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This webpage reproduces an article in the
Mississippi Valley Historical Review
Vol. 2 No. 1 (Jun. 1915), pp120‑122

The text is in the public domain.

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 p120  Work on the Cumberland Road

Among the manuscripts recently deposited in the Virginia State Library by the auditor, there came to light the bill of John Kinkead and William McBride for superintending the clearing of a road over the Cumberland mountains. It is well known that Virginia in the session of the general assembly which met in October, 1779, passed a law authorizing that such a road be cleared.​1 No evidence has heretofore been available to show the extent of the work done on the road. The law stated that a wagon road was desirable to Kentucky, but that on account of its passing through an uninhabitable country, it could not be made by adjacent inhabitants, nor could the practicability or charge be properly judged of, until the country had been explored and such road traced out. Evan Shelby and Richard Callaway were appointed commissioners to explore the country  p121 on both sides of the Cumberland mountains, and to trace out a road, to open and clear it so as to give passage to travelers with pack horses, and to report to the next general assembly as to the practicability and charge of making it "a good waggon road." The two commissioners were to lay before the auditor a fair account for expenses, except the wages and pay of the laborers and militia guard, each of whom, for full time, should be entitled to a grant of three hundred acres or one hundred and twenty pounds at the option of the claimant. The compensation of Shelby and Callaway was to be determined by the general assembly. For protection the commissioners were to call upon the commanding officer of the most convenient county or counties, the guard to be not exceeding, with the laborers employed, fifty men. In case of the death, disability, or refusal to act of a commissioner, the county court was to nominate a proper person to fill the vacancy. According to the bill submitted to the auditor, neither Callaway nor Shelby acted as a commissioner, John Kinkead and William McBride being appointed by the "court of Washington and Kentucky counties." It will be observed that the state did not contemplate a wagon road, the construction of which would have been extremely difficult and expensive, but merely the tracing and marking of a road.

The bill shows that the work was done in July, August, and September of 1780. The principal items are for the purchase of thirty pack horses, and thirty-three beeves, and for the services of twelve pack horses. The total cost of the supplies used in the construction, and of food for the laborers, was £54,033.11, in the depreciated currency of that day. The laborers were probably paid by grants of land as the law directed. On December 1, 1781, John Kinkead petitioned the house of delegates for pay for his services as superintendent. On December 18, he was granted twenty-five pounds specie. In the petition of Kinkead, which is printed herewith, it is worthy of note that he says the road "was completed so that waggons has passd."

Earl G. Swem

Petition of Kinkead to General Assembly of Virginia,
December 1, 1781
[Virginia State Library, Petitions from Washington county, 1776‑1860]

To the Honourable the Speaker and Gentlemen of the house of Delegates.

The petition of John Kinkeade humbly sheweth That your petitioner was appointed a commissioner by the Court of Washington County, in the room of Evan Shelby, (agreeable to an act of Assembly,) in conjunction with the Commissioner from the County of Kentuckey to Superintend and open a road through the Cumberland Mountains to the open country of Kentuckey. — and although Dangerous and difficult as the Task was, at that Critical Juncture, the Business was Completed so that waggons has passd, and has rendered much ease and Expedition to Travelers, etc.

Your Petitioner therefore beg that your honourable house will take his Case into Consideration, and make him such allowance as will be Just and adequate to his service.

And your petitioner as in duty bound shall pray.

The Editor's Note:

1 Hening's statutes, 10:143.

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