Early Settlers in Kentucky–Where to Look

As I was studying Harriette Simpson Arnow’s book, Seedtime on the Cumberland, published some time ago by Macmillan Company of New York, I came across these paragraphs:

Many families in this general region (Upper Cumberland Valley), particularly up on the Big South Fork, have hand-me-down stories of Baptist ancestors who instead of stopping in East Tennessee or going down to Natchez, slipped into this part of Kentucky.  Still others tell of Tories, unable to escape to Canada, settled in some out of the way valley on a branch of the Cumberland.  There are, too, stories of forted farms and fights with Indians, but save for the depositions, given twenty-five to thirty years later, usually in connection with a lawsuit over land, little is known of the early history of the southeastern part of Kentucky drained by the Cumberland.

Lists of early land grants in Kentucky help not at all.  First, few Kentuckians had any knowledge whatever of the southern part of the state, and secondly, land grants were almost always located by water courses, but seldom did the surveyor and almost never did those who listed his work take the trouble to name the larger body of water into which the creek or branch flowed.  There was for example, a Stinking Creek of Cumberland and a Stinking Creek of Rockcastle…

The name of the grantee is not always of much help.  It was a small world with most of the early settlers on the Cumberland coming from a relatively small part of this world–southwestern Virginia and North Carolina.  Thus, many bore the same name.  Daniel Smith was, for example, a leading citizen of Middle Tennessee.  Contemporaneous with him over in East Tennessee was another Daniel Smith who made John Redd a pair of leather breeches.  John Buchanan was a first settler on the Cumberland, and his son John built a fort, while still another John Buchanan was killed in the Revolution.

I have taken the liberty of italicising specific problems with Kentucky research.  And early Kentucky research is a challenge–no question.  We do, however, live in the 21st century with tools and indexes and abstracts and knowledge of where the original records can be found which Ms Arnow did not have access to–although her research for this book is exceptional and her maps are extraordinary.

In the next blogs, I will address these problems with answers and solutions–so if you run into these specific challenges, you will have what you need to solve them.

  1. Hand-me-down stories. Check out the DAR collection (on microfilm through your nearest Family History Center, call numbers available at FamilySearch.org. Then write the local public library genealogy collections in the areas where your ancestors reside for a check of their family files.  The correspondence in these files often recounts the stories.  Finally,  check the Kentucky Historical Society with the same request.  The secret of the Family Files is that few repositories sort their files–you will get all the Daniel Smiths and John Buchanans filed together.  You will be the one to sort them out–ensuring that you don’t miss out on the one that belongs to you.
  2. Slipped into this part of Kentucky–Cumberland Valley.  The entre to the Cumberland Valley for most early ancestors was through eastern Tennessee and southwestern Virginia.  Still is.  Check out a current road map.  The flow of the mountains and the directions of the water courses and valleys is shown on most current road maps.  Compare with a topographical map from your nearest federal Map Store–or order the right section online.  A careful map study before you actually research is always a good idea–and a time-saver.
  3. Tories who settled in out of the way valleys.  If your ancestor appears to have parachuted into a Kentucky County–with little track of their origins–search the Tory lists from the American Revolution for  North Carolina, first.  Don’t spin your wheels aimlessly checking local sources.  They hid their origins–it was illegal and treason to be a Tory!
  4. Forted farms.  Virginia, the original jurisdiction for southeastern Kentucky, awarded 600 acres of land to any settler willing to build a fort or stockade for protection from the Indians and allowing neighbors to use this same safety station.   See Arlene H. Eakle and Linda E. Brinkerhoff, Kentucky, Volume I (Family History World, PO Box 129, Tremonton UT 84337 or online on my Home Page Catalog link) for a working list of early Kentucky stations  with lists of their settlers.  This is a list in progress with regular updates.  Lots of new information appears as I continue to research forted farms and stations.
  5. Fights with Indians.  Military service in Kentucky was your ancestor’s day job!  He served at the fort or on muster or in the field for his shift.  Then went home to his family and farm when he was not on duty.  I am working on a list of early militias and soldiers who served at forts–official posts as well as stations.  I’ll keep you posted as I get the names together.
  6. Lawsuits over land.  Kentucky created a big mess in land titles–your ancestor was most likely to be involved in one or more of these before he gave up and left the state for a better life in Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, or Missouri.  And finally Kansas.   Overlapping land titles, unrecorded claims, land rights barred from descent to heirs–all these and more.  Stay tuned for where to look and how to use this evidence to your advantage.

Your favorite Kentucky genealogist, Arlene Eakle   http://www.arleneeakle.com

About Arlene Eakle

I trace your family tree; or, teach you how.
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