Appalachia: Settlers of Eastern Kentucky in the 1700s


The eastern seaboard of America was settled, as we all learned in elementary history classes, in the 1600s, by the English. For the most part, most scholars agree that these settlers were of the English middle class and even some of their landed gentry, seeking their fortune in the New World. The English liked the New England portion of America, the northern seaboard. Even the climate was suitable for them. They became fishermen and farmers. Even craftsmen had come from England and set up shop in villages and town that sprung up.

The climate of the southern coast of America did not suit the English. Planters discovered the agricultural value of the southern coastal areas. Slaves were imported from Africa to do the hard work in the hot sunshine. The plantation society was driven by the ever-increasing demand for the largest cash crop at that time — tobacco. When  cotton entered the picture as another important crop, the slave trade from Africa could not keep up and plantation owners turned to England to try to find work hands. They succeeded.

The cities of England were not pleasant places. Hygiene was poor and crime was rampant. England was ever so happy to get rid of some of its citizens who lived on the cusp of polite society. There were honest men seeking a better life ready to come to the sunny part of the New World, but there were also thieves, men avoiding  the military, and even orphan children. These were the people who joined the slave labor force on the plantations of the New South along the coast. Many became indentured servants.

Many of the laborers died on the plantations. Those who did not die served out their bonds, or escaped, and headed northwest, toward the cooler mountainous regions of what would be known as Appalachia.

Southern laborers of English descent were not the only source of population growth in Eastern Kentucky. Boatloads of Scots-Irish people landed in Philadelphia around the time of the Revolution. They were self-reliant, courageous people and struck out on their own westward, toward the mountains. A large number settled in Eastern Kentucky and thrived. Another route to the mountains, far easier than crossing them, was the Ohio River. Evidence is that large number of both Northern Englanders and the Scots came into Kentucky by that route with the Northern English prevailing. Irish can also be found by examining the names found in the region.

Mountain people. Mountaineers. Kentucky Highlanders. The Appalachian people, in general, and the people of  Eastern Kentucky specifically, are called mountain people by most of the authors of stories and histories about the region.  They became the distant ancestors of much of parts of present-day Appalachian and the Eastern Kentucky people. They came to the mountains in order to escape interference from government and to gain privacy from their neighbors. They began to farm the creek bottoms and live above them in caves, under rock overhangs, and cabins. They were some of the people who helped established this country, though in a limited geographic area, as these mountain people showed no inclination to move further west.

Watch this space for more on Appalachia and Eastern Kentucky.Mou

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