Historical Overview of Madison County


Located in east-central Kentucky where the rolling hills of the Bluegrass meet the foothills of the Appalachians, the land encompassing Madison County has a long history. The largest county in the Bluegrass, it contains 446 square miles and ranks twenty-first in size among Kentucky's 120 counties. Four geographic regions provide suh distinct differences in soil, elevation, and topography that the history of the county is as much a consequence of the geographical features as it is a product of the endeavors of its people.

Centuries before the entry of European settlers, this physiographically varied land provided food, shelter, and safety to human inhabitants. Prehistoric peoples roamed the hills, hunted game along the creek bottoms, fished in the many streams, and eventually cultivated food in the fertile valleys. (See MA-161.) By the seventeenth century the American Indian tribes of the Shawnee, Cherokee, and Wyandotte hunted throughout the Kentucky River basin area.

As the entranceway for the white settlement of land beyond the Appalachians, Kentucky was accessible from the south by mountain gaps and from the north by waterways. The same was true on a smaller scale for Madison County. The Kentucky River which forms the north and northwest boundaries of the present-day county was a major source of transportation and communication, providing passage to the land from the Ohio River. Despite the river access, the earliest routes into the county were from the passable southern terrain along creeks, such as Muddy Creek, Paint Lick Creek, Otter Creek, and Silver Creek that flow northward to the Kentucky River.

Woodcut of Daniel Boone and his Dog

Early History

The first white man to enter Madison County's area were probably professional Indian trader John Findley, Daniel Boone, and four companions who came into the region in 1769 on a hunting and exploration expedition. The following year Boone's brother Squire went back to North Carolina to replenish supplies, leaving Daniel to explore as far as far as the Falls of the Ohio at present day Louisville. (See MA - 161.) In July Squire Boone communicated his return to Kentucky to Daniel by carving "1770 Squire Boone" on a prominent rock in the Southern section of the area that became Madison County, near a campsite they had previously made. Now famous, Squire Boone's rock is displayed today inside the Madison County Courthouse their (MAR - 65). In 1774 a group of 5 adventurers led by Judge Richard Henderson of North Carolina formed the Transylvania Company to obtain land west of the Appalachians from the Indians. Henderson successfully purchase from the Cherokees neither nearly 20,000,000 acres of land including present day Madison County. Daniel Boone was employed by the company in 1775 to cut a trail into the land through the Cumberland Gap and to establish a settlement on the south bank of the Kentucky river.

Boone and his crew of 30 men marked a path that would become known as the Wilderness Trace (later called road). Originally only a bridle path that wound through the county's  north-south axis, it provided access to settlers from Virginia and North Carolina via the Cumberland Gap. Remnants of it still exist in Madison County near U.S. 25 South and Red House Road, KY 388. When Indians attacked them near the present-day Blue Grass Army Depot in Madison County, Captain John Twetty fell mortally wounded. The party hastily constructed a small pallisaded log enclosure about six feet high to repulse their attackers. This temporary fortification called Twetty's Fort after the man whose burial place lay inside, is considered to have been the first fort erected in Kentucky.

Sketch of Fort Boonesborough

Pressing on, the men reached the Kentucky River and built another small fort near the mouth of Otter Creek. When Richard Henderson arrived in April with about forty settlers, he directed the construction of a larger fortification nearby. Called Fort Boone, it consisted of approximately twenty-six single room, one story log structures joined by a stockade wall having two-story block houses at each of the four corners. Thus guarded by the Fort, the Wilderness Road became safer for settlers.

In 1775 the Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, refused to recognize the existence of a Transylvania Colony. The following year the state of Virginia created Kentucky County, which included the area now occupied by Madison County, out of a portion of Fincastle County. Having a town plat of twenty acres divided into 119 lots, streets, and it Commons area, in 1779 Boonesborough (originally spelled Boonsborough) became the first town in Kentucky County to be chartered by Virginia. Kentucky County was divided into three counties in 1780--Jefferson, Fayette, and Lincoln--with the area comprising today's Madison County being a part of Lincoln County.

Historical Overview