The Blackhorse Inn

Lee's Tavern

Before coming to Kentucky, John Lee was a Major in the Second Virginia Troops. His first wife was a Virginian and with her, they had one son, Willis Atwell Lee. Willis came to Kentucky in 1781 with his father and stepmother, Elizabeth (Bell) Lee, who was the daughter of Capt. Thomas Bell and Elizabeth (Taylor) Bell of Virginia, and the granddaughter of Zachary Taylor, Sr.

Major Lee took a prominent place in the history of Kentucky by becoming one of the founders of the town of Versailles, the county seat of Woodford County. He was also "one of the leading spirits in many improvements in the county until his death."

Elizabeth Lee, wife of the deceased Maj. Lee, appointed her son, John Hancock Lee, Jr. to do her legal affairs, his son, Thomas Bell Lee & heir of the home property, he being under age, allowed his mother to rent the property until he became of age. Concerning his property, he or his representative deeded the property to Richard Cole Jr. on Dec. 12, 1812; whereas, Cole named his new tavern the "Black Horse Inn."

(Woodford County Deed Book D p 115, a, b)." His Inn continued until his death in 1839. Richard Cole Jr.'s will to his children states: his property he received from the Lee's to be deeded to his children. Woodford County Deed Book (L) p, 171, 172, 173. Then Elizabeth Cole his widow hired John Temple to continue it as a tollgate house until she deeded it to the Versailles-Midway Tollgate Company, they later joined with the Lexington-Frankfort Tollgate Company, December 20, 1865. The old Tavern then became a dual Tollgate House; and dwelling

The children of John and Elizabeth married into some of the most influential families in Kentucky: Sara Lee became the fist wife of John J. Crittenden, who was a U.S. Senator, Attorney General under both President William H. Harrison and Millard Fillmore, and Governor of Kentucky. John Hancock Lee married his cousin Ann Lee, daughter of Henry Lee. Thomas Bell Lee never married. Mary Bell Lee married, 1805, Dr. Andrew F. Price; Elizabeth Bell Lee married, 1812, Dr. Lyddall Wilkerson; Luzenda Lee married, 1818, Senator Call; Matilda Lee married 1819, Samuel McDowell Wallace, son of Judge Caleb Wallace; Lewis Lee married Sara Temple.

The old Kentucky Gazette ran many ads and stories telling of the activities taking place at Lee's Tavern. A menu, listed shortly after Dailey took over the tavern, featured: "Venison, wild turkey or other game, great bowls of vegetables; all the Johnny Cake a man could eat, berry pies, cider or stronger drinks; crackling bread, pork, buffalo steaks, and fish. Other ads announced parties, dances, weddings and political events.

An English Journalist, Fortesque Cuming, told of visiting Dailey's Tavern and Cole's Inn (two separate places) in the summer of 1807 during his journeys from Lexington to Frankfort. (Note: Cole's Inn 1800-11 referred to in Cuming journal, was Richard Cole Sr. Inn located on Cole's Road, later named the Leestown road U.S 421).

Fortesque Cuming Journal:
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 a 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 rented it to a mulatto man named Dailey, that had converted it into an excellent Inn, nearby Dailey occupied much cultivated land, as was required, to furnish supplies to his well frequented stables with hay, corn and oats.

There was also a good kitchen garden in which were vast quantities of culinary sweet herbs, besides useful vegetables and he had good stabling and other out offices, for all this, he paid only forty pounds per annum. He experienced the benefit of his spacious nice ­ house, where everything was good, particularly the coffee which was almost a le Francise."

"Dailey having a good violin, on which he played 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." (Twiates, p. 190)

Cumings return trip:

On the return trip from Frankfort to Lexington, Cumings chose another road, (Cole's Road, now U.S. 421) and came upon the tavern owned by Richard Cole Sr. (circa 1779-1811.) This tavern, known as Cole's Bad Inn, was on occasion called “Little Sodom”. It had a somewhat dubious reputation as revealed in Cuming's comparison to the establishments run by Cole and Dailey.

