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Director Donal Davis in Podium

Samuel McDowell


The First Marshal of Kentucky

Samuel McDowell
Samuel McDowell, Jr. Source: The Wilson Club, Louisville, Kentucky

At the age of 17, Samuel McDowell, Jr., ran away from his birthplace in Rockbridge, Va., to enlist in the army commanded by General Lafayette. Although he never rose beyond the rank of private, McDowell saw action in the final campaign against the British General Cornwallis and was an eager participant in the final battle of the war at Yorktown.

"His service was brief," the family's biographer noted, "he made good use of the time at his disposal, and was 'in at the death'". Returning home at the end of the war, he and his family moved to Kentucky in 1784. His military career did not end, however, for throughout the 1780's, Kentucky experienced continuing trouble with Indians. McDowell fought alongside many of the other settlers, and joined General Charles Scott's expedition against the Indians in the Northwest Territory.

With the establishment of the federal government, Washington appointed Samuel McDowell, Sr., a federal judge and Samuel McDowell, Jr., Marshal of the District of Kentucky, which at that time was a territory. McDowell was the youngest man whom Washington appointed Marshal. He was 25 when he received his commission. Keenly loyal to his large family, McDowell hired many of his brothers, cousins, and brothers-in-law as his deputies. A committed Federalist, McDowell served three terms as Marshal. According to the historian of the Kentucky district court, he owed his reappointments not to his job performance, which was not particularly noteworthy, but to his political affiliations within the Federalist party. When Jefferson came to power in 1801, he replaced McDowell with "a decided Republican".

The family biographer described McDowell as a "well-informed, thoughtful man of sense. A deeply religious man, without parade or austerity, his character was as attractive as his temper was amiable". Little is known of McDoweIls' life after he was replaced as Marshal, other than that he was a strong supporter of the War of 1812, encouraging his sons and other relatives to join the fight against the British. He died in August 1834 at the age of 70. His grandson, General Irvine McDowell, took a prominent part in the, Civil War, at onetime commanding the Army of the Potomac.