Kentucky Petitions Virginia For Independence
One of the most important days in our history occurred on June 1, 1792. The Commonwealth of Kentucky was admitted into the union as the fifteenth state. Kentucky granted suffrage to all free men over the age of twenty-one. Representation was now based on population instead of territorial units. Elections were to be held annually and there was a guarantee of religious freedom. It had been eighteen18 years since Harrod had founded Harrodsburg and the rough census in 1792 was over one hundred-thousand people. Unfortunately, Harrod did not survive to see his beloved Bluegrass admitted to the Union.
In 1774, Kentucky was part of Virginia and under the Virginia Frontier Settlement Act. If you traveled West across the Appalachian Mountain Range to the land that is now Kentucky, you had to designate your claim by cutting your "mark" into the trees at the four corners of your land and live on it one year, or plant a corn crop upon it, then the land was yours.
Harrod and his 31 men began laying off a town on June 16, 1774, and they named it Harrodstown, which became the first permanent white settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains, later to be called Harrodsburg. The men started clearing the roads of Harrodstown on the south side of Town Branch. These extended a half mile in an east-west direction, where the road originated at a point near the Big Spring Station camp and terminated near the site where the Old Fort would later be erected in 1775-76.
Within two weeks Isaac Hite and eleven other men, joined Harrod at Harrodstown. Most of these men had fought in the French and Indian Wars. Rendezvousing near the Big Spring, east of Harrodstown, the men proceeded with great eagerness to locate and select by lot places suitable for building cabins. They also founded and claimed Fountain Bleu Spring, and this is where the first corn in Kentucky was planted by David Williams, John Shelp, and James Sodowsky in 1774.
Although Harrodsburg is the first town in Kentucky, Fort Boonesborough was the first fort in Kentucky, completed on June 14, 1775. Towards the end of this year there were many settlers arriving in Kentucky, and some of them located at Boonesborough and Logan’s Station, but the majority moved to Harrodsburg.
With challenges from the Transylvania Company, Harrod stated his men had arrived first to Kentucky and had started a town. The men marking land were working for those who had returned to the settlement in order to bring out more supplies or their families. Everyone wanted good land and Kentucky was a new country with plenty of land for the all. Harrod chose his land about six miles from the settlement proper, in what is now Danville. He named his station Boiling Springs.
By June 1776, Harrod’s truce with Henderson ended and Harrod became an outspoken opponent of the Transylvania Company. He gained followers at the other stations. Henderson reported to his proprietors, “…the Harrodsburg men have made a second revolt and Harrod and Jack Jones at the head of the Brigands. God knows how it may end, but things at this time bear but a dull aspect – they utterly refuse to have any land surveyed or comply with one of the office rules.”
After a five-day election process during the week of June 8-15, 1776, George Rogers Clark and John Gabriel Jones were elected as the delegates. The two were instructed to appeal to Virginia to overthrow the Transylvania Company and incorporate the country under her own government. Harrod planned two petitions to be presented at the Virginia Assembly.
On June 20, the 21-person general committee – Committee of Safety - met to prepare a petition of the Virginia Convention stating their grievances. The committee was made up of: John Gabriel Jones (chairman), John Bowman, John Cowan, William Bennett, Joseph Bowman, John Crittenden, Isaac Hite, George Rogers Clark, Silas Harlan, Hugh McGary, Andrew McConnell, James Harrod, William McConnell, and John Maxwell.
Harrod helped the men formulate the first document as a defense of their land claims, based on bounty warrants granted by Governor Dunmore and on regular prior-occupancy laws of the colony. They claimed Henderson’s purchases were illegal on grounds Virginia had rights to it under their charter. They stated her citizens had “fought and bled for it”, and that had it not been for the defeat of the Shawnee at the Battle of Point Pleasant, the region would still be uninhabitable. In conclusion they asked that their delegates be recognized, stating they had already elected a committee of 21 men to maintain district order.
Harrod’s second petition represented the new committee and drew attention to the impracticality of having only two delegates to sufficiently represent Fincastle County. He argued it was illogical to allow the colonist to remain impartial, since a group from North Carolina was also formulating a challenge to Virginia charter rights. Harrod’s name was at the top of the petition, but others were less willing to express themselves openly. However, a short time later, Harrod learned that Colonel William Preston, the official surveyor of Fincastle County, had sent word Virginia was now ready to maintain her claim against Transylvania. After this, others began to sign the petition criticizing Henderson.
At this same time Harrod was appointed to visit the northern Native Americans and find out their intentions in the war that had begun between the colonies and England. The attitude of the Native Americans was of great importance to all Kentucky. Everyone knew the provisions of the treaty that had closed Dunmore’s War and they also knew the extreme improbability of it being kept. Harrod had learned from a runner of the Delaware tribe on the Wabash River, that the Kickapoos were ready to sign a treaty with the English.
The Delaware were helpless to stop the other Indian tribes but Harrod depended on the Delaware to safeguard the pioneers against the unfriendly tribes. If the Kickapoos joined with the British, other tribes, even the friendly Delaware, may follow. The Shawnee were already taking bribes and listening to British flattery. The Delaware declared the situation critical and suggested “Lone Long Knife”, their name for Harrod, send a reliable man to talk with the chiefs. Since he was already scheduled to head north, Harrod commissioned Garret Pendergrass, an excellent trader with formality of the northern Indian tribes, to go with him.
Hardly a week went by without one or two deaths because of ordinary activities near the fort or at the home stations. Because of over cautiousness many deaths were from carelessness. John Barney Stagner is one of those legendary deaths. Stagner was a little Dutchman James Harrod had made the keeper of the fort springs. Although not an impressive job, it was an important job and he took his tasks seriously. The young boys at the fort like to tease the old man by throwing gourds and rocks into the water, just to hear Stagner yell.
Stagner often boasted that the Native Americans would not kill him because he was too told. James Ray heard him make this claim during an Indian attack and told Barney he should hoist himself up on the fort gate in front of the Native Americans. “Now Barney, you say the Native Americans can’t kill you, suppose we hoist you on top of the Fort now and see what the consequences will be.”
Barney changed the subject, but not his opinion. On June 22, 1777 he carelessly wandered outside the fort above the Big Spring, against Harrod’s orders. He was killed and scalped by the Native Americans. They cut off his head and stuck it on a pole. For years after that, the boys living near the fort used to say that at night when the moon was full, they could see Barney’s ghost around the fort springs.
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