The Life and Times of Robert B. McAfee and His Family and Connections.

Written by Himself.

Commenced April 23rd, 1845.

Part 3: Summer, 1773

This company was afterwards known by the name of the "McAfee Company." They struck across the country to the Great Kanahway, then known by the name of New River and arrived at it about the middle of May 1773 about one-hundred and twenty miles by water above its mouth, having sent back their horses they spent about a week in selecting suitable trees and dug out and prepared two canoes to carry their baggage and clothes the former consisting of their rifles, ammunition, tomahawks, butcher knives, blankets and fishing tacking, including a few fish gigs, etc. They then descended new River to its mouth on the Ohio River where they arrived on the 29th of May and remained to the first day of June (the 29th being Saturday). About twenty miles above the mouth they met Capt. Thomas Bullitt, Douglas and Hancock Taylor, surveyors and their company, who were going down to the falls of the Ohio to survey Proclomation rights of 1763. While there they measured the Ohio River, which was then found to be 400 yards wide, and the Kanahway or New River 200 yards at its mouth.

On the first of June Capt. Bullitt was chosen their commander, and he determined to visit Chilicothe, the chief town of the Shawanoe Indians on the Scioto, with three of his own men and two Delaware Indians, who with several others were going down the Ohio to hunt, Capt. Bullitt proceeded across the country by land. The balance of the companies proceeded down the Ohio in a boat and canoes, Robert McAfee and one or two others considered their best hunters, spent a part of every day out on the south side of the Ohio hunting and generally returned with the necessary supplies, and on the 10th of June the company reached the mouth of the Little Sandy river, where they camped and stayed all night. My father in his excursions struck LIttle Sandy and discovered the Salt Springs on that Creek, and on the 11th of June they arrive at the Mouth of the Sciota, and on the next day my father, Robert McAfee, ascended the high ridge below the mouth of the Sciota on the North side of the Ohio from which he had a good view up and down both rivers, he also examined the Bootom at which Portsmouth now stands and also passed to the South side opposite the mouth of the Sciota, where he found an old French town of nineteen or twenty houses, some of which were of hewn logs and clapboard roofs, but vacant and deserted, apparently built some twelve or fifteen years before, which were no doubt the first houses ever built by Europeans in the new state of Kentucky and previous to the surrender of Fort Duquesne (Pittsburg).

June 13th (Sunday), Capt. Bullitt met them from Chilicothe with a letter from a white man by the name of Richard Butler, who had been living with the Shawanoes several years. As this letter may be interesting to the antiquarian in after times, and may show the means by which an All-wise Providence opened the way for the exploration and settlemend of the western country, I will give it as found in my father's journal:

Chilicothe, June 10th, 1773.


I have been present as a witness and interpreter between Captain Bullitt and the Shawanoes and a part of the Delawares; I believe (and not without some surprise I acquaint you) that his progress in treating with these people has exceeded the expectations of most people, as they claim an absolute rite to all that country you are about to settle. That it does not lye in the power of those who sold it to give this land; and as I am a well wisher to your undertaking I can do no less in justice to Capt. Bullitt than to acquaint you that it is my opinion that it lyes in your power to fulfill every engagement he has made in your behalf by endeavoring to make good order among them and a friendly countenance to your present neighbors, the Shawanoes. I do assure you that it lies in your power to have good neighbors or bad, as they are a people very capable of discerning between good treatment and ill. They expect you to be friendly with them, and endeavor to restrain the hunters from destroying the fame, and that the young men who are inclined to hunt will be regulated by the law of the colony in the case, and as I dare say it is not to hunt the land but to cultivate it that you are about to settle it, it will be an easy matter to restrain those that would hunt and cause your infant settlement to be disturbed, although I am at present a stranger to you all I beg leave to subscribe myself you well wisher and humble servant. To the gentlemen settlers, below the mouth of the Sciota.


Captain Bullitt's speech to the chief of the Shawanoe Nation, made in the council house in Chilicothe, June 9th, 1773.

Brothers: --

I am sent with my people to settle the country on the Ohio River as low as the Falls. The King has bought of the Northern and Souther Indians, and I am desired to acquaint you and all people of this great country that the English are and intend to live in friendship with you all and expect the same from you and them, and as the Shawanoes and Delawares are to be our nearest neighbors, and did nor get any of the pay given for it, it is proposed and agreed by the Principals of those who are to be the owners of the land to contribute to make your two tribes a present to be given you the next year and the year after. I am appointed to live in the country; I am sent to settle it in order to keep proper regulations, and as I expcet some more principal men out of my country in a short time, there will be something more to say to you. And the governor was to come through this country last year had he not been been taken sick, so that he may not be out this or next year, as he is desirous of seeing you and the country. I will have a belt of wampum against we have anything more to say as the King did not buy the country for any other purpose than his people to live on and work to support his country. Therefore we shall have no objections to your hunting or trapping on it we shall expect you will live with us as brothers and friends. I shall write what you say to my Governor and expect it to be a good talk.

