Monday, August 17, 2020
Who Was James Harrod?
Illustration by Henry Cleveland Woods
First Permanent Settlement West of Alleghany Mountains
In March 1774, James Harrod was commissioned by Lord Dunmore to lead an expedition to survey the bounds of land promised by the British crown to soldiers who served in the French and Indian War. The Alleghany Mountains were a great incentive to the imagination of the frontiersmen looking for a new life in the west. Harrod, with John Cowan as his second in command, and thirty other men came from Virginia and moved down the Monongahela River to the Ohio River into Kentucky. Harrod led his men three hundred miles beyond the farthest outpost, west of the Kentucky River.
The Kentucky River led to the area to become known as Harrod’s Landing on Oregon Creek, in the lower end of present-day Mercer County and east of the village of Salvisa. They then came across Salt River and up to present day Fountainbleau, and finally to a creek, later to be known as Town Creek. They pushed on up the creek until they came to its source at the Big Spring. It was here they made camp and eventually a settlement.
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. Only then would the land be yours.
James Harrod and his men began laying off a town on June 16, 1774, and they named it Harrod’s Town, later to be called Harrodsburg. The men started clearing the roads of Harrod’s Town on the south side of Town Creek. 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 Harrod would later be erected in 1775-76.
The first fort in 1774 was three log cabins built below the Big Spring and enclosed with large “hoop poles” or sapling trees. They were sharpened at the top and the base was firmly set in a trench which was opened around the cabins. The poles were then securely fastened together with hickory bark, woven in and out between the poles making a stockade seven to eight feet high. This frail protection afforded the men some little security against prowling bears and Native Americans. They only lived here a short time, afterward building three more cabins about 285 feet from the Big Spring (East Street). In 1775, they lived here while the fort was built on the high hill above Town Creek.
Being the only men in central Kentucky at the time, Harrod’s party also explored the area with the intention of claiming the best land. Although most of the nearby ground was fertile, it was thought to be badly watered, so any tract that contained a good spring was quickly occupied. To protect the rights to these outlying claims, cabins were built on the tracts. Later, a lottery was held to determine which man received which cabin.
Harrod’s men constructed temporary log and brush structures to live in while they made improvements on their land. The men divided into small companies to select locations, improve lands, and drew lots scattered over a wide area from the station camp. Every man would receive two lots, one containing one and one-half acres and the other ten acres.
Photo from the Armstrong Archives
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