First White Men

Historic marker #898 in Whitley County notes the early surveying expedition of Dr. Thomas Walker and his companions through southeastern Kentucky.

In April 1750, Dr. Thomas Walker and his small group of pioneers ventured into southeastern Kentucky. They became the first white men to enter the area, even before Daniel Boone. Born on January 15, 1715, Thomas Walker first lived in King and Queen County, Virginia. He studied and became medical doctor. Then in 1741, he married Mildred Thornton. Through the marriage, Dr. Walker acquired a large estate near Charlottesville where he became friends with Thomas Jefferson’s father. While tending his land in Virginia, Walker became increasingly more adventurous and took up surveying.

In 1749, the Loyal Land Company of Virginia employed Dr. Walker as a surveying agent for their company. They wanted Walker to explore Kentucky lands granted to a man named John Lewis. Walker wasted no time in setting off on the expedition in the spring of 1750. The group of about five or six men came across the Cumberland Gap and down the Cumberland River. Dr. Walker and the men entered went through current day Pineville and then onto Barbourville. Leaving half the group behind to build a log cabin in Knox County, Dr. Walker and a few men continued into Whitley County to survey more land. When in Kentucky, his party found the land disagreeable. They did not venture far enough into the Bluegrass Region to report the fertile lands in central Kentucky. Thus, Dr. Walker’s group left with no intent on returning. In July 1750, the party arrived back in Virginia. Thomas Walker remained with the surveying company through the end of his life. He died in 1794 at the age of 79.