From charlesreid1


Author: Thomas Speed

Year: 1886

Title: The Wilderness Road : a description of the routes of travel by which the pioneers and early settlers first came to Kentucky

Makes mention of Genealogy/Books/Kentucky/Imlay 1797 book


Page 1-20

Before the invention of steamboats and railroads the populations of the world fringed the sea-coasts or followed navigable streams into the interior. The settlement of America was no exception to this rule; the colonists clung tenaciously to the sea over which they came from the mother country. Less than two hundred miles inland, and parallel with the Atlantic coast were the mountains. Beyond these lay a wilderness of unknown extent, the occupation of which presented obstacles scarcely less formidable than those which attended the first planting of the colonies. The colonists made no attempt at such occupation until the last quarter of the last century. They were content, for a period of one hundred and fifty years, with possessions immediately along the coast. Up to the close of the Revolutionary war the three millions of people who had “engaged in the holy cause of liberty” only knew the country east of the Alleghany Mountains, and of this they only occupied so much as lay within one hundred miles or less of the sea. It is remarkable how slowly the New World was settled after its discovery. From 1492 until the planting of the first colony at Jamestown was more than an entire century, and then for a century and a half more no impression was made upon the continent other than was shown in the fringe - of settlements along the Atlantic border. At the time the colonists had fully achieved their independence a singularly small extent of the States of New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the Carolinas had been settled. The outposts of civilization in those States were not in the western but in the eastern parts. The Indians roamed in undisputed freedom over nearly ail of New York west of the Hudson. The massacre at Wyoming, in 1778, took place less than one hundred miles west of New York City, at what was then a frontier village of Pennsylvania. The greater portion of Virginia and the Carolinas was an unbroken solitude, the hunting ground of savages, and the hiding place of wild beasts.

It was in the far-distant region of Kentucky that the permanent occupation of the West began. In the heart of that region, full five hundred miles as the crow flies from the sea-coast, and more than three hundred miles beyond the crests of the mountains, population suddenly gathered and civilization suddenly bloomed.

A glance at the map shows the immense distance this Kentucky civilization was from that of the East. It grew up in the wilderness, while another wilderness three hundred miles in extent separated it from the nearest inhabited country. In 1790 Kentucky had a population of over 73,000. Even at that date no growth westward had been made in New York State, and scarcely any had been made in Pennsylvania. But little extension of settlements had been made in Virginia, and the borders of the present State of Ohio had only been here and there touched. In two more years Kentucky took her position in the Union as a State. In 1800 her population was 220,000, being then nearly as great as that of Connecticut; only one third less than that of Maryland; more than half that of Massachusetts; more than one third that of Pennsylvania; one fourth that of Virginia, and nearly one fourth that of the two Carolinas.

These facts show not only how immigration went westward into Kentucky in advance of any other point, but also that it went by a mighty leap over and beyond the barriers. It was not the extension of continuously occupied country like a peninsula of civilization stretching into the regions of the West; it was rather like an island of population far away from shore, only to be reached by a long, rough, and perilous passage.

The rapid growth of this Western plant is also suggested. In the short space of twenty years Kentucky took rank and station with the Atlantic States which were founded one hundred and fifty years before.

It would be interesting to study the causes of these remarkable facts; among them may be mentioned the glowing accounts of the fertility and beauty of the “Land of Kentucke,” spread by the early explorers; the easy terms on which the lands might be obtained, and the privilege of paying for them in the depreciated colonial and continental paper money; the high taxes, distress, and dissatisfaction following the Revolutionary war; the populousness of the States directly east of Kentucky, which had the effect to start the westward movement at that point; the important fact that the Kentucky lands were not occupied by any of the Indian tribes as a place of residence, which rendered their appropriation by the whites less difficult than it would otherwise have been.

Thus it appears that all the roads from the Atlantic States converged upon two points, Fort Pitt and Cumberland Gap.

