In 1768, after tough negotiations, the Cherokee Indians and the British government finalized the Treaty of Hard Labor to establish a western boundary beyond which the Indians had full rights and the American settlers had none.
The Treaty of Hard Labor relinquished the rights of the Cherokee to most of the territory we now know as West Virginia. The Indians would own the land west of the Ohio River and white settlers (and land speculators) would be able to claim, sell and improve the wilderness in nearly the entire area we now know as West Virginia.
A month later a different set of British negotiators met with the Iroquois and finalized the Treaty of Fort Stanwix which set a different boundary pushing the Indian lands farther west, leaving them the areas that later became Kentucky and Tennessee as their “forever hunting grounds.”
While these treaties opened vast areas of new territory for settlement, government officials had actually given to the Indians territory that early land speculators such as Jacob Hite thought they had already purchased from individual Indian tribes.
You will remember that Jacob Hite, upon learning that his land purchase was voided faced losing everything he owned to settle his debts. He responded by packing up his household goods, slaves and livestock and fleeing to the disputed land he felt he owned.
The British treaties that set these boundaries also set the stage for legal battles with men whose names have become synonymous with Revolutionary patriotism. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, in particular, had been seeking to purchase land in the area now ceded to the Cherokee Indians. And of course, Jacob Hite was nearly destroyed financially by the treaties and the British insistence that settlers abide by the new boundaries.
The British had their motives. If they could establish certain boundaries to the satisfaction of the Indians, settlers could safely and legally move into new lands and the British would not be called upon to protect those settlers from the Indians who would happily hunt and live in the land further west.
That was the plan, anyway. There were two problems with that plan: 1) no words on paper could stem the flow of those early pioneers who were hungry to claim land of their own, and 2) the entrepreneurs seeking to claim and then sell the land had no intention of letting the British thwart their dreams of wealth.
Jefferson, Washington and every member of the Virginia House of Burgesses felt that the British were imposing impossible limits on the economic growth of their state and, more importantly, on their wealthy citizens. They petitioned the British to revoke the treaties and to allow the state (or colony) of Virginia to annex the areas further west including what we now call Kentucky.
The friction between Indians and settlers, and between British and Americans truly began to smolder towards an explosive situation with the signing of these two treaties.
Freedom from British oppression was something every citizen could get behind, but make no mistake, controlling the land and thus the economy was the spark that triggered the American Revolution.
So, knowing all this, why did my ancestors move from their homes in western Pennsylvania to the Indians beloved hunting grounds in Kentucky?
Because they could. Following the Revolutionary War, the British treaties were no longer valid and American speculators could now officially seek ownership of the Indian land. Individual settlers in small groups could begin to claim the land a few hundred acres at a time. They could move from the smothering rules and regulations that told them what they could and could not do and into the wilderness where they were their own law and government.
Last week when I wrote about the legal problems of Jacob Hite, I thought I was just trying to set the stage for you to understand some of the economic struggles leading up to the Revolutionary War.
This week, I found that Jacob Hite’s story directly relates to my own story. I keep forgetting what a small world that world was!
Hite’s sister, Elizabeth, married a man named John Paul Froman of New Jersey and sometime before 1780, the Froman family moved to that rugged Kentucky territory that Jacob Hite wished to claim. The Froman family established a “station” or small community near Cox’s Creek in the area of the salt licks south of present-day Louisville.
This was the area that Jacob Hite had purchased from the Cherokee.
This was the area where Jacob Hite fled to avoid authorities in Virginia who had attempted to seize his personal property.
And in 1778, George Crist, writing in the Crist family journal, wrote “Me and Nicholas and Henry want to explore the land in Kaintuck that Daniel Boone keeps talking of. He says there is thousands of acres of land waiting to be claimed. Plenty of wild game and wild horses and that the land will grow anything. The Indians are worse there but we think with enough men it will be safe enough.”
We know that Henry did travel to Kentucky several times and experienced at least one adventure as his group was attacked by Indians, an attack he barely survived.
Based on the stories Henry brought back about the rich lands of Kentucky, and the stories of Danial Boone who was actively encouraging settlers, George finally wrote in 1783: “Me, Henry, Nicholas and William and our families and Besy’s parents and their families along with many more it’s about three hundred in all are going to leave in two days to go to Kaintuck.”
William in that passage would be William Elston Collings and the “others” would be his parents and brothers and their families, and that’s how my ancestors began their journey west, settling first in the area of Kentucky known as Froman’s Creek or Froman’s Station near the land of Jacob Hite.
Later, I’ll tell you what it took to make that journey.