Friday, February 5, 2010

Betsy Layne, KY

So, who was Betsy Layne, and why is there a town named after her in Floyd County?

According to UK's Kentucky Atlas, "Betsy Layne is an eastern Floyd county village on the Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River. It was founded around 1875 and named for Betsy Layne, a local resident. The original location of the town may have been nearby on Betsy Layne Branch. That site is now known as Justell. The Betsy Layne post office opened in 1908."

A "local resident". Okay, but... but... what else? What's so special about Betsy?

Just south of Betsy Layne is Laynesville, which, according again to UK's Atlas, "was founded in the early nineteenth century and named for the settler James Shannon Layne".

Hmmm. Okay, so as it turns out, James Shannon Layne was an important early settler of Kentucky:

James Shannon Layne of Amherst County, Virginia arrived near the present day Betsy Layne about 1796. he had married Caty Hager, daughter of John Hager, who himself immigrated here a few years later. Col. Harry Stratton was here and located nearby the mouth of Toms Creek, as was Cornelius McGuire, the first Methodist preacher who settled near the same place. McGuire constructed a cabin nearby, but soon moved to upper Johns Creek He preached the first Methodist sermon in the valley at the house of Henry Stratton, near the present Ivel in 1796. Tandy Stratton, who had married Mildred Layne, a daughter of William S. Layne, and a sister to James S. followed his brother·in-law - if indeed, he did not arrive at the same time. Also came Solomon Stratton, veteran of the Gen.George Rogers Clark Illinois Expedition, as did Richard Stratton, his son. Thomas Johns, who had married Nancy Layne, sister of James S. followed after his in-laws, and founded an influential family.

But still no explanation of who Betsy was. Could she have been James' mother, perhaps? That's my guess, because Knott Kentucky Kinfolk lists his descendants as being Tandy Middleton, Jennie, John Lewis, William Henry, Lindsey, Sam George, Nancy Porter, Solomon, Mary, and Arminta. Nary a Betsy in the bunch.

I wonder if the locals are so used to it that they don't even think about the name anymore, or if they're always, in some recessed part of the backs of their minds, aware of this mystery woman. There's no escaping her: a glance at the city directory shows a Betsy Layne Auto Sales, Betsy Lane Pharmacy, Betsy Layne Dairy Bar, Betsy Layne Elementary School, Betsy Layne Volunteer Fire Department, Betsy Layne Flea Market, and of course, the Betsy Layne Church of Christ.

(I also wonder if locals often encounter the typographic error of "Besty" for Betsy, since humans seem to have something hard-wired in them to type "Pasty" Cline instead of Patsy.)


seanlawson said...

I am a resident of Harold, Ky less than two miles away from Betsy Layne. I have often wondered about the origins of the name and have tried to find the answer myself but this mysterious woman escapes us! Great article thanks!

Danielle New said...

My name is Danielle New. For the past year I have been organizing a clean-up of the Betsy Layne Cemetery (aka: Justell Community Cemetery)

Betsy Layne was Elizabeth "Betsy" Johns Layne. Her parents are: Thomas P. Johns II. and Nancy Layne. Elizabeth "Betsy" Layne married Tandy Middleton Layne. His parents were James Shannon Layne and Catherine (Katherine, Caty) Hager. James S. Layne was a prominent founder in Floyd County and was a slave owner and trader. Check out my website: or on Facebook: Betsy Layne Cemetery Clean-Up