The Fincastle Surveys

from Sandi Gorin & the SCKY List

As you well remember, before 1792, there was no Commonwealth of Kentucky.
The lands lie in Virginia and the last county claiming our lands was
Fincastle County, Virginia and Kentucky was also known as Kentucky County,
Virginia. In April of 1774, a group of surveyors headed out to begin
surveying the area that would many years later end up as the original three
counties in Kentucky. Some of the Fincastle surveys laid outside of
Kentucky, but for the major part, the men appointed were tromping through
the wilderness areas seldom seen by the white man. It must have been an
awesome task; even more desolate than when settlers started coming into
Kentucky en masse after the Revolutionary War. Only a few brave souls had
been in our land and the surveyors were met with challenges every step of
the way.

Surveyors included John Floyd, Hancock Taylor, James Douglas and Jesse Hite
who departed from Smithfield, Virginia and began their trek by boat down
the Kanawha and Ohio Rivers. At every spot along the way, they sketched out
their surveys with the help of their work crew. Can you imagine the
excitement, fear and wonder these men experienced? Trees so thick it
blotted out the sky. Rivers and creeks so pure that one could see to the
bottom? Animals of every variety and always the illusive Native American
who might be around the next bend.

The men reached the Falls of the Ohio on the 28th of May, a long trip
already. Fatigue must have overcome them at times, but the lure of the new
lands pushed them on. Twenty-eight surveys were done after their arrival at
the Falls covering 40,000 acres. This would encompass the present-day city
of Louisville running south to the Watterson Expressway and east to
Anchorage. On June 3rd the surveyors split into two groups - one headed by
Hancock Taylor. Taylor surveyed the area around Harrodsburg and then moved
over to near Frankfort on the 17th. John Floyd, leader of the second party,
rejoined Taylor on July 1st and they camped near present day Midway, KY.

Now they split into 3 parties with James Douglas and Isaac Hite in the
third group. Floyd surveyed the North Fork of Elkhorn; Taylor went along
the South Fork of the Elkhorn and Douglas along Jessamine and Hickman
Creeks. Sixty-two surveys were completed here for about 113,000 acres.
Remember now, they didn't have the fancy tools that surveyors do today,
these were men on foot carrying heavy chains, marking the lines of each
survey by cutting slashes in trees to mark the boundaries or piling rocks
up with a notation on it. Long, arduous work.

An Indian attack on July 8th stopped any plans of the men reuniting at
Harrodsburg and the men started for home by different routes. Two men were
lost on the 27th when Indians attacked Taylor's group and killed he and
another man. To the remaining surveyors and their crew came to rescue the
noted Daniel Boone and Michael Stoner, scouts sent out by Virginia for this
very purpose. Floyd and his companions came back by following an Indian
trail that led up the North Fork of the Kentucky River and through the
Pound Gap. Douglas' group paddled their way home in a small canoe down the
Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and then catching a ride on a ship headed to

The weary men who had survived returned to Fincastle County and presented
their surveys - likely water soaked, perhaps blood stained and ragged. The
survey work did not stop with these four men however; surveyors continued
to come into Kentucky during the years 1775 and 1776 until finally over
206,250 acres had been surveyed. These were primarily done on the old
military warrants from the central part of the state. Further information
can be found in an article entitled: "Fincastle Surveyors in the Bluegrass,
1774" by Neal Hammon, found in the Kentucky Historical Society Register 70,
October 1972.

What was involved in these Virginia surveys? Virginia had to do something -
after the Revolutionary War, settlers began flooding into the Kentucky
County area, primarily since Virginia had paid its soldiers by giving them
land there. Many of the surveys were totally inaccurate and were known as
"tomahawk surveys" or what Henry Clay called "fireside surveys." It caused
problems for Virginia and later Kentucky for many years. The original
surveyors came out of William and Mary College which the guidelines for
surveying had been designed. After Kentucky statehood, Kentucky set forth
its own rules and regulations for "ascertaining internal land boundaries
and property recording and determining the validity of warrants and deeds."
With the 2nd Kentucky Constitution, each county was to submit the names of
two proper persons, who, with the consent of the Senate, one was appointed
a county surveyor. If no one's name was submitted from a county, the
Governor submitted a name and was approved or disproved by the Senate. It
was not until January 1814 that the Kentucky General Assembly finally
specifically outlined the requirements for surveyors.

(c) Copyright 15 May 2003, Sandra K Gorin, All Rights Reserved.

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