By the early 1780s, survival of the Kentucky settlements, so uncertain only a few years earlier, was assured. The end of the American Revolution curtailed British support for Indian raids, and thousands of settlers sought a better life in the "Eden of the West." They swarmed through Cumberland Gap and down the Ohio River, cleared the land for crops, and established towns. The division of sprawling Kentucky County into three counties in 1780 indicated its rapid growth, and that growth accelerated during the following decade.
With population increase came sentiment for separation from Virginia. Such demands had been voiced earlier, but a definite separation movement began in 1784 when a convention -- the first of ten such -- met in Danville. Not until April 1792 was a constitution finally drafted under which the Commonwealth of Kentucky could enter the Union. While most Kentuckians favored separation, they differed over how and when and on what terms it should occur. Three factions struggled to control the movement, but their goals and methods shifted with changing circumstances. This confusing situation was made more complex by the presence of the exotic James Wilkinson and the "Spanish Conspiracy" he fomented.
Harrison addresses many questions about the convoluted process of statehood: why separation was desired, why it was so difficult to achieve, what type of government the 1792 constitution established, and how Governor Isaac Shelby and the first General Assembly implemented it. His engaging account, which includes the text of the first constitution, will be treasured by all Kentuckians.
The Kentucky Gazette was established in 1787 to support Kentucky's separation from Virginia and the formation of a new state. Bradford's Notes deal at length with that protracted debate and the other major issues confronting Bradford and his pioneering neighbors. The early white settlers were obsessed with Indian raids, which continued for more than a decade and caused profound anxiety. A second vexing concern was overlapping land claims, as swarms of settlers flowed into the region. And as quickly as the land was settled, newly opened fields began to yield mountains of produce in need of outside markets. Spanish control of the lower Mississippi and rumors of Spain's plan to close the river for twenty-five years were far more threatening to the new economy than the continuing Indian raids.
Equally disturbing was the British occupation of the northwest posts from which it was believed the northern Indianraids emanated. Not until Anthony Wayne's sweeping campaign against the Miami villages and the signing of the Treaty of Greenville in 1794 was tension from that quarter relieved. Finally, the Jay Treaty with Britain and the Pinckney Treaty with Spain diplomatically cleared the Kentucky frontier for free expansion of the white populace.
John Bradford's Notes on Kentucky, now published together for the first time, deal with all of these pertinent issues. No other source portrays so intimately or so graphically the travail of western settlement.