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The Making of the 50 States: Kentucky


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• Part 2: The Rest of the Story

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The Making of the 50 States
The 13 American Colonies
Clickable map of the 13 Colonies with descriptions of each colony
American History Glossary
The First European Settlements in America
Colonial Times

Part 1: In the Beginning

Kentucky was, as were other states, populated by Native Americans early on. Among the tribes who lived in what is now Kentucky were the Adena, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Delaware, Hopewell, Mosopelea, Shawnee, Wyandot, and Yuchi.

These Native Americans grew large amounts of the "Three Sisters," beans, maize, and squash and hunted local deer for food. They also grew tobacco. Much archaeological evidence points to a mound-building tradition in the area as well, and some archaeologists have drawn a connection to the Fort Ancient culture, which created, among other things, the Serpent Mound, in what is now Ohio.

Europeans from France, Great Britain, and the Netherlands explored the area in the 17th and 18th Centuries. One of the most well-known French explorers, Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle, claimed all of the land along the Mississippi River Valley for France. That claim included Kentucky. Also passing through the area were Frenchmen Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet.

British explorers had arrived, in the mid-18th Century, and then the British victory in the French and Indian War resulted in a transfer of ownership from France to Great Britain. Explorer Thomas Walker discovered a pass through the Appalachian Mountains in 1750; he called this pass the Cumberland Gap. Travel through these mountains had been sparse because of its difficulty; the discovery of this pass helped accelerate the westward movement of settlers.

The first European settlement in Kentucky was Harrod's Town, named after the explorer and settler James Harrod, in 1774. Several sources say that Great Britain promised no further settlement beyond the Appalachian Mountains; regardless, further British settlement followed, facilitated in part by Daniel Boone (the namesake of another settlement, Boonesborough). War between British settlers and Shawnee warriors followed, in a struggle known as Dunmore's War. After the British victory, businessman Richard Henderson engineered a purchase of a large part of the land, a process that resulted in the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals, in 1775.

European settlement in Kentucky continued after that, with settlers by the dozens navigating the Cumberland Gap (and Boone's Wilderness Road) and the Ohio River to leave their homes in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia and put down new roots in Kentucky. The rate of settlement accelerated during the Revolutionary War; in response, some Native American tribes, notably the Shawnee, fought alongside Great Britain.

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