Thomas Walker (explorer) bigraphy, stories - American explorer

Thomas Walker (explorer) : biography

January 25, 1715 - November 9, 1794

Thomas Walker (January 25, 1715 – November 9, 1794) was a physician and explorer from Virginia; in the mid-18th century, he led an expedition to what is now the region beyond the Allegheny Mountains and the settled area of British North America. He was responsible for naming what is now known as the Cumberland Plateau and by extension the Cumberland River for the hero of the time, the Duke of Cumberland. His party were some of the first Englishmen to see this area; previous European explorers were largely of Spanish and French origins. Walker explored Kentucky in 1750, 19 years before the arrival of Daniel Boone.

Walker served as guardian for Thomas Jefferson, who was eleven years old when his second parent, his father Peter Jefferson, died in 1757. Two of Walker's own sons, John and Francis Walker, became US Congressmen.

Biography

Early days

Thomas Walker was born at "Rye Field", Walkerton, King and Queen County, Virginia. He was raised as an Englishman in the Tidewater region of Virginia.

Walker's first profession was that of a physician; he had attended the College of William and Mary and studied under his brother-in-law Dr. George Gilmer.

Walker became a man of status in the county when he married Mildred Thornton (widow of Nicholas Meriwether) in 1741, and acquired a large portion of land from her late husband’s estate. The new couple built a home known as Castle Hill there and had 12 children. They in turn became prominent Albemarle County citizens in their own rights.

In April 1744, Walker was elected as vestryman at his church, a position he held for more than forty years, until 1785. He served Virginia as a delegate to the House of Burgesses from Albemarle County, and was a trustee of the newly formed town of Charlottesville.

Exploration

On July 12, 1749, the Loyal Land Company was founded with Walker as a leading member. After receiving a royal grant of 800,000 acres (3,200 km²) in what is now southeastern Kentucky (which was occupied by Native Americans), the company appointed Walker to lead an expedition to explore and survey the region in 1750. Walker was named head of the Loyal Land Company in 1752.

During the expedition, Walker gave names to many topographical features, including the Cumberland Gap. His party built the first non-Indian house (a cabin) in Kentucky. Walker kept a daily journal of the trip.

At the age of 64, Walker traveled to the western areas of Kentucky and Tennessee again; he had been commissioned to survey the border between Virginia and North Carolina, and extend it westward. (At that time each state claimed the land to the west of their boundaries for ultimate settlement by the right of "discovery.") Because the border was mapped and surveyed, rather than created along the natural boundary of a river, it was considered controversial. It was called the "," and still constitutes the border between Kentucky and Tennessee from east to west terminating at the Tennessee River. Williams, Samuel Cole, LLD., Former Justice of the Supreme Court of Tennessee, Chapter XIV, pp.105, "Beginnings of West Tennessee, In the Land of the Chickasaws, 1541-1841", Watuaga Press, Johnson City, Tennessee, 1930

Among those who benefited from their close ties to Walker was Joseph Martin, an Indian fighter and explorer and neighbor of Walker's in Albemarle County. Walker chose him to lead one of his expeditions into the Powell Valley region of western Virginia and Kentucky.

Walker was influential in dealing with Indian affairs. He was appointed to represent Virginia at the Treaty of Fort Stanwix and Treaty of Lochaber (1770), and dealt with the peace negotiations after the Battle of Point Pleasant. In 1775, Walker served as a Virginia commissioner in negotiations with representatives of the Iroquois Six Nations in Pittsburgh, as the colonies tried to engage them as allies against the British.

He is credited as the first American to discover and use coal found in Kentucky , Coal Education Website

Due to his broad knowledge of the areas and their resources, Walker served as an adviser to Thomas Jefferson from 1780-1783 on what became his book, Notes on the State of Virginia (1785).

Final years

After the death of his first wife, in 1781 Walker married Elizabeth Thornton (official marriage contract). Thomas Walker died on November 9, 1794 at his home of Castle Hill. At the time of his death, Walker was noted as the fourth wealthiest citizen of Albemarle County.

Notes

Legacy and honors

  • The state built a replica of the cabin which his expedition put up in present-day Kentucky; it has been designated as the Dr. Thomas Walker State Historic Site.
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