Kentucky Settlement

Spread the love

Kentucky Settlement and The Revolution

Kentucky Settlement

Bridge to Revolutionary War monument. Kentucky Settlement was in large part caused by the revolution.

Bridge to Revolutionary War monument, Concord, Mass

Courtesy of the Library of Congress Digital Collections
Kentucky Settlement was in large part caused by the revolution

Kentucky Settlement and The Revolution

A very fascinating and misunderstood part of Kentucky genealogy and history research are the Revolutionary War Veterans. The veterans impact on Kentucky Settlement is vital to understand migrations. Many a researcher, when tracking their descendants, will come upon an individual that once lived in Virginia or Pennsylvania, North Carolina or another colony. Everyone asks themselves the same question, “what in the world brought them to Kentucky”? Their birth-dates give a bit of evidence as they are usually in a date range of about 1735 up until around 1760. These birth dates are important because it will put the individual at the right age at birth that would allow them to be of an age to be able to serve in the Revolutionary War during the time period.

The Revolutionary Veterans are an essential and rewarding part of your family tree. Kentucky Settlement was in large part caused by the revolution. The research involves many aspects, perceptions and ideologies of this early time period that will explain a lot of why they did what they did. Much of the reasoning is both heartfelt as well as heartbreaking and has come from common practices and notions from a bygone time.

Kentucky Settlement was in large part caused by the revolution.

 Courtesy of Library Of Congress

Why They Came to America

There were a number of reasons our colonial veterans, or their lineage, came to America. Some of the reasons were religious beliefs, lack of work, poverty, discrimination, wars, Britain’s philosophy that the impoverished should be used for migrant work needs, famines ( a potato famine in particular), the prospect of owning your own land, criminal and political crimes and last but not least, primogeniture. We will discuss the primogeniture reasoning in this article. So what is primogeniture?


Primogeniture (English: /praɪməˈdʒɛnɪtʃər/) is the right, by law or custom, of the paternally acknowledged, firstborn son to inherit his parent’s entire or main estate, in preference to daughters, elder illegitimate sons, younger sons and collateral relatives; in some cases the estate may instead be the inheritance of the firstborn child or occasionally the firstborn daughter. The descendant (often the son) of a deceased elder sibling (typically elder brother) inherits before a living younger sibling by right of substitution for the deceased heir. In the absence of any children, brothers succeed, individually, to the inheritance by seniority of age (subject to substitution). Among siblings, sons usually inherit before daughters. In the absence of male descendants in the male-line, there are variations of primogeniture which allocate the inheritance to a daughter or a brother or, in the absence of either, to another collateral relative, in a specified order (e.g. male-preference primogeniture, Salic primogeniture, semi-Salic primogeniture).

The principle has applied in history to inheritance of real property (land) as well as inherited titles and offices, most notably monarchies, continuing until modified or abolished.

Variations on primogeniture modify the right of the first-born son to the entirety of a family’s inheritance or, in the West since World War II, eliminate the preference for males over females (absolute primogeniture). Most monarchies in Western Europe have eliminated male preference in succession: Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

The law of primogeniture in Europe has its origins in Medieval Europe; which due to the feudal system necessitated that the estates of land-owning feudal lords be kept as large and united as possible to maintain social stability as well as the wealth, power and social standing of their families.[10]

Adam Smith, in his book An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, explains the origin of primogeniture in Europe in the following way:

When land was considered as the means, not of subsistence merely, but of power and protection, it was thought better that it should descend undivided to one. In those disorderly times, every great landlord was a sort of petty prince. His tenants were his subjects. He was their judge, and in some respects their legislator in peace and their leader in war. He made war according to his own discretion, frequently against his neighbors, and sometimes against his sovereign. The security of a landed estate, therefore, the protection which its owner could afford to those who dwelt on it, depended upon its greatness. To divide it was to ruin it, and to expose every part of it to be oppressed and swallowed up by the incursions of its neighbors.


The law of primogeniture, therefore, came to take place, not immediately indeed, but in process of time, in the succession of landed estates, for the same reason that it has generally taken place in that of monarchies, though not always at their first institution.

Even up until WWII the policy of inheritance remained intact in many instances as related by FDR’s response to Winston Churchill; When Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt met at Placentia Bay in August 1941, FDR said he couldn’t understand the British aristocracy’s concept of primogeniture, and he intended to divide his estate equally between his five children; Churchill explained that an equal distribution was nicknamed the “Spanish Curse” by the British upper classes: “We give everything to the eldest and the others strive to duplicate it and found empires. While the oldest, having it all, marries for beauty. Which accounts, Mr President, for my good looks” (1)                     

{1. Primogeniture on Wikipedia,  “The original work has been modified.”;  LINK of Original }                                      

The inheritance by the eldest son or child created descendants that inherited very little. This made the promise of a better future in America appear to be a better opportunity for these non-inheritance.

The vast majority of eventual settlers worked and toiled everyday on property that was owned by a Lord. They owned nothing and the Lord took a portion of their labor for his protection. The Irish residents were no better off in their arrangements. They owned none of the land they tended and were forced to rent everything from their landowners. Any improvements that the renters made to the farms would mean an increase in rent from the landowner who was renting to the Irish farmer. Very little was done as far as improvements on the rental properties.

It appears that the prospect of ownership of land and the greater ability to grow food to feed their family was the most tempting promise that would convince settlers to come to the colonies. The offer of indentures to pay for the fare of a ship would put in a type of bondage but offered a convenient way to move them out of the despair they were living in. Many took the offers, gave up what little they had, and made the voyage to America.