The Answer of the Chief Cornstalk (Next Morning.)

Old Brothers of the Big Knife: We heard you would be gald to see your brothers, the Shawnees and Delawares, and talk with them, we are a little surprised that you sent no message before you, but came quite near us and then through the woods and grass a hard way without our knowledge, till you appeared among us quited unexpected, but you are now standing among your brothers, who of you and what you have said to us, we have considered your talk carefully and we are pleased to find nothing bad in it, or no ill meaning, but what seems pleasing, kind and friendly. You have mentioned to us of your directions for settling of people over the rive on the opposite side of us, and that it is not the meaning of your King and Governor to deprive us the hunting of hte country as usual, but that your directions are to take proper care that we shall not be disturbed in our hunting, for which we stand in need of to buy our clothing, all of which is very agreeable to your young brothers, your young men we desire will be strong in the discharge of your directions toward us, as we are determined to be strong in advising our young men to be friendly, kind and peaceable to you. This spring we saw some wrong by our young men in disturbing your people by taking their horses but we have advised them to the contrary and have cleansed their hearts of bad intentions, and expect it will be harkened to by them as they are pleased with what has been said.

Notwithstanding their friendly speeches the day before Capt. Bullitt arrived at the mouth of the Sciota, the company who were waiting for him saw four Indians swimming seven horses across the Ohio from the South side with saddles and packsaddles on them which they had no doubt of being taken from the white people. The Indians appeared much alarmed at seeing so many of the whites who did not disturb them, as they made their escape as soon as possible. There is no doubt that a knowledge of their young men being absent to steal horses at this and previous times, was the cause of the allusion in Cornstalk's speech to the conduct of their young men, and also of their astonishment, and suspicion upon the arrival of Captain Bullitt at Chilicothe. As he reached the suburbs of that place on the 5th of June, and as soon as his approach was known, he was immediately halted, and confined by a guard in awigwam at the outer edge of the town; where he was detained several days, until the chief could hold a council, during which time there were many exhibitions of hostility, but through the influence of Richard Butler he succeeded in quieting their fears, as he made no complain against their stealing horses. It was finally agreed that he should be admitted into their council, to make a speech, and explain his views accordingly on the morning of the 9th of June, he was escoted by upwards of one hundred Indians, painted, yelling and brandishing their tommahawks, into the town, and council house where he made the speech I have already given, after which they assumed a friendly attitude, and Bullitt having procured two canoes descended the Sciota to its mouth where he found his company awaiting him, and on the 14th the company left the Sciota and camped again in about four miles, and the next day proceeded slowly down the river, in order to give their hunters time to procure meat and on the 17th, they reached the mouth of Salt Lick Creek where Vanceburg now stands and about half mile up this creek they found a small salt pond or spring which had been much used by the buffaloes, deer and elk and at which the Indians had made salt, at this place the first Military surveys were made by them for Abraham Hempenstall and James MacMahan. From this the company proceeded slowly down the river, making occasional entries and surveys, one of the surveyors by the name of Kennedy was left at the mouth of Salt Lick Creek and laid off a town. The McAfee company and the other companies occasionally separated each one examining the country for themselves, James McAfee and Robert McAfee were generally out hunting - sometimes remaining out several days. On the 24th the company reached a Creek called Limestone, here Robert McAfee went out to examine the country, and as far as I can judge from his journal he passed out the North Fork of Licking and then down through a part of Bracken country, and went down a large creek to the Ohio and found the company had passed on, and he was compelled to make a Bark canoe in which the moon set, where he camped on the shore and at daylight continued his route and found the company at the mouth of Licking River on the morning of the 27th of June, he hunted up Licking next day thirty or forty miles, but was not pleased with the land.

