In 1774, frontiersman James Harrod led a surveying party from western Pennsylvania to the region south of the Ohio River known as Kentucky. The group laid out a small fort, started their first buildings, and staked out claims to larger farms beyond the town’s walls but left the area with the start of Dunmore’s War between Virginia and the Shawnee Native Americans living north of the Ohio.
Harrod returned in the spring of 1775 with a group of settlers. Greater numbers made a larger fort and town necessary. Harrod’s return to the area coincided with the outbreak of the American Revolution, which quickly led renewal of intense fighting between Native Americans and whites living on the American frontier. British support for the Native Americans, particularly after 1777, made Kentucky an extraordinarily dangerous place to live. Together with Boonesborough and Logan’s Station, Harrodstown, also known as Harrodsburg, constituted the bulk of white settlement in Kentucky during the war’s early years.
“[T]he poor Kentucky people, who have these twelve months past been confined to three forts, on which the Indians made several fruitless attempts. They [the Indians] have left us almost without horses sufficient to supply the stations, as we are obliged to get all our provisions out of the woods. Our corn the Indians have burned all they could find the past summer, as it was in cribs at different plantations some distance from the garrisons, & no horses to bring it in on. At this time we have not more than two months bread,–near 200 women & children; not able to send them to the inhabitants; many of those families are left desolate, widows with small children destitute of necessary clothing.”
Despite continuing violence on the frontier, the prospect of land and escaping the war in the east led immigration into Kentucky to outpace population outflows while military success under George Rogers Clark ensured that the frontier settlements survived and increased.
Harrodsburg became the capital of Kentucky County when Virginia asserted ownership of the area and is still the seat of Mercer County. To commemorate Kentucky’s frontier history, the state established Old Fort Harrod State Park, which encompasses a recreated fortified town complete with period buildings, furnishings, and crops. Living historians and artisans demonstrate the 18th century skills needed to survive and flourish far from the eastern seaboard. Several exhibits help explain the frontier experience before, during, and after the American Revolution. Additionally, the park incorporates several later buildings as a museum of local history and monuments to George Rogers Clark and Abraham Lincoln’s family.
Old Fort Harrod State Park
100 S. College Street
Harrodsburg, KY 40330