April 17, 1750, the 687.9 mile long Cumberland River was named by explorer, Dr. Thomas Walker. It is believed that he named the river in honor of William Augustus (1721-65), the Duke of Cumberland, third and youngest son of George II of Great Britain. The Cumberland is the only river in Kentucky that runs south and then changes course to run north. It begins in Harlan County, flows through Nashville and empties into the Ohio River in Smithland, in Livingston County. Ref: 16
John Finley, from Pennsylvania, was taken captive by Shawnee Indians near the Falls of the Ohio. He was taken to the Indian villages in the KY lowlands, where he was “one of the first” non-Indians to see the fertile forests and prairies that later became known as the Bluegrass Country of KY. Within a short amount of time, the Shawnees released Finley, and he made his way back to the settlements on the Pennsylvania frontier. Although there was a growing demand for new lands to settle, his reports of the Bluegrass Country were not followed up on due to the outbreak of the French and Indian War in 1754. In that conflict, Finley befriended frontiersman Daniel Boone and the rest is history. In 1796 Finley was given a 1,000 acre tract of land in Fleming County. Ref: 16
Mary Inglis was the first reported white women in Kentucky. She came to the area as captive of the Shawnee Indians. She and a Dutch woman escaped from Big Bone Lick and were later rescued along the Ohio River banks. State Highway Route 8, in Northern Kentucky, was named for her in 1924. Ref: 17
September 17, 1769, Lucy (Virgin) Downs, thought to be the first white child born west of the Allegheny Mountains, was born in what is now Fayette County, Pennsylvania, to Jeremiah and Lucy Virgin. In 1790 the family moved to Maysville. She relocated with a brother to Cincinnati in 1792 and was married there on September 20, 1800, to John Downs. She died in 1847 and was buried in Oldtown near the Little Sandy River in Greenup County, where she had resided for forty years.
January 5, 1773, Fincastle County, Virginia officially took effect when the Virginia Legislature created it in late 1772 out of Botetourt County, VA. Botetourt County’s boundaries included present day Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana and parts of Ohio, West Virginia and Virginia. The newly created Fincastle County existed until 1776 and existed of today’s Kentucky’s borders plus more land in Virginia. Ref: 1
June 16, 1774, Fort Harrod, Kentucky’s first white settlement was established. James Harrod lead a group of 30-37 men down the Ohio River, then up the Kentucky River, to Landing Run Creek. They then traveled overland until they crossed the Salt River to a large spring in what is present day Harrodsburg in Mercer County. They erected cabins and surveyed one acre in lots and 10 acre out lots that became the footprint for their new town. Fort Harrod was also referred to as Harrod’s Town or Oldtown.
July 8, 1774, two men under James Harrod’s leadership at Fort Harrod were killed by a Shawnee attacked when a small group was surveying the Fontainbleau Spring area. The others escaped back to the Salt River camp, three miles away.
March 11-15,1775, settlers returned to James Harrod’s settlement and it was continuously occupied from that point on. Many of the 50 men who came back were the same members of Harrod’s expedition the previous year, returning after the Shawnee signed the Treaty of Camp Charlotte with Lord Dunmore months earlier. The settlement would be known as Fort Harrod, which is now Harrodsburg.
May 23, 1775, the first Transylvania Convention opened at Fort Boonesborough. The elected representatives were from Harrodsburg, Boiling Springs, St. Asaph and Boonesborough. In only four days the legislatures passed nine laws: addressing a court system, regulation of a militia, prohibition of swearing and Sabbath-breaking, rules for the payment of debts, clerk’s and sheriff’s fees, improvement of horse breeding and game preservation. These laws reflected the settlers dependence on game for food, good horses and an ever-ready militia for defense against Indians. The governments of VA, NC and James Harrod immediately denounced the Transylvania Company as land pirates. The Transylvania government, with Harrodsburg as its capitol, was to be short-lived.
