The Oldest Town in Kentucky
By Max Charleston
So much has been written on the subject of this paper that any recapitulation of the facts or addition to them may be regarded as superfluous, but when its importance is considered one may be excused for entering this particular field of research.
That the subject is of special interest cannot be gainsaid. In the Eighteenth century important events were begun in this section of the State - propaganda that now deserve both patient research and adequate appraisal. Nowadays, too, many people are getting to recognize the fact that there is a commercial element involved, and that in the determination of the question what town in the State is entitled to historical priority, dollars and cents are an important and appealing factor.
However that may be, the claims of history and our duty to those who labored so heroically in the early days render any excuse for activity in this line unnecessary.
As I have indicated, quite a good deal has been written about Kentucky's oldest town, but I find that hidden away in the archives of the State and in those of other States there is material relating to the subject that has scarcely seen the light of day. One's duty, therefore, to disclose all available facts is rendered all the more imperative, and on that account I feel I am entitled to be exonerated from any charge of undue zeal or an overwhelming literary impulse.
To me also the matter presents several questions of legal import, the solution of which is not only of great interest, but of a convincing character, and I consider it a duty to call attention to them at this time.
The first town to be considered is Harrodsburg to which the following historians, among others, make reference:
Lewis Collins, "History of Kentucky." Speaking of the coming of the early settlers he says: "In the season of 1774 other parties of surveyors and hunters followed and during this year James Harrod erected a log cabin upon the spot where Harrodsburg now stands which rapidly grew into a station, doubtless the oldest in Kentucky..."
Perrins, "Kentucky" "In the meantime a notable event was occurring near the vicinity of these surveys. In May (1774) James Harrod, who had been in one of the surveying parties of the preceding year led a party of 31 men into what is now Mercer county and laid the foundation of the first settlement and village in Kentucky ... On the 16th of June the company united to lay off a town in which was assigned to each man a half acre lot and a ten acre outlot..."
Temple Bodley, "History of Kentucky" -- "1774 was a year of outstanding importance in the history of Kentucky for it was then that the first attempt was made to found a settlement there. Among the men who had been members of Bullitt's party surveying lands along the Ohio two years before was James Harrod. He then learned of the rich Bluegrass region of central Kentucky and determined to settle there. On his return to the Monongahela region he gathered a party of about 50 frontiersmen and in the spring of 1774 went down the Ohio and up the Kentucky to a point afterward called Harrod's Landing, and thence a short distance overland to the head of Dick's River. There they laid out lots and began building log cabins for a town, which they called Harrodstown. Their work, however, was interrupted by the Shawnees and other Indian tribes North of the Ohio... There was a rapid retreat across the Monongahela..."
Biographers, too, refer to the town. Timothy Flint in "The First White Man of the West, or the Life and Exploits of Colonel Danl Boone, the First Settler of Kentucky" -- Among the names of the conspicuous backwoodsmen who settled the West we cannot fail to recognize that of James Harrod. He was from the banks of the Monongahela and among the earliest immigrants to the "Bloody Ground" ... in 1774 fixing himself at one of the earliest settlements in the country, which in honor of him was called Harrodstown."
George Canning Hill, "Life of Boone" -- "In 1773 a party of surveyors went to Kentucky headed by Captain Thomas Bullitt. This party included Harrod, Taylor, Bullitt and McAfee. The next year Captain James Harrod at the head of a body of 40 men came down the Ohio in the month of May from the Monongahela and proceeded to lay out the town then known as Harrodstown, but now as Harrodsburg. They laid out the place in lots of half an acre each and allowed for each another outlying lot of five acres, a liberal style of setting a new town on foot and proving the land was to be had in plenty..."
Cecil B. Hartley, "Life of Daniel Boone" Between 1769 and 1773 various associations of men were formed in Virginia and North Carolina for visiting the newly discovered regions and locating lands and several daring adventurers at different times during this period penetrated to the head waters of Licking River and did some surveying, but it was not until the year 1774 that the whites obtained a permanent foothold in Kentucky. From this year, therefore, properly dates the commencement of the early settlements of the State... Among the hardy adventurers who descended the Ohio this year and penetrated to the interior of Kentucky by the river of that name was James Harrod who had led a party of Virginians from the shores of the Monongahela. He disembarked at a point still known as "Harrod's Landing" and crossing the country in the direction nearly West, paused in the midst of a beautiful and fertile region and built the first log cabin ever erected in Kentucky on or near the site of the present town of Harrodsburg. This was in the Spring or early part of the summer of 1774..."
