I have just returned from the Cumberland Gap Genealogical Jamboree where I delivered a speech at the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. I was once again impressed with the Park Rangers, in this case Tommie Sue Watkins who has been with the Service for over ten years. She readily helped me set up for Powerpoint in a, to me, unfamiliar location; introduced me to the audience; sat in on the presentation and ran after me in the parking lot to deliver items I had accidently left behind. I have been similarly impressed with Rangers at the Vicksburg National Park and the Wright Brothers National Memorial Park in North Carolina.
I discovered I had some information tangential to the Park the staff did not, so I will relate what I know about this remarkable genealogical site.
The Cumberland Gap (Gap) was created ages ago by a meteorite in the Cumberland Mountains in the lower part of the Alleghany Mountains. It was discovered in 1750 by Dr. Thomas Walker, a Virginia physician and explorer. At the time it was but an Indian path. In the early 1770s Daniel Boone was hired by the Transylvania Company to hire some loggers and enlarge the path. Early in 1775 there were perhaps 20 men in Kentucky.
In August 1775, Daniel Boone and Hugh McGary (for full disclosure, my 4thG Grandfather) along with Thomas Denton and Richard Hogan brought their wives and children through the Gap into Kentucky. This event is portrayed in George Caleb Bingham’s famous painting Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers Through the Cumberland Gap. The painting now hangs in the art gallery at Washington University in St. Louis.
The Boone and McGary families split up near present day Brodhead with Boone continuing to Boonesboro and McGary to Harrodsburg. McGary brought the first Bible into Kentucky and a Boone child brought a cat.
In the 1790s with the help of Jean Jaçques Dufour, winemaker for the Marquis de Lafayette, McGary and Henry Clay became members of the Kentucky Vineyard Society. Kentucky was the site of the first commercial vineyard in the United States and by 1860 Kentucky was the third largest wine producing state.
The Woman’s Club of Harrodsburg in 1926 erected a plaque which reads, “… Remembering The First Mothers of the West to Enter the Wilderness, Mrs. Daniel Boone, Mrs. Hugh McGary, Mrs. Richard Hogan, Mrs. Thomas Denton….”
The Gap National Park has a 2-3 mile, hairpin-turn road up to the top of the mountain, called Pinnacle Overlook. One can look straight down to the town of Cumberland Gap, TN and likewise see a vista with miles of intersecting mountains, rivers and lakes in the distance. I would rate the view in the top ten of my life. Nearby you can stand in Kentucky and Tennessee and stoop to put a hand into Virginia.
Between 1775 and 1810 some 300,000 settlers crossed Cumberland Gap and began settling the land west of the Appalachians. Probably some of your ancestors were among them.