The primary source for information in this tip is taken from the “History of Kentucky”, Volume 1, Before the Louisiana Purchases, Temple Bodley, The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, Chicago-Louisville, 1928.
We often think that Kentucky was “born” in 1792 once it was severed from the Commonwealth of Virginia. We have vague knowledge that our beloved state was once the County of Kentucky, Virginia and before that time found its lands in various Virginia counties. But, to appreciate the Commonwealth of Kentucky, we need to go back some time.
Long before Kentucky felt the feet of the early pioneers upon its rich and fertile soil, our land and the whole Mississippi Valley was embroiled in conflict between the three great European powers of the time – Spain, France and Great Britain. Many wars were fought here involving the three countries; and each claimed discoveries on our soil. During the Revolutionary War, the charter claims of the four southern states to the western lands extending to the Mississippi – and most particularly Virginia’s claim to West Virginia, Kentucky and the regions north of the Ohio River – was the main topic of debate and argument in the Continental Congress. The major dissention was Virginia’s claim to West Virginia and Kentucky and it grew so heated that it almost destroyed the baby union of America. Virginia relied on a 1609 charter which showed her bounds extending all the way to the Pacific Ocean, restricted only by a treaty with France (in 1763) to the center line of the Mississippi. This charter gave claim to a huge region “west and northwest” of a line extending along the Atlantic coast 200 miles northwardly and the same distance southwardly from the Old Point Comfort at the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay. This claim was highly disputed and during the Revolution, northern delegates in Congress stated that the grant was made by King James I who was ignorant of the great width of North America. They stated that Virginia’s claim extended only to the crest of the Alleghenies. They also felt that lands west of that mountain range were never owned by Virginia – which includes West Virginia and Kentucky. If your ancestors were born during this time frame in Virginia, they were born into a time of arguments and debates; nevertheless, their state was a lot larger than it is now!
The question raised is how far into Kentucky and other areas had exploration be made. Spain claimed all of North America because of Christopher Columbus; and a papal bull of Alexander VI backed this up. Long before the British or French had started settlements in the area, Spain had occupied and governed Mexico; the famous Ponce de Leon had been here twice (in what is now Florida); St. Augustine had been formed; De Soto had progressed overland from Florida to the Mississippi River “nearly to Missouri”. Coronado had explored northwest to the head of the Gulf of California. Santa Fe in New Mexico had been founded. Was the Virginia charter of 1609 ignored or did the authors not know of the Spanish explorations and settlements? Geography was not as accurate as today!
Sir Francis Drake undertook his daring voyages, attempting to discover a water passage through North America from the Pacific side of the country – he had been unable to find one from the Atlantic side. The story of his adventures is well worth reading by all of us! Great Britain claimed the whole continent north of the Spanish settlements in Florida – but, alas, France disputed those claims. They fell back on their own discoveries and all the early settlements they had made on the St. Lawrence and the Mississippi Valley.
The first English settlement that was considered permanent was, of course, at Jamestown, Virginia, 1607. The “London Company” had applied to the King for a colonial charter and a grant of land and in a vague description defined part of North America called Virginia. Another company, the “Plymouth Colony” was also formed. The London Company sent out colonists to locate the first settlement and in 1607 Jamestown was founded. This land was considered a treasure of natural wealth and glowing reports spread rapidly.
To endeavor to detail here the battles that ensued in fighting over the lands encompassed by Virginia would be voluminous. Needless to say, thanks to the Stuart kings of England, Virginia was being stripped repeatedly of its territory. From the original expanse granted by King James I, parts of the land were given by his successors to Lord Baltimore and William Penn; another part was carved off for Carolina. A treaty with France in 1763 saw the western charter bounds restricted legally to the center line of the Mississippi. In 1776, Virginia voluntarily waived any claims to Maryland and Pennsylvania and accepted North Carolina on her southern border. But, Virginia stood by her claim to the region extending west to the Mississippi and north to the Great Lakes and beyond.
King James I issued his last charter grant in 1620 to the New England Company. The New England area was fairly well protected from trouble from abroad since it was located so far from the Spanish settlements in Florida. However, the Virginia settlement often bore the wrath of Spain – Spain totally ignored Virginia’s claims to the adjacent possessions in Florida. Many honorable Virginians died because of the Spanish diplomatic intrigue in London and with Spain tampering with the Carolina and Virginia Indian tribes. At the closing of King James I’s reign, it was the goal of Spain to totally “wreck the Virginia colony and secure his acquiescence in Spain’s claim to North America.”
Next week, we’ll look at the French and English in North America and how they were involved in Virginia.
© 8 Jan 2009, Sandra K. Gorin