W. H. Bogart, "Daniel Boone and The Hunters of Kentucky" -- "In 1774 other surveyors followed. In May, Captain James Harrod with a band of 41 men descended the Ohio River from the Monongahela and arrived at the present location off Harrodsburg, or, as it was then called, Harrodstown, or Old Town. When the town was laid out the town lots were of one half acre and the outlets five acres. There corn was first raised..." Ross F. Lockridge, "George Rogers Clark" -- "Lord Dunmore who was the last royal governor of Virginia, took prompt action to protect these adventurous colonists. The conflict which followed from May to November 1774 is known as Lord Dunmore's War. When the conflict broke out Lord Dunmore dispatched Daniel Boone and Michael Stoner to pilot back to the safety of Virginia some surveyors whom he had previously sent to Kentucky. These two hardy scouts made the round trip of eight hundred miles in 64 days. The hunters and settlers as well as the surveying parties quickly left this dangerous territory, so that before the end of 1774 there were few, if any whites left in Kentucky, or middle Tennessee. Harrodsburg, the first permanent settlement in Kentucky, was temporarily abandoned..."
Happily, we are not obliged to rely solely on historians and biographers for data as to the early settlement of this section of the State, for the pioneers themselves have left us records that are both graphic and dependable and throw a good deal of light on the events of the time. A few excerpts from these records will therefore be of interest:
Robert B. McAfee writes: "The year 1774 the above company (the one of which he was a member, the McAfee company) intended to return to Kentucky to improve and look after their lands, but previous to their getting ready to start hostilities broke out with the Northern Indians, Shawanoes Mingos and Delawares, on account of the murder of Logan and his family on the Ohio River which eventuated in a war and James and Robert McAfee and George McAfee joined the troops under Col. Shelby and marched to the aid of Gen. Andrew Lewis, who had a battle with the Indians at the mouth of the Kenaway called tthe Battle of the Points on account of its being at the point between the two rivers. But while then absent another company under Col. James Harrod consisting of about 41 men in all, Harrod having 30 men with him, was afterwards joined by another company of 11 men on the Ohio. They pursued nearly the same route that the McAfee had, only they ascended the Kentucky River in canoes to the mouth of Landing Run (then so called) in the month of May, nearly opposite the now village of Salvisa, at a place called Oregon, and from thence they passed over on Salt River and made other improvements on portions of the land made by the McAfees... This company also found Fountains Blue Spring, which was claimed by Isaac Hite, one of Harrod's company, who finally held it by a compromise with Samuel Adams. Col. Harrod's company also discovered the big town spring of Harrodsburg which they made their headquarters and on the 16th of June, 1774, laid off a town on the South side of the town branch below this spring and built some five or six cabins and called it Harrodstown..."
Nicholas Cresswell says: "Harwood's Landing, Sunday, June 4th, 1775. Arrived at Harwood's Landing in the evening. Saw a rattle snake about 4 feet long. A bark canoe at the Landing. We have been fourteen days in coming about 120 miles. My right foot much swelled owing to a hurt I go by bathing in the river. Rocky and Cedar hills along the banks of the river. My foot very painful. Monday, June 5th, 1775. This is called Harwood's Landing as it is the nearest to a new town that was laid out last summer by Captain Harwood, who gave it the name of Harwoodstown, about 15 miles from the Landing for which place Mr. Nourse, Mr. Johnson, Taylor and Rice set out this morning. I would have gone with the, but my foot is so bad I am scarcely able to walk. Applied a fomentation of herbs to assuage the swelling. Very little to eat and no possibility of getting any flour here. Must be without bread very soon. Tuesday, June 6th, 1775. Mr. Nourse and company returned in the evening. He gives good account of the richness of the land, but says it appears to be badly watered and light timbered. They lodged in the town. Mr. Nourse informs me there is about 30 houses in it, all built of logs and covered with clapboards, but not a nail in the whole town. Informs us that the Indians have killed four men about nine miles from the town. This has struck such a panic that I cannot get anyone to go down the Ohio with me on any account. Determined to return by the first opportunity. My foot much better. Much provoked at my disappointment. Wednesday, June 7th, 1775. My foot much better. All of us that had guns went hunting. Rambled over a great hill, saw a great deal of land, but no game. Mr. Johnson left us and went to Harwoodsburg... "
General John Poage: "Reminiscences." -- On last Friday it being a very pleasant day, we took a foot trip into Kentucky, crossing the river at Tanner's Ferry. About a mile above the Ferry we stopped in at General Poage's and here was an end to all further progress that day, so interesting was the conversation of the hale and hearty old gentleman, relating early reminiscences. And as he is almost universally known to our readers by reputation at least, and is ultimately acquainted with much of the early history of this region, we have concluded to sketch down some points elicited in our rambling conversation.
General John Poage was born December 11th, 1775, in Augusta county, Va., about four miles from Staunton, but was raised principally in Bath county. He was the son of Major George Poage.
The father, George Poage, was one of the party that accompanied James Harrod to Kentucky in the year 1774, at which time Col. Harrod built the first house that ever stood in the interior of Harrodsburg. Daniel Boone had previously built a cabin upon the borders of the State. Captain Harrod was a pioneer party..." In 1813 an interesting case, Bowman vs. Thomas, was heard in the Mercer Circuit Court, the depositions in it being all by pioneers familiar with the early history of Harrodsburg, as the following will show:
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