June 4/5 1775, a group of eight hunters and or explores from Harrod’s Fort came to Central Kentucky to establish a settlement north of the Kentucky River. They camped at a large spring, later known as McConnell’s Spring, which was and still is located on today’s Manchester Street, in downtown Lexington. The camp had received word that America had won the first battle of the American Revolution. This first battle was fought near Lexington, Massachusetts and they were so inspired, they decided to name the place they were camping and the settlement they were planning “Lexington.” A small cabin was built by William McConnell, but due to Indian threats no settlement was made and the party returned to the safety of Fort Harrod.
June 6, 1776, a meeting held in Fort Harrod elected George Rogers Clark and Gabriel John Jones to persuade the Virginia legislature to create a new county from Virginia’s extensive land holdings.
August 7, 1776, the first recorded marriage in Kentucky took place at Fort Boonesborough. Elizabeth (Betsy) Callaway was married to Samuel Henderson. The ceremony was performed by Squire Boone, who was a Baptist elder as well as an accomplished Indian fighter. Samuel Henderson had been a member of Daniel Boone’s rescue party and had rescued his bride, her two sisters and Jermima Boone from the Indians, three weeks earlier. As was customary at such frontier celebrations, there was much fiddle music and dancing as well as the good banter which accompanied such events. One of the features of the celebration of this wedding was the treating of the guests to home-grown watermelon, the first grown at the Boonesborough settlement and of which the entire settlement was very proud.
December 7, 1776, Kentucky County was created by the Virginia legislature. Virginia divided their Fincastle County, VA into Washington County, VA, Montgomery County, VA, and Kentucky County, VA. Clark’s and Jones’s meeting was a success.
December 31, 1776, Virginia’s new counties (Washington, Montgomery & Kentucky) officially took effect. Kentucky County’s boundaries were essentially the same boundaries as Kentucky is today. Harrodsburg became the seat of Kentucky County two years after the county was formed. Ref: 1 & 16.
Referred to by the early settlers of Kentucky as the “Three Bloody Sevens” or the “Year of War.” All settlements in Kentucky except Boonesborough, Harrodsburg and Logan’s Fort had been abandoned for fear of Indians. Indian attacks were frequent and extremely violent. They regularly set fire to the Fort Harrod, stole all the horses and either ate, stole or burned all of the crops. They scalped the pioneers, dead or alive. Many pioneers and their children died and were buried beyond the south wall of the fort. The pioneer cemetery still exists today in its original location.
February 1777, Logan’s Fort was completed by Benjamin Logan and friends. The founders spent a great deal of time traveling between Fort Harrod and their new fort until completed. Sometimes up to 19 single men lived in the fort, along with seven families. When danger from Indians brewed, settlers were called back into the fort for protection. Lincoln County courts were held at Logan’s Fort from 1781-83. Logan’s Fort was occupied till 1790. Notable events at the fort were Daniel Boone’s court martial and James Harrod’s marriage to Ann McDonald. May 20, 1777, Logan’s Fort was attacked by Indians and the infamous Logan’s Fort Siege of 1777 began.
July 4, 1777, Fort Boonesborough was subjected to the heaviest and most serious attack. British Chief Black Fish, with a force of 200 warriors surrounded the fort and began to attack. Daniel Boone and his garrison had discovered the attack force and had warned the settlement well in advance. Constant firing against the stockade and repeated attempts to set fire to the fort by fire arrows and torches thrown over the stockade kept the citizens at the portholes continually. Women and girls molded bullets, loaded spare rifles, cooked and distributed food, rationed water and attended children and livestock without rest. During this attack the Indians destroyed the remaining crops near the fort. On the morning of July 6, the Indians, discouraged by their failure, withdrew before daylight taking with them their seven dead and several wounded warriors. The garrison lost one man and two were wounded.
September 2, 1777, Kentucky’s first court session was held in Fort Harrod. The elected officials were: John Bowman, Richard Callaway, John Floyd, John Todd and Benjamin Logan, who also served as the Sheriff. John May was official surveyor and Levi Todd was clerk. The court took a census at Fort Harrod: 81 Arms bearing men, including 4 unfit for service, 28 Women, 70 Children, including 12 under the age of 10, 19 Slaves, including 7 under the age of 10. Total population of Harrodstown was 198. During this session Fort Harrod officially changed their name to Harrodsburg.
