The Kentucky Road was the first pathway to Middle Tennesse for American white settlers. The Middle Tennessee pioneers of 1779 followed Daniel Boone's Wilderness Road through 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 the Cumberland 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. Avery's could not carry wagons until about 1795, and was a difficult trail. Apparently some pioneers continued to chose the Kentucky Road route at first because wagons could follow it easier than on Avery's Trace.
Cherokee Indians were at war (Chickamauga Wars) with the white pioneers until 1794. The hostilities started with American War for Independence raids back and forth between Indians and whites. 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 Natchez Trace was probably the oldest overland way to reach French Lick. The Kentucky Road opended in 1779 and was soon followed 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 extented to the Ohio River. The Middle Cherokee Path was used to construct the Georgia Road in 1805 from Athens, Georgia to Nashville, Tennessee. And in 1816 Jackson's Military Road was officially upgraded to connect New Orleans, Louisiana, with Nashville via a junction with the Natchez Trace at Tupelo, Mississippi.
The Donalson flotilla of 1780 reached French Lick by drifting down the Tennessee River and then going up Cumberland River. Both rivers later had steamboat traffic.
Settlers and Records
Wataugans of Virginia and the Carolinas were the very first whitemen 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:
- 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.