Highland HomePage

Discovering the pioneer settlers of the Cumberland Highlands


Welcome to this site dedicated to the history and the genealogies of the pioneers who settled the Cumberland highland area of central Appalachia, a region encompassing eastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia, West Virginia, western North Carolina, and east Tennessee.

Here you will find a collection of information about the hardy folk who forged pathways into the heart of the Southern Appalachians — and chose to stay there. These pioneers did not view this wilderness as a barrier to be endured and overcome; rather, they embraced wilderness as a way of life.

Theirs was not the story of Boone’s Transylvania Company settlers or of Harrod’s colony — both located in the Bluegrass of central Kentucky. Instead, many of these settlers trod the earliest trails into the outposts of the New or Clinch Rivers and Powell’s Valley, from whence they slowly penetrated the deepest mountain coves of eastern Kentucky -- The headwaters of the Kentucky, Cumberland, Sandy, and Licking rivers -- via Pound Gap a generation after the Bluegrass was settled.

Mountaineers had a habit of migrating in small groups of intermarried families. They would settle a cluster of rude homesteads, continuing to maintain a sense of community defined in terms of blood connections, subsistence farming and hunting, and barter-based exchanges. In these isolated settlements (a misleading term that, in this context, might falsely conjure images of “town” or at least “crossroads”), the rhythms of social interaction — courtship, marriage, worship, recreation, death and dying — were constrained by distance and terrain among a few neighbors. Thus the realities of community survival have, over time, unfairly given rise to modern-day stereotypes of “inbreeding”, ignorance, or immorality.

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