Early Surveys and Settlements of Kentucky

The first authorized survey made by an official surveyor in this Territory was in the northeast corner of the State, in what is now Lawrence and Greenup Counties. One plat covered the present site of the town of Louisa, and the other eleven miles from the mouth of the Big Sandy, on the river. These were made for John Fry, to whom the lands were conveyed by patents. The corners were marked with the initials ” G. W.,” and it is believed in the locality that the surveys were made by George Washington himself, although no documentary evidence can be found to sustain this belief. These surveys, however, were probably not induced by the reports of the hunters in the interior of this region, but in the following year the royal Governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore, dispatched a party of surveyors down the Ohio River to select and survey lands in the newly opened country for himself. One party, under Capt. Thomas Bullitt, selected lands under his warrant along the river from the falls to Salt River, and up that river to Bullitt’s Lick; the other, under James McAfee, following up the Kentucky River, surveyed the flats about the present site of Frankfort. In August of 1773 Bullitt platted the village of Louisville, probably under the same authority, but . the Revolution occurring soon afterward brought these schemes on the part of the representative of royalty to naught. In May of the following year Capt. James Harrod, with a considerable party, laid out Harrodsburg, and erected a number of cabins, constituting the first attempt to effect a permanent settlement in the new country. Soon after this, in the same year, Simon Kenton cultivated corn on the site of Maysville, but both points were abandoned the same year on account of the Indian hostilities. The savages noted the encroachments of the whites upon their hunting-grounds with alarm. Notwithstanding the fact that the Six Nations had assumed to dispose of all the territory south of the Ohio and west of the Tennessee Rivers to the English by the treaty made in 1768 at Fort Stanwix, the tribes in possession of the land refused to recognize the validity of such a treaty, and began to offer a vigorous opposition to the settlement of the whites. In this year Col. Henderson projected a scheme by which, in consideration of £10,000, he should ac-quire the territory between the Ohio, Kentucky and Cumberland Rivers as far east as the Cumberland Mountains. While this negotiation was proceeding between Henderson, representing a syndicate of North Carolinians, and a chief of the Cherokees, Daniel Boone had been employed to cut out a road from Cumberland Gap, to the site of the projected capital of this new territory. His party consisting of thirty men was attacked by the Indians, principally of the Shawanese nation, and while the attack did not frustrate Boone’s plans nor greatly hinder him it exhibited the short-sighted character of the scheme in which Henderson was engaged. Boone at once caused a fort to be erected on the south side of the Kentucky, and sent word to Henderson of the progress of the expedition. Having consummated the arrangements with the savages Col. Henderson brought a considerable colony to the new fort, raising the military force to sixty men. Encouraged by this acquisition to the pioneer strength, those who had abandoned Harrodsburg returned, and forts were soon erected at this point, and others at Georgetown, and near Stan-ford, called Logan’s Fort. Henderson’s scheme, while based upon a misconception of the temper of the whites as well as Indians, and in defiance of the proclamations of the Governors of Virginia and North Carolina, nevertheless did much to hurry forward and establish the early settlement of Kentucky. Henderson & Company at once opened a land office at Boonesboro, at which by December 1, 1775, some 560,000 acres of land were entered, deeds being issued by this company as Proprietors of the Colony of Transylvania.” A difficulty arose at the outset from the conflicting claims of the neighboring settlements established at Harrodsburg, Boiling Spring and at Logan’s Fort. This was adjusted, and resulted in a call for a meeting of_ representatives chosen by the people of these settlements, who in pursuance to this call met at Boonesboro to agree upon a proprietary government. Eighteen representatives assembled and organized on the 23d of May, 1775. The session lasted some four days, which were devoted to the passage of nine acts: For establishing courts of judicature and practice; for regulating a militia; for the punishment, of criminals; to prevent swearing and Sabbath-breaking; for writs of attachment; for ascertaining Clerks’ and Sheriffs’ fees; to preserve the range; for improving the breed of horses; for preserving game; after which the body adjourned to meet in the following September. What might have been the outcome of this ambitious venture if the originators had been equal to the demands of the situation cannot well be determined. Some difficulty arose among the proprietors, which eventually wrecked the whole venture. Through this dissension the force at Boonesboro, which had reached eighty men, was reduced by June to fifty, and was steadily declining. In the meanwhile another difficulty presented itself. The terms offered to those first assisting in the venture were exceptionally liberal, but it appears that the proprietors, believing the project established beyond the fear of failure, began to show an eagerness to reap the advantages of their bargain with the Indians, and placed what was considered an exorbitant price upon the land, the cost of entry and surveying. This aroused the pioneers to a consideration of the grounds upon which the company based its claims, and resulted January 3, 1776, in a remonstrating petition to the Legislature of Virginia, signed by eighty-four men. Under the circumstances, with these remonstrants unpropitiated, there was no hope for the final success of the venture, and while the company exerted themselves to save the purchasers from loss, they seem to have been wholly unfitted to save the matter from total wreck. The Legislature did not act upon the matter until November 4, 1778, when it declared the company’s purchase void on the ground that under the charter the Commonwealth alone had the right to purchase land of the savages, ” but as the said Richard Henderson & Company have been at very great expense in making said purchase and in settling the said lands-by which this Commonwealth is likely to receive great advantage, by increasing its inhabitants and establishing a barrier against the Indians -it is just and reasonable to allow the said Richard Henderson & Company a compensation for their trouble and expense.” This compensation was a grant of 200,000 acres at the mouth of Green River in Kentucky, and a similar grant in North Carolina, in consideration of the company’s claim in Tennessee. The result of the ” Transylvania ” project, while not to the serious disadvantage of any individual, was greatly to the ad-vantage of the pioneer settlements of central Kentucky.


Battle, J. H. Counties Of Todd And Christian, Kentucky. Historical And Biographical. F. A. Battey Publishing Co., Chicago And Louisville. 1884. At current time this manuscript consists of only the Todd County section and a few biographies from Christian County.

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2 thoughts on “Early Surveys and Settlements of Kentucky”

  1. You should seriously update the use of the word “savages” when referring to Native Americans in this article. If this is not your authorship, the source is not clear .

    1. The source is very clear. It’s at the bottom of the article. Battle, J. H. Counties Of Todd And Christian, Kentucky. Historical And Biographical. F. A. Battey Publishing Co., Chicago And Louisville. 1884. At current time this manuscript consists of only the Todd County section and a few biographies from Christian County.

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