February 7, 1778, a date long remembered by the settlers of the Kentucky frontier, Daniel Boone was captured by the Shawnee and British. Fort Boonesborough saw some of its darkest days as they feared Boone was dead. Boone however understood the nature of the Indians and the Shawnees treated him well. He had killed a number of their warriors, but only when fighting man to man against odds. He trusted the word of Chief Black Fish. Black Fish seemed to have a genuine liking for him and adopted him as his son, giving Boone the name of Sheltowee (Big Turtle). Having learned some of the native language, Boone caught wind of an impending attack and escaped to warn the fort after five months in capture.
May 27, 1778, Corn Island in the Ohio River is where the small band of pioneers who established Louisville first settled. During the following summer George Rogers Clark trained recruits for his Illinois campaign on the island, and the settlers planted corn and camped there until the fort on shore, Fort Nelson, was built in 1781. Part of Corn Island washed away and the rest was submerged when the dam at the Falls of the Ohio was built in the 1920s. It was mapped by Thomas Hutchins in 1766, at which time it measured 4,000 feet long and 1,000 feet wide, encompassing about seventy acres. It extended along the waterfront of present-day Louisville from 5th to 14th Streets, with its southernmost point near the first river pier of the K & I Railroad Bridge. During the late 1700s, the island was covered in “great sycamores, cottonwoods, and giant cane”. The Island was named for the first crop grown there, corn.
June 20, 1778, Daniel Boone arrived back at Fort Boonesborough after being held captive for approximately 5 months by the Shawnee. Mr. Boone made the brave escape from his captures when he became aware of their plan to attack Fort Boonesborough. His arrival was critical in warning the inhabitants of the fort of the impending attack. He had abandoned his horse after a few miles and made the rest of the way on foot. He covered over 160 miles in four days, eating only one meal and a bit of jerked venison en-route. For 10 days the fort was a beehive of activity. The main gates were strengthened, the stockade at the gates and between the outer cabins was completed or repaired. No attack came but it did lead directly to the Great Siege of Fort Boonesborough in September.
September 7, 1778, the Great Siege of Fort Boonesborough began on a Monday morning, when the best war chiefs of the Shawnee, an estimated 444 Indians, 12 Frenchmen and one Negro, surrounded the fort. The Indians’ intention was not to attack but to escort the settlers to Detroit. Shawnee Chief Black Fish’ and Daniel Boone’s entourages finally agreed meet at the gate to discuss terms. As a token of good faith, the chief brought seven roasted buffalo tongues, little did they know how welcome these were to the half-starved settlers. The settlers had voted not to leave the fort, thus the siege began. The siege lasted nine days and had broken all records for sieges of Indian warfare in Kentucky. The courage, the tenacity and the strength of the defenders had triumphed. In retrospect, historians have pointed out repeatedly that, had Fort Boonesborough fallen, undoubtedly the other two stations in KY, Fort Harrodsburg and Fort Logan, would also have been destroyed and the Kentucky frontier emptied from settlement. Had this happened, it is possible that those of us living in Kentucky today would be citizens of Canada rather than of the United States of America.
April 17, 1779, Col. Robert Patterson led a group of 25 men to Harrodsburg and began erecting the first block-house in Lexington. This structure was surrounded by a stockade located on a spring that emptied into a stream nearby. This garrison was built in the shape of a parallelogram and was a defense against Indians. It was located near the corner of what is now Main and Mill streets in Lexington. Lexington was permanently established this year. Ref: 1 & 7
March 8, 1780, Colonel Richard Callaway and several companions were working on his ferry boat about a mile above the settlement at Boonesborough, when they were fired upon by a party of Shawnee Indians. Callaway was killed, scalped and burned. When his body was recovered, it was noted that the Indians had rolled the body in the mud. Pemberton Rawlings was mortally wounded in the attack and also died. The two comrades were buried in a single grave within the old fort or stockade at Boonesborough.
