Rose Hill Pioneer History
Pioneers significant to both Rose Hill and our nation’s early development include Dr. Thomas Walker, General Joseph Martin, and Daniel Boone. Dr. Thomas Walker was the original white explorer in the present-day Rose Hill area. Walker financed a winner-takes-all race to settle in far southwest Virginia. General Joseph Martin was competing in the race against a man named Kirtley. Joseph Martin won. Martin built a fort in the present-day Rose Hill area and staked off 21,000 acres. Daniel Boone created the Wilderness Trail, mostly by following a Native American path, which passed through the present-day Rose Hill area. The present-day Rose Hill area was originally known as “Martin’s Station” then named “Boone’s Path” and is now named “Rose Hill.” A substantial amount of historical information is available on all three pioneers. Examples include the following excerpts from the “Historical Sketches of Southwest Virginia” series and other information sources as identified. Check out the reference to a Minor (in green).
Historical Sketches of Southwest Virginia
By the Southwest Virginia Historical Society
Publication No. 12, 1978
“Dr. Thomas Walker” by Bonnie Ball
pages 5 – 9
Bonnie Ball described the accomplishments of Dr. Thomas Walker as, “physician and surgeon, surveyor and commissary, soldier and legislator, explorer and colonizer, treaty negotiator, politician and diplomat… a great land owner, surveyor, statesman, hunter and trader.” According to Bonnie Ball, Dr. Thomas Walker led the original expedition from Charlottesville all the way to Rose Hill and through Cumberland Gap in 1750. This exploratory trip occurred two decades before Daniel Boone ventured through Rose Hill and Cumberland Gap.
Historical Sketches of Southwest Virginia
Southwest Virginia Historical Society
Publication No. 2, 1966
“General Joseph Martin, A Forgotten Pioneer: 1740-1898” by Gordon Aronhime
pages 83 - 96
Gordon Aronhime wrote, “General Joseph Martin was born in Albemarle County, Virginia sometime in 1740. From childhood, he was wild, undisciplined, intellectually lazy, and shiftless. Unusually large, he treated school as a joke, often running away, sometimes combining with other reprobates to form a neighborhood menace.” In adulthood he earned money by going out into the wilderness on annual “Long Hunts.” Aronhime continued his description of Joseph Martin as, “Martin had the qualities for this life. He was, as an expert gambler, willing to take bold risks; he was a hard drinker and a good fighter, yet quiet-tempered; he was assuredly a fine woodsman and he was a veteran of three years of frontier militia fighting. All these qualities combined to make his hunts successful enough to start him on the road to comparative riches. The last of Martin’s annual “Long Hunts” ended in 1768.”
“He then became overseer for a wealthy relative whose name is given simply as Minor in existing records. Mr. Minor was also closely connected by both blood and business with Dr. Thomas Walker. Perhaps Minor suggested that Walker secure Martin’s services for a proposed trip of exploration and settlement in Southwest Virginia; perhaps Walker had known this wild, unruly, but able, natural leader of men for many years since both were from Albemarle County. At any rate, his selection of Martin to head the expedition to Powell’s Valley furnished the first of two great, decisive turning points in General Joseph Martin’s life.”
“Western exploration and settlement was quite chaotic at the opening of the year 1769. Twenty years earlier, a group of Virginians, including Dr. Walker, had formed the great Ohio Company which was given a grant of 800,000 acres of land. The terms of this grant did not limit the company to any one area within the domain of the Colony of Virginia for the location of this land, and it did not requires the tracts of land so located by of any specified size – merely that the total acreage taken up by the company could not exceed 800,000 acres, and that there be no prior valid claim.”
“Dr. Walker had made a trip of exploration in 1770 which had led to his discovery of what is now the State of Kentucky, and his path them led through Powell’s Valley, which had been named for one of his party.”
“It was to solidify his claim to the fertile reaches of Powell’s Valley, adjacent to strategic Cumberland Gap, 21,000 acres of land plus pay for services. The only condition was that the Martin expedition must be the first to settle on the land. If this condition were not fulfilled other comers would get a thousand acres each and Martin’s group nothing; if the condition were successfully met by Martin’s forces, they were to have a document from Dr. Walker assuring them of the validity of their claim. This would serve as a deterrent to other would-be settlers. It was a gamble, and nothing appealed to Joseph Martin as much as gambling.”
“The leaders of this expedition, in addition to Joseph Martin, were his brother Brice and friend William Hord. The party set out from Albemarle and spent four days in reaching Staunton, where they spent several days “competing business,” which seems to have meant gathering supplies at this frontier town. This little expedition arrived at Ingles Ferry on March 14, 1769. The crossing of the New river, in use till relatively recent times, was located a few miles upstream from the present Radford, Virginia. Here, Martin sent his brother Brice forward with the slaves and the baggage, and waited for the arrival of Captain Hord and Dr. Walker. Two days later, March 17, 1769, Dr. Walker returned to Albemarle and Hord and Martin headed for the wilderness.”
“They heard disturbing news upon their arrival at the Holston river. A group headed by a man named Kirtley, and including Captain Rucker and others, had already left for the Valley, having paid a guide five pounds to pilot them. This guide was reputed to have known a way six days closer than the Martin route. Like all professional gamblers, Martin did not panic under stress. He ordered flour reduced to one quart per person. All other rations were to be sold, and the party to rely on the bounty of nature and the marksmanship of the men. Hiring a guide, they pushed off into the wilderness on the 18th. Two days later, they realized they were lost.”
