Thomas Walker (explorer)

Last updated
Dr. Thomas Walker
BornJanuary 25, 1715 (1715-01-25)
DiedNovember 9, 1794 (1794-11-10) (age 79)
Known forexploring
Thomas Walker (explorer) Signature.png

Thomas Walker (January 25, 1715 – November 9, 1794) was a distinguished physician and explorer from Virginia.

Virginia U.S. state in the United States

Virginia, officially the Commonwealth of Virginia, is a state in the Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States located between the Atlantic Coast and the Appalachian Mountains. The geography and climate of the Commonwealth are shaped by the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Chesapeake Bay, which provide habitat for much of its flora and fauna. The capital of the Commonwealth is Richmond; Virginia Beach is the most populous city, and Fairfax County is the most populous political subdivision. The Commonwealth's estimated population as of 2018 is over 8.5 million.


In the mid-18th century, he was part of an expedition to the region beyond the Allegheny Mountains and the unsettled area of British North America. Walker and fellow Virginian, Indian agent, explorer for Patrick Henry, legislator of three states, surveyor of KY/VA & TN/NC borders, and later Revolutionary war general, Joseph Martin, were some of the first colonialists to travel in this area. Martin's son, Revolutionary War officer Col. William Martin, describes the naming of the area and river in a letter to historian Lyman Draper,

Allegheny Mountains mountain range

The Allegheny Mountain Range, informally the Alleghenies and also spelled Alleghany and Allegany, is part of the vast Appalachian Mountain Range of the Eastern United States and Canada and posed a significant barrier to land travel in less technologically advanced eras. The barrier range has a northeast–southwest orientation and runs for about 400 miles (640 km) from north-central Pennsylvania, through western Maryland and eastern West Virginia, to southwestern Virginia.

British North America Former British imperial territories

British North America refers to the former territories of the British Empire in North America, not including the Caribbean. The term was first used informally in 1783, but it was uncommon before the Report on the Affairs of British North America (1839), called the Durham Report. These territories today form modern-day Canada and the Pacific Northwest of the United States.

Joseph Martin (general) American militia general and politician

Joseph Martin, Jr. (1740–1808) was a brigadier general in the Virginia militia during the American Revolutionary War, in which Martin's frontier diplomacy with the Cherokee people is credited with not only averting Indian attacks on the Scotch-Irish American and English American settlers who helped win the battles of Kings Mountain and Cowpens, but with also helping to keep the Indians' position neutral and from siding with the British troops during those crucial battles. Historians agree that the settlers' success at these two battles signaled the turning of the tide of the Revolutionary War—in favor of the Americans.

A treaty with the Cherokees was held at Fort Chiswell on New River, then a frontier. On the return of the chiefs home, Dr. [Thomas] Walker, a gentleman of distinction, and my father, [General] Joseph Martin, accompanied them. The Indians being guides, they passed through the place now called Cumberland Gap, where they discovered a fine spring. They still had a little rum remaining, and they drank to the health of the Duke of Cumberland. This gave rise to the name of Cumberland Mountain and Cumberland River.[ citation needed ]

Prince William Augustus, the Duke of Cumberland, was a hero of the time. Walker explored Kentucky in 1750, 19 years before the arrival of Daniel Boone.

Duke of Cumberland is a peerage title that was conferred upon junior members of the British Royal Family, named after the historic county of Cumberland.

Daniel Boone American settler

Daniel Boone was an American pioneer, explorer, woodsman, and frontiersman whose frontier exploits made him one of the first folk heroes of the United States. Although he also became a businessman, soldier and politician who represented three different counties in the Virginia General Assembly following the American Revolutionary War, Boone is most famous for his exploration and settlement of what is now Kentucky. Although on the western side of the Appalachian Mountains from most European-American settlements, Kentucky remained part of Virginia until it became a state in 1791.

Two of Walker's sons, John and Francis Walker, became Congressmen in the new United States.

John Walker (Virginia politician) Virginia politician

John Walker was a public official from Virginia.

