Thursday, July 2, 2020
The Birthplace of Kentucky: July
Early Surveying in Kentucky
During July 1773, Thomas Bullitt, James Harrod, and the McAfee Brothers were surveying in Kentucky and on July 4, they camped at Big Bone Lick and were surprised at the large mastodon bones on the ground and sticking out of the marshy salt lick. One of the McAfees noted in his journal that the teeth of the animals must have weighed ten pounds each, the thigh bones were four to five feet long and the ribs were three to four inches wide. They used the ribs of the mastodons for tent poles and the heads for chairs. They puzzled over the mighty skeletons that lay around the spring, wondering which sort of elephant or another animal they belonged to. A Delaware Indian appeared at their camp and said when he was a young boy; the bones were just as they saw the now. The men were also amazed at the thousands of animals gathered at the salt lick.
The rich salt veins underneath Kentucky’s sandstone base once resulted in numerous collections of “salt licks” – extensive ranges of salt-laden soil surrounding springs – that drew animal herds even in the prehistoric day of the great mammals. In addition to its medicinal uses, settlers used salt as a preservative. Little wonder Harrod and his men risked their lives to render salt, even during times of heavy Indian attacks.
On July 7, the two groups split up and each began their own surveying. Harrod stayed with Bullitt and on July 8, they reached the falls of the Ohio and began to lay out a town at what is present day Louisville; this town was eventually established in late 1775. The McAfee party left Bullitt and his company and followed a buffalo trace down the Ohio to reach the mouth of the Kentucky and present-day Frankfort. They decided they did not like the site for a permanent settlement, so they rowed up the river twenty miles until they came to a salt lick where they went ashore to get a view of the game roaming there. They called the salt lick Drennon’s, for one of the men in their company. They continued to travel on until they reached the banks of the crooked Salt River and here is where they made extensive surveys but did not establish a town.
By late summer, Harrod continued down the Kentucky River to scout for his own settlement on what he thought was the best land in Kentucky. The Native Americans called the Kentucky bluegrass region the “Great Meadow” because of the tall grass and thick canes. Unbeknownst to each other, Harrod and the McAfee’s had chosen almost identical locations for their settlements.
When preliminary scouting and surveying was complete, Harrod returned home to North Carolina to talk his plans over with his older brother, Thomas. The people of Virginia and North Carolina were all nursing “Kentucky fever”. Pioneers were busy with plans to move “where the buffalo were too fat and lazy to run from the rifle shot and the thick rich cane growth offered perfect pastures for horses and cattle.”
On June 16, 1774, James Harrod established Harrodstown and several small cabins were built. Before they could build up the town, they would have to desert it due to Native American attacks. On July 8, 1774, Daniel Boone and Michael Stoner were sent by Captain William Russell, per instructions of Colonel William Preston, the military commander of Fincastle County Virginia, to notify Harrod and the other white men of the increasing Native American hostilities. Scouts were also sent out because of fears the Cherokee would combine with the northern Native Americans. Russell wrote: “I am in hopes, that in two or three weeks from this time Mr. Boone will produce the gentlemen surveyors here, as I can’t believe they are all killed. Boone has instructions to take different routes till he comes to the Falls of the Ohio and if no discovery there, to return home through the Cumberland Gap … if they are alive, it is indisputable, but Boone must find them.”
Boone and Stoner began their journey from the Clinch Valley and lost no time in reaching Kentucky. On this trip Boone passed over the site of the future Boonesborough. They reached Harrodstown in the middle of the building activity. Boone took a great interest in the new settlement, but after a few days delay, the two messengers proceeded to the falls of the Ohio to warn the men there. They reached home by way of the Cumberland Gap sixty-eight days after they had left, traveling over eight hundred miles on their journey.
Before Boone could warn the Harrodstown settlers, James Cowan was killed on July 16. George Poague, a nephew of Col. William Poague’s, was in the party at Fountain Blue, were Cowan killed. Two Native Americans chased Poague, who had his gun in his hand, but so closely pursued that he had not time to turn and shoot. He escaped to Harrodsburg.
Shortly after Boone came through Harrodstown, on July 20, 1774, a party of men was ambushed near a Mercer County spring. Two of the men, while separated from the others, were surrounded and killed. Two of the others escaped but headed straight back to their homes in Virginia with nothing but the clothes on their back. A fourth man, John Harmon, reached Harrodstown and reported the news.
Harrod and his men left to join the campaign to defend the western border of Virginia. The conflict resulted from escalating violence between British colonists, who in accordance with previous treaties – Treaty of Hard Labor (1768) and Treaty of Fort Stanwix (1768) - were exploring and moving into land south of the Ohio River, modern West Virginia and Kentucky, and the Native Americans, who held treaty rights to hunt there. Harrod and twenty-seven men joined the Fincastle Battalion under the command of Col. Christian’s regiment and went on to the Point Pleasant campaign but arrived too late to participate in the wars only major battle. The Battle of Point Pleasant, now officially recognized as the first battle of the Revolutionary War, ended on October 10, 1774.
By late spring 1776, the pioneer population in Kentucky was estimated to be two hundred, and most of these people were in forts at Boonesborough, Harrodstown, and Logan’s Station. The area north of the Kentucky River had been abandoned. John Floyd reported to William Preston in July 1776, “I think more than three hundred men have left the country since I came out and not one has arrived – except a few down the Ohio.”
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