“Probably no single man accomplished more than did Colonel Richard Callaway in laying the foundation that culminated in the admission of Kentucky into the Union on June 1, 1792.” This was a quote by R. Alexander Bate A.B., M.D, in an article published in The Filson Club History Quarterly [volume 29, no. 1, January 1955, Louisville, Kentucky].
March 20, 1780, the town trustees appropriated “the sum of thirty pounds gold and granted one acre of ground to build a courthouse, prison and office, provided that court was to be held in Lexington.” The trustees later set aside Lot No. 11, located on the northwest corner of Main Cross and Main Streets. During the spring of 1782, the first courthouse was finished. The two-story building was built of logs, with two rooms per floor (each 18 by 18 feet). Rooms were heated by a fireplace on each end. Ref: 3 & 6
November 1, 1780, the Virginia Assembly divided Kentucky County into Fayette, Lincoln and Jefferson. Kentucky County included the territory which essentially had the same boundary as the state does today. At the time, the new county was home to five communities: Boonesborough (Madison Couny), Harrodsburg, St. Asaph (later called Logan’s Station in Standford, KY), McClelland’s Station (Georgetown, KY) and Leestown (Frankfort, KY). Harrodsburg was first the county seat of Kentucky County, Virginia.
May 5/6, 1782, the town of Lexington was established by an act of the Virginia General Assembly. The act was received by a board of seven Lexington trustees to receive 710 acres. Ref: 1
August 19, 1782, the Battle of Blue Licks was fought near present day Mount Olivet in Robertson County, This important battle embodied the conflict between Kentucky settlers, the American Indian and the British Crown. It was one of the last battles of the American Revolutionary War. The battle occurred ten months after Lord Cornwallis’s famous surrender at Yorktown, which ended the war in the east. Blue Licks was the last victory for the British and Natives and a disaster for Kentuckians. Seventy-two Kentuckians were killed in that fight; more than a third of their force. One of these was Israel Boone who was shot in the heart. His father Daniel tried to carry his body of the battleground but had to leave it behind to save his own life. The Indians and British lost only three men. This defeat marked the lowest point in the America’s push for the West.
April 19, 1783, Isaac Shelby married Susanna Hart in Fort Boonesborough.
February 1, 1785, the first session of the Transylvania Seminary began in the log house of David Rice, a Presbyterian minister in Danville.
August 11, 1787, brothers John and Fielding Bradford returned to Lexington from Pennsylvania after they learned the newspaper trade, and published the first issue of the Kentucke Gazette. It was Kentucky’s first newspaper and second in the Western Country. No copy of the first edition is known to survive and at the time, Lexington had 350 citizens and 50 residences. The earliest years of the Gazette were meager; barely two small pages of print, but it quickly grew into a four page weekly imparting East Coast and foreign news in addition to the sometimes colorful local announcements. Above all else, though, the Gazette’s primary agenda was the dissemination of opinions regarding state politics and global issues of American frontier concern. Throughout the Gazette’s life it remained true to this principle. As political parties emerged the Gazette became a strong Democratic (Jacksonian) mouthpiece, a stance clearly reflected in its editorials.
August 1, 1790, the first recorded duel in Kentucky took place, two years before Kentucky became a state. It was fought in Danville between Capt. James Strong and Henry Craig. At sunrise the two lined up facing each other armed with clumsy flintlock pistols of large caliber. According to the Kentucky Gazette, “Captain Strong was mortally wounded; the ball entered his right groin and passed just below his left hip. Mr. Craig was wounded through the right thigh.” The cause of the duel was not given. Ref: 21
August 2, 1790, the first official census for Kentucky began and was mandated by the U.S. to be completed within nine months. The results were: 15,154 free white males of 16 years and older, including heads of families, 17,057 free white males under 16 years, 28,922 free white females, including heads of families, 114 All other free persons, 12,430 Slaves. 73,677 Total number of inhabitants reported.
