Dr. Thomas Walker and Southwest Virginia
August 2 @ 7:30 pm - 8:30 pm
Thursday, August 2, 2018 — 7:30 to 8:30pm
Dr. Thomas Walker is not as well known in southwest Virginia history as Daniel Boone, but he’s probably more significant. Walker explored parts of western Virginia, east Tennessee and eastern Kentucky, naming Cumberland Gap and effectively opening a gateway to the West for all Americans. Join Randy Smith on Thursday, August 2, from 7:30-8:30pm in the Auditorium at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center to learn about the life, the legacy, and the man for whom Walker Mountain is named.
Admission is free.
Dr. Thomas Walker was an explorer from Virginia. In the mid-18th century, he was part of an expedition to the region beyond the Allegheny Mountains and the unsettled area of British North America. Walker and fellow Virginian, Indian agent and later Revolutionary war general, Joseph Martin, were some of the first colonialists to travel in this area. Martin’s son, Revolutionary War officer Col. William Martin, describes the naming of the area and river in a letter to historian Lyman Draper:
“A treaty with the Cherokees was held at Fort Chiswell on New River, then a frontier. On the return of the chiefs home, Dr. Walker, a gentleman of distinction, and my father, Joseph Martin, accompanied them. The Indians being guides, they passed through the place now called Cumberland Gap, where they discovered a fine spring. They still had a little rum remaining, and they drank to the health of the Duke of Cumberland. This gave rise to the name of Cumberland Mountain and Cumberland River”
Prince William Augustus, the Duke of Cumberland, was a hero of the time. Walker explored Kentucky in 1750, 19 years before the arrival of Daniel Boone. Two of Walker’s sons, John and Francis Walker, became Congressmen in the new United States.
In 1750, Dr. Thomas Walker, an investor in the Loyal Land Company, with five companions, made a famous exploration through the Cumberland Gap and into eastern Kentucky. The Loyal Land Company settled people in southwest Virginia, but not Kentucky.
In 1769, Virginia longhunter and explorer Joseph Martin made the first of several forays into the region. Acting as an agent for Dr. Thomas Walker, to whom Martin was connected through family relationships, Martin began an expedition to Powell’s Valley in early 1769 in return for a promised 21,000-acre land grant from Walker and the Loyal Land Company. Martin and his men built the earliest westernmost frontier fort at present-day Rose Hill, Lee county, Virginia, a fort dubbed Martin’s Station. Later that year Indians chased off Martin and his men, who returned to Albemarle County. Martin returned six years later to rebuild the fort, and a few months later became an agent for Richard Henderson’s Transylvania Company.