A Brief History of Kentucky

A Brief History of Kentucky

Recorded history begins around 1650 when Native American Tribes like the Chickasaw, Cherokee, and Shawnee roamed the area as descendants of the first people to cross the ice bridge from Asia to North America some 30,000 years ago. Nomadic in nature, Kentucky was more a hunting ground for Native American Indians, and few permanent settlements have been documented. Hostilities between Indians and white settlers occurred off and on between the mid 1700’s until the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, which nearly stopped Indian resistance, however minor skirmishes occurred until 1813.

Explores of the Kentucky wilderness around 1750 were of British, French, and Spanish descent. All started making claims to Kentucky as their own. The French claimed all of the land drained by the Mississippi River and it’s tributaries, and the Spanish also wanted the waterways for trade. The British wanted all of it, resulting in the French and Indian War. The British were victorious, and put down an Indian uprising known as Pontiac’s Rebellion. This, and a 1795 treaty with Spain gave the British control of Kentucky, as well as the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Feeling quite invincible the British issued a Royal Proclamation forbidding settlement west of the Appalachians.

Settlers came undeterred by the proclamation after word of the fertile land, and abundant game spread east. Settlers and Frontiersmen came through the Cumberland Gap, including legendary hunter, and Indian fighter Daniel Boone arriving in 1767. The first permanent settlement was Harrodsburg in 1774, followed by Boonesboro the next year.

Despite all private claims, The Commonwealth of Virginia’s legislature laid claimed to Kentucky as a county in 1776. That lasted only until 1792 when the Commonwealth of Kentucky became the 15th state in the union, and the first west of the Appalachians.

The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 gave Kentucky good footing for economic growth as a trade center via the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Economic prosperity reigned as the region became agricultural with Tobacco, Hemp, and Corn as the principle crops.

The period between 1800 and 1860 gave rise to Kentucky’s political and cultural advances as influential Kentuckians rose to power nationally, Richard M. Johnson, and John Breckenridge became Vice President, long time Kentucky resident Zachary Taylor became President, and Henry Clay was a three time candidate for the presidency.

Kentucky’s neutral stance at the start of the Civil War was the epitome of the brother against brother. Tens of thousands of Kentucky men fought for the Union, and tens of thousands fought for the Confederacy. A border state, Kentucky never succeeded from the Union, and eventually backed the north even though it was invaded by both armies.

After the war economic progress was slow, until the railroads expanded into the isolated eastern mountains carrying Kentucky’s plentiful coal across the nation in the early 20th century. Kentucky became one of the leading coal producing states.

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