Isaac Hite, my first ancestor to have ventured into the land of Kentucky, was born in Virginia in 1753. He spent some of his childhood in a log cabin just north of what is today Moorefield, West Virginia. Isaac's father, Abraham Hite, had built this 4-room cabin near the South Branch of the Potomac, when Isaac was about 12. It is my understanding that the remains of this cabin are still standing. Here, the family farmed and raised hogs. His father Abraham served as a county lieutenant of then Hampshire County, Virginia, and later was a representative to the House of Burgess and member of the Virginia Convention of 1776.
This area, where Isaac spent the formative years of his childhood, was on the edge of the wilderness. Like Daniel Boone, young Isaac was at home with finding his way in the woods and also no stranger to encounters with Indians. Isaac Hite's maternal grandfather, Isaac Van Meter, had established a frontier fort in the same vicinity, and was killed and scalped by Indians when Isaac Hite was only 3. Isaac Van Meter, is considered the earliest settler in the valley of Virginia. Isaac Hite's paternal grandfather, Jost Hite, had migrated from Germany in about 1709, initially settled in Pennsylvania, and then moved to an area near today’s Winchester, Virginia, purchasing his land from Isaac Van Meter.
When Isaac Hite was 20 years old (1773) he signed on as a deputy surveyor with Capt. Thomas Bullitt’s party, headed to the Falls of the Ohio (today Louisville, KY). Virginia had issued land warrants to those who had served in the French and Indian War, and later the Revolutionary War. These warrants allowed their recipients a certain number of acres in Kentucky. It was up to the warrant holder to go through the various steps of having the land surveyed and returning this survey information to the land office who then issued a patent to the land. I’ve simplified it but in reality it was a complicated process that ended up to be wrought with error and later litigation. Surveyors were hired to make the required surveys for warrant holders, and often were given land as payment for their services.
There were no accurate maps of Kentucky at this time and the surveyors’ tools were simply a compass and a measured chain. It is reported that more land was issued in land warrants than actually existed in Kentucky. Inaccurate and overlapping surveys over time brought on years of legal fights over land rights and prompted many families, including the Boones and the Lincolns, to move further west rather than pay lawyers to plead their cases in the courts. For many, land in Kentucky was seen as an easy way to make big profits. Even George Washington thought he would make a huge profit on Kentucky land he received in exchange for a horse. But like others, Washington had difficulties in getting a clear title to Kentucky lands he “owned.”
When Isaac Hite arrived in 1773 he was among the first groups of surveyors into Kentucky. He traveled from his home near today’s Moorefield, WV catching up with the rest of Bullitt’s survey party at the mouth of the Big Miami in late June. Bullitt’s party had traveled down the Ohio River from Ft. Pitt (today’s Pittsburg), and it is assumed that Isaac followed this same route. A journal of one of the men noted that on June 28, “There Mr. Hite and six men in canoes came to us from Pittsburg. Mr. Hite surveyor in that company.”
Isaac Hite kept his own journal for a portion of the trip and from that we know a bit about the six weeks he spent during this summer of 1773 in Kentucky. His diary consists of cryptic notes of typical days spent surveying, hunting and trying to avoid encounters with Indians.
Sept. 1: “…went out with Samuel Hinch and killd a verry fat buffellow that night there came 3 Indians to us”
Sept. 4: “ set out to the land that we were going to survey and went about 6 miles and killd a buffellow for our suppers & breakfast, and calf & skinned it and kooked it”
Sept. 8: “We finished and went to the canoe, the Indians had taken our flour & corn & all our oars and setting poles except one of each” (5 days earlier they had hidden these canoes and supplies)
The next summer Isaac was back in Kentucky to do more work, this time with the survey crew of John Floyd. By May 14 1774, a group of over 33 men had arrived at the mouth of the Kentucky River. Here they separated into groups with the intention of meeting up later at the settlement James Harrod was attempting to establish. Harrod’s men began to plot out town lots and build cabins in the vicinity of today’s Harrodsburg. But, later that summer a group of Shawnee attacked a small survey crew nearby, killing two men. Those who escaped the attack came to warn Harrod’s group, and they all decided to leave the area.
Isaac Hite and his survey partner were working their way toward the planned meeting, with the rest of Floyd’s survey party, at Harrod’s settlement, when they came upon the bodies of the two killed surveyors. They hurried to Harrod’s site of operations only to find it deserted. Frightened, they left a note for John Floyd and the rest of the surveyors, and traveled overland to the Cumberland River. Here they constructed simple dugout canoes and made their way to the Ohio and then the Mississippi River. By river they traveled south to New Orleans and then made their way by ships to Pensacola, then Charlestown, and eventually to Williamsburg in December of 1774. When Floyd’s group arrived at Harrod’s abandoned settlement several days after Hite, they found the note and chose to leave Kentucky by the overland route, since the preferred route up the Ohio River would have been less safe from Indian attack.
