To feel the breeze along the western sky, To gaze upon the meadows of tall grass, To plant the seeds of tomorrow, To dream my dreams in freedom of thought I yearn to reach the fruit and live my life within it’s boundaries I long to gather my harvest and love my neighbor And when it’s time for me to leave it’s beauty, I long to rest under the canopy of trees and wildflowers.
Kentucky (ken-tah-ten), the word meaning in the Shawnee language is described simply as “meadow”. This land lying west of the mountain range meant so much to many living during the 18th century. It stood for wonderment, surprise and beauty. Iroquois definition means “land of tomorrow”. The thousands of travelers who made their way across the rocky ridges were making plans for all tomorrows in Kentucky. Wyandot Indian language refers to the area as “dark and bloody land”. Many who arrived in Kentucky lost their lives due to Indian attacks, sickness and much more. Kentucky held within it’s boundaries, one promise, “The West”. The West was not only a place, it was a dream of peaceful lives, bountiful harvests, western skies and promising futures.
The Shawnee Indians were a southern tribe, however; by the early 18th century, majority of these people were living along the Ohio River, forced northward by the Wyandot in order to be used to fight against the Iroquois. They were a troubled society filled with resentment to many. They survived by military tactics that were used by both the Iroquois and the Wyandot. Rivals would continue for many years and the Shawnee were pushed, used and bartered by all large Indian tribes and settlements. This environment would create huge hostilities among the Shawnee people and the future events that involved them. The origin of the word “Kentucky” would prove to be a reflection of all translated meanings, meadow, dark and bloody land and land of tomorrow. During this segment, we will explore the early routes to the area known as Kentucky and we will point out lesser known facts about the roads, the trails and the people.
The present state of Kentucky was once known as Virginia. During 1734, Jacob Stover, John and Isaac Van Meter, Jost Hite and Robert McKay all began to acquire land in the Valley of Virginia. Settlers began to arrive from Pennsylvania to eastern Virginia and when Orange County was formed, these settlements beyond the mountains were included. The Kentucky area was known as Virginia just as the Tennessee area was known as Carolina. James Patton, from northern Ireland brought settlers by ship to Virginia in 1738. Patton became a leader in Augusta County and was co-owner of the Woods River Grant which consisted of over 100,000 acres. The acreage was beginning to sell tracts during the year of 1745. It has always been rumored that Patton explored the New River area, but as of date, no known source has proven this.
During the 18th century, a road was defined by it’s width accommodating a wagon and livestock. The roads throughout this region during this time frame simply did not exist. Only trails created by the Indians and the buffalo who migrated up and down in search of grazing grasses and salt licks. The Fry-Jefferson map of 1751 includes the New River, Holston, Clinch and Louisa rivers as well as others. But the exact location of these rivers are not noted. Other smaller waterways were included on the map such as Little River, Reed Creek, Sinking Creek, Peak Creek and Cranberry Creek, but no roads or trails were noted near them.
The first known record of a road to the New River area appeared on May 24, 1745 when James Patton and John Buchanan filed a report of pursuant to an Orange County Court order dated March 30, 1745. Patton and Buchanan had visited Frederick County line through Augusta County while identifying landmarks such as Beard’s Ford on the North River, Thompson’s Ford on the north side of the James River, Cherry Tree Bottom and Adam Harman’s location on the New River. The order was acknowledged and proclaimed to clear the route and produce a public road. Overseers were instructed to post signs for directions, all to be carried out according to the law. By November 19, 1746, another order named the Catawba/Noth Fork Road was approved to be cleared from the Ridge above Tobias Brights to New River to an Oak at the lower ford of Catawba Creek. Bright was appointed overseer with workers, William English, Thomas English, Jacob Brown, George Bright, Benjamin Oyle, Paul Garrison, Elisha Isaac, John Donalin, Philip Smith, Matthew English and others.
Two additional road orders for western Virginia were ordered on the same date. A road was to be cleared from Adam Harman’s to the river and the North Branch of the Roanoke River. Harman was named overseer of this project. The workers were named as George Draper, Israel Lorton, Adam Herman, George Herman, Thomas Looney, Jacob Harman, Jacob Castle, John Lane, Valentine Harman, Andrew Moser, Humberston Lyon, James Skaggs, Humphrey Baker, John Davis and Frederick Herring. The other order was issued to have the road cleared from Reed Creek to the Eagle Bottom and to the top of ridges located at the New River from the South Fork of the Roanoke River. Surnames associated with this project were Calhouns, Bryant, White, William Handlon, Peter Rentfro, Jacob Woolman, John Black, Simon Hart, Michael Claine, John Stroud, Samuel Starknecker and several others who were located in present day Pulaski County, Virginia.
The Early Travelers Walked or Rode A Horse To Western Virginia. The only road to allow wagons beginning in 1753 was The Great Wagon Road.