"Quitting Frankfort, we took Coles Road, a different route to that by which we had come, which brought us after riding ten miles mostly through woods, to Cole's who keeps an Inn on this road in opposition to Dailey, on the Old Frankfort-Lexington Turnpike. But 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 mulatto competitor will never trouble Mr. Cole a second time, especially as there is no sensible difference in the length of goodness of the roads, and that Mr. Bailey's is through a generally much better settled county." (Ibid. p. 195)

The Ohio River Chapter, Lewis & Clark Trail Heritage Foundation has copies of William Clark 1809 Memorandum Book, transcription & original photo copies stating on October 29, 1809 they stayed over at Dailey's, having meals at a cost $5.82. This is the same Tavern Cumings visited in 1807, and known today as (Offutt-Cole-Tavern)


Richard Cole, Jr. (1763-1839) was born in Pennsylvania and died in Woodford County "one of the wealthiest of men." When the county was first organized in 1788, he was made a constable but, according to county historian, Railey, he was never in any sense an office seeker, (Railey History, p. 66.) His son, James was the father of Zerelda Cole, the mother of Frank and Jesse James. James Cole died after being thrown from a horse. James had married very young and had two children, James and Zerelda. Zerelda, the youngest was less than two years old at the time of his death. She and her mother, Sally Lindsay Cole, continued to live under the guardianship of her grandfather, Richard Cole Jr.

Zerelda Cole James, wife .of Rev. Robert James and mother of Frank and Jesse James, is one in a line of famous persons who lived in the Lee-Cole Tavern. (Presently named the Offutt-Cole Tavern.) During the years 1781-1799 Major John Lee made repairs to the building built a three-room log house and a new brick addition, stable and carriage house to accommodate the coming of a new Stagecoach line. Maj. Lee, prior to his death had previously advertised his Inn from 1786 to 1802 in the Kentucky Gazette. Horatio Offutt, a young man 17 years old never ran the tavern for himself, or for anyone else, as some historians claim, his name was added to the title of occupancy in belief that he may have occupied or leased Maj. Lee property. There are no leases or deeds listed or recorded in the Woodford County Court House, in his name or in his father's name George H. Offutt, to prove the Horatio Offut connection with Maj. Lee or Elizabeth Lee his widow.

Several sources of proof are obtained from the lease of Elizabeth Lee to Kennedy-Daily and from a sub lease by Kennedy & Daily for a lot by Horaito Offutt who did not own any property and was not of legal age to sign a legal paper. Additional information can be obtained from an English journalist, Fortesque Cuming who quotes: He visited the Inn during the summer 1807, and states these facts; the Widow (Elizabeth Lee) of Maj. John Lee rented the Inn to William Daily and John Kennedy. They ran the Inn as the first Stagecoach Stop in Kentucky from April 1, 1804 to Jan. 2, 1808. William Daily continued to run Lee's Tavern, without Kennedy, beginning Jan 10, 1808 to Dec. 10, 1812.

Zerelda, during an interview by a Kansas City newspaper, stated, " I was born in the brick part of a log tavern owned by my grandfather, Richard Cole, Jr., in Woodford County KY."

Sarah (Sally), Zerelda Cole's mother, after losing her husband, James, who died from being thrown from a horse, remarried to a Robert Thomason, a source by Carl W. Breihan, SAGA of JESSIE, JAMES claimed they lived at the tavern on Old Frankfort Pike, see page 4 of his book. Zerelda stayed behind with her Grandfather, who took a liking to her and who gave her assistance toward an education. When she became of age and a young lady she moved to Scott County, Ky. and continued her education while living with her aunt, at the Lindsay's. There she met Robert S. James, from Logan County, who was a junior at Georgetown College. They married at her Aunt Lindsay’s home and later moved to a farm near Kearney, Missouri. There, four children were born, Frank, Jessie, Robert and Sally. Robert died a few days after birth. Zerelda’s husband, Robert James, died in California, during the 1850 gold rush days.

From about 1842 to 1880 Cole’s Blackhorse Tavern on the Old Frankfort Pike was used as a Toll Gate House. Private turnpikes companies were incorporated from approximately 1817 to about 1850, for the purpose of forming broken rock roads." Tollgates or tollhouses were set up every five miles on all privately owned turnpikes where fees were collected. The tollhouses were bought by the road companies and leased to the toll-keeper who were, in most cases, permitted to keep all the money collected.

The road between Versailles and Midway, (U.S. 62), was constructed in the early 1850's, by the Versailles-Midway Turnpike Company. This company purchased Cole's Blackhorse Tavern in 1848 and retained ownership until 1865, when it was reincorporated as the Lexington, Versailles and Midway Road Company. The old tavern then becomes a dual tollhouse, collecting from all directions. This company, in turn, owned the tollgate house until the late 1800's when it was sold to Frank Harper, who owned property adjacent to it, and was one of Kentucky's earliest thoroughbred breeders. In 1916 Miss Elizabeth McCabe who, at her death willed it to her brothers, William and John McCabe, bought it. In 1976, John McCabe donated the tavern and two and one quarter acres to the Woodford County Historical Society to be kept by them and restored to its original use .


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