Dr. Thomas Walker’s Journal

Jadon Gibson

Dr. Thomas Walker’s journal entries in 1750 are absolutely fascinating.

They document the discovery of Cumberland Gap before Dr. Walker’s party ventured deeper into the wilds that would become Kentucky.

During the next few weeks we’ll open Dr. Walker’s journal and travel with him into Kentucky where he and his men erected the first log cabin that was built in that territory.

For two centuries the Appalachian Mountain range masked the virgin timberland, wild game, rich soil, and Indians, that lay beyond.  Walker’s discovery of Cumberland Gap led an avalanche of settlers into Kentucky and further west.

Dr. Thomas Walker (1714-1794), was a doctor and statesman who became the guardian of Thomas Jefferson. Walker lived on his estate, Castle Hill, in Albemarle County, Virginia.

In some cases I am rewording Walker’s journal entries to language generally used and more readily understood today.

March 6, 1750  I left my house at Albemarle County, Virginia, at 10 a.m. in the company of Ambrose Powell, William Tomlinson, Colby Chew, Henry Lawless and John Hughes.  Each man had a horse and we had two extra horses to carry the supplies.

March 7  We set off at about 8 a.m. but the day was wet and we only got as far as Rockfish River.  It is a scenic river. With a little work it could be used for transporting tobacco.

     March 8 We left early.  It began to rain about noon.  I left my people at the home of Thomas Jones and went to the home of Rev. Robert Rose on Tye River.  The inhabitants enjoy plenty of fine fish such as shad, carp, rockfish, fat-backs, which I suppose means perch, mullet, etc.

March 9  The weather is bad so we did not travel far.

March 10  It is still cloudy.  I left my people and rode to John Harvey’s where I dined.  March 11  the Sabbath.  Throughout the journey Dr. Walker and his party did not travel on Sunday except for a couple of occasions.

March 12  We crossed the Fluvanna and lodged at Thomas Hunt’s.

March 13  We went to Calloways and supplied ourselves with rum, thread and other necessities.  We then took the main wagon road to New River.  The road is not well cleared.  We lodged at Adam Beard’s.  He is an ignorant, impudent, brutish fellow.

March 14  We bought corn for the horses at Nicholas Welch’s and had breakfast.  Afterwards we crossed the Blue Ridge.  Corn is very scarce on the western side.

March 15  There is much wild game.  There would be even more if individuals had not killed buffalo for sport and the deer and elk for their skins.  We lodged at James Robinson’s, the only place that had corn to spare.

March 16  We traveled to William English’s who has a mill.  There is one other mill in the area.  It was built by a sect of people calling themselves the Brotherhood of Euphrates.

March 17  We swam our horses over New River which is about 400 yards wide.  The Duncards live here.  They are a very hospitable people who do not shave their beards, nor do they lie on beds or eat meat.  They keep their Sabbath on Saturday.  March 18  the Sabbath.

March 19  Our horses were gone this morning and we spent the day looking for them.  We found their tracks in the late afternoon.

March 20  We followed the tracks 6 or 7 miles miles before finally finding our horses.  We bought meal and hominy from the Duncards and left.

March 21  We arrived at Reedy Creek (now called Reed Creek) and camped near James McCall’s cabin.  I lodged at his home and bought bacon for our journey.

March 22  I arose and returned to our camp early.  Today we reached a large spring about five miles below Davis’s Bottom on the Holston River and camped.  The Holston River was called Watauga by the Indians but later got its name from an early explorer and hunter whose name was Holston.

March 23  We followed the bank of the Holston River about four miles today and camped. I had been told that Samuel Stalnaker recently moved to this area.  Ambrose Powell and I went searching for him.  We found his camp and made plans to assist him tomorrow in raising a home.  We returned to our camp in the late afternoon.

March 24  We went to Stalnaker’s and camped a quarter mile away while we helped him build his cabin. Walker tells of meeting Stalnaker two years previously between Reedy Creek and Holston River on his way to see the Cherokee Indians.     March 25  the Sabbath.  The grass is plentiful in the low grounds.

March 26  Thunder, lightning and rain ushered in the day.  We left the Stalnakers and traveled westward to a large spring on a branch of the north fork of the Holston. 

Editor’s note:  Dr. Walker’s party encounter buffalo, snow and signs of Indians next week. Jadon Gibson is a freelance writer from Harrogate, TN. His writings are both historical and nostalgic in nature and can be read regularly at bereaonline.com. Don’t miss a single posting!

My Voice for God – A Voice for Good column is not ready for inclusion this week but I feel His presence in my life every day.

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