Mr. Douglass one of the surveyors, remained at the mouth of Licking to make surveys, while Bullitt and the McAfee Company proceeded down the Ohio, every day making laborious and fatiguing excursions to examine the land their description of the face of the country and the land is accurately made in my father's & uncle James McAfee's Journal. On the 1st day of July, 1773, the company arrived at the mouth of the Big Miami, and examined the large Bottom land on the South side of the River where they attempted to make some surveys which was given up on account of some difference of opinion as to their form. The Surveyors insisting upon making them in squares while others only wished to take in the good land, The McAfee company wanted to find, springs and streams for mills were not pleased with the Ohio bottoms, never once thinking of the future discovery of steam power and its influence on commerce. Well, exclaims one, what a pity all these things were not known to the First adventurers on the Western country. If we had only known that the Ohio River would one day be the Main Street of some five or six great States what fortunes we could have made!! Do not murmur at Providence, my dear friends, you were nearly all dead before the discovery was made, and your children have already run through much of what you did secure, so that it is much the best for us that we cannot see into future events, which would only make us unhappy.

On the 2d and 3d July the company proceeded down the Ohio and passed Big Bone Lick about ten miles without knowing it, and on next day having discovered their error they returned and arrived at the Big Bone lick on the 4th of July, 1773, where they camped, making use of the short joints of the back bones for stools and seats & their ribs for tent poles to streach [sic] their blankets on. My father in his Journal says of this place, "It was a wonder to see the large bones that lies there which has been of several large big creatures. The lick is about 200 yards long and as wide." Here they met with a Delaware Indian, apparently about seventy years old who was asked if he knew anything about them. He answered that when he was a boy they were just so as you now see them. The company remained here during the 5th and 6th of July and on the 7th started down the Ohio to find the mouth of the Kentucky River, Then called Levisa (spelled in my father's Journal Lewvisa). They went on until eight o'clock at night & camp'd, and started again about an hour before day and reached the mouth of Kentucky at daylight on the morning of the 8th July 1773. Here Capt. Bullitt, and his company parted from the McAfee company, and went on the falls of the Ohio. Hancock Taylor, surveyor, went with the McAfee Company up the Levisa or Kentucky river. They proceeded up to the mouth of Eagle creek and camped there that night (it was then named Eagle creek on account of their seeing several eagles hovering round its mouth). The next day they proceeded up in their canoes to the mouth of Drennon's lick creek where they found the river closed in to about ten yards wide by a Bar created by the creek. At this place the McAfee company left their canoes (as we hear no more of them) and went up that creek to the lick, here they found two men of Bullitt's company one by the name of Drennon & Matthew Bracken, who having heard of this place from the Delaware Indians while at the Big lone [sic] lick had crossed the country by land and arrived 2 days before them, laid claim to the lick who so displeased the company that they were not permitted to proceed further with them. It does not appear that either of these men ever enjoyed any benefit of their discovery made in violation of an implied understanding.

The number of Buffaloes, Elk, Deer, Beaver and wolves at this lick was astonishing. The roads round were as much beaten as in the neighborhood of a populous city. The country round was trod so much for several miles that my father's Journal says, "That there was not as much grass as would feed one sheep." The company remained at this place until the 15th July examining the lick and killing game. They also made several surveys. While engaged in this business James McAfee and Samuel Adams had a perilous adventure, in passing round the outskirts of the lick some of the party fired at a large gang of buffaloes which alarmed them and they broke in the direction where they were standing, and such was their rapidity that Adams had only time to scamper up a leaning Mulberry tree while James McAfee not being so young and active took shelter behind a tree about two feet in diameter and there by close pressing sideways he stood while the horns of the Buffaloes scraped the Bark on both sides. The storm being over he turned to look for Adams who he found hanging to the Mulberry like a coon eyeing his friend's condition unable to give him any aid. This incident furnished many an evening's amusement for many years after.

July 15th early in the morning they left Drennon lick, and as their Journals state took a small Buffaloe path about the size of the road leading out of Williamsburgh (Then the Capitol of Virginia) which went a South East course. They travelled some thirty miles as near as they could guess, and on the next morning in about five miles they struck the Kentucky river where the Buffaloe road crossed it at a ripple where lock No. 4 stands just below where Frankfort now is. From this point they passed up a Branch and down the valley in which the Penitentiary stands to the River bottom in which Frankfort now is, here my father made two surveys, one 400 the other two hundred, including the head of the Branch where they left a Tomahawk and Fish gig in a fine spring & marked a gum saplin at the spring. These surveys included the whole of the Penitentiary valley & the town of Frankfort except the low ground North of the Capitol square as well as the spring which is known as McAfee spring to this day. The last corner made was on the edge of the low bottom, near the three story Brick house occupied by Mrs. Sharpe about 80 or 100 yards N. W. of the present Capitol & camped that night under a large Beach Tree. This was the 16th of July Friday 1773 which was the First survey ever made on the Kentucky River. My father never completed his title to that land, altho he had ample time after the land offices opened, under the belief that others had taken it up.

