John Lafferty (1759–1816)

John Lafferty was, according to several sources, the first known white settler of record in Izard County and an eyewitness to the effects of the New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811–1812 along the White River.

John Lafferty was born in Donegal, Ireland, in 1759. His parents’ names are unknown. Lafferty grew up in Rutherford County, North Carolina. Lafferty signed the papers of the First Council of Safety of the Revolutionary Party in South Carolina in November 1775 and enlisted in a volunteer company of militia under Captain William Fullwood during the American Revolutionary War. For his service, he recived a land grand of 1,000 acres in the Camden District of South Carolina.

At some point, Lafferty married 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.

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 later lost for being unable to prove ten years of continuous improvement. In 1810, the family alliance of Laffertys, Trimbles, and Creswells left Tennessee and traveled to Poke Bayou on Lafferty’s fleet of keelboats. 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.

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).

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.

Lafferty took one of his keelboats to New Orleans, Louisiana, to enlist in the War of 1812, joining 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. His name last appeared in any official record when he was listed as a defendant on a case filed on June 25, 1816, in Davidsonville (Randolph County). He died sometime between that date and January 29, 1817, when his son, John Lindsey Lafferty, and his son-in-law, James L. Cresswell, filed his probate.

For additional information:
Abney, A. H. Life and Adventures of L. D. Lafferty: Being a True Biography of One of the Most Remarkable Men of the Great Southwest, from an Adventurous Boyhood in Arkansas, through a Protracted Life of Almost Unparalleled Sufferings and Hairbreadth Escapes upon the Frontier of Texas. New York: H. S. Goodspeed & Co., 1875.

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.

Mary Cooper Miller
Izard County Historian

Denny Elrod
Melbourne, Arkansas


    I am an ancestor of John Lafferty’s. My grandfather Hillard Lafferty once traveled to the area to learn more about the history of the region. I have Ancestry DNA verification of our lineage.

    Heidi Starr Sacramento, California