Mount Saint Elias

Above: First sited in 1741 by Europeans, Mount Saint Elias, 2008. Courtesy National Park Service. Right: Fort Necessity, French and Indian War.

Fort Necessity

Pre-Revolution Timeline - The 1700s


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  • Timeline

  • 1750 Detail

    March 6, 1750 - Thomas Walker leads expedition into the frontier of Kentucky and discovers the Cumberland Gap.

    Thomas Walker Cabin

    The British colonies and colonists were predominantly confined to the coastal settlements along the Atlantic Coast with excursions into the lands on the east side of the Appalachian Mountains. There had been some further west than that, like Johan Lederer's journey to become the first Europeans to sight the Shenandoah Valley in 1669, but, for the most part, the land west of the Appalachian Mountains was unsettled and wild.

    That's where Dr. Thomas Walker came in. Born in Virginia and a student of William and Mary College, he was a physician by trade and a member of the House of Burgesses. But Walker was also involved in land speculation, and there was a lot of undiscovered land west of the Appalachians. Walker owned a stake in the Loyal Land Company, which had been given a royal grant of 800,000 acres in the Indian territory of southeast Kentucky on July 12, 1749. Who else owned that company? Peter Jefferson, father of Thomas, and Thomas Meriwether, grandfather of Meriwether Lewis, among others. They had four years to begin settling the claim. The company decided that an expedition was in order to discover just what type of land lay there, which Walker was to head and survey, commissioned to that task on December 12, 1749. Walker had experience in traversing western lands, having accompanied the Patton expedition two years earler to the Holston River, near today's Kingsport, Tennessee.

    The expedition left Virginia on March 6, 1850, ascending the Roanoke River. Accompanying him were five men. They crossed the waterways Holston, Clinch, and Powell, approaching the Cumberland Gap one month later. This was nineteen years prior to Daniel Boone's trips into the Kentucky area. His party crossed through the Cumberland Gap, camping four miles west along the Warriors Path at Yellow Creek. He named the Cumberland River after the son of King George II. He built the first home by a European in Kentucky on land he claimed, planted corn, then continued north to Rockcastle Hills. They returned home to Albemarle County, Virginia in July.

    Walker Journal

    Start of the Journey

    Having on the 12th of December last, been employed for a certain consideration to go to the Westward in order to discover a proper Place for a Settlement, I left my house on the Sixth day of March, at ten o'clock, 1749-50, in the Company with Ambrose Powell, William Tomlinson, Colby Chew, Henry Lawless and John Hughs. Each man had a horse and we had two to carry the baggage. I lodges this night at Col. Joshua Fry's in Albemarle, which County includes the Chief of the head branches of James River on the East side of the Blue Ridge.

    March 7. Wee set off about 8, but the day proving wet, we only went to Thomas Joplin's on Rockfish. This a pretty River, which might at a small expense be made fit for transporting Tobacco, but it has been lately stopped by a Mill Dam near the Mouth to the prejudice of the upper inhabitants who would at their own expense clear and make navigable, were they permitted.

    March 8. We left Joplin's early. It began to rain about noon. I left my people at Thomas Jones's and went to the Reverend Mr. Robert Rose's on Tye River. This is about the size of Rockfish, as yet open, but how long the Avarice of Miller's will permit it to be so, I know not. At present, the Inhabitants enjoy plenty of fine fish, as Shad in their reason, Carp, Rocks, Fat-Backs which I suppose to be Tench, Perch, Mullets etc.

    9th. As the weather continues unlikely, I moved only to Baylor Walker's Quarters.

    March 10th. The weather is still cloudy, and leaving my People at the Quarter, I rode to Mr. John Harvie's, where I dined and return'd to the Quarter in ye evening.

    11th. The Sabbath

    March 12th. We crossed the Fluvanna and lodged at Thomas Hunt's.

    13th. We went early to William Calloway's and supplied ourselves with Rum, Thread, and other necessaries and from thence took the main wagon road leading to Wood's or the New River. It is not well cleared or beaten yet, but will be a very good one with proper management. This night we lodged in Adam Beard's low grounds. Beard is an ignorant, impudent, brutish fellow, and would have taken us up, had it not been for a reason, easily to be suggested.

    14th. We went from Beard's to Nicholas Welches, where we brought corn for our horses, and had some Victuals dress'd for Breakfast, afterwards we crossed the Blue Ridge. The Ascent and Descent is so easie that a Stranger would not know when he crossed the Ridge. It began to rain about Noon and continued till night. We lodged at William Armstrong's. Corn is very scarce in these parts.

