In 1775, 20 million acres of land west of Virginia were purchased by Richard Henderson. The Transylvania Land Company was formed, and Daniel Boone was hired to etch a road through the wilderness into Kentucky. In his Boone’s Wilderness Road, Archer Butler Hulbert provides an account of that effort. Following is part of that account, along with some interesting first-hand accounts of the expedition into that area.
“[Richard] Henderson’s purchase was gigantic in its proportions, embracing nearly twenty million acres. The consideration was ten thousand pounds sterling. The purchase was made at the advance settlement at Watauga, March 17, 1775—only a month before the outbreak at Lexington and Concord. Henderson employed Boone to assist in the transaction, and immediately after engaged him to mark out the road through Cumberland Gap to a settlement in Kentucky, where the Transylvania Company (as Henderson strangely named his organ[Pg 93]ization) was to begin the occupation of the empire it had nominally secured. Of this Boone writes modestly that he was “solicited by a number of North Carolina gentlemen, that were about purchasing the lands lying on the south side of the Kentucky River, from the Cherokee Indians, to attend their treaty at Watauga, in March, 1775, to negotiate with them, and mention the boundaries of the purchase. This I accepted, and at the request of the same gentlemen undertook to mark out a road in the best passage from the settlement through the wilderness to Kentucky, with such assistance as I thought necessary to employ for such an important undertaking.” …
“Henderson’s party left Fort Watauga March 20, 1775, and arrived at the infant Boonesborough April 20. The leader of the party fortunately kept a record, though meager, of this notable journey. This precious yellow diary is preserved by the Wisconsin Historical Society. It reads:
“Monday March 20th 1775
Having finished my Treaty with the Indians, at Wataugah Sett out for Louisa [Wautauga is essentially where the town of Elizabethton, TN, is now] ….
Thursday 30th Arrived at Capt Martins in Powels Valey— [TN]
Fryday 31st Imploy’d in makeing house to secure the Waggons as we could not possibly clear the road any further. …
[April 5] Wednesday 5th Started off with our pack Horses abt. 3 oClock Traveld about 5 Miles to a Large Spring.
Traveled about Six Miles to the last Settlement in Powels Valey where we were obliged to stop and kill a Beef wait for Sam Henderson & [N. B?] this was done whilst waiting for Saml Henderson as afo[re mentioned]
Fryday the 7th. About Brake of Day begun to snow, About 11 oClock received a letter from Mr Littereals camp that were five persons kill’d on the road to the Cantuckee by Indians—Capt Hart, uppon the receipt of this News Retreated back with his Company & determin’d to Settle in the Valley to make Corn for the Cantuckey People
Satterday the 8th. Started abt. 10 oClock Cross’d Cumberland Gap about 4 Miles Met about 40 persons Returning from the Cantuckey. on Acct. of the Late Murder by the Indians could prevail one one [sic] only to return. Memo Several Virginians who were with us returned.
Sunday the 9th. Arrived at Cumberland River where we met Robt Wills & his son returning &c
Monday 10th. Dispachd Capt Cocke to the Cantukey to Inform Capt Boone that we were on the road Continued at Camp that day on Acct of the Badness of the Wether
[April 11] Tuesday 11th started from Cumberld. made a very good days Travel of Near 20 Mile Kill’d Beef &c.
Wednesday the 12 Travel’d about 5 Miles, prevented going any further by the rains & high water at Richland Creek— …
Satterday the 15th. Traveld about 18 Miles & campt on the North side of Rock Castle River.—this River’s a fork of Cumberland—lost an ax this morn at Camp.
Sunday the 16th. About 12 oClock Met Jemes McAfee with 18 other persons Returning from Cantuckey Traveld about 22 Miles and Campt on the head of Dicks River where Luna from Mc.Afees camp came to us resolved to go to the Louisa—
Monday 17th Started about 3 oClock prevented by Rain. Traveld 7 Miles
Tuesday the 18th. Traveld about 16 Miles, met Michael Stoner with Pack Horses to assist us. Campt that Night in the Edge of the Rich Land—Stoner brought us Excellent Beef in plenty
Wednesday 19th. Traveld about 16 Miles Campt on Oter Creek—a good mill place
Thursday the 20th. Arrived at Fort Boone. on the Mouth of Oter Creek Cantukey River—where we were Saluted by a running fire of about 25 Guns; all that was then at Fort—The men appeared in[Pg 107] high Spirits & much rejoiced on our arrival”
Colonel Henderson (as the leader of the Transylvania Colony is best known) arrived at Boonesborough one day after the outbreak of the Revolutionary struggle at Lexington and Concord, and on his own fortieth birthday.
