Cole’s Bad Tavern, Black Horse Inn, & Cole Cemetery

Known as Little Sodom in its day, Cole’s Bad Tavern and the Cole Cemetery nearby sit in serious danger today. The encroaching development could trigger their disappearance. Thanks to the present owners Jim and Mary Nuckols, and Jim being a Cole descendant, efforts have begun to help the two historic sites ensure preservation and escape extinction. Future preservation begins here, adding new research to what has been written before about the tavern, about the inn, and about the cemetery.

COLE’S BAD TAVERN, aka LITTLE SODOM

The two historic sites reside on land once settled by Richard James Cole and Anne Hubbard, the second great-grandparents of Frank and Jesse James.

spring house
The spring house today is all that is left of Cole’s Bad Tavern

Migrating first from Pennsylvania to Culpeper County, Virginia, the couple moved next into the Kentucky District of Virginia in 1787. The District was America’s westernmost frontier. Kentucky was not yet an independent Commonwealth. They followed the prior mass exodus from Virginia of the rebel Baptist preachers of the Traveling Church and their congregations. Between 1782 and 1784, the Traveling Church brought thousands of pioneers into the wilderness frontier. John M. James, believed to be the grandfather of Frank and Jesse James, was one of the Traveling Church exodus. He arrived in Kentucky five years prior to the Cole family.

Unlike the Traveling Church that led John M. James into Kentucky, Maj. John Hancock Lee (1742-1802) led Richard James and Anne Hubbard-Cole in their migration to their new home in the Cain-tuc. The Coles formerly executed a leasehold in Virginia with Maj. Lee’s father, Capt. Hancock Lee (1709-1765) who was married to Mary Willis. The leasehold was a farm of 150 acres on Horsepen Run in King George County. The term of the lease was for life. Whether the leasehold was abandoned by the Coles is unknown. More likely, Capt. Lee needed the Coles to settle part of his Kentucky survey and released the Coles from their leasehold obligations.

Lee's Big Spring survey map
Survey for Lee’s Big Spring and environs, showing Nugent Corners and the site of Lee’s Station and future site of the Black Horse Inn

Capt. Lee surveyed land in Kentucky beginning in 1773. His son, Maj. Lee, also surveyed in Kentucky with his cousin Willis Lee. Father and son surveyed in and around today’s Midway, Kentucky on behalf of the Ohio Company of Virginia. The Lee’s company was seeking to replicate a settlement colony, the kind William Penn did in founding the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. To claim Kentucky land, the Lees needed to establish permanent settlers on their new surveys.

On the Lee family’s settlement farmland outside today’s Midway, the Cole family established an ordinary. The pending arrival of future settlers virtually guaranteed the success of their enterprise. The location of the ordinary was ideal, cited equally distant from Frank’s Ford and the new settlement at Fort Lexington, today’s towns of Frankfort and Lexington. The road, which Richard James Cole surveyed for Maj. John Hancock Lee between the two localities bore his name for decades to come as Cole’s Road. Cole was responsible for the maintenance of the road and its supervision. In later time, the developing geography renamed the road as Leestown Pike.

A BAD REPUTATION

Based on its reputation for the clientele it served, Cole’s Tavern over time degenerated in name and reputation. The ordinary’s earliest name of Cole’s Tavern then became Cole’s Bad Tavern. In its final days, the travelers and the public called the place Little Sodom.

Little Sodom Covered Brigge
The former covered bridge connected Little Sodom to the community of Sodom north of Route 421 on Fisher’s Mill Road at South Elkhorn Creek.

Cole’s Tavern was a popular center for political meetings.  As settlers populated the manufacturing town of Sodom nearby, the tavern also served as a community meeting place. Sodom village was located on Elkhorn Creek. Its businesses included flour and gristmills, hemp and cotton factories, a tannery, a shoe shop, a machine shop, and a storehouse.  Decades later, encroaching railroads passed by the community of Sodom. The village, its people, and enterprises disappeared.

THE BLACK HORSE INN

Foreign visitors, curious about the unusual American scene, were common on the Kentucky frontier. On his return trip from his tourist exploration in the last decade of the 1700s, Fortesquieu Cummings wrote about his experience at Cole’s Bad Tavern, contrasting it to the Lee’s Black Horse Inn.

