The Kentucky Road was the first pathway to Middle Tennessee for American settlers. The Middle Tennessee pioneers of 1779 followed Daniel Boone's Wilderness Road via the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky, but then split off that road and headed southwest on the north side of the Cumberland River toward the salt licks, hunting grounds, and prime farmlands of Middle Tennessee.
The Kentucky Road could also be described as a southern fork of the Wilderness Road. In 1779 Watauga pioneers led by James Robertson followed the Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap and across the Cumberland River. Then they made their way on the north side of that river past the "Kentucky barrens" toward French Lick (now Nashville, Tennessee).
This route was the primary trail to the Cumberland settlements at least until Avery's Trace was opened in 1788, and could accomadate wagons about 1795. Even then, Avery's was a difficult trail. Apparently some pioneers continued to select the Kentucky Road route as an alternate to the shorter Avery's Trace.
Cherokee Indians were at war (Chickamauga Wars) with the American pioneers until 1794. The hostilities started with American War for Independence raids back and forth between Indians allied with the British and American Patriot setters in East and Middle Tennessee. Cumberland settlers (including Donalson's flotilla in 1780) and pioneers on the Kentucky Road were subject to Indian raids. After 1794 when the Indian threat ended, the white population of Middle Tennessee expanded rapidly.
The Kentucky Road, Avery's Trace, and the Natchez Trace Extension followed almost the same path through Davidson and Sumner counties in Tennessee. The Natchez Trace, an old Indian trail also used by the French, was probably the oldest overland way to reach French Lick. The Kentucky Road opended in 1779 to American pioneers and was succeeded by Avery's Trace in 1787. By 1795 the Walton Road took a slightly more southern route than Avery's. In 1796 the Natchez Trace was extended to Limestone (Maysville, Kentucky) on the Ohio River. In 1805 the Georgia Road followed part of the Middle Cherokee Path to connect Athens, Georgia to Nashville, Tennessee. And in 1816 the U.S. Congress officially upgraded Jackson's Military Road to connect New Orleans, Louisiana, with Nashville via a junction with the Natchez Trace at Tupelo, Mississippi.
Pioneers also used rivers to reach Nashville. Enduring several Indian battles, the Donalson flotilla of 1780 reached French Lick by drifting down the Tennessee River and then making their way up the Cumberland River. Both rivers later had steamboat traffic.
Settlers and Records
Wataugans of Virginia and the Carolinas were the very first Americans to use the Kentucky Road. They were soon followed by thousands of others. The Scots-Irish and Germans coming along the Great Valley Road reached northeast Tennessee and followed the Wilderness and Kentucky roads to Middle Tennessee. For the earliest pioneers see:
- East Tennessee Historical Society, First families of Tennessee: a register of early settlers and their present-day descendants (Knoxville, Tenn.: East Tennessee Historical Society, c2000) [FHL 976.8 H2ff].
- Doug Drake, Jack Masters, and Bill Puryear, Founding of the Cumberland, The First Atlas 1779-1804, Showing Who Came, How They Came, and Where They Put Down Roots (Gallatin, Tenn. : Warioto Press, ©2009) [FHL 976.8 E7d]. Includes gorgeous art, and extensive pioneer family land grant data. Also see their Internet site below.
- Doug Drake, Jack Masters, and Bill Puryear, Cumberland Pioneer Settlers 1779-1804. Selected outstanding photos, art work, and extracts from their book cited above.
- East Tennessee Historical Society, First Families of Tennessee: a Register of Early Settlers and Their Present-day Descendants (Knoxville, Tenn.: East Tennessee Historical Society, c2000) [FHL 976.8 H2ff], 23-24.
- Wikipedia Contributors, "Nashville, Tennessee" in Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nashville,_Tennessee (accessed 6 August 2010).
- Wikipedia Contributors, "Chickamauga Wars (1776–1794)" in Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chickamauga_Wars_(1776%E2%80%931794) (accessed 6 August 2010).
- First Families, 24-25.