By: Donald E. Clare, Jr., Rabbit Hash Historical Society
Originally Published: April 2, 2009 in the Boone County Recorder
April, 2009, marks the 160th anniversary of the birth of John Uri Lloyd, one of Boone County’s most famous and accomplished citizens. He is highly regarded as one of the nation’s leading plant extract chemists and father of eclectic medicine pharmacology, colloidal chemistry, and American Materia Medica. He is also considered one of the 20th century’s most famous post-Civil War folk novelists and folk dialect authors.
Born in upstate New York on April 19, 1849, Lloyd came to Boone County in 1851 when his father moved here while working as a civil engineer for a railroad interest. The company’s railroad expansion plans failed but Lloyd’s father settled in Boone County and took a position as a public school teacher. John’s mother soon followed. The family first lived in Petersburg and then moved to Florence. This is where the inspirational seed for the “Stringtown on the Pike” novels germinated, beginning as a series of 10 installments in The Bookman in 1900.
Lloyd was apprenticed to a Cincinnati and lived there while going to school and serving his apprenticeship, returning to Boone County for his breaks and vacations. All the characters in his novels were based on real Boone County people and the stories took place in real Boone County settings. Lloyd modeled Sammy Drew after himself; Judge Elford after Judge Herman Ashley, a man of the highest morals and integrity who presided many years over the Boone County courts. Professor Drake, a very learned and analytical man who instructed the youth of the area, was modeled after his own father.
Lloyd was fascinated by the peri-Civil War and Reconstruction era of the northern-most county of neutral Kentucky, which bordered the slave-free territory of Indiana and Ohio. He was particularly interested in the dialect, religion, culture, beliefs and superstitions of the slave population. He was considered one of the leading dialect authors of the time.
But Lloyd’s writing was merely an aside to his real passion and calling in the field of science and natural history. It was his recreation and relaxation. Little did he ever imagine it would bring him the fame and notoriety as one of America’s leading turn-of-the-century novelists. It was not uncommon for Lloyd to spend 10 to 12 hours in his laboratory and then 8 more hours at his writing desk per day, year after year. Besides the 8 novels to his credit, he also wrote 8 pharmaceutical books, 6 treatises, 5,000 articles, pamphlets, and papers, and 60 short stories, many of which were read in manuscript before the Cincinnati Literary Club and eventually published in leading literary magazines like the Criterion. Lloyd called these stories the Sam Hill Stories.
Another favorite genre of writing for Lloyd was general historical subjects. He wrote several articles about Big Bone Lick and the extinct prehistoric mammals that came there. The Foreword of the classic Willard Rouse Jillson book Big Bone Lick was penned by John Uri Lloyd, President, Big Bone Lick Association.