“This type of emergency often proves the making of men of real ability and Joseph Martin rose to this minor occasion. It was agreed that a rendezvous would be maintained at the present camp and each man would range out seeking the trail. On the third day, the agreed-upon triple blast of the hunting horn signaled that the Hunter’s Trace had been found. This welcome signal came from the hunting horn of Joseph Martin. When the weary, but elated, men reassembled, it was only with difficulty that Martin restrained his men from committing mayhem upon the hapless “Guide.” Exhausted by anxiety, the men felt a rest of two days was needed before they pushed on once more. On March 26, 1769, they found Powell’s Valley.”
“Exactly a week later, the baggage detail under Brother Brice Martin came into camp. It was still another two weeks later when the Kirtley-Rucker faction arrived in the Valley. Martin’s party staked off a 21,000 acre tract near the present village of Rose Hill, Virginia. Here, they built a large stockaded fort. It proved useless. The Indians ran Martin’s men off before the corn ripened. They went wearily back to Albemarle County, but retained title to their land.”
“Little is known about Martin’s activities between the summer of 1769 and that of 1774. In a letter to him dated September 23, 1771, Dr. Walker writes Martin that his land has been “saved by the honesty of the Cherokees.” This appears to mean that the Cherokees who accompanied Colonel John Donelson, then running the so-called Indian line, insisted on Martin’s land being included in the settler’s side of the land by virtue of an offset.”
“The Wilderness Road” by Robert L. Kincaid
originally published in 1947
“Daniel Boone… had been employed to cut a path to Kentucky. Boone gathered thirty armed and mounted axmen… and promised each of them a tract of land for their services. He himself was to get a bounty of 2,000 acres. His company was made up of trained woodsmen, most of whom he knew personally… Boone led his trail blazers out of Long Island [present-day Kingsport, Tennessee], March 10, 1775. His destination was more than two hundred miles away. He could not expect to do much in building a passable road through an unsettled wilderness. Much of the way he would follow Indian, hunter or buffalo trails, but occasionally he would need to make a short cut by chopping out underbrush, removing logs and blazing a path in the trackless woods.”
“Boone’s route from Long Island, at the end of the Great Road down the Holston, led directly to Moccasin Gap, the gateway to the mountainous area of southwest Virginia. Here he came upon the old trail of the Indians and hunters. He went up Little Moccasin Creek valley to a low divide and over to Troublesome Creek. Wandering down Troublesome almost due west, he crossed Clinch River where Speer’s Ferry was later established. On the west side of the Clinch, he went up the river to a ford on Stock Creek, following its meanderings for several miles to the great physical freak known as Natural Tunnel. Turning left at this hill, he crossed over Horton’s Summit and went down into the valley of the North Fork of the Clinch to Little Flat Lick.”
“Here Boone and his men came upon an important stopping place, now identified as the site of the Duffield schoolhouse. Boone led his men over Powell Mountain at Kane’s Gap and into a valley near the head of Wallins Creek, where Walden and his hunters had ranged several years before. They continued down the narrow valley to the point where the town of Stickleyville was later built, and crossed over Wallins Ridge to Powell River, and thence to Glade Spring, where Jonesville is now located. Two miles west of Glade Spring they passed another interesting underground channel, smaller but similar to the Natural Tunnel on Stock Creek. They were now deep in Powell Valley, with the long white wall of the Cumberland Mountains rising before them. Ranging down the valley in a southwestward direction for twenty miles they came to Martin’s Station, the present site of Rose Hill.”
“Here Boone and his axmen found Captain Joseph Martin for the second time busily engaged in rebuilding the settlement he had abandoned shortly after Boone’s first visit there in the summer of 1769. Driven out by hostile Cherokee that year, Martin had not returned until the early part of 1775 to begin again where he left off.”
“Boone and his men stopped at Martin’s long enough to explain their mission and announce that Colonel Henderson would come along on his way to settle Kentucky. They checked their needs, secured some additional supplies and pushed off down the valley for Cumberland Gap, twenty-five miles away. They had little to do on this part of their journey. The trail had been long used by Indians, hunters and buffalo, so it needed no chopping or widening. After Boone’s axmen passed through the portals of Cumberland Gap, they had comparatively good going along the Warriors’ Path.”
“Gateway: Dr. Thomas Walker & the Opening of Kentucky” by David M. Burns
Bell County Historical Society, 2000
Dr. Thomas Walker, a Virginia physician, surveyor, and land speculator, was engaged by the Loyal Land Company to explore an 800,000-acre grant in the unknown “Wilderness” west of the mountains. Walker and five companions set out from Charlottesville in March 1750. They followed the valleys of the Shenandoah, Holston, Clinch, and Powell rivers.
Westward progress was blocked by a towering mountain of limestone, two thousand feet high, more than two hundred miles long. We know it as Cumberland Mountain. It was (and is) a daunting barrier. To Walker, it seemed as impenetrable as The Great Wall of China.
Walker and his party picked up trails trod by bison and elk, and by Indian hunters. These trails led up to a passageway through the mountains which Walker named Cave Gap. This “saddle” would later be called Cumberland Gap, and, along with the Ohio River, would provide one of two main routes into Kentucky.
In 1769, Boone and Finley followed the Trail mapped nineteen years earlier by Dr. Thomas Walker. Cherokees from the South and Shawnees from the North gave The Trail its first name, “The Warriors Path.” By 1770 it had become “The Longhunter’s Trace.” By 1780 it was “Boone Trace,” then “The Wilderness Road,” over which Boone and others led some 200,000 settlers into Kentucky.