February 4, 1791, the first U.S. Congress in its 3rd session passed the Kentucky State Act: admitting Kentucky into the Union. The Act set June 1, 1792 as Kentucky’s Statehood Day.
May 15, 1792, Isaac Shelby was elected the first Governor of Kentucky by electors from different regions of the state. Ref: 15
June 1, 1792, the Kentucky State Act admitting Kentucky into the Union took effect. Under the Presidency of George Washington, Kentucky was now the first state west of the Appalachian Mountains and the 15th state in the young Union.
June 4, 1792, was a special day for Kentucky and Lexington. On this day Lexington hosted the 1st Kentucky legislature on the second floor of the Market House on Main Street. Also on this day, Lexington hosted the inauguration of Governor Isaac Shelby, Kentucky’s first governor. The session continued until June 29th. Ref: 12
June 18, 1792, the Kentucky legislature elected their first two senators, John Brown and John Edwards, to the U.S. Senate.
December 5, 1792, a commission, selected by the Kentucky Legislature, chose Frankfort as the state’s capitol. The Commissioners were instructed to choose a site that pledged the largest contribution toward the construction of a state house. Several cities bid but Frankfort’s offer of: several town lots, rent money from a tobacco warehouse, assorted building materials and 3,000 in specie from 8 local citizens overwhelmed the others. A three story state house was completed in 1794 and burned to the ground in 1813.
December 18, 1792, the Kentucky General Assembly established an act prescribing the mode of appointing inspectors of tobacco, hemp and flour governed by the laws of Virginia. “That the different ware-houses in the county of Clark, shall be in one inspection and that the ware-houses at Cleveland and Stafford’s landing, shall be one other inspection.”
October 21, 1793, the trustees of Lexington issued a statement in the Kentucky Gazette to put a stop to racing thoroughbreds through the streets of Lexington after several close encounters of flying horse shoes hitting spectators.
January 13, 1794, President Washington authorized an act to change the U.S. flag to a 15-star, 15-stripe flag. This act added 2 stripes and 2 stars for the admission of Vermont (the 14th State) and Kentucky (the 15th State). It was the only U.S. Flag to have more than 13 stripes and lasted 23 years. It was immortalized by Francis Scott Key during the bombardment of Fort McHenry on September 13, 1814. The image is representative of the actual flag that flew over Fort McHenry on that day and which is now preserved in the Smithsonian Museum. You can notice the “tilt” in some of the stars just as in the original Star Spangled Banner. The five Presidents who served under this flag were; George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe. Faced with the admission of five more states in 1818, the flag design would return to the original thirteen stripes.
January 28, 1794, James Harrod’s will was recorded. James Harrod died mysteriously during one of his hunting trips in the winter of 1792. His body was never found and because of his prominence in the state, his death intrigued the public. The story captivated the young commonwealth. The only documentation on the disappearance was Mrs. Harrod’s testimony to receive her Revolutionary War Wife’s Pension which she never received. Ann believed he was murdered by “Bridges.” James was an important witness against “Bridges” in a pending lawsuit. James Harrod divided his plantation between his wife and daughter. The daughter’s second inheritance from her half-brother increased her acreage to 2,800 and when Margaret married in 1802 she was one of Central Kentucky’s richest heiresses.
November 3, 1794, the 3rd capital building but the first permanent one was occupied by the legislatures for the first time. The Kentucky legislatures had first met in Lexington, then in Frankfort, each time using a temporary home. This new stone structure was 100 square feet, three stories high and covered by a hipped roof, with a central cupola. This building would last 19 years before it was destroyed by fire in November 1813. The next capital building built would also be burned. Kentucky has had 8 different capitol buildings. All have been in Frankfort except the first temporary log cabin used in Lexington.
