Monday, August 10, 2020

Who Was James Harrod - Western Fever

Photo from Jstor

Western Fever
During 1772, before the start of the American Revolution, many hunters and surveyors were in Kentucky. Captain Thomas Bullitt was trained as a surveyor at the College of William and Mary, and worked hard for Virginia’s new governor, John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore. Lord Dunmore appointed Bullitt as Virginia’s chief surveyor. In October 1772, Lord Dunmore, allowed Captain Bullitt to advertise an expedition into Kentucky the next year to make surveys for military land warrants.

The British had promised the soldiers land in Kentucky as payment for their services during the French and Indian War. Being raised on the frontiers with early training on border military service and James Harrod’s love for hunting and wild-woods life, the promise of land in Kentucky was a huge incentive to fight. Just like Daniel Boone, James Harrod was gaining a reputation as a great backwoodsman and frontiersman.

Harrod joined up with Captain Bullitt to survey land at the falls of the Ohio, near present day Louisville. They spent several weeks in Pittsburgh at Fort Pitt burning and hollowing out logs to make pirogues, or canoes, and lay in supplies. Because there were no forts after they passed the upper Ohio River, Harrod’s group had to make sure they had plenty of axes, butcher knives, blankets, extra moccasins and hunting shirts, in addition to bullets, gunpowder, and fishing tackle. They also needed surveyor’s equipment, including a rod, chain, and compass.

The frontiersman’s most important belongings were his axe and his rifle. An axe should have enough weight to drive deeply into the wood by its own momentum. It should be made with well-tempered steel and a uniformly sharpened cutting edge. Better yet, have two cutting edges, one for chipping and the other for brushing and rough work, was an excellent idea. Modern day axes are normally thought of in terms of chopping wood, but in the 1700s, an axe was also used as a wood shaping tool for both large and small jobs.

Among James Harrod’s most prized possessions was his tailor made long rifle made by the old Pennsylvania Dutch and legend holds that it was among the longest, the straightest, and the truest in the wilderness. Although known for years as the "Kentucky rifle", the celebrated long rifle of muzzle-loading days was developed in the Mennonite region of southern Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. It was a Swiss gunsmith, Martin Meylin, who developed this new type of firearm, known interchangeably as the Pennsylvania rifle or, in what became the Bluegrass State, the Kentucky Long Rifle.

James Harrod was at least thirty-one years of age when on these scouting and surveying expeditions and because he spoke the Delaware language, he served as a guide to Captain Bullitt. It was during this expedition, that Harrod met his friend Daniel Boone near the Tennessee River, at the site of present day Nashville. Boone had been settled in the back country of North Carolina when he developed western fever. Boone and Harrod both had nothing but praise for the abundance of forest, game, and pastures in Kentucky.

Contraire to popular belief, Daniel Boone never made Kentucky his permanent home; however, Kentucky became James Harrod’s permanent home and he stayed until his death. Kentucky and Harrodsburg can justifiably lay exclusive claim to Harrod.  The deeds of James Harrod made possible the early settlement and security of the future state of Kentucky.

James Harrod was not an educated man by standards of formal schooling, but he could read and write and was known to have kept written records and possessed books in his house. The defects of his education were supplemented by his natural talents and abilities. Harrod was also a man of great sympathy, noticeable in his attention to the safety and wants of his companions. Many an evening he lifted the large cedar horn and sounded the warning that Native Americans had been sighted. Though slow to anger, Harrod was also noted to have a temper and would become quite stubborn when things were not going according to his plans.
Photo from Falls of the Ohio

On July 8, 1773, Harrod’s group reached the falls of the Ohio and began to lay out a town at what is present day Louisville. The legal right of these Kentucky claims was rather obscure. In colonial times, the king, his ministers, and his governors were allowed a great deal of discretion in disposing of vacant state land, and not all persons were treated equally. Even while Captain Bullitt was surveying on the Ohio, speculators in London were petitioning for a grant to include the entire area south of the Ohio River as far west as the Kentucky River.

By late summer 1773, Harrod continued on 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. Before returning home, James Harrod marked and improved land at White Oak Springs in what is now Burgin in Mercer County, Kentucky.

Many of the men with Harrod did not intend to settle permanently in Kentucky but were hired to make improvements for other people. At the time, it was common practice to hire others to do the work necessary to establish claims, such as building a cabin, clearing fields, or planting corn.
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.”

Many of the reigning Virginia men, like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Patrick Henry, were declaring to the British crown they would rather die than to live under tyranny. On December 16, 1773, the most powerful protest ever happened in Boston. The protest was at night and extremely silent, lasting only three hours. There were no women participating, only men, and most of them in their teens. They came in disguise because to be caught would mean arrest and jail. The protestors boarded three ships in Boston Harbor and threw three hundred forty-two chests of tea overboard. The Boston Tea Party led to the birth of a new country.

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