“Quitting Frankfort, we took a different route which brought us, after riding ten miles mostly through woods, to Cole’s who keeps an inn on this road in opposition to Daly, on the other end. But any traveler, who has once contrasted Cole’s rough vulgarity and the badness of his table and accommodations, with the taste, order, plenty, and good attendance of his mulatto competitor, will never trouble Mr. Cole a second time; especially as there is no sensible difference in the length or goodness of the roads, and that by Daly’s is through a generally much better settled country.”

Hancock Lee's Tavern
Lee’s Tavern at Nugent Corners – Drawing depicting the original log structure and brick addition, constructed by Maj. Lee, with the toll gate separating Midway from Frankfort.

Cummings assessment of Cole’s business stood in stark contrast to Cummings’ prior experience in his former departure from the Dailey-Kennedy Stagecoach Inn, a few miles distant.

“After crossing the town branches of Wolf Fork, Steels Run and the South Branch of the Elkhorn River, to which the three former are auxiliaries, we arrived at the hamlet of three or four houses called Leesburg, twelve miles from Lexington. One of the houses had been the seat of the late Col. Lee and is still owned by his widow who rents it to a mulatto man named Dailey, who had converted it into an excellent inn. Nearby Dailey occupied much cultivated land as required to furnish supplies to his well-frequented stables with hay, corn & oats.

“There is also a good kitchen garden in which are vast quantities of culinary sweet herbs, besides useful vegetables and he has good stabling and other out offices – for all which he pays only forty pounds per annum. We experienced the benefit of his spacious icehouse. Where everything was good, particularly the coffee which was almost a la Francaise.

William Clark
Painting of William Clark by Charles Willson Peale

“Dailey having a good violin, on which he plays by ear with some taste, entertained us with music while we supped, in return for which we played for him afterward some duets, by the aid of another violin borrowed of young Mr. Lee, who resides in the neighborhood with his mother.”

In his Memorandum Book, William Clark noted his visit to the Black Horse Inn in 1806, following his return from exploring America’s westernmost frontier to the Pacific Ocean with the Lewis & Clark Corps of Discovery –  “…took the Frankfort Pike. The party spent the night of 29 October at William Dailey’s tavern at present Nugent’s Crossroads.”

COLE FAMILY ACQUIRES THE BLACK HORSE INN

Before Christmas on December 12 of 1811, Richard James Cole Jr. executed a lease to operate Little Sodom’s classy competitor, Lee’s Tavern.  William Dailey and John Kennedy had been operating the inn under the Lee’s name as well as their own. Cole and his wife Sally Yates assumed proprietorship of the place and its business. The excellent reputation carefully cultivated by Dailey and Kennedy now fell into the hands of the Cole family. The inn was rebranded as The Black Horse.

Black Horse Inn
Black Horse Inn where the mother of Frank & Jesse James, Zerelda Elizabeth Cole, was born on the second floor, first window from the left.

 

 

 

 

The earliest survey period of 1773 and1774 identifies the inn’s site as Hancock Taylor’s Station Camp. This was an initial destination for incoming migrants and the meeting camp for surveyors in the Kentucky District. In 1785, during the ownership of Willis Lee and his brother Capt. Hancock Lee, the station developed into a public inn. Two log rooms were constructed. Maj. John Hancock Lee added a two-story brick addition in 1799. At this point, the building officially was identified as the first stagecoach stop west of the Allegheny Mountains. Here, Maj. Lee died in 1802. John Hancock Lee Jr., who was born in the tavern, divested himself of his family’s business when he executed his lease of the premises to the Coles.

Black Horse Inn
The Black Horse Inn where Amos Cole was stabbed to death outside the right front door.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A son of Richard James Cole Jr., named James Cole, assumed the operation of The Black Horse with his wife Sarah Lindsay, a granddaughter of Anthony Lindsay Jr. who arrived in the Cain-tuc with his wife Rachel Dorsey in 1784, about the same time as John M. James entered the District. Lindsay promptly constructed Lindsay’s Station. On January 29 of 1825, Sally Lindsay Cole gave birth to Zerelda Elizabeth Cole, the future mother of Frank and Jesse James. Zerelda was born in the upstairs brick addition that often converted into a swanky ballroom. when an entire wall was lifted, much like a garage door of today, to create the needed space.

Two years later on May 12, the reputation of the Black Horse Inn was irreparably stigmatized by the Cole family.  Young Zerelda’s uncle Amos Cole was stabbed and killed at the inn. Two men, named R. Taylor and Mr. Gallaspie, arrived at the inn in the evening. They were intent on creating trouble for the Coles. A knife fight ensued with Amos. The struggle spilled outside the front door. When Amos was mortally wounded, he was taken inside. Amos was laid before the fireplace of the upstairs room in the old log building. His blood stains remain embedded in the floor and unremovable to this day, indelibly marking his demise. It is the only evident memorial of Amos Cole.

