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John Lafferty (1759–1816)

John Lafferty was one of the first known white settlers of record in Izard County and an eye witness to the effects of the New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811–1812 along White River. He was once the subject of a dispute between locals of the Cherokee Nation and area settlers when the Cherokee, including Thomas Graves, wrote to Benjamin Howard, the territorial governor of Missouri (of which Arkansas was then a part), to complain of their horses being stolen in 1813.

John Lafferty was born in Donegal, Ireland, in 1759. His father, Thomas Lafferty, brought him to the American colonies in 1760. His mother’s name is unknown. Lafferty grew up in Rutherford County, North Carolina, and fought with the colonials in Colonel Thomas Polk’s regiment during the American Revolutionary War, enlisting on June 10, 1776, and mustering out on June 15, 1779. Lafferty’s father enlisted as a lieutenant with the British Army and was one of nine Tories hanged after the Battle of King’s Mountain in South Carolina.

Near the end of the eighteenth century, Lafferty migrated to the Cumberland District of Tennessee from North Carolina due to his involvement in the Cherokee troubles of that time. Family tradition holds that he was a scout for the Georgia militia from 1792 to 1796 and received his land in Tennessee for his service. There he met his wife, Sarah Lindsey, who was related to a Methodist circuit rider who began preaching along the Strawberry, Current, Black, and White rivers in Arkansas in 1785. The Laffertys had six children.

From his base near the Kentucky state line in Tennessee, Lafferty plied his trade along the Mississippi River and its tributaries as a keel boatman, trapper, hunter, and trader before deciding, in 1802, to settle his family on the White River across from the mouth of what is now called Lafferty Creek, having become enamored of the area during his work. He laid claim to 640 acres of bottomland along the White River, which he lost when he returned to his home in Tennessee to bring his family back with him. In 1807, the family alliance of Laffertys, Trimbles, and Creswells left Tennessee and traveled overland to Poke (or Polk) Bayou, driving their livestock before them. Upon inspection of the bottomlands up river, Lafferty and his family built their cabin opposite the south mouth of Lafferty Creek in modern-day Stone County in 1810.

Because he was familiar with the area, he was able to bring his family and others of his alliance to the Poke Bayou area, where others followed later to build what is Arkansas’s second-oldest city, Batesville (Independence County). Lafferty’s ability to coexist with Native American tribes along the White River bottomland is significant, as the area was well used and often occupied both before his arrival to the area and after his family migrated with him.

Lafferty returned to Tennessee in 1814 to join Andrew Jackson’s army on its march to defeat the British at New Orleans. He was gravely wounded during the battle and returned to his home on the White River in early 1815, where he died from his wounds a year later. Lafferty was buried near his cabin. The location of his grave is now unknown.

For additional information:

Abney, A. H. The Rover: Life & Adventures of L .D. Lafferty. Edited by Bill Dwayne Blevins. Mountain Home, AR: Bill D. Blevins, 2001

Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe. Rude Pursuits and Rugged Peaks: Schoolcraft’s Ozark Journal 1818–1819. Edited by Milton D. Rafferty. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1996.

Shannon, Karr. A History of Izard County. Little Rock: Democrat Printing & Lithographing, 1947.

Shinn, Josiah H. Pioneers and Makers of Arkansas. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1908.

Denny Elrod
Melbourne, Arkansas

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Last Updated 12/27/2017

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