February 17, 1795, J. H. Stewart’s Kentucky Herald, was the second newspaper produced in Kentucky. It was later consolidated into the Kentucky Gazette. Ref: 7
June 7, 1796, James Garrard, a farmer and former Baptist minister, was sworn in as Kentucky’s second governor as a Democratic-Republican Party candidate. The Democratic-Republican Party, states’ rights oriented, was the 2nd political party in the U.S. and formed by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in opposition to America’s 1st political party, Hamilton’s Federalist Party. Governor Garrard went on to win a second term to be the first two term governor. No other governor was able to achieve this feat until the term-limit restriction was eased by a 1992 amendment, allowing Paul E. Patton’s re-election in 1999.
October 15, 1796, the first written record of the Wilderness Road is an announcement in the Kentucky Gazette: “The Wilderness Road from Cumberland Gap to the settlements in Kentucky is now compleated. Waggons loaded with a ton weight, may pass with ease, with four good horses.” Before that time, most people called the route either Kentucky Road or the road to the Holston settlements, depending upon the direction of travel. On John Filson‘s map, the old trail is called “The Road from the Old settle[ments] thro’ the great Wilderness.”
Lexington’s census, as reported by the town trustees, consisted of; Males above 12: 462, Females: 307, Whites under 12: 346, Negros: 360. Ref: 1
December 22, 1798, the Kentucky legislature passed an act merging rival Presbyterian institutions of learning. The Kentucky Academy in Woodford County and Transylvania Seminary of Lexington merged and became Transylvania University.
December 22, 1798, Shelbyville Academy was chartered by the Kentucky General Assembly with a grant of 6,000 acres of land south of the Green River. In 1836 the name changed to Shelby College and in 1841 the Protestant Episcopal Church took control when the campus consisted of 18 acres, a brick building and the president’s home. In the late 1840s and 1850s the college expanded their curriculum for surveyors, civil engineers, astronomers, pharmacists and physicians. The school’s main classroom building included an astronomical observatory built by Kentuckian Gideon Shryock. Disputes over the use of a lottery to provide funding hurt the college, and it closed in 1868. The building was razed in 1939 after it was used as a school for boys and then an elementary school. Picture
April 11, 1799, Henry Clay (22) married Lucretia Hart (18) in Lexington at 193 North Mill Street, Lucretia’s father’s house. They had 11 children, 5 sons and 6 daughters, 7 of whom reached adulthood. Lucretia tolerated her husband’s periodic gambling and drinking bouts. In fact, she was once asked if she minded her husband’s habitual gambling. “Doesn’t it distress you,” sniffed a Boston matron, “to have Mr. Clay gamble?” Lucretia looked surprised at the question. “Oh! dear, no” she replied very innocently, “he most always wins.” Ref: 1
August 24, 1799, in Henderson, KY., Micajah “Big” Harpe’s head was sawed off and stuck on a pole. Big and Little Harpe became America’s first serial killers. When the killing spree came to Kentucky, where over 10 individuals were murdered, a posse finally tracked the pair down, right before they were planning to kill yet another man. Big Harpe was shot off his horse, while Little Harpe fled. Moses Stegall, whose family was murdered in KY, got his revenge – by slowly sawing off Big Harpe’s head. Before dying, Harpe confessed to at least 20 murders. As a warning, Big Harpe’s head was stuck onto a pole at an intersection in Henderson, Kentucky, later called Harpe’s Head. The brothers’ brutal deeds left a permanent stain on the American frontier.
November 21, 1799, John James Dufour of Vevey, Switzerland, had the first commercial vineyard and winery in the U.S., known as the “First Vineyard.” Dufour traveled up and down the Ohio, Mississippi and Kentucky rivers and selected Jessamine Coounty, because there was a shipping port across from the Kentucky River, where he could ship to New Orleans and beyond. The first wine from that vineyard was consumed on March 21, 1803. The winery has collected many interesting historical facts, such as a letter in 1805 from Thomas Jefferson who thanked Dufour for the wines. Shown is a certificate of a share in the “First Vineyard” of Dufour’s Kentucky Vineyard Society.