Next day July 17th they left their camp without dreaming that they had slumbered on Kentucky's proud Capitol grounds, and passed up the ridge on which the Lexington road now runs and the day being very warm & dry after going about eight miles and not meeting with any water they turned toward the River and crossed about seven or eight miles above their camp at a place where there were high cedar clifts and little bottom land on either side. Thence passing through the now county of Anderson across the head branches of Hammond creek found good land but water scarce. The next day the 18th they proceeded a south west course and found the Cove Spring where Thomas Lillard afterwards settled on the turnpike road from Harrodsburg to Frankfort, now occupied by Mr. McCall where They camped all night, which they made their rendezvous until the 21st. On the 19th in the morning they were alarmed by the sound of a gun which they supposed was by Indians. Robert McAfee and James McAfee this day crossed to the Kentucky River and went up and across it for five or six miles but was not pleased with the land. The next day James McAfee had two four hundread acre surveys on the Spring and up south west & west, and on the 21st they searched west and found Salt River which they called "Crooked Creek," and went down the same to the mouth of Hammond creek and commenced surveying by making surveys for James and John McCoun, and again continuing up Salt River made several more surveys including Lucto and above. Being now pleased with the size of Salt River for miles good land and water they determined to make their final Surveys and locate for a future residence.

They continued their surveys up the River on the 22d, 23d and 24th for Sam'l Adams, William Adams, George McAfee and others. The 25th being Sunday the day was kept in camp at James McCoun's spring a mile below Providence Church. The 26 & 27 James McCoun & James & Sam'l McAfee's land was surveyed as well as John Magee's and the land I now live on and where I was born, as all were highly delighted with the land and water.

When my uncle James McAfee found his spring which is on the tract including the Providence church, he took Hancock Taylors (Surveyor) jacob staff & stuck it down on the bluff above the spring and addressing his brother observed, "Men, you may hunt for as much land as you please but for my part I intend to live here my days out with the blessing of Providence." To which my father replied, "Well, James we will try and find as good places near you" -- and sure enough the fine cave spring near which I live was surveyed the same day.

On the 28th they surveyed the land above where I live & surveyed several more tracts of land, and on the 29th lay all day at the mouth of Harrodsburgh branch & platted their different surveys, and on the 30th made surveys for Wm. McAfee including the mouth of the Branch also for John & James Curry and Jeremiah Tilford (1) & one for my father two miles above including Wilson Station & the Bridge over Salt River leading to Perryville, and again camped at the mouth of the town Branch.

July 31st (Saturday). This morning the company held a council as to the road they were to return home, whether to go back and get their canoes & return up the Ohio with Capt. Bullitt or take the most direct route home. The McAfee company decided to go up the Kentucky River and pass out of some of its branches into Powell's valley. It was a difficult and hazardous way, but upon the whole they preferred it to the difficulty of going back to the Ohio. They also heard that Dan'l Boone had found plenty of game & had passed very well high up on this river. Hancock Taylor and two other men who had joined them at the mouth of the Kentucky river determined to join Capt. Bullitt at the falls. Accordingly about twelve o'clock noon the party separated the McAfee company marched directly towards South East for their course and the others in a contrary direction towards the Falls of Ohio.

It is worthy of note that altho a survey made for Sam'l Adams included the mouth of the Fontaine Blue branch and one of its corners stood within two hundred yards of the spring they did not discover it, altho it is one of the finest springs on the waters of Salt River or indeed in Kentucky.

The course of the McAfee company lead them across the southern part of the town of Harrodsburgh and that night they lay under some remarkable shelving cliffs on dick's river, a few miles above its mouth as it commenced raining upon them and continued to rain very hard until near night. Next morning the 1st of August they passed on through the now county of Garrard & Madison crossing sugar creek, paint Lick & silver creek, and it still continued showery during this day & the next.

