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Dr. Thomas Walker

discoverer of the Cumberland Gap

silhouette portrait of Dr. Thomas Walker

Thomas Walker was born on January 25, 1715, in King and Queen County, Virginia. He was educated at the College of William and Mary, and then studied medicine under his brother-in-law, Dr. George Gilmer; he never actually received a medical degree, however. In 1741, he married Mildred Thornton Meriwether, widow of Nicholas Meriwether, with whom he had 12 children. He built their home, Castle Hill, on Mildred's 12,000-acre estate in Albemarle County, Virginia.

In addition to being a physician, Walker earned a reputation as an explorer and surveyor. In 1743, he led an expedition as far west as present-day Kingsport, Tennessee. On July 12, 1749, he helped found the Loyal Company of Virginia, and it was under that company's auspices that he undertook an expedition into what is now southeastern Kentucky.

Walker set off from his home on March 6, 1750, with 5 men, 7 horses, and an assortment of hunting dogs. During the expedition, which lasted just over 3 months and covered 350 miles, Walker "discovered" and gave names to many topographical features, including the Cumberland River and Gap, which he named in honor of the Duke of Cumberland.

map of Thomas Walker's travels

Twenty-nine years later, at the age of 64, Walker again journeyed into Kentucky, this time to survey an extension of the boundary between Virginia and North Carolina -- now the boundary between Kentucky and Tennessee.

Throughout his life, Walker continued to act as surveyor and land agent. He was also active in civil affairs as Treaty Commissioner, member of the Virginia House of Burgesses and General Assembly, delegate to the Revolutionary Convention, and a member of the Committee of Public Safety. He died at his home in Albemarle County, Virginia, on November 9, 1794.

The Dr. Thomas Walker State Historic Site at Barbourville, Kentucky, marks the earliest travels of Dr. Walker, and includes a replica of the first log cabin he and his party built in 1750.

See Also

Cumberland Gap

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The Robinson Library >> Kentucky

This page was last updated on January 25, 2019.