Bluegrass, Bourbon & Boone!
Kentucky, once called the “dark and bloody ground,” was primarily a hunting ground for the Shawnee, Iroquois, Delaware, Cherokee and Chickasaw Indians when the first European explorers made their way over the mountains.
Following on the heels of Gabriel Arthur and Dr. Thomas Walker, Daniel Boone explored large areas of Kentucky in 1767 and 1769. Boone and other hunters carried back glowing stories of the rich and free land beyond the Blue Ridge.
James Harrod came over the mountains in 1774 and established Harrodstown (later called Harrodsburg). The planting of this first European settlement opened the door for others to follow.
In 1775, Daniel Boone was hired by the Transylvania Company to open a road from Virginia through the Cumberland Gap to Kentucky. Originally known as Boone’s Trace, this path today is remembered as the famed Wilderness Road.
At the end of the road, Boone established Fort Boonesborough, which he hoped would serve as the capital of a new Transylvania Colony. Virginia intervened, however, and annexed all of Kentucky as a new county. Otherwise the Commonwealth might still be known as Transylvania today.
Despite fierce battles with the Indians who opposed the expansion of white settlement into Kentucky, the flood of frontier families into the new county continued. The British allied with the Shawnee, Cherokee and other tribes during the American Revolution and constant war continued until 1782. One of the last battles of the Revolutionary War, the Battle of Blue Licks, was fought in Kentucky on August 19, 1782.
Although Blue Licks was a victory for the British and Indian alliance, the United States won the war. The fighting all but ended, the flood of emigration across the mountains grew and on June 1, 1792, Kentucky was admitted to the Union.
Daniel Boone, sadly, later left Kentucky. Disputes over the surveys of his land claims left him impoverished and after briefly considering a relocation to Florida, he settled in Missouri.
Kentucky troops played a major role in the War of 1812. Militia from the Commonwealth took part in the Battle of Tippecanoe on the eve of the war and it was Colonel Richard Johnson who allegedly killed the famed Shawnee leader Tecumseh at the Battle of the Thames in 1813. On January 8, 1815, Kentucky riflemen were part of Andrew Jackson’s army that destroyed the British at the Battle of New Orleans.
Although the Commonwealth at first tried to maintain its neutrality, Kentucky played a major role in the Civil War. The armies of both sides invaded Kentucky and soldiers from the Bluegrass fought for both North and South.
The largest battle in Kentucky took place at Perryville, now a state historic site, and the Louisville Wharf is remembered as the place where thousands of enslaved African Americans crossed the Ohio River to freedom.
Kentucky’s culture today is distinctly Southern and the South’s most famed event, the Kentucky Derby, has been run each spring since 1875. The horse farms in the famed Bluegrass region are second to none in the world and also are popular with visitors to the Commonwealth.
Kentucky, uniquely, also ranks third in the nation for automobile production. Its modern cities include Louisville and Lexington, where old and new combine beautifully.