Migration Patterns

This is another great article in case you run into a brick wall and wonder where your family members could have gone.


Since the first white settlers moved into Kentucky in the late eighteenth century, migration has been primarily responsible for the distribution of the state’s residents and has shaped the age-sex composition and social characteristics of the population. Migration patterns are indicators of economic conditions of the state and its regions.

The movement of settlers into Kentucky began in the 1770s, when it was still a part of the state of Virginia. To settle the territory, Virginia initially issued land warrants to veterans of the French-Indian and Revolutionary wars but soon opened the territory to the general public. The general westward movement into Kentucky continued for the next several years. Most migrants came overland by way of the Wilderness Road, but increasing numbers traveled down the Ohio River. After 1820, when the Kentucky population exceeded half a million, the growth rate dropped well below that of the nation, indicating a loss of residents to other states.

In 1850 the federal census began to collect data on places of birth of the population. A comparison of place of birth with place of current residence data reveals a rather slow change in the origin of Kentucky migrants, although in all decades most came from neighboring states. In 1860 Virginia was the origin of most migrants to Kentucky, followed in order by Tennessee, Ohio, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. By 1870 most migrants to Kentucky came from Tennessee. By 1970 most came from Ohio. Migrants from Indiana, Illinois, and West Virginia came to Kentucky in greater numbers during the twentieth century, while the numbers from North Carolina and Pennsylvania declined.

The movements of Kentucky natives to other states show a significant shift from a movement west in the nineteenth century to a movement north by the mid-twentieth century. In 1850 Missouri, followed by Texas, was the leading destination of Kentucky migrants and remained so until 1910. Gradually the migrant streams shifted to the north and northwest; Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan became major destinations of migrating Kentuckians. The availability of land had been the major attraction for nineteenth century migrants, but the lure of industrial jobs was a stronger moving force in the twentieth century.

Economic factors have exerted the greatest influence on the movements of people both into and out of Kentucky. Within sixty years after the first settlers moved in, the availability of good farmland farther west caused a net loss in population. The failure of Kentucky to develop major manufacturing industries to supplement agriculture and mining made it even more difficult for the state to retain its population in the years following World War II. The energy crisis of the 1970s produced simultaneously an industrial recession and a coal boom that temporarily reversed the direction of migration, creating Kentucky’s first gain in recent history. Since 1980, though, deteriorating economic conditions have sent migrants south and to the far West rather than to the industrial North.

Compared with more urbanized states of the region, Kentucky has attracted relatively few foreign immigrants. In 1850 the first count of the foreign-born tallied 31,400 immigrants, or 4 percent of the state’s population. The highest percentage (6.4) of foreign-born persons in Kentucky was recorded in 1869 and the greatest number (63,400) in 1870. From 1860 until 1950 both numbers and percentages of the foreign-born decreased. Since 1950 there has been a slight increase, but the 34,562 foreign-born counted in 1980 constituted less than 1 percent of the total population. Many of these foreign nationals were university students rather than true immigrants, while others were refugees or spouses of service personnel who had been stationed abroad.


Howard W. Beers, Growth of Population in Kentucky 1860-1940 (Lexington, Ky., 1942)

George A. Hillery, Jr., Population Growth in Kentucky, 1820-1960 (Lexington, Ky., 1966)

Simon S. Kuznets, ed., Population Redistribution and Economic Growth: United States, 1870-1950 (Philadelphia 1957).

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In the print edition this entry appears on pages 636 – 637

Wilderness Road

I found a really good resource for those who are researching early settlers of Kentucky. In this article it shares the location of where it was located and the towns that it traveled through.


The first written record of the Wilderness Road is an announcement in the Kentucky Gazette on October 15, 1796: “The Wilderness Road from Cumberland Gap to the settlements in Kentucky is now completed. Wagon’s loaded with a ton weight, may pass with ease, with four good horses.” Before that time, most people called the route either Kentucky Road or the road to the Holston settlements, depending upon the direction of travel. On John Filson‘s map, the old trail is called “The Road from the Old settle[ments] thro’ the great Wilderness.”

The Wilderness Road more or less followed the old Warriors’ Path through the Cumberland Gap to Flat Lick, then parts of Skaggs’s Trace from Flat Lick to Crab Orchard, Kentucky. Old trails and county roads that extended from Crab Orchard to Harrodsburg and Louisville are also frequently called the Wilderness Road by historians. To follow the Wilderness Road today, the traveler starts from Gate City, Virginia, and takes U.S. 58 to Jonesville. At this point the old road went northward to the base of the Cumberland Mountains and followed the mountains southwest to the Cumberland Gap after rejoining U.S. 58 east of today’s Rose Hill, Virginia. Martin’s Station was located on the road near Rose Hill and Davis Station was on the Kentucky side of the gap, in what is now national park land. From Cumberland Gap to present-day Baughman, Kentucky, the Wilderness Road was nearly the same as U.S. 25E, except that it followed the west side of Yellow Creek north of Middlesboro and the east side of the Cumberland River north of Pineville.

