James McDowell

Col. James “Old Thunder” McDowell, b 29 April 1760, Augusta Co., VA, d 31 December 1843, Mason Co., KY, buried: Flemingsburg Cemetery, Flemingsburg, KY

Married: Mary Paxton Lyle


James, the second son of Judge Samuel McDowell and 
Mary McClung, w r as born in what is now Rockbridge 
county, Virginia, in 1760. Enlisting as a private soldier 
in the Continental army at the age of sixteen, he con- 
tinued in active service until victory had been won at 
Yorktown. From the strife he emerged an ensign. At 
the age of nineteen, while at home on a brief furlough, he 
married Mary Paxton Lyle, her father, Captain John Lyle, 
being about to remove to North Carolina, and the young 
soldier desiring his sweetheart to remain as his wife with 
his own parents in Virginia. The day after the bridal, he 
hurried back to his post in the army. 
James McDowell 
removed with his wife to Kentucky, in 1783. Locating in 
Fayette county, they made their home about three miles 
from Lexington, on the Georgetown road, the large body 
of rich land midst whose beautiful groves they settled 
probably being a part of the tract patented to Judge Sam- 
uel McDowell for his services in the French and Indian 
war. The comfortable house of hewed logs, erected for 
their temporary accommodation, after the lapse of a cen- 
tury is still standing. 
The vocation of James McDowell was that of a farmer, finding 
in fiocks and herds, the waving grain and blue grass, 
pleasures congenial to his unobtrusive, nature. Helping to found the 
state, and taking the keenest interest in public affairs, he 
seems to have avoided the conspicuousness attaching to 
place, and to have had an aversion to civil office of every 
kind. Yet, from 1783 on, he had an active hand in all the 
military measures for the defense of the settlers and the 
district, and is said to have borne an honorable part in every 
campaign against the Indians. 

As major of a battalion 
in the expedition of General Wilkinson, in 1791, he re- 
ceived the most complimentary mention for good con- 
duct from that experienced soldier. The appointment by 
Shelby, in 1792, as one of the first three majors of the 
state, was not an empty honor, but, in the situation of the 
infant Commonwealth, meant something in the line of his 
tastes and capabilities. 

The War of 1812 found him be- 
yond the age for military service, but with the blood of 
old Ephraim coursing hotly through his veins — every sol- 
dierly instinct alive, and active every patriotic impulse. 
He had organized and commanded the first company of 
light horse raised in Lexington. At the first call to 
arms, with his sons, Samuel and John Lyle, the veteran 
promptly volunteered. His company soon grew into a bat- 
talion. While on the march to the front, the rank and 
command of major were conferred upon him, and his men 
were consolidated with those of Sinn-all, who was com- 
missioned as colonel of the regiment. 

On more than one 
bloody field in the North-west, he vindicated the reputa- 
tion for courage and cool daring so long associated with 
the name of McDowell.
Removing from Fayette to Mason, the last years of Colo- 
nel McDowell were passed in the latter county, on a farm 
near Millwood, the commodious residence still standing. 
Refusing all office except when its acceptance in the mili- 
tary service involved the risk of his own life in defense of 
his country, the natural soldier of his family. Colonel Mc- 
Dowell lived to a good old age, surrounded by the abun- 
dance he bad inherited and earned, respected for his intelli- 
gence and unspotted probity, and, when the end came, 
died calmly as he bad lived uprightly, transmitting to his 
numerous posterity the heritage of an honorable name. 

Over six feet in height, his person was at once strong, 
handsome and graceful; a high forehead surmounting 
large, sparkling black eyes, bis countenance beamed with 
high spirit and infinite good humor; wanting in the habit- 
ual sternness which was characteristic of his McDowell 
kindred, and }^et capable, on occasion, of fierce, white- 
heated, and deadly wrath ; a gallant gentleman of the olden 
school, he united the courtesy and bonhomme of the Cavalier 
to the inflexible adherence to principle that marked the 

Historic Families of Kentucky
Copyright, 1889, 
Bv Thomas Marshall Green
May 1913 

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