Virginia native Richard Hawes provided the land for which the county seat of Hawesville was formed. The first post office opened in this city in 1830 and the town was incorporated in 1836.
From the early days of settlement, the Ohio River was the center of commerce in Hawesville. Steamboat construction flourished along the riverfront and a thriving coal mining industry made the town one of the chief refueling points on the river.
Hawesville produced several men who became famous for their exploits on the river.
John Cannon, the famous riverboat builder and captain, was born in 1820 on a farm near the Ohio River upstream from Hawesville. His fastest boat, the Robert E. Lee, defeated the Natchez, July 4th 1870, in the most heralded steamboat race ever held in America.
While operating the H&C ferry, Captain W.D. Crammond built four steamboats in Hawesville and ran a packet service on the river.
Arthur Rees of Hawesville was an engineer on many Ohio River steamboats, including the Belle of Louisville.
Residents in Kentucky and Indiana crossed the river on the Hawesville ferry, opened in 1831 by the Hawes family. John Crammond leased the ferry rights in 1892. J.W. Pate of Cloverport ran it during the 1920's and Earl Bettinger of Tell City assumed operation in the 1930's.
The ferry known as the H&C (Hawesville and Cannelton) became the largest ferry operation in Kentucky before it shut down in 1966, when the Lincoln Trail Bridge opened.
During the Civil War, Hawesville was a citadel of Confederate sympathy and became a refuge for rebel guerrillas. Conditions in the town reached an explosive stage by the summer of 1864. Guerrillas had blasted the entrances of several Reverdy Coal Co. mines that were supplying fuel to Union steamboats. The Indiana militia had pickets posted along the Indiana shore from the east and west borders of Perry County, waiting for a possible guerrilla crossing.
Tired of the guerrilla nuisance, Captain Edmond Morgan moved his iron plated steamer Springfield into position and opened fire on Hawesville July 25th, 1864. As the shells fell, startled Hawesville residents ran for cover in the stonewalled Catholic Church or ducked inside the coal mines at the west end of town.
Union cannons on the Cannelton shore and other gunboats also fired frequently on Hawesville. The Presbyterian Manse, which still stands, was one of the structures hit by Union shells during the war, and is now owned by Mr. & Mrs. Rick Montague.
Hawesville was the birthplace of William Davison, a Confederate guerrilla captain and son of Dr. Hardin Davison. Davison's band of marauders terrorized civilians in the river counties of western Kentucky in 1864. Davison died in 1865 from wounds suffered while he was burning the Owensboro-Daviess County Courthouse. He was buried in a shallow grave in southern Hancock County and was moved to the Hawesville Cemetery after the war.