Van Stockum: Early Kentucky History: Part 2, A Chronology

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Many of the commonwealth’s first statesmen were involved in the struggle for land in what would become Kentucky county.

By Ron Van Stockum


Daniel Boone and his trailblazers, including his younger brother Squire, had reached the future site of Boonesborough at the confluence of the Kentucky River and Otter Creek on April 1, 1775.  Judge Richard Henderson of the newly formed Transylvania Company, the leader of the expedition, having signed a treaty with the Cherokees, brought his main party to join Boone at the chosen site on April 20.

While fortification was of immediate concern to Henderson, as evidenced by his immediate order to move the hastily constructed “fort” to higher ground, the priorities of most of his settlers were the establishment of claims to virgin land.

April 19:  Battles of Lexington and Concord.  The first military engagements of the American Revolutionary War.

Summer: Squire Boone lost no time in pursuing his own search for land.He visited a place on Clear Creek in present Shelby County, where he established his claim to the “Painted Stone” track by making a small improvement.  Such “improvements” frequently consisted of only a rudimentary “lean-to.”



Spring: [Squire Boone]came again to the same place and took a stone out of the creek and with a mill pick picked my name in full and the date of the year thereon, and with red paint I painted the letters & Figures all red from which stone This Tract of land Took the name of the painted Stone tract.

December 31: The Commonwealth of Virginia carved three counties, including Kentucky County, which ultimately became the State of Kentucky, out of Fincastle County.



May 27: George Rogers Clark arrived at the Falls of the Ohio and established the Corn Island Settlement.

September 9-18: Great Siege of Boonesborough by Chief Blackfish and his Shawnees.

October: Following the siege,Colonel Richard Callaway, Daniel Boone’s bitter rival, preferred the following charges against Boone:

  • That he had voluntarily surrendered his 26-man salt-making party.
  • That while a prisoner, he had engaged with British Colonel Henry Hamilton, Lieutenant Governor and Superintendent of Indian Affairs, to surrender the people of Boonesborough, and have them removed to Detroit to live under British jurisdiction.
  • That after returning from captivity, he had encouraged a party to accompany him on a raid across the Ohio, thus weakening the garrison at a time when the arrival of a Shawnee army was imminent.
  • That preceding the attack, on the pretense of making peace, he had taken the officers of the fort to the Indian camp beyond the protection of the garrison’s guns.

Completely exonerated at a court-martial, Boone was shortly afterward promoted to major.

November 4: The Virginia General Assembly specifically declared Richard Henderson’s “purchase” void but added that he and the Transylvania company deserved compensation for their efforts to settle in Kentucky, providing a grant of 200,000 acres between the Green and Ohio rivers.  North Carolina also provided a grant of land, but these were far short of Henderson’s ambitious goals of establishing a separate colony.



Nicholas Meriwether (1749-1828) arrived in Louisville as a “land-locator,” with the mission of obtaining prime land for himself, his family member and others, back in Virginia, who were planning to arrive later.

May:Land Act of 1779, a land-patenting process for early Kentucky settlers, was passed by the Virginia General Assembly. All persons who had made an improvement and planted a crop in Kentucky before January 1, 1778, were entitled to a 400-acre Certificate of Settlement.  Additionally, an adjacent 1,000 acres could be purchased under a Preemption Warrant.



Virginia Land Commission, headed by Judge William Fleming, traveled throughout frontier Kentucky to hold sessions during a period of unprecedented cold, known as the “Hard Winter.”  It had been established by the Virginia Land Act of 1779 to settle disputed lands claims, of which there were hundreds.  

The late University of Louisville professor, Mary K. Bonsteel Tachau, in Federal Courts in the Early Republic: Kentucky 1789-1816 stated that: “[The Virginia Land Commission] journeyed to Kentucky and reviewed more than 1,400 claims, an average of 17 a day.  After six months they confirmed 1,328 of them (representing 5,415 square miles, approximately one-eighth the area of the state), declared their work completed and the conflicts resolved, and returned to Virginia. Seldom has a public commission been more industrious, optimistic, or naive.”

November 22: Squire Boone appeared before the Virginia Land Commission, then sitting in Louisville. Here, he obtained certificates for a settlement and preemption for a tract known as “Stockfields” – a few miles southeast of present-day Richmond, near the Army Depot – for improving it and raising a crop.

Later that day, he obtained “for and in behalf of Benjamin Vancleave,” his brother-in-law, certificates for a settlement of 400 acres and an adjacent preemption of 1,000 acres, known as the “Painted Stone” tracts, on Clear Creek.

Having used his own settlement and preemption rights for Stockfields, Boone needed to claim Painted Stone for someone else, in this case, for his brother-in-law.  Thus, according to Kandie Adkinson, chief of the Kentucky Secretary of State’s Land Office Division, Boone had to “wheel and deal” for this tract.


Writer’s note: Neal Hammon, local architect, an authority on early Kentucky history, reports that the old map of “The Wildersness Road,” accompanying my previous column, includes inaccuracies, which he has corrected in his latest book, John Floyd: The Life and Letters of a Frontier Surveyor.


Ron Van Stockum can be reached at ronvanstockum@mac.com. His latest book, Coming to Kentucky: Heaven is a Kentucky of a Place, just off the press, as well as his others, Kentucky and the Bourbons: the Story of Allen Dale Farm, Squire Boone and Nicholas Meriwether: Kentucky Pioneers,and Remembrances of World Wars,  may be purchased at Terhune’s Style Shop in Village Plaza Shopping Center in Shelbyville or from Amazon.com.