Colonist boarded ships to America and then were indentured for the payment.

Courtesy of Library Of Congress, Clipper Sailing ship

How They Got to America and at What Cost

Settlers, for the lack of a better definition, came to America in different ways under different circumstances and reasons and in several ways. Some came as slaves, some came as political prisoners but the biggest majority of colonists who migrated came under a type of bondage called indentured servants. It is the latter of these that we will detail a bit. In order to get passage to America it would have been by ship. The ships would transport people coming to America and their ship passage would be owed. The passengers would sign a contract of indenture for the cost of coming “across the pond”. The passengers would then be indebted for this money and the debt could be sold by the owner of the indenture to someone who needed a source of labor in the colonies.

When the passengers arrived to their new home in the colonies the plantation or land companies would purchase the indebted contracts and the person indebted would be required to work for a certain length of time, usually five years, for the owner before they were freed from their debt and their contract. No wages were paid but only to satisfy the debt. The owner of the contract was required to provide food, housing as well as clothing for the indentured servants. The owners were also required to teach them a trade, of which farming was the usual trade by a huge majority. At the end of their contract they were free to go as they wish usually with a small piece of property. For a brief description between indentured servants and slavery this article on the Library of Congress details much of the laws of early Virginia. The vast majority of settlers to America originally came as indentured servants and worked off their contracts over a period of years to become free landowners. The majority, estimated at sixty five percent,  of the Revolutionary War veterans enlisted as soldiers in the Revolution in order to be freed of their indentures.

Daniel Waldo, a Revolutionary Veteran.

The Revolution

More than one reason can be given for the Revolutionary War but most agree that the colonists expected a voice in what laws were enacted for the colonies. The colonists also hated taxes especially when they had no voice in deciding them. They wanted protection but were indifferent when taxes were placed on necessities they used everyday, sugar and tea to name a few. Some colonists felt the King had the right to make laws but they felt no one else had that right and felt as though they had no representation in the process. As the desire of independence from their British control gained ground, a division between the colonists had already began to appear and would later create a split in loyalties with some colonists in favor of independence from Great Britain while others wished to remain loyal to Britain.  

Many colonists wanted to and attempted to remain faithful to the monarchy and were referred to as Loyalists, Tories or King’s Men. Tories came from the old tradition of Tory, a political belief of loyalty to ancient traditions. The believed in God, King and Country. They considered themselves as part of the Royal Crown and did not want independence in the sense of what the rest of the colonists view of independence was. Often looked down upon by the British because of the uncertainty of their loyalty and Britain’s inability to protect them, very few supported the British. After the war many of these loyalists were awarded for their service by receiving land in Canada. Many of the southern loyalists fled to Florida. Louisville Kentucky was at first deeded to a Loyalist, the town was laid out and began to be established, after which he lost possession of the huge land grant because of his political leanings and his support of the British.

The Patriots were citizens who supported the cause of the Revolution and often discriminated against the Tories. The Patriots were rewarded for their service by acquiring land grants, called military patents, in the territories of the colony they had served. The colony they had served would determine the location of their land grant. Virginia owned the territory of Kentucky and military patents (Land Grants) were surveyed in what would become Kentucky.

Kentucky Settlement was in large part caused by the revolution.

Courtesy of The Library of Congress, Digital Collections           
Virginia and her territory in 1776

Virginia in the Revolutionary War

As you can see in the map above that Virginia took in all the territory of what is now Virginia, Kentucky and West Virginia. During the war, in order to have a continuous group of soldiers for battle, there had to be a way to encourage young able bodied citizens to enlist and remain in service. The government’s at that time existed in such a manner that the federal government had very little power. The power was vested in the colonies. The colonies would furnish troops as needed but they were reluctant, say for instance, Georgia to send troops all the way to New York to fight since it seemed far away and of no importance to Georgia. The soldiers were eventually recruited by buying out their indentures. When their service was ended or the contract paid up the soldier was given a piece of property and the indenture was considered paid.

Virginia would give that property to the soldier in what is now Kentucky because it was their territory. North Carolina gave land in what is now Tennessee and the other colonies did the same with their territories. That is what brought these veterans to Kentucky and created Kentucky Settlement. They served in the Virginia Militia and received their military patent in Kentucky.  They earned the land grants by serving the militia and therefore “paid off” their indentures with their military service and became free landowners in return.To ensure the claim wasn’t lost there needed to be a house built and a garden planted in order to “stake the claim”. It is estimated that sixty five percent of all Revolutionary War Veterans were indebted servants.

There are records that exist for these veterans and are a very useful part of genealogy research. Below are some very good links to find that information. Many Veterans would be become a part of the Kentucky Settlement.

1776 map of Virginia and her territory

Where to find Information on Your Revolutionary War Relative

  1. Southern Campaigns Revolutionary War Pension Statements
  2. Collins History of Ky
  3. Virginia Militia in The Revolutionary War
  4. Revolutionary War Veterans in Kentucky  
  5. Observations on Slavery and Indentured Servants and Military Service  1777
  6. Indenture Contract of William Buckland , 1755
  7. US Department of Labor, The Emergence of American Labor
  8. 1619 Virginia Decisions in Regards to Indentured Servants
  9. Come join us on the Community Social Media Platform

Kentucky Settlement and the Revolution