In addition to the natural barriers of mountains and wilderness, and also the danger from savages, all of which combined prevented the occupation of the great West for so many years; the extension of settlements westward was prohibited by royal authority. The King of England, by proclamation, in 1763, had forbidden surveys or patents of land beyond the head waters of the streams which ran to the Atlantic; all beyond that limit was accorded to the Indians, and it was only here and there that a trading post or a far distant military outpost was established in the limits of this forbidden country.

In 1768, however, a treaty was made at Fort Stanwix, NY, by which the Indians ceded to the whites the country known as Kentucky, as far south as Tennessee River. This treaty was understood to remove all the reasons which supported the King's proclamation, and to give the white men the right to go in and occupy. An old Indian who signed the treaty seemed to so understand it, for he affterward said to Daniel Boone, at Watauga, "Brother, we have given you a fine land, but I believe you will have much trouble in settling it."

He (Logan) traveled with Henderson as far as Rockcastle River; then a difference sprang up between the two. Logan disapproved of Henderson's plans, and instead of continuing along the Boone trace to Kentucky River, he took the trace which bore more westwardly, and in the direction of the Crab Orchard. This was the same that Boone had traversed when he visited the Falls of the Ohio prior to 1775. When Logan found himself fairly in the level lands, he halted and established a station which was called St. Asaphs, or Logan's Fort. It was within one mile of the present town of Stanford.

Both of these branches of the "Wilderness Road" were great highways of pioneer travel. The one led to the heart of the bluegrass region, where Lexington was built, and the other was the direct way from Cumberland Gap, through Crab Orchard, Danville, Bardstown, Bullitt's Lick, to the Falls of the Ohio.

Henderson was not allowed to hold the immense territory he had bargained for with the Cherokees; but in consideration of his services he was allowed a tract of two hundred thousand acres on the Ohio, at the mouth of Green River. Not the least of his services was the opening of the wilderness road by the hand of Daniel Boone.

From that time immigrants began to pour into Kentucky. Boone took out his own family with five others in the fall of 1775.

The location of the road, however, is a monument ot the skill of Boone as a practical engineer and surveyor... It required a mind of far more than ordinary caliber to locate through more than two hundred miles of mountain wilderness a way of travel which, ffor a hundred years, has remained practically unchanged, and upon which the State has stamped its approval by the expenditure of vast sums of money appropriated for its improvement.

There is a striking difference between the route selected by the pioneers and those selected in later years for railroad construction. The one is the opposite of the other in some respects. The pioneer avoided the water-courses, the civil engineer seeks them. The pioneer went directly across the various streams east and west of the Cumberland range: he crossed the Holston, Clinch, Powell, Cumberland, and Rockcastle; he climbed and descended the mountain ridges which lay between the rivers. The civil engineer, on the contrary, in locating the railroad which connects Virginia and Kentucky, threaded the rocky defiles of New and Kanawha Rivers, and entered the level lands of the state through its northeast corner. The rugged sides of a mountain watercourse afford the poorest natural footway, and necessitate frequent crossings from side to side. In constructing a railroad, however, these obstacles are removed. The side-cut and the tunnel open a pathway unknown to the pioneer.

Rev. Peter Cartwright, in an account of his life, says his parents came to Kentucky shortly after the Revolution, which probably means 1783. He says: “It was an unbroken wilderness from Virginia to Kentucky at that early day... There were no roads for carriages, and though the immigrants moved by thousands, they had to move on pack-horses. The fall my father moved there were a great many families who joined together for mutual safety. Besides the two hundred families thus united there were one hundred young men well armed, who agreed to guard the families through the wilderness. We rarely traveled a day, after we struck the wilderness, but we passed some white persons murdered and scalped by the Indians.”

He adds that when they were only seven miles from the Crab Orchard, which was the first white settlement they reached, seven families of their train determined to encamp for the night. The others went on to the station. That night the families which remained behind were attacked by Indians and all killed except one man.