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Kentucky History
© 2005 Rickie Lazzerini

Page 1

Historical Review 1.4   
Native Americans

     The Native Americans of Kentucky can be categorized into five eras, the Paleo-Indian Period, Archaic Period, Woodland Period, Pre-Historic Period, and the Historic Period.

     The first Native Americans appeared in Kentucky around 10,500 B.C. They were hunters and gatherers and lived in small nomadic groups. These Indians hunted large game and gathered seeds and other plant food for survival. This era lasted until 8,000 B.C. when the Archaic Period began.

     During the Archaic Period, the Indians continued to hunt, but gathering became more important. Toward the end of this period the Archaic tribes began cultivating squash and started trading with other tribes. The Archaic era lasted until 1000 B.C. when the Woodland culture emerged.

     During the Woodland period, society became more complex. The people continued to hunt and gather, but agriculture became a more important source of food. Agriculture caused the tribes to become more sedentary, allowing them to make advancements in weaponry and pottery. The dominant Woodland culture in the Kentucky area was the Adena. These people were semi-permanent, cultivators and traders. They left behind burial mounds that still exist today.

     The next two eras, the Pre-historic, and the Historic, are what we are most familiar with. During this time, agriculture became very important. Corn and beans were introduced, and demand for land rose. With this new agricultural base, villages became permanent. In the Pre-Historic period the Mississippian culture developed in western Kentucky, and the Fort Ancient people developed in eastern Kentucky.

     During the Historic period Shawnee and Iroquois tribes occupied Kentucky. It was during this period that Native Americans began coming into contact with Europeans. With these Europeans came exposure to many new diseases, decimating the Indian population.


The Early Explorers

     Historians are unsure whether the French or the British were the first Europeans to set foot on Kentucky soil, but we do know that it was the French who first laid claim to the Ohio River Valley.

     In 1669, the Virginia General Assembly granted permission for western exploration, and two years later, Abrahm Woods, a Virginian, dispatched the first expedition to discover the rivers that flowed into the south sea. Between 1673 and 1674, Gabriel Arthur crossed the Kentucky River accompanied by a friendly tribe of Indians known as the Tomahittan. During the expedition the Tomahittan tribe attacked the Shawnees, and as a result, Arthur was captured and wounded. He was eventually freed and returned to Virginia with the first detailed information about Kentucky. His information sparked the interests of many fur traders interested in trading with the Indians.

     During the 17th and early 18th centuries, interest in the land that is now Kentucky was based on trade. Exploration continued into the 1700s with John Howard and Christopher Gist. The French and the British both laid claim to the land, and during John Howard's exploration he was arrested by the French and expedited to France for trial. Christopher Gist explored Kentucky as an agent of the Ohio Land Company in 1751. The company received a royal grant of 200,000 acres between the Monongahela and Yadkin Rivers, which reaffirmed Virginia's claim to the land. The struggle for land between the British and the French was settled after the French and Indian War, which took place between 1754 and 1763. The Treaty of Paris ceded Canada and all French claims east of the Mississippi to England, with the exception of New Orleans. Once the British held legitimate claim to the land, they began settlement.


The First Settlers

     Harrodsburg is credited as being Kentucky's first permanent settlement. James Harrod, a Pennsylvanian, led 31 men into Kentucky in 1774. They traveled down the Ohio and Kentucky Rivers to present-day Mercer County. On June 16, 1774 they began constructing Harrodsburg. The settlers erected cabins and cleared land for crops, but fled the town during Indian attacks. The group returned a year later with more settlers and joined the McAfee family who had settled in the area during their absence.

     Boonesborough was another early settlement, famous because of it's well-known frontiersman Daniel Boone. Judge Daniel Henderson, who went against government orders to negotiate a piece Kentucky land from the Cherokees, founded the town. Because of his considerable knowledge of the area, Henderson employed Daniel Boone to guide a group of settlers. In March of 1775, Boone left Virginia for Kentucky with 35 men, his wife Susannah, and a slave woman. Boone led the company, and hunted for food along the way. Boone and his entourage traveled through the Cumberland Gap and continued west, suffering attacks by Indians that took the lives of some of the men. Boone chose a site on the south bank of the Kentucky River to settle, and Henderson joined them soon after. Henderson was so pleased with Boone that he allotted him 5,000 acres and named the new settlement after him. Food was scarce in the beginning, but the town survived and attracted more settlers.


Early Kentucky Government

     Later that year (1775), Henderson called for the creation of a government. By that time Kentucky had four settlements; Harrodsburg, Boonesborogh, Boiling Springs, and Logan's Station. A representative from each town met in Boonsborogh to draft a temporary government. They passed the necessary measures calling for courts, militia, debt collection, and punishment of criminals. The government was set to meet one year later but never did. A new resident, George Rogers Clark, called for an assembly at Harrodsburg, and convinced the men to travel to Virginia in hopes of convincing officials to make Kentucky a separate county and provide protection. Virginia donated gunpowder to the settlers, which served as recognition of Virginia's claim to Kentucky. That claim was substantiated in 1776 when Montgomery, Washington, and Kentucky counties were added to Virginia.


The American Revolution in Kentucky

     By spring of 1776 the pioneer population of Kentucky numbered about 200, with most living in forts at Boonesborogh, Harrodsburg, and Logan's Station. The area north of the Kentucky River had been abandoned due to Indian and British attacks. The Kentuckians raised a militia led by George Rogers Clark. Boone, Harrod, Logan and John Todd served as captains. This militia protected the settlers from continued Indian attacks.

     Clark realized that Kentucky could only be saved from the British and Indians if Virginia took the offensive, so Clark enlisted 150 men and marched towards Kaskaskia. Picking up more men along the way, he took Kaskaskia by surprise. He was successful in gaining French support as well as support from various Indian tribes. Clark, being warned of an oncoming British attack led by Hamilton, decided the only way to defeat them would be by surprise. Clark's surprise attack led to the surrender of Hamilton at Vincennes.

     Clark was charged with protecting Illinois and Kentucky, but he had trouble raising troops in the west because the main theatre of the Revolution was in Virginia. When the fighting ended in 1781 with the surrender of Cornwallace at Yorktown, fighting continued in the west, and the British continued to occupy forts for years afterwards. The continuing British occupation of forts in the west was a causitive factor leading to the War of 1812.


By Rickie Lazzerini
Historian

BA History
University of California, Santa Barbara

Index of Historical Reviews

2005 Rickie Lazzerini, All Rights Reserved
This page may be freely linked to but may not be reproduced
in any form without prior written consent from the author.



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