Marker #1877: "James Harrod"

James Harrod was born in Bedford County, Pennsylvania in the 1740s. The exact date of his birth is unknown but estimated to be between 1742 and 1746. Harrod and his nine siblings moved around Pennsylvania and eventually settled near Fort Lyttelton in 1755, a British supply fort in present day Fulton County. Harrod began his lifelong military career at the fort, falsifying his age to serve as a guard and ranger. Eventually, Harrod and his brother William volunteered in the French and Indian War, serving in the Fort Duquesne campaigns under Brigadier General John Forbes. During the campaign, Harrod joined Colonel James Burd in surveying and cutting a road to connect British troops in Carlisle, Pennsylvania to Fort Duquesne. Named Forbes Road, the road served as one of two major routes used by the British during the French and Indian War. In July of 1763, Harrod joined Colonel Henry Bouquet’s British forces in fighting against Indigenous populations during Pontiac’s War. Throughout his early military service, Harrod earned a reputation as a skilled woodsman.

In 1767, Harrod’s brother Samuel joined noted frontiersmen Daniel Boone and Michael Stoner in surveying Kentucky. Using Samuel’s knowledge from his previous trip into Kentucky, the brothers began to explore Kentucky traveling as far as the Salt River in modern day Mercer County, and hunted for furs to sell. Harrod continued exploring Kentucky when he joined Captain Bullitt’s surveying party in 1773. Because of his service in the French and Indian War, Harrod was entitled to land in Kentucky. In 1774, he and a group of thirty-one other men set out to claim the most desirable land. The party traveled down the Ohio River in canoes, up the Kentucky River, and over many miles of land until they came upon a spring in present day Mercer County. The area was creatively named Big Spring and found to be a desirable location for a settlement due to the presence of spring waters. Harrod and the colonists began laying out the town by erecting cabins and clearing roads. The distribution of cabins was based on a lottery system where each person would draw a number at random and receive a cabin with a set amount of land. Most cabins possessed around three acres and were spread out across the area in clusters several miles from each other. The spring served as the central location for the cabins.

Named Harrods’ Town, and later Harrodsburg, the settlement was established on June 16, 1774, and was the first white settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains. While Harrod and the colonists were building cabins and preparing to settle, the Shawnee and their allies, upset with Anlo-Americans claiming their lands, began pushing colonists out with coordinated attacks across Kentucky. Colonel William Preston, surveyor and military commander of Fincastle County, Virginia, what was then Kentucky, instructed Captain William Russell to send Daniel Boone and Michael Stoner to warn the surveyors and other colonists in Kentucky of the growing conflict. Not long after the order went out, a group of colonists a few miles above Harrodsburg were attacked and killed by a group of Shawnee. Harrod and the colonists immediately abandoned Harrodsburg.

Upon their return, Harrod, along with a number of colonists from Harrodsburg, joined Lord Dunmore’s campaign against the Shawnee in the Fincastle Battalion under Colonel Christian. The battalion planned to join the combat at Point Pleasant but arrived after the battle ended. Harrod and a group of colonists returned to Harrodsburg on March 15, 1775, to find the town in ruins from a flood. To improve upon the settlement and to better defend the settlers, a fort was erected on a nearby hilltop west of Big Spring.

As Kentucky’s population grew, Harrod became involved in Kentucky politics. He was a member of the Harrodsburg committee that advocated for recognition under the jurisdiction of Virginia. An action that would later lead to Kentucky statehood. In 1779, Harrod was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates and later served as a trustee of Harrodsburg. Harrod was also an outspoken critic of Judge Richard Henderson and his Transylvania Company who illegally obtained a large portion of Kentucky lands.

By 1780, Harrod was a Captain of a Kentucky militia unit under Brigadier General George Rogers Clark. Harrod accompanied Clark on his 1780 expedition into Ohio where brutal guerrilla warfare was waged on several Shawnee villages to drive the Shawnee away from colonial settlements in Kentucky.

Later in life, Harrod ran into legal troubles finding himself indebted to several people. In February of 1792, just months before Kentucky was to achieve statehood. Harrod disappeared into the woods. The reason for his disappearance is unknown. Ann Harrod claimed her husband was murdered by a man named Bridges. According to Ann, Harrod was involved in a lawsuit with Bridges. Bridges approached Harrod one day claiming to have found Swift’s Silver Mine and wanted Harrod to accompany him to mine the site. Ann believed it was a trap and forbade Harrod to go. Harrod ignored her claiming he was not afraid of any living man. Harrod brought a companion with him and the three set out along the Kentucky River and stopped to make camp. The group split up temporarily and the third man heard a gunshot. He rushed back to camp to find Harrod missing. Bridges reported fresh signs of Native Americans nearby and claimed they must have killed Harrod. Bridges and the man returned home where Bridges sent a pair of silver cuffs to Ann. The silver cuffs were embroidered with an “H” that Ann recognized as belonging to her husband. A search party was sent out to find Harrod and reportedly discovered a heap of clothes and bones where a body had been scavenged by animals. The party was able to make out a white hunting shirt believed to belong to Harrod with those missing silver buttons. Dr. Christopher C. Graham, a noted Kentucky physician, claimed Ann herself told him this story of her husband’s disappearance. Others claim Ann was unfaithful to her husband, causing him to take a “wilderness divorce.” Harrod was known for his long solo hunting trips and others claim Harrod simply fell victim to a hunting accident.