Dr. Thomas Walker (1715-1794)

Dr. Thomas Walker was one of the great explorers of southwestern Virginia, crossing Cumberland Gap (what he called Cave Gap) on April 17, 1750 and "discovering" Kentucky. He was not the first person to cross the gap - Native Americans had lived in the area for perhaps 10,000 years. As Walker recorded in his journal, he was not even the first European to cross it and mark the passage:

April 13th. We went four miles to large Creek which we called Cedar Creek being a Branch of Bear-Grass, and from thence Six miles to Cave Gap, the land being Levil. On the North side of the Gap is a large Spring, which falls very fast, and just above the Spring is a small Entrance to a Large Cave, which the spring runs through, and there is a constant Stream of Cool air issueing out. The Spring is sufficient to turn a Mill. Just at the Foot of the Hill is a Laurel Thicket and the spring Water runs through it. On the South side is a Plain Indian Road. on the top of the Ridge are Laurel Trees marked with Crosses, others Blazed and several Figures on them. As I went down the other Side, I soon came to some Laurel in the head of the Branch. A Beech stands on the left hand, on which I cut my name.1

route of Dr. Thomas Walker through Cumberland Gap, 1750
route of Dr. Thomas Walker through Cumberland Gap, 1750
Source: National Park Service, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

Thomas Walker was born in King and Queen County and educated at William and Mary in Williamsburg, east of the Fall Line in Tidewater Virginia. He moved to the Piedmont and built Castle Hill on the 15,000 acres in Albemarle County that came with his marriage to Mildred Thornton Meriwether, the widow of Colonel Nicholas Meriwether II. (His version of Castle Hill was a 2-story home - later it was expanded to the impressive brick structure.)

Walker was one of the early Virginia explorers who pushed westward across the Appalachian Mountains, expanding the European settlements into the Cumberland River watershed. "This piedmont country, in the valleys of the James and the Rappahannock, was a part of the first truly American frontier, as the tidewater region was a frontier to Europe."2



1. Doctor Thomas Walker's Journal (6 Mar 1749/50 - 13 Jul 1750) - A Record of His Travels in Present-day Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky www.tngenweb.org/tnland/squabble/walker.html#5 (last checked April 3, 2004)
2. Abernethy, Thomas Perkins, Three Virginia Frontiers, Peter Smith, Gloucester Massachusetts, 1962, p.44-45

Exploring Across the Blue Ridge
Virginia and the Frontier
Virginia Places