Historical marker #72 in Knox County notes the pioneering expedition of Dr. Thomas Walker and the site of the first structure built by white men in Kentucky.
Before Daniel Boone, Dr. Thomas Walker and a small group of pioneers ventured into Kentucky. In April 1750, this group explored near present-day Barbourville in what is now Knox County. Walker led the surveying expedition for the Loyal Land Company of Virginia. During their journey, Walker told several of the men to build a log cabin to establish their claim upon the land. The men constructed an eight by twelve foot cabin. These instructions resulted in the first structure built by a white man in Kentucky. Unfortunately, Walker and his crew never saw the rich plains of the Bluegrass Region and reported that the land in Kentucky was too rugged and wooded to be settled. These unfavorable reports of land have prevented Walker’s expedition from being included in many histories of the period.
Born on January 15, 1715, Thomas Walker first lived in King and Queen County, Virginia. He attended the College of William and Mary and became a physician. After school, Walker settled in the Fredericksburg area and practiced medicine while owning a general store. In late 1749, Dr. Walker was appointed as an agent for the Loyal Land Company of Virginia. The company charged him with exploring lands granted to a man named John Lewis located in eastern Kentucky. Walker wasted no time in setting off on the expedition in the spring of 1750. The journey into Kentucky took about one month. During the expedition, Walker’s party encountered various setbacks including weather, runaway horses, and bears, but their journals never reported any encounters with Native Americans. When in Kentucky, Walker’s party built the cabin, but they found the land disagreeable and thus left with no intent on returning. In July 1750, the party arrived back in Virginia.
Dr. Thomas Walker never returned to Kentucky, but he did remain with the surveying company through the end of his life. He died in 1794 at age seventy-nine. Presently, a replica of the original log cabin stands in Barbourville within the Thomas Walker State Park.