Zerelda Elizabeth Cole-James
Zerelda Elizabeth Cole 1825-1911

Following the death of her uncle, Zerelda and her brother Jesse Richard Cole were sent to live with their grandparents Richard James Cole Jr. and Sally Yates at Little Sodom. For the next ten years, young Zerelda was witness to every kind of high life and low life imaginable, from horse thieves and murderers to politicians and international diplomats.  When her grandparents died, Zerelda was sent to live with her uncle Judge James Madison Lindsay at his home in Stamping Ground.  When Judge Lindsay found her too much of a handful, he sent her to be disciplined by the Catholic nuns of St. Catherine’s Academy in Lexington. Zerelda escaped by marrying Rev. Robert Sallee James before the fireplace of Judge Lindsay’s parlor; but not before her Christmas wedding was delayed as a wedding guest caught ill, lingered for three days while everyone waited, and died in the room above the wedding couple’s heads.

Bible of Zerelda Elizabeth Cole
Zerelda Cole’s Bible, from the Zee James Collection. Upper inscription: “St. Catherine’s, Lexington.” Lower inscription “Sarah Lindsay, James Cole, February 1827, Zerelda Elizabeth, Lexington, Kentucky

From what she witnessed and was exposed to in her childhood, Zerelda Elizabeth Cole learned how to deal with people of every status. Her experience stood her in good stead later in life when her son Jesse was assassinated and she held the Missouri Governor and political establishment accountable for her financial support. As her robust frame grew to six feet tall, she acquired a lifelong taste for bourbon. Mary Ellen Clemens, who once kept house for Zerelda testified to her boisterousness. “After a few drinks, she would yell, ‘I’m wild and wooly and hard to tame, but my name’s Zerelda just the same!'”

Jesse Richards Cole
Jesse Richard Cole 1826-1895, brother of Zerelda Cole.

Zerelda and her brother Jesse Richard Cole remained close all their lives. Zerelda named her third child in honor of her brother. Though a successful farmer and father to nine children, Jesse suffered intensely from depression.  On November 25, 1895, the Liberty Tribune in Missouri reported, “he went out to the chicken house. he put his watch and pocket book in his hat and set it in a hen’s nest, and with further deliberation made a pillow of some old sacks and laid down. Placing a revolver to his heart he pulled the trigger and sent his soul to eternity. “

COLE CEMETERY

The Cole family’s first need of a burial site in Kentucky occurred in 1795 when Ann Hubbard-Cole died on February 11. She and her husband, Richard James Cole Sr., had moved to the area of Midway, Kentucky in 1782. Richard died on November 21 of 1814 and was buried with Ann. It is known that other burials occurred with them on the farmland set aside as the Cole Cemetery. No documentation exists to account who is buried with Richard James and Anne Hubbard-Cole, although it is believed to be principally their descendants and their enslaved.

Cole Cemetery
Cole Cemetery at Five Springs Fram

A reasonable assumption is that at least one child of the couple is buried with them. Richard James Cole Jr. died on July 9 in 1839. Most certainly, he would have been buried with his parents and his wife Sally Yates who predeceased him on November 8 of 1836. Other siblings of Richard James Cole Jr. would have been buried by their in-law spouses in separate burial grounds located on their separate farms elsewhere.

The children of Richard James Cole Jr and Sally Yates most likely rest with their grandparents, too. William Yates Cole died in 1823 at the age of thirty-five. His is the earliest burial after his grandparents. Following his murder, Amos Cole was likely buried in Cole Cemetery.  His widow, Elizabeth Hynes Cole, a first cousin of the same surname, quickly remarried. Three months after the murder of Amos, his brother James Cole was thrown from a horse and died. At the height of a cholera epidemic when a mass exodus departed Kentucky for Missouri on religious missions and escape from the disease, Jesse Cole died on August 3, 1833, at the age of forty.  He left a widow, Fanny Rice, and a young child. Fanny also quickly remarried. All of these Cole family members likely rest in Cole Cemetery without markers. Due to customs of the time, the enslaved and servants of the Cole family were interred at Cole Cemetery, too.

Five Springs Farm
Five Springs Farm, owned by Jim & Mary Nuckols, Rte. 421 at the intersection of Fisher’s Mill Rd.