Francis Walker (Virginia) American politician

Francis Walker was an American planter and politician from Albemarle County, Virginia. He was member of the Virginia House of Delegates in 1788-91 and again in 1797-1801. He represented Virginia in the U.S. Congress from 1793 to 1795.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City. Most of the country is located contiguously in North America between Canada and Mexico.

Early days

Thomas Walker was born at "Rye Field", Walkerton, King and Queen County, Virginia. He was raised as an Englishman in the Tidewater region of Virginia. Walker's first profession was that of a physician; he had attended the College of William and Mary and studied under his brother-in-law Dr. George Gilmer. [1]

Walkerton, Virginia Unincorporated community in Virginia, United States

Walkerton is an unincorporated community in King and Queen County, Virginia, United States.

King and Queen County, Virginia U.S. county in Virginia

King and Queen County is a county in the U.S. state of Virginia, located in that state's Middle Peninsula on the eastern edge of the Richmond, VA metropolitan area. As of the 2010 census, the population was 6,945. Its county seat is King and Queen Court House.

Walker became a man of status in the county when he married Mildred Thornton (widow of Nicholas Meriwether) in 1741, and acquired a large portion of land from her late husband's estate. The new couple built a home known as Castle Hill there and had 12 children. They in turn became prominent Albemarle County citizens in their own rights.

"Fox hunting had been taking place over the Keswick, Virginia landscape since 1742 when Dr. Thomas Walker of Castle Hill imported six or eight couple of English Foxhounds." [2]

In April 1744, Walker was elected as vestryman at his church, a position he held for more than forty years, until 1785. He served Virginia as a delegate to the House of Burgesses from Albemarle County, and was a trustee of the newly formed town of Charlottesville.


On July 12, 1749, the Loyal Land Company was founded with Walker as a leading member. After receiving a royal grant of 800,000 acres (320,000 ha) in what is now southeastern Kentucky (which was occupied by Native Americans), the company appointed Walker to lead an expedition to explore and survey the region in 1750. Walker was named head of the Loyal Land Company in 1752.

Replica of the first house built in Kentucky Thomas Walker home.jpg
Replica of the first house built in Kentucky

During the expedition, Walker gave names to many topographical features, including the Cumberland Gap. [3] His party built the first non-Indian house (a cabin) in Kentucky. Walker kept a daily journal of the trip.

At the age of 64, Walker traveled to the western areas of Kentucky and Tennessee again; he had been commissioned to survey the border between westward of the Virginia and North Carolina. (At that time each state claimed the land to the west of their boundaries for ultimate settlement by the right of "discovery.") Because the border was mapped and surveyed, rather than created along the natural boundary of a river, it was considered controversial. It was called the "Walker Line," and still constitutes the border between Kentucky and Tennessee from east to west terminating at the Tennessee River. [4]

Walker was influential in dealing with Indian affairs. He was appointed to represent Virginia at the Treaty of Fort Stanwix and Treaty of Lochaber (1770), and dealt with the peace negotiations after the Battle of Point Pleasant. In 1775, Walker served as a Virginia commissioner in negotiations with representatives of the Iroquois Six Nations in Pittsburgh, as the colonies tried to engage them as allies against the British.

He is credited as the first American to discover and use soggy bottom. [5]

Due to his broad knowledge of the areas and their resources, Walker served as an adviser to Thomas Jefferson from 1780 to 1783 on what became his book, Notes on the State of Virginia (1785).

Final years

After the death of his first wife, in 1781 Walker married Elizabeth Thornton (official marriage contract). Thomas Walker died on November 9, 1794 at his home of Castle Hill.[ citation needed ]

Legacy and honors


  1. "Dr. Thomas Walker" . Retrieved 22 April 2018.
  2. Keswick Hunt Club. "About". 2017.
  3. William W. Luckett (December 1964), "Cumberland Gap National Historic Park", Tennessee Historical Quarterly (vol. XXXIII, no. 4)
  4. Williams, Samuel Cole, "Beginnings of West Tennessee, In the Land of the Chickasaws, 1541-1841", Chapter XIV, pp. 105; Watuaga Press, Johnson City, Tennessee, 1930
  5. History of Coal, Coal Education Website
  6. "Lee County Schools". Retrieved 22 April 2018.

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