    March 15th. We went to the great Lick on A Branch of the Staunton and brought Corn of Michael Campbell for our horses. This Lick has been one of the best places for Game in these parts and would have been of much greater advantage to the Inhabitants that it has been if the Hunters had not killed the Buffaloes for diversion, and the Elks and Deer for their skins. This afternoon we got to the Staunton where the Houses of the Inhabitants has been carryed off with their grain and Fences by the Frest last Summer, and lodged at James Robinson's, the only place I could hear of where they had corn to spare, notwithstanding the land is such that an industrious man might make 100 barrels a share in a Seasonable year.

    Finding the Cumberland Gap

    12th. We kept down the creek 2 miles further, where it meets with a large Branch coming from the South West and thence runs through the East Ridge making a very good pass; and a large Buffaloe Road goes from that Fork to the Creek over the west ridge, which we took and found the Ascent and Descent tollerably easie. From this Mountain we rode on four miles to Beargrass River. Small Cedar Trees are very plenty on the flat ground nigh the River, and some Barberry trees on the East side of the River. on the Banks in some Beargrass. We kept up the River 2 miles. I found Small pieces of Coal and a great plenty of very good yellow flint. The water is the most transparent I ever saw. It is about 70 yrds. wide.

    April 13th. We went four miles to large Creek which we called Cedar Creek being a Branch of Bear-Grass, and from thence Six miles to Cave Gap, the land being Levil. On the North side of the Gap is a large Spring, which falls very fast, and just above the Spring is a small Entrance to a Large Cave, which the spring runs through, and there is a constant Stream of Cool are issueing out. The Spring is sufficient to turn a Mill. Just at the Foot of the Hill is a Laurel Thicket and the spring Water runs through it. On the South side is a Plain Indian Road. on the top of the Ridge are Laurel Trees marked with Crosses, other Blazed and several Figures on them. As I went down the other Side, I soon came to some Laurel in the head of the Branch. A Beech stands on the left hand, on which I cut my name. This Gap may be seen at a considerable distance, and there is no other, that I know of, except one about two miles to the North of it which does not appear to be So low as the other. The Mountain on the North Side of the Gap is very Steep and Rocky, but on the South side it is not so. We Called it Steep Ridge. At the foot of the hill on the North West side we came to a Branch, that made a great deal of flat land. We kept down it 2 miles, several other Branches Coming in to make it a large Creek, and we called Flat Creek. Coal abounds in this vicinity. We camped on the bank where we found very good coal. I did not Se any Lime Stone beyond this ridge. We rode 13 miles this day.

    April 14th. We kept down the Creek 5 miles chiefly along the Indian Road.

    Building the Settlement

    23rd. Having carried our Baggage over the Bark Conoe, and Swam our Horses, we call crossed the River. Then Ambrose Powell, Colby Chew, and I departed Leaving the others to provide and salt some Bear, build an house, and plant some peach stones and Corn. We travelled about 12 miles and encamped on Crooked Creek. The Mountains hereabouts are very small and here is a great deal of flat Land. We got through the Coal today.

    April 24th. We kept on Westerly 18 miles, got clear of the Mountains and found the Land poor and the Woods very thick beyond them, and Laurel and Ivy in and near the Branches. Our horses suffered very much here for want of food. This day we came on a fresh track of 7 or 8 Indians but could not overtake them.

    25th. We kept on West 5 mils, the Land continuing much Same, the Laurel rather growing worse, and the food scarcer. I got up a tree on a Ridge and saw the Growth of the Land much the same as Far as my Sight could reach. I then concluded to return to the rest of my Company. I kept on my track 1 mile then turn'd southerly and went to Cumberland River at the mouth of a water Course, that I named Rock Creek.

    April 27th. We crossed Indian Creek and went down Meadow Creek to the River. There comes in another from the Southward as big as this one we are on. Below the mouth of this Creek, and above the Mouth are the remains of several Indian Cabbins amongst them a round Hill made by Art about 20 feet high and 60 over the Top. we went up the River, and Camped on the Bank.

    Dr. Thomas Walker State Historic Site

    Today you can visit the history of the expedition, as well as a replica of the Walker cabin, the first European home in Kentucky, at a state park named after him. It is located in Barboursville, Kentucky. There is a museum and gift shop that's open spring to fall. The park grounds are open year round with waysides, trails, picnic tables, a miniature golf course, and more. For more info, check out the state park page for Dr. Thomas Walker State Historic Park. Barboursville is located about one hunred and twenty miles west of I-81 by way of Kingsport, Tennessee. If you're visiting Cumberland Gap National Park, it's about thirty miles west.

    Image above: Replica of the Walker cabin in Barboursville, Kentucky, 2009. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Image Below: Cumberland Gap National Park. Courtesy National Park Service. Info Source: Dr. Thomas Walker State Historic Site; Cumberland Gap National Park; Cumberland Gap National Historical Park," 1964, William W. Luckett; Thomas Walker Journal courtesy of;; Library of Congress; Wikipedia Commons.

    Cumberland Gap National Park

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