Isaac Hite- KY Pioneer

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.


  1. Hi Mary,
    This is Bob Krejci and I have the priviledge to restore your ancestor's home at Starlite. Any information about the property would be welcomed as we are trying to restore it to its beginnings. Thanks for the blog, btw

  2. Hi Mary,
    My name is Rex Webb and I live in Danville Ky. My question is did Issac Hite and his party first enter the Bluegrass area by means of the Salt River in 1773?

  3. Hi Rex,
    When Isaac Hite 1st came to Kentucky with the Bullitt party in 1773 their route was down the Ohio to the Falls (Louisville). They did travel parts of the Salt River. I think it might have been his next trip in 1774 when he claimed Fountain Bleau Springs, which I believe is also in the Salt River network. Of course you'd be much more familiar with this part of the country than myself since you live in Mercer county.
    He kept a journal-- here is the published source: JOURNAL OF ISAAC HITE, 1773; Bulletin of the Historical and Philosophical Society of Ohio; v. 12, n. 4; October, 1954; pp 264-281. You can read the journal via this link I found:
    Let me know if you discover anything interesting! Perhaps you can somewhat map his route from the journal information.- Mary

  4. Mary,
    I may not have published my last comments as I don't see it here. At any rate I did read the journal and did confirm two questions: James Harrod was with Hite and Bullit and they did survey the Salt River as I thought.
    The Foutain Bleau Spring is some of the best farm land in Kentucky and I can help you locate it if you like...

  5. Hi Rex-- I'd love to see the Foutain Bleau Springs area! Please email me ( so I can keep in contact with you. I live in California and I don't make it back your way too often, but am occasionally there to visit family. A cousin of mine has been doing a lot of research in your town, she lives in Lexington. She and I have common ancestors from Danville, the Mitchell family.

    1. Hello Mary,

      My name is Claudia Randolph. I am doing research on my husband's ancestor "Nathaniel F. Randolph". He was in the Bullitt surveying party with Isaac Hite. At one time Isaac "traded or sold" Fountainbleau to Nathaniel Randolph. The deal did not go well, resulting in bad blood between the families. I have the story of what happened with the property. The land became the subject of a lawsuit that lasted until the 1950s. Do you recognize the name Nathaniel Randolph? I would love to share information.

      My husband Danny is from Danville, KY. We live in Lexington. We travel to the Harrodsburg area to do research from time to time.

    2. Hi Claudia,

      I love to know more about this story. Please email me at:


  6. Mary,
    So glad to hear back from you. My grandmother was a Harlan and our ancestors were with Harrod in 1774 [distant cousins] Silas and James Harlan
    claimed land just outside Danville on the Salt River. I have stent spare time locating springs and early stations settled by these pioneers. Please
    email me at or call 859 608 5449. Certainly we have so much information to share and hope to meet you in the Bluegrass.

  7. Mary, I believe you are a descendant of Isaac Hite through Jacob Hite. Is this correct? Have you seen any documentation on the names/birth dates of Isaac's 4 children? I believe I am an descendant of Isaac Hite through Thomas Hite and I am trying to find some confirming documentation.

  8. Hi Charles-- email me ( ) and perhaps I can send you what I have. In brief, my records indicate that Isaac had 4 children: Rebecca, Elizabeth, Jacob (my ancestor) and Isaac. Apparently the will only mentions his children Rebecca, Elizabeth and Jacob, so perhaps Isaac died young.

    Do you know when Thomas was born?

    I look forward to hearing from you.

  9. Hi Charles and Mary, very recently a descendant of Thomas Hite (1781-1847) submitted a DNA test sample. The results shoud be available about the middle of September according to Richard Hite of HFA.

  10. Hi Mary, Do you have any more information about Isaac Hite's wife, Harriett Smith? In 1824 Jefferson Co., KY, Pleasant Smith's will named niece Amandy Arterburn, and nephew Pleasant Watkins. Witnesses to the will were Jacob Hite (likely s/o Isaac and Harriett), John Arterburn, Jr, and Nathan T. Ingle. I have traced Pleasant Smith's connection to the Watkins through unsourced information that the nephew Pleasant Watkins was born in 1818 to John Watkins bc 1772 and Elizabeth Smith bc 1794, daughter of a Mary Smith of Shelby Co. KY. Other unsourced information states that John Arterburn married 2. a Mary Smith, who would have been sister of Elizabeth. Since Jacob Hite was a witness to the 1824 will, I wonder whether he was related to this Smith family through his mother, Harriett Smith. Any thoughts? Thank you!

    1. Hi Elaine,

      I haven't tracked down John Smith's will, but I have in my notes from information passed down to me that his will is witnessed by Harriet Bridgeford (Isaac Hite's widow-- she married Thomas Bridgeford after Isaac's death). John Smith died Nov. 29th 1813. I believe he might be the father of Elizabeth and Mary Smith that you mention. If so then this really starts to put together more evidence that this is the Smith family that Harriet came from. Let me know if you discover any more details. (

  11. Hi Mary, My name is Wayne Smith and I am descended from the John Smith that you mention in your blog as Isaac Hite's "old friend." I base this on a copy of an 1785 Marriage Bond written to then Virginia Governor, Patrick Henry Esquire. In this document it lists Isaac Hite as John's Bondsman for the marriage to Eleanor D. (Duff) Green. This marriage did in fact take place on 25 Jul 1785 in Stanford, Lincoln County, Kentucky, a town on the early "Wilderness Road." I do have John Smith's Will and would be happy to share it with you. Would it be possible for you to share with me what you know about my ancestor. As you must know, it is no easy task researching the "Smith" line, but I do have a relatively complete genealogy of my ancestors going back to this John Smith. Thank you for your wonderful work on your Isaac Hite line. It helps me to better understand what life was like for my Smith ancestors during those difficult and dangerous times in frontier Kentucky. I look forward to your reply.

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  13. Mary, who is Robert Ormsby HITE a descendant of?

    1. Robert Ormsby HITE is the son of Jacob HITE and Elizabeth W. SNEED. He is the grandson of Capt. Isaac HITE & Harriet SMITH and James SNEED & Catherine EARAKSON (or EARICKSON).