The original route ran north of the present Barbourville, then joined and followed KY 229 to present-day London. Modrel’s Station was built along the road on the west side of the Little Laurel River in 1795; twenty-two militia were stationed there. North of London the road was approximately the same as U.S. 25 to Wood Creek, where it turned north and led to the top of Wildcat Mountain, where there was a trench battle during the Civil War . Farther north, the road ran along the ridge inside the bend in Rockcastle River, ascended on the northwest side, and crossed the river at Ford Creek below Livingston. The road then went up the south fork of Ford Hollow Creek to Sand Hill and followed the former Chestnut Ridge road into present-day Mt. Vernon. Part of the old road was destroyed during the construction of interstate highway I-75.

West of Mt. Vernon the original Wilderness Road is still visible, crossing Little Renfro Creek about 1.5 miles below U.S. 150, and following Boone’s Fork of the Dick’s (now Dix) River to Brodhead. The road followed the north side of the river for about two miles to a salt lick, then crossed to the south side, and followed for the most part U.S. 150 into Crab Orchard. From this point, travelers took county roads to their destinations. One of the most frequently used routes northward from Crab Orchard led to Danville and Harrodsburg, then to the salt works at Bullitt’s Lick, and finally to Louisville. Another road to Louisville from Harrodsburg ran north along the town fork of Salt River past McAfee’s Station to Hammons Creek, then across Big Benson Creek to Squire Boone’s Station, and westward past Lynn’s Station, Asturgus’s Station, the Dutch Station, Floyd’s Station, and the Spring Station.

The original Wilderness Road was not paved, but logs were added later in some sections as a surface material; one such section of corduroy road near Wildcat Mountain could still be seen as late as 1970. The log surfaces were probably installed by the Union army during the Civil War to support artillery and heavily loaded army wagons. On the north side of Wildcat Mountain, two parallel roads led up the hill, about sixty feet apart. One lane was used by double-teamed wagons going up the hill, the other by the spare horses going back down the hill to be double-teamed to another wagon.


Robert L. Kincaid, The Wilderness Road (Middlesborough, Ky., 1966)

Neal Hammon, “Early Roads into Kentucky,” Register 68 (April 1970): 91-131.

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In the print edition this entry appears on pages 952 – 953


Content Copyright © 1993 The University Press of Kentucky

Asking for Forgiveness

In a study that I am teaching on Faith It came to me lately that sometimes we start things with good intentions, but somehow over time, the core of a vision that you once had for something in the beginning, can result in a completely different reality of what it truly is at the current time. What does that mean? Honestly speaking, sometime ago I started a Women’s Ministry with the intention of it having the core and heartbeat of God and His purposes, but in reality, falling away from His direction and it becoming a fellowship of different individuals, with the emphasis of “self”. I say this from my heart, I take responsibility for this change. It is with open awareness and asking of forgiveness of those whom I may have offended, or interfered with their walk with Jesus. I realize that a true ministry is a ministry of love! It is not a theological statement of beliefs of individuals or of a group, but a ministry of love. It is not driven by having large numbers of members, but of each heart and souls. Whether a ministry is large or small, numbers do not matter. It may be the purpose of God for you to change just one life, not hundreds of people, but what I have realized, if I stay stuck on “me”, I will not even change or help the one person that God has given to me to help.

I have been extremely blessed to get to know some very good, strong, Christian leaders. I have learned so much from so many. I also realize that we all have different styles of leadership, teaching, thoughts and inputs that although are all different, may be gifts from God for certain people that we meet along the way. We will not plant seeds in everyone, or help change their lives for Christ, but the ones that we do touch their lives for the better is pleasing to God. I have also hurt a lot of good leaders. I had been self-centered in thinking, that their style, their teaching may not be the best “fit” for our ministry, and I am truly sorry! It has never been, or will be my ministry. It is not about me, it is about Christ! I have learned that God has touched each of us as people with gifts, experiences, educations, professions, wisdom and it is our responsibility to share with those we come in contact with.

Rick Warren shared a quote once, “Success comes when you do the following, you have a “Great commitment to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission will grow a great _________________________.”

Ladies, I apologize, I do not ever want to get in the way of God and His working. I want to be an example of love, and I ask you to pray for spiritual growth, maturity, and our purpose. (my purpose). I ask with a humbled heart!