(History Written In 1992)
Turner was more than a mere wealthy slave owner. He was also possibly the father
of my Great Grandmother (See Rivers Family Chapter under heading Sarah
Turner Rivers). Stories related by some of his direct descendants along with
newspaper clippings portrays him as a very interesting man. The following is a
synopsis of that information.
One particular newspaper clipping, which parts are presented here, came from an article written by Kathleen Henderson. The article, “Godlings Scion-- Oscar Turner”, was written and presented in the August 24, 1972 Advance - Yeoman, a weekly newspaper.
Judge Fielding Lewis Turner :
Oscar Turner was born Feb. 3, 1825 in News Orleans, LA to Judge Fielding Lewis Turner and Caroline (Sargent) Turner. Judge Fielding Turner was also an interesting person himself. The Judge opened his law office in New Orleans in 1813 and in 3 short years he became Judge of the Circuit Court.
The Judge journeyed by horseback to the Western Counties of Kentucky where he saw the richness of the land and the greatness it could become. He eventually bought large tracts of land in both Ballard and McCracken Counties. In 1839 the Judge took his son Oscar, then only 14 years old, to Ballard County. This land was located just 9 miles from Wickliffe, KY in an area later to be called “Old Hazelwood”. They made the trip on the Ohio River by flatboat loaded with the necessities for farming this new land: seeds, farming implements and slaves.
Just one year later Judge Turner died. Oscar returned to Lexington, KY, and at a young age he entered the Transylvania College to study law.
Caroline (Sargent) Turner:
Not much is mentioned in the histories of Oscar Turner about his mother, Caroline, except for the fact she was the daughter of the Honorable Winthrop Sargent, the governor, of Mississippi. However, a direct descendant of Oscar Turner who now resides in Paducah, KY provided me with a very interesting story about the death of Caroline. It seems that Caroline was not very kind to her slaves and would beat them without much cause. While she was beating a slave named Richard, her personal servant, he turned on her and strangled her to death. Oscar Turner, then a young man, put up a $500 reward for the slaves capture and return to meet his punishment. Richard was captured and hanged to death . (See Newspaper Clippings In Historical Documents)
I acquired newspaper clippings which verified this story. Also, this same story of the death of Caroline Turner is included as a part of the famous novel All The King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren. (See Copy From Book In Historical Documents)
This same descendant of Oscar Turner, from Paducah KY, stated in writing to me that the family history indicates the slave Richard actually killed Caroline by hitting her over the head with an ax. Possibly such a violent act of murder by a slave could not be printed in the newspaper, and was felt that choking someone to death would be considered less violent. I can only speculate. Both seem equally violent to me.
Oscar Turner In Ballard County:
After Oscar graduated from law school in 1847, he returned to his plantation in Ballard County to continue a successful farming business and to start his law practice. This practice he conducted successfully for many years.
My Great Grandmother Sarah was born on the plantation in 1846. The story goes that Sarah’s mother, Jane, tried to drown her because of her very light complexion. Because of this, Oscar brought her into his plantation home to live.
Oscar later married Eugenia C. Gardner on 05/29/1855. They had 3 children- Oscar Jr., Henry, and Lillian. Sarah supposedly assisted in caring for the 3 children. The River's Family History also indicate the children suffered from some unspecified childhood illness; however, Oscar’s descendants state they never heard of any such illness in his family,
Oscar’s Political Career:
By 1851 Oscar had presided in all the local courts in Western Kentucky and some outlying regions of Tennessee. After he was elected the Commonwealth Attorney many criminals fled the state rather than to be tried by him. He served as the Commonwealth Attorney for four years; then he resigned to pursue his private practice which was more financially rewarding.
Oscar was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1867 and served for 6 years. In 1880 he was re-elected to Congress by the largest majority ever given a candidate up until that time. It has been said that Oscar looked strictly after the interests of his constituents; having no other interest. His speeches were so good the Democratic Party published them for campaign literature. He was also famous for drafting laws that regulated interstate commerce. Oscar Turner’s son, Oscar Jr., was also elected to Congress, representing the Louisville, KY area.
Ballard County and “Old Woodlands”:
Ballard County is said to be the only county in Kentucky with two towns named for the first names of men. There is Blandville named after Bland Ballard and the town of Oscar named after Oscar Turner.
“Old Woodlands”, Oscar Turner’s estate, was richly appointed for its day... or even today. There was a big two story house, slave quarters, numerous outbuildings, barns for the blooded race horses, and a big race track. Also, on the Turner plantation were Turner’s Lake and Turner’s Landing, which are still called by these names today .
In Oscar Turner’s later years he suffered from severe heart disease. It is said that during his worst agony he was always concerned more with the comfort and welfare of his family who attended him than his own.
Oscar Turner died January 22, 1896, and was buried at the Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, KY. (See Color Photos Of Oscar's Grave Stone in Historical Documents)