 3

  Published 2 November 2016, Western Kentucky Genealogy Blog,                                                                                                                                                                                              

[1] Joyce M. Woodyard. Livingston County, Kentucky Marriage Records, Vol. 1 (October 1799-July 1839), (Smithland, KY: Smithland, 1992), p. 104.
[2] Ibid. p. 150.
[3] Kentucky Death Certificate #3592 (1921) of Felicia Hand Bethshares, daughter of Henry M. Hand and Felicia Bogard. Felicia Bethshares was born 25 December 1843 Benton, Kentucky.
[4] Livingston County Deed Book AA:396, 22 September 1824, James McCawley to Henry Wells.
[5] 1827 Livingston County Tax List, 
[6] Byard Douglas. Steamboatin' on the Cumberland, (Nashville: Tennessee Book Company, 1961), 13.
[7] "New Firm in Smithland, Kentucky ...," Nashville Union, Monday, 31 May 1841, page 3. The advertisement itself is dated 28 January 1841.

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