These men were not overreacting. Surveyors were especially vulnerable, often hiding their equipment in order to appear as hunters. Indians knew that surveyors paved the way for settlement. This was a time of heightened attacks on frontier settlers. Daniel Boone had even been sent to warn surveyors doing work in Kentucky that summer, although it is not known if he made contact with Floyd’s surveyors.
The next year (1775) Isaac Hite was back in Kentucky and represented the small “Boiling Springs” group of settlers, when Richard Henderson (leader of the Transylvania colony at Boonesborough) called together a convention of representatives from the scattered Kentucky settlements. It was the first attempt to establish some sort of frontier government in Kentucky. The delegates met under a giant elm tree just outside the fort at Boonesborough.
We only know bits and pieces of Isaac Hite’s life in the years that followed. He and his extended family were involved in various Kentucky land deals. There were big profits for those who knew what they were doing and it was a huge advantage for the Hite family to have someone there to handle business transactions, scout land, and keep track of their holdings.
Indian attacks continued to be a problem especially during the American Revolution, because the British were bribing the tribes to attack Kentucky settlements. On April 24, 1777 Boonesborough was attacked and we know that Isaac, along with Daniel Boone were among the wounded in its defense. Isaac Hite is also noted as coming to the aid of Harrodsburg when it was attacked in May of 1781.
Isaac served under George Rogers Clark in 1780 and 1782. Both of these were raids Clark made on Shawnee villages in Ohio. The one in 1782 was in retaliation for the Battle at Blue Licks (mentioned in my previous blog).
In 1782 Isaac Hite, 29 years old, served as a representative of Lincoln County in the Virginia legislature. (Kentucky didn’t become a State until 1792). He continued to improve his land and built one of the earliest water mills in the state on his property near Harrodsburg, an area called Fountain Bleu. A letter written to his father Abraham at about this time mentions a number of land dealings concerning the Kentucky property owned by Isaac, his brothers Abraham and Joseph, and his father Abraham Sr.
About 1784 Isaac moved from the Fountain Bleu settlement, to a place on Goose Creek, near present day Anchorage, just to the east of Louisville. Hite’s Goose Creek place is shown on John Filson’s map (1784), the earliest published map of Kentucky. Isaac built a mill and tannery here and at what he called his “Cave Springs Plantation.” The cabin he built is still standing and is listed on the National Register of Historic Properties. It was also about this time that his brothers, their families and his parents moved to Kentucky permanently. His brothers, Joseph and Abraham Jr. and parents (Abraham and Rebecca) built their homesteads southeast of present downtown Louisville.
It was not until the summer of 1788 that Isaac Hite, then 35 years old, married. His bride was 20-year-old Harriet Smith and she was likely the sister of John Smith, an old friend and fellow Kentucky frontiersman of Isaac’s. In February of 1794, Isaac died at the age of 40, supposedly from complications of a wound he sustained from an Indian attack while working on his farm. He left Harriet with four small children. Elizabeth, his only daughter died just a few months after at the age of three.
My Hite ancestors continued to live on the Cave Springs Plantation property for several more generation until they sold it to the State of Kentucky in 1869. The state built a “lunatic asylum” which is known today as Central State (psychiatric) Hospital.
I wasn’t always so interested in family history. My first taste of genealogy was about 40 years ago. The DAR planned to install grave markers at the graves of Abraham Hite, Jr. and Abraham Hite Sr. (Isaac’s brother and father) in the small Hite family graveyard off Starlite Lane in Louisville. A small ceremony was planned and it was decided that two young descendants of Abraham Hite Sr. would unveil the new markers. I was chosen to be one of the children to do this, and so that spring day I was dressed up, white gloves and all, for the occasion. I was still in my tomboy phase so this was NOT something I wanted to do, despite my mother’s proud excitement. We arrived at the location and traipsed across the field to the cemetery. I was sullen and disinterested (see pictures below). Then, I discovered my first taste of genealogical interconnectedness. The other child turned out to be David Beckley, a kid from my class at school!
My interest in genealogy and the Hite family is quite different after 40 years. Who would have guessed, if they had seen my sour face that day?
Col. Abraham HITE- Isaac HITE- Jacob HITE- Robert Ormsby HITE- Eleanor HITE- Goslee GEIGER- Thomas GEIGER- Elizabeth GEIGER- me
In July 2013 I visited the vicinity of Hite's land "Fountain Bleu" and took these photos:
UPDATE June 2015: The mystery of Harriet Smith's ancestry seems to have been solved! I discovered a clue in the obit for her son James Bridgeford. Message me if you are someone who is researching this line and I will give you more information. Harriet and John Smith (husband of Eleanor Greene) were siblings. Another early Kentuckian, Dr. Maj. Nathan Smith was also their brother. Their parents were William Smith and Elizabeth Rigby of Maryland. Paternal grandparents William Smith & Elizabeth Martin. Maternal grandparents Nathaniel Rigby and Cassandra Coale.