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Historians Visit Cole Cemetery & 2nd Great-Grandparents of Frank & Jesse James

Tombstones of Richard James Cole (1729-1814) & Ann Hubbard-Cole (1720-1795), his wife.

In 1754 at the age of 24, John Cole signed a lease with Hancock Lee for 150 acres of land on the north side of Horsepen Run. The land adjoined the plantation of John Herndon in King George County, Virginia.

Cole’s Bad Tavern, circa 1866. Photo courtesy of former resident, Frieda Curtis Wheatley

In 1775 and 1776, Lee’s son Willis Lee entered Virginia’s District of Kentucky and encamped at the spring named Lee’s Big Spring, midway between today’s Frankfort and Lexington. Willis Lee, his cousin Hancock Taylor, Isaac Hite, James Douglas, and John Floyd surveyed the area, for the Ohio Company. They filed 18 surveys, totaling 7,200 acres. Taylor built a log cabin but then was killed by an Indian war party. In April of 1776, Willis Lee also was killed.

Cole’s Bad Tavern cookhouse with Cole’s Cemetery on the hill in the distance.

Capt. John Lee, son of Hancock Lee of Virginia, entered Kentucky and made a brick addition to Taylor’s log cabin. He occupied the structure and began a tavern business. The Kentucky Gazette advertised Lee’s Blackhorse Inn.

Russ Hatter, Assistant Curator of the Capital City Museum, Frankfort, Kentucky

John Cole died three years after executing his lease. His funeral expenses were paid with a case of whisky. In 1782, John’s youngest son, Richard James Cole, joined John Lee in Kentucky, building a residence on Cole’s Road, connecting Lexington to Frankfort. With Humphrey Marshall, Cole surveyed Frankfort for a new state capitol. He soon acquired slaves. On Cole’s Road, Richard James Cole established and operated Cole’s Tavern. The notoriety of the place nicknamed the business as Cole’s Bad Tavern.

In 1802 John Cole died. His ordinary, not too distant from Cole’s Bad Tavern, was sold to the mulatto William Dailey and his partner John Kennedy. Fortesqieu Cummings wrote his stays at the Blackhorse Inn and Cole’s Bad Tavern.

Any traveler who has once contrasted the rough vulgarity and the badness of his table and accommodations, with the taste, order, plenty and good attendance of his (Cole’s) mulatto competitor will never trouble Mr. Cole a second time.”

Eric F. James at Cole Cemetery, Midway, Kentucky
Genealogist and Jesse James family historian Eric F. James, author of Jesse James Soul Liberty.

In 1811, Cole’s Bad Tavern burned. In December of 1812, Richard James Cole acquired the nearby Blackhorse Inn from Dailey & Kennedy. Richard James Cole Jr. became its operator. Richard Sr. died three years later. His great-granddaughter Zerelda Elizabeth Cole was born in the Inn on January 29, 1825. Zerelda’s sons are Frank & Jesse James.

LINKS: More about Cole’s Bad Tavern

More about the Blackhorse Tavern

FREE DOWNLOAD:  The Descendants of John Cole Sr. – the Immigrant