On the third day of August they came in sight of the mountains and then in about eight miles struck the Kentucky River and went up it with great difficulty crossing its many bends and on the 5th reached its main Fork without finding much game to live on. The mountains & spurs of ridges they had to occasionally cross were covered with pine laurel, Green briars & Brush so that it was with much pain & labor they could get along. They took the main North Fork and in twelve or fifteen miles the river forked again. They still kept the left hand or North Fork & had to raft the River several times. On the 7th James McAfee killed a buck Elk which was the first game of much account they had met with, it was a prize for which they were deeply Thankfull. The river became very crooked and they were greatly annoyed in passing over the Green Briar spurs of the mountains as it was impossible to keep on its banks. This day they came to another Fork, and they took the right hand Fork which is the Fork which comes down past Perry Court House, "Hazzard." It was on this fork James McAfee killed the Elk. Their troubles now seemed to be just commencing. They had to cross the River nearly twenty times a day. On the 10th they attempted to leave the river the mountains were so full of brush and Green Briar, they returned to the River and kept up it twenty miles, and on the 11th August they continued up the river until two o'clock and then left the river and as Robt. McAfee's Journal says, "We travelled across the worst Laurel mountains that I ever saw about 29 miles, and campt with little to eat, and on the 12th we travelled over the same kind of mountains which seemed to us that we should never get out of them. This (says Robert McAfee) looks a little discouraging." They were in a region of country which seemed to be the abode of desolation, nothing but barren rocks on every hand, & silence and solitude reigned supreme, not a living animal was to be seen, beside themselves, even teh Feathered Tribes had fled, and starvation, and death, was staring them in the face. Their feet blistered & legs & thighs raw with the scratches of Green briars & rubbering of the hems of their shirts. In the midst of a region of craggy rocks and clifts under a broiling sun was a scene which appalled the stoutest heart, all day no change for the better. The sun was going down behind the western mountains without having seen a living thing that would furnish food. They were passing to the head drains between the waters of the Kentucky, Cumberland & Clinch rivers and no water to quench their parching thirst. When George McAfee and Sam'l Adams exhausted and dispirited halted and lay down, declaring they could go no farther, and they might as well died at once, they were urged to go on a little longer, but to no purpose. At length Robert McAfee who was always the most cheerful and athletic of his brothers, as a last effort of despair, determined to proceed on across the point of the next ridge to see if he could find anything to kill while James McAfee remained with the others to try and revive their spirits, while James McCoun always cheerful tried to follow Robt. who soon outwalked him. The sun by this time was gilding the highest peaks of the Eastern mountains by his setting rays. When That Almighty Hand which sustains, guides, and directs the affairs of this world as well as the destinies of men, interposed on their behalf Robt. McAfee had not proceeded more than a quarter of a mile across the ridge and was approaching a small branch when he discovered a small spike buck about fifty yards before him! Joy! anxiety and desperation all flashed over at once, and being an excellent hunter he fired and the buck fell and in a moment after he was on him, himself, with his knife, he had scarcely finished killing him by cutting his throat, when he saw the ballance of the company hobling along to the place. The sound of his gun inspired new life and in a few minutes they had a fire kindled with meat and water from the little branch in abundance. Then joy & hunger combined made it the finest they ever had and Robt. was considered as the Joseph of his brethren while heartfelt thanks were returned to a kind Providence. This affair was never forgotten by these men and ought long to be remembered by their children. That a little venison had preserved the lives of their fathers in the wilderness on their return from "the land of Promise." Thus we may trace the workings of an all wise God who amid the highest points of our Western waters preserved a handfull of men who were destined to be the pioneers of civilization & christianity in the great valley of the Mississippi, now numbering many millions.

August 13th, cheered & strengthened they travel across some bad laurel ridges at a slow pace and next day reached the head of Powell's valley and on the 15th got to the home of a Mr. Castlewood at the Ford of Clinch river and after resting a few hours went on eight miles farther to David Gists where they remained all night and the next day they traveled on five miles farther to Capt. Russells, an old acquaintance, with their feet so blistered that they could go no farther, here they remained several days to recruit, and then in a week afterwards they all arrived at home to the great joy of their families who had not heard a word from them after they emarked on New River, which they found all well but deeply anxious for their safety & soon after my father's return viz on the 19th September 1773 my elder brother Samuel was born, which being my fathers first son having three daughters before was the cause of great joy in the family. They met Col. Boone in Powell Valley on his way to Ky. with his family & party but the Indians soon after attacked them & killed the eldest son, which broke up his trip.

Go to Part 4 - 1774 - 1778.

Transcriber's Notes:

1: James and John Curry were sons of William and Mary (McAfee) Curry, the brothers of Rebecca (wife of William McAfee) and Susan (wife of George McAfee). Jeremiah Tilford was the brother of Nancy (wife of James McCoun V) and Elizabeth (wife of John McCoun).

Updated April 23, 2000. This transcription is copyrighted by . It may be freely used for non-commercial purposes and family research, but must not be used for any other purpose without written permission from the transcriber.