Early travelers into the region known today as Kentucky were John Buchanan during 1745. Lenoard Schnell and John Brandmueller of the Moravian Missionaries during the autumn of 1749. James Burke explored the area during the year of 1748. Dr. Thomas Walker embarked on the adventure during the spring of 1750. Walker noted the settlement located on the Holston River, but west of the settlement, he mentions no settlers. The Holston settlement documents Stalnaker and Baker as living in this area during 1750. The Thomas Hutchins map of 1778 displays a road crossing the New River and ending at the Holston settlement. Prior to 1763, settlements were not encouraged west of the mountain region. The Proclamation of 1763 offered these lands as rewards to those who served in the French and Indian War. Every field officer was entitled to 5,000 acres, every captain-3,000 acres, every staff officer-2,000 acres, every non-commissioned officer-200 acres and every private-50 acres. The governors of the colonies were not allowed to grant warrants or issue patents. All settlers located on the “western waters” were ordered to remove themselves from such settlements. Settlers were not legally able to have land located in the western sections of Virginia or Carolina.
Thomas Walker and James Patton had purchased many thousands of acres in the region. In fact, The Loyal Land Company filed a petition with the Virginia Governor on May 25, 1763 to renew the grant of 800,000 acres to Thomas Walker. The request was denied and Walker began to distribute advertisements throughout the colonies in 1766. These advertisements were requesting persons who had contracted lands from the Loyal Land Company to return and claim them, else the property would be sold. Majority of the land companies during the years of 1760 through the Revolutionary War ignored the King’s orders against surveying and purchasing tracts.
As pointed out earlier, we now have uncovered two roads leading into the Holston settlement located in present day Kingsport, Tennessee. These two roads were established prior to 1750 and enabled settlers and land companies to explore the area and settle or sell land tracts. Daniel Boone and his party of 30 axe men started blazing a new trail into Kentucky in March of 1775. The trail traveled a direct route from Fort Patrick Henry to the Big Moccasin Gap. This portion of the trail was very well-known to Boone and to many other frontiersmen. Majority of authors have portrayed Boone and his party as originating from Anderson’s Blockhouse, but this is not the case. Documents prove that Boone traveled into Virginia in order to get supplies and to recruit his axe men prior to starting the trip. Boone had already explored Kentucky for years prior to blazing this new trail. In 1769, Boone departed from North Carolina and traveled well into the interior of Kentucky near Pilot Knob in present day Powell County. The route they followed was the Warrior’s Path, past Cumberland Gap to Flat Lick to northward near the Kentucky River. Boone had discovered the “inner bluegrass” area of Kentucky. Boone was very familiar with the Indian trails going into Kentucky and the buffalo trails that reached the salt licks and the rivers.
Back to March of 1775, Boone was hired by the Transylvania Land Company to blaze a new trail into Kentucky. An associate of the Transylvania Land Company was Joseph Martin, of Martin’s Station, who was friends with Dr. Thomas Walker. The new trail would depart from the Holston settlement and travel north and west to the present site of Fort Boonesborough. The trail was known as Boone’s Trace. This trail was the original road and only road leading into Kentucky from 1775 to 1791.
The famous Wilderness Trail name of today was not known until years after the Revolutionary War. The trail was changed slightly in 1792 from the original route and Boone was not associated with it’s changes although he had requested to be. The families who are known to travel Boone’s Trace are William Calls, Reverend Lewis Craig and his entire congregation and other neighbors from Spotsylvania County, Virginia. A young physician, John Ferdinand Dalziel Smyth and several friends, Colonel James Knox, his family and neighbors and Bishop Francis Asbury.
Thomas Speed, an early author, wrote a book in 1886 containing early migration paths and trails. This book incorrectly published the “Wilderness Trail” as reaching the Great Wagon Road at Fort Chiswell. This was the first time the name, Wilderness Trail was associated with Boone’s Trace. No previous early maps or surveys name or display a route titled “Wilderness Trail” before the printing of this book. He also stated that Fort Chiswell was built during the year of 1758 which is completely false, and it connects to the original trail. Speed went further to proclaim that the Draper family and the Ingles Family were the first two families to settle west of the Alleghany Mountains. This was also false. We may never know why these false statements were printed, nevertheless, they were and they actually changed the historical facts for generations. Judge Lyman Chalkley attempted to correct Speed’s mistakes in an article dating 1922, but after several years of deception, the truth was barely heard or not recognized at all. After more than 300,000 families used the trail to arrive in Kentucky during the 18th century, their stories were passed down from one generation to the next. By 1886, Speed published his book and the false statements were considered as facts. This affected our history to the extent that children were taught in public school systems around the nation that Boone’s Trace was the Wilderness Trail and it consisted of over 850 miles. Local communities filed claims during the early 20th century, stating their settlement lies along the “Wilderness Trail”. Many were quick to state that this trail not only traveled to Kentucky but also traveled to North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and even Maryland, according to Speed’s book. As the years went by, various towns and counties removed their statements and their claims but the history of Boone’s Trace stood defeated and many still question the trail to this day. The truth slowly emerges just as the details of our ancestors come to light by research.
To understand the early roads, one must learn from all of the documents in order to prove the road’s existence and how it was established. The early settlers of Kentucky endured great hardships along Boone’s Trace and many who arrived in Kentucky gradually left to migrate further west or returned home in the east. The early roads contain a vast amount of history and fascinating facts to share. The roads to Kentucky allowed many families to migrate west and begin a new chapter in their lives. Always strive for the truth among our history and our genealogy. Thank You so much for visiting Piedmont Trails. We hope you find fascinating facts with your research. Our ancestors left an amazing trail. Enjoy Your Journey To The Past !!