May, Monday first I go out to look for my mair and saw 4 bufelos the Being the first that I Saw & I shot one of them but did not git him when I caim Home Eanock[Pg 117] & Robin had found the mair & was gone out a hunting & did Not come in for—Days and kild only one Deer.
tuesday 2d I went out in the morning & kild a turkey and come in & got some on for my breakfast and then went & Sot in to clearing for Corn.” Journal as Recorded in Boone’s Wilderness Road
Filson’s Map of Virginia 1764
Was Boone’s Road and the Settlement in Kentucky A Good Investment for Virginia?
Initially, Virginia did not reap much financial gain from their investment in the purchase of the land between Virginia and Kentucky. In addition, the cost of the expedition there and the settlement in Kentucky added more expense. But Virginia was rewarded for this investment in other ways. Primarily, the settlement in Kentucky secured a spot for Virginia in the trend toward western expansion. On the other hand, Kentucky gained richly by the investment.
“As for the benefit Kentucky itself received from Boone’s Road, that is self-evident. Taking everything into consideration, no distinct movement of population in America, before or since, can compare in magnitude with the burst of immigration through Cumberland Gap between 1775 and 1790. Never on this continent was a population of seventy thousand people located, within fifteen years of the day the first cabins were erected, at an equal distance from the existing frontier line. It is difficult to frame the facts of this remarkable phenomenon in language that will convey the full meaning. If the brave pioneers from Connecticut who founded the Northwest Territory at Marietta, Ohio, in 1788, had gone on to Kentucky, they would have found themselves, within twelve years, in as populous a state as that they left in New England. The Stanwix Treaty and Boone’s Road largely answer the ques[Pg 189]tion why Kentucky contained more than one-half as many inhabitants as Massachusetts, twenty-five years after its first settlement was made; and why it was admitted into the Union four years before Tennessee, ten years before Ohio, twenty-four years before Indiana, twenty-six years before Illinois (bounded by the Ohio and Mississippi and Lake Michigan), and twenty-eight years before Maine. Between 1790 and 1800 the population of Kentucky jumped from 70,000 to 220,000, only one-third less than proud Maryland, and five times that of Ohio. In the census of 1790 Kentucky stood fourteenth in a grouping of sixteen states and territories, while in 1800 it stood ninth. In 1790 it exceeded the population of Rhode Island, Delaware and Tennessee. In 1800 it exceeded New Jersey, New Hampshire, Georgia, Vermont, Maine, Tennessee, Rhode Island, and Delaware. In this year it had one hundred and sixty thousand more inhabitants than Indiana Territory, Mississippi Territory, and Ohio Territory combined. In the decade mentioned, New York State increased in population two hundred and fifty thousand;[Pg 190] far-away Kentucky increased one hundred and forty-seven thousand.
“But the West as a whole was benefited by Boone’s Road. The part played by this earliest population of Kentucky in the development of the contiguous states—Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri—has never been emphasized sufficiently.” Boone’s Wilderness Road
“Not until 1792 was the mountain route improved. “In that year,” writes Mr. Speed, “according to an account-book recently found among the Henry Innis Papers, by Colonel John Mason Brown … a scheme was projected for the clearing and improvement of the Wilderness Road, under the direction of Colonel John Logan and James Knox. …
“The Kentucky legislature passed an act in 1793, which provided a guard for pilgrims on the Wilderness Road; in 1794 an act was passed for the clearing of the Boonesborough fork of the road, from Rockcastle Creek to the Kentucky River. In 1795 the legislature passed an act to make the Wilderness Road a “wagon road” thirty feet wide from near Crab Orchard to Cumberland Gap.” Boone’s Wilderness Road