The Hon. Presley Carr Lane’s tombstone, near Finchville, Kentucky. There are no known extant images of the Senator, photographs submitted by Michael M. Black and Panos Stephens.
Born in 1764, Newgate, Loudoun County, Virginia (now Centreville, Fairfax County), Presley Lane was the son of William Carr Lane of Westmoreland County, Virginia and the former Ann Wilson of Richmond County.[i] The family descended from Thomas Lane, an early Virginia pioneer and tobacco shipper, who arrived in the Old Dominion’s Northumberland County before the birth of William Penn. William Carr Lane, through his father’s estate, acquired substantial acreage near Newgate (Centreville) from an agent representing family acquaintances George Washington and Lord Fairfax.[ii] Presley’s father built a plantation, a “double-geared grist mill,” a general store, and the 1768 Eagle (or “Newgate”) Tavern on the old Braddock Road – the latter frequently visited by Washington and Jefferson before, during, and after the Revolution.[iii]
Presley’s father died of typhoid fever in November 1770, and Uncle James Hardage Lane moved to Loudoun County to rear the deceased’s orphans with Presley’s mother; her second husband Charles Eskridge; and John Orr.[iv] Lane graduated from Northumberland Academy, Richmond, received an appointment from Governor Jefferson as Lincoln County, Kentucky (District) deputy surveyor, and later served as chief surveyor near Shelbyville. In 1785, Lane married Sarah “Sallie,” the daughter of deceased (1776) Col. Richard Stephenson and Elizabeth Somers of Berryville, Va. and Shelbyville. Richard was the son of George Sr. and Honoria Valentine Crawford Stephenson, the widow of famed Virginia and Pennsylvania frontiersman Hugh Crawford. Presley’s marriage to Sallie created a familial link with Col. William Crawford (George Washington’s best friend), Col. Hugh Stephenson, Col. John Stephenson; and cousins John Crawford and Col. Benjamin Stephenson of Illinois fame. The original family lived at Beverly Manor, Richard Stephenson Sr.’s estate on Bullskin Run, Charles Town, Berkeley Co. Virginia (Jefferson Co., WV).
Lane moved back to Newgate in late 1785, as proprietor of the Eagle tavern, engaging in the “trade” through 1787, and eventually involved in one of Centreville’s colorful town arguments. Lane’s tavern permitted gaming. Joel Beach, owner of another village bistro, assailed Lane’s establishment, via local newspaper, as “attended with divers and ill consequences.” Lane, not one to mince words, retorted in the same journal: “Joel Beach of Loudoun County is a common liar and rascal.”[v]
The Lanes traveled to Fayette County, Pennsylvania in 1787 and first settled in Brownsville, near Fort Redstone, on land bequeathed to him and Sarah through her father’s estate. They later settled on former Crawford-Stephenson farmland in Bullskin Township, apparently named for the run near Beverly Manor.[vi] Presley and Sally reared ten children, including the first mayor of St. Louis and Governor of New Mexico, Dr. William Carr Lane.[vii] He served as auditor of Fayette County, 1792; [viii] trustee of Union Academy and Madison College, 1808;[ix] was elected to the state Senate, February 1795-1798; the state House, 1799-1801, where he served as a member of a commission to form an 1801 multistate agreement to construct the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.[x] Presley returned to the Senate from 1802 through 1818 and served as Speaker for eight consecutive terms, 1806-1814. He was a factional gubernatorial candidate for the Constitutional Republicans and the Independent Republicans.[xi]
Senator Lane advocated: progressive higher-education legislation; free trade; fiscal conservatism; federal aid in the construction of the “National Road” (U.S. Rt. 40); treasury reform; the jurisdiction of federal courts as final appeal (Olmstead and Huidekoper);[xii] supported Jefferson in the Chesapeake affair; Madison’s Embargo Act and war with England; and a standing federal army. He was unsuccessful in a bid for Congress, 1816; and helped establish the town of Centerville.[xiii] He moved with his wife, daughter, and brother in law, Dr. John Knight, to Shelby County, Kentucky in late 1818, where he died in December 1819, near Finchville, age 55.[xiv] U.S. Senator Jonathan Roberts described Lane as a “weak but graceful” man,[xv] and is otherwise recalled as “a man of culture and gentleness of manner.”[xvi]
[i] A genealogical history of the Lane family is included in Nancy Quackenbush, “Some Northern Neck Lanes,” Magazine of Virginia Genealogy, 24 (November, 1986): 4: 3-22.
[ii] Northern Neck Land Grants, 1742-1745, vol. II, comp. Gertrude E. Gray (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc, 1988), 96; also: Abstracts of Wills, Loudoun County, Virginia 1757-1800, comp. J. Estelle Steuart King (Beverly Hills, 1940), 12.
[iii] The original Eagle, Newgate, or “Lane’s Tavern” was located in Centerville on Lee Highway (US Rt. 50), Fairfax County. It collapsed in 1933. Presley’s uncle Joseph Lane’s “dwelling plantation” is described as the oldest surviving brick home in the area.
[iv] Loudoun County Wills, 12.
[vi] Fayette County Recorder of Deeds, Grantees, 1784-1950, Roll 9004; Grantors, 1784-1950, Roll 8993; also: Mortagees, 1784-1950, Roll 9022; Mortagors, 1784-1950, 9014, microfilm, Pennsylvania State Archives.
[vii] History of Fayette County, Pennsylvania, ed. Franklin Ellis (Philadelphia: L.H. Everts, 1882), 128.
[viii] Ibid. 152.
[ix] Ellis, 315.
[x] Ralph D. Gray, “Philadelphia and the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, 1769-1823,” PHMB, vol. 84 (October 1960); 4: 406.
[xi] Higginbotham, 154.
[xii] Higginbotham, 128-129, 190.
[xiii] Hening’s Statutes at Large, Commonwealth of Virginia, vol. 13, 580-581.
[xiv] Correspondence, Panos Stephens, Family Historian, Louisville, Kentucky.
[xvi] Ellis, 488.