The Kentucky Migration
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4. The Kentucky Migration

The first serious explorations of the Kentucky territory by English colonists had begun around 1750, and it was found that the area was not generally inhabited by Indians, but was used primarily as a hunting ground by Indian tribes living along the tributaries north of the Ohio River and by the southern Cherokee tribes28,29. Negotiations with the Indians for white settlement of the area followed close upon the early explorations, resulting in the 1768 treaty concluded at Fort Stanwix, NY, with the Mohawk Six Nations, who claimed rights to the territory by virtue of their conquest of the Shawnees. The Indian participants at the negotiations agreed to white settlement of the land south of the Ohio for the consideration of 10,000 pounds sterling. In 1774 an incursion into Virginia by the Shawnee and Miami tribes led to their defeat, after which they also relinquished their rights to the Kentucky territory. A group of negotiators from the Transylvania Company which included Daniel Boone obtained agreement from the Cherokees along the Tennessee River in 1775 to allow white settlement of the area. By 1780 a number of stations had been established by James Harrod, Daniel Boone and others to facilitate the migration into the territory from the eastern states. In spite of the treaties, Indians raids on the settlements were common during the first two decades of the movement into Kentucky. These were first encouraged by the French and, during and after the Revolutionary War, by the British from their strongholds in the north. Indian depredations greatly slowed the rate of settlement of the territory until the middle 1780's.

In the meantime, the Revolutionary War brought great hardships and even greater changes to St. Mary's County1. British warships roamed the Chesapeake and tributary rivers at will, impounding supplies and in many instances looting and sometimes destroying homes, churches and warehouses. A large percentage of the eligible men fought in the war, either marching with the Continental Army or guarding the home front in local militias. The regular army regiments from St. Mary's County fought engagements from New York to South Carolina and were present at the British surrender at Yorktown.

The pursuit and successful conclusion of the war brought both detrimental and beneficial effects to St. Mary's Countians. On the one hand, the great demand on supplies, manpower and money created by the war, combined with the curtailment of trade with Britain, led to a profound decline in the economy in the years immediately following the war. Counterbalancing this was the fact that the vast expanse of land west of the Appalachians which was gained by Britain's victory in the French and Indian war but closed to settlement by the colonial government now became available to citizens brave enough to relocate there. Some of the land was given out in grants to Revolutionary War veterans in payment for their services, and more was available for purchase at low cost. These circumstances resulted in a massive movement of people to the western lands, particularly Kentucky, in the decades following the war. Kentucky was populated largely by settlers from Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. As an example of the extent of the post-war migration1, the population of St. Mary's County decreased from 15,444 to 12,794 between the years 1790 and 1810. Many of these followed earlier St. Mary's County pioneers to Kentucky, especially to Nelson and Washington (then including Marion) counties.

For Marylanders, the usual route to Nelson County1 started overland to Pittsburgh, then down the Ohio river to Maysville, followed by another overland journey to one of the forts, called "stations", near the area of settlement. Alternate routes5 were (1) down the Ohio to the Kentucky, inland along the Kentucky, then over the hills into the Salt River basin; (2) down the Ohio to the Falls of the Ohio, then in to Bullitt's Lick over buffalo trails; and (3) down the Ohio to the Salt River, then upstream into Simpson Creek. Indian attacks were still common, and dependents were usually left at the nearest station until the settlement area was secured and the land cleared for farming. Militias companies were formed for defense of the settlement. Indian incursions into Nelson County continued as late a 1792, when a band of Indians marauding along the Rolling Fork fought with a group of settlers, resulting in four Indian and three settler casualties29. These raids ended in 1793, and the final defeat and pacification of the Midwestern tribes came in 1795 with the treaty of Greensville28.

When the earliest settlers arrived, Kentucky was still a territory of Virginia, and Nelson County, formed in 1785, included the present Washington, Marion, and nine other counties, plus parts of eleven others. Washington County (including Marion) separated in 1792, and Marion county was formed in 1834. The first large Catholic migration into Nelson County was begun in 1785 by the League of Catholic Families, most of whom were from St. Mary's County, Maryland. They followed the Maysville route down to Goodwin's Station (near the present Boston), and from there moved into the Pottinger's Creek area of Nelson County, near the present location of Gethsemani Monastery. A list of heads of families, compiled by one of the settlers, was published in 1884 by B. J. Webb6 and has been reproduced in various publications since then. The last name on the list is Francis Peake. Many surnames familiar to Central Kentuckians, especially Catholics, are on the list, including Mudd, Mattingly, Cissell (Cecil), Nally, Hagan, French, Edelen, Norris, Spalding and others. A complete list is found in the Appendix.

R. C. Hammett1 states that the Pottinger's Creek settlers found the land there to be poor, and quotes the following passage from a reprinted 1897 article by J. E. Coad7:

"When I was a boy there was a tradition rife here to the effect that when the old pioneers from this section used to meet Saturday evenings in Bardstown, as soon as they had shaken hands, one would turn his back to the other and beg him for half a dozen kicks under his coat-tail, and when they were duly administered, the other would turn around and ask his friend for his kicking... Not infrequently, half a dozen pairs have been noticed exchanging civilities of this nature, in the course of an afternoon. Why was this done, you ask? Why, in order to get temporal punishment inflicted, to expiate the grievous sin they had committed in abandoning the peaceful shores of Maryland for the wild forests and savage Indians of Kentucky. But the plunge had been made, the labor and exposure of going forbade the idea of return, and it was a clear case of "root hog or die'".

Other areas heavily settled by St. Mary's Countians include Hardin Creek (10 Miles east of Pottinger Creek), Cartwright's Creek, Scott County, Rolling Fork, Cox's Creek, and Breckinridge County. Most of the settlers, but not all, were Catholic. The Marylanders brought with them the traditional skills of their region, including tobacco farming, distilling, and preparation of Southern Maryland stuffed ham1. The first Catholic church, a log building, was built at the foot of Rohan Knob (now Holy Cross)5 in 1792. Since Catholic education had been banned in colonial Maryland, most of the priests sent to Kentucky had been brought from Europe, particularly from France. The diocese of Bardstown was created in 1808 with Father Benedict Flaget named as the first Bishop. Father J. B. M. David was appointed as the second Bishop in 1832, and Bishop Flaget was reappointed in 1833. With the coming of the priests and the establishment of orders of nuns, Catholic education became available, beginning with St. Thomas Seminary in 1811. However, relatively few of the early settlers received an education, and many were illiterate.

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