Thursday, October 1, 2020

The Birthplace of Kentucky - The Search for Salt


Operations before and after the Civil War involved boiling brine to reveal the salt.
Photo from Harper's Weekly

During 1772, before the start of the American Revolution, many hunters, settlers, and surveyors were in Kentucky. Captain Thomas Bullitt (1730-1778) was trained as a surveyor at the College of William and Mary and worked hard to curry favor for himself with 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, age thirty-eight years, to advertise an expedition into Kentucky the next year to make surveys for military land warrants. 
These land warrants were first offered as an incentive to serve in the military and later as a reward for service. Bullitt advertised in The Virginia Gazette and The Pennsylvania Gazette and advised the veterans that “… he was going to Kentucky the following spring to survey lands claimed under the Proclamation of 1763, and that those wishing to have their claims surveyed should meet him on the Ohio River in the spring.”
On October 17, 1774, Lord Dunmore and members of the Shawnee, Mingo, and Delaware Tribes signed the temporary Treaty of Camp Charlotte in Scioto, Ohio. Dunmore called it Camp Charlotte, after the Queen of England and wife of King George III, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. By the terms of the Treaty, they agreed the Ohio River would be the new boundary and the Tribes agreed to give up the land rights and cease hunting south of the Ohio and to allow boats to travel undisturbed on the river.  The Native Americans would also return all captives, slaves, horses, and valuable goods. They also agreed to a general conference to be held at Fort Dunmore the following spring for the purpose of concluding a definitive treaty.
Although the Shawnee and Delaware signed the treaty, the Mingo refused to accept the terms. Enraged, Major William Crawford and 240 men attacked the Mingo village of Seekunk, near present day Steubenville, Ohio, and destroy the village.
Big game was pushing west, and salt was getting extremely hard to acquire; salt was needed to cure meat and season porridge. Salt making was one of the most tedious jobs a man could do. It was also dangerous because the Native Americans, when in a scalp-collecting mood, would watch the salt licks. The company had to post guards day and night.
The saline content of the springs was usually too low to make salt quickly. At large licks there would be three or four furnaces going all the time, but it took 800 to 1000 gallons of the brackish water to produce a bushel of salt. Kettles used for salt making typically had a 20 to 30 gallon capacity. The pioneers had a saying that a lazy man was not worth his salt; in fact it took a cow and a calf to balance the scales for a bushel of the vital commodity.
Harrod talked with the men of the fort and sixteen men decided to go with him to buy or make salt. They headed out in the middle of October 1778 to the falls of Ohio. As a boy he had visited a large spring about three miles west of Kaskaskia across the Mississippi River. In Ohio they bought a keelboat, a light boat, sharp at both ends and 60–80 feet long and 8-10 feet wide. It was fitted with a cabin, removable mast and sails, and running boards along the sides where men could stand as they poled upstream.
Once during this time Harrod tied up at the bank and went ashore to check his directions with a couple of Delawares and their squaws who were camping near the shore. The Native Americans were reluctant to talk until Harrod produced a bottle of rum. Once the Delawares were drunk, they agreed one of them would go with their “white brother” as guide and protector. The guide staggered to the boat and promptly fell asleep. When he woke, they were fifty to sixty miles downstream. They quickly learned the Indian would be no help, so they sent him ashore and told him they had only gone about five miles.
At the salt works, Harrod’s group found men with furnaces blazing and water boiling in lead and iron kettles. Harrod bought all the salt they had, paying for it in Continental money instead of bartering because the men were not inclined to take goods in exchange for so valuable a commodity.
On the return trip they met two Frenchmen paddling from Vincennes. They told Harrod over four hundred Cherokee were waiting at the mouth of the Cumberland River to kill the Kentuckians. A little farther on they met another Frenchman who confirmed the story. The small group left the river and continued to Harrodstown by foot.
The success of the salt trip was not the last of Harrod’s “lucky streak”. At Christmastime he heard good news from Virginia. Judge Henderson had presented a memorial to the Virginia House of Representatives asking for a validation of the title of his claims, but the House refused the request stating, “that all purchases of lands made or to be made, within the chartered bounds of the Commonwealth, as described by the constitution or form of government, by any private persons not authorized by public authority, are void.”
At the October session of 1785 the Virginia Assembly established the town, which was to be "known by the name of Harrodstown, in the county of Lincoln." The act confirmed its right to a 640-acre tract. It named thirteen trustees, who were authorized to dispense maximum half-acre in-lots (for residence) and ten-acre out-lots (for pasturage and farming) to persons of just claim and sell the balance. All persons acquiring in-lots were required to "erect and build thereon a dwelling-house of the dimensions of twenty feet by sixteen, at the least, with a brick or stone chimney," within a period of three years, or else the trustees could repossess the property and dispose of it "for the best price that can be got, and apply the money arising therefrom to the use and advantage of the said town. “The trustees also could "cause an accurate survey to be made of the said township." With the official nod from Williamsburg, the town could now take on definitive form.


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