Land Speculations and Troubles

In the early history of Kentucky there was much trouble arising out of defective land titles, and settlers in every portion of the State suffered more or less from this cause. The old records of Christian County show more land litigation than any other kind. Collins says: The radical and incurable defect of the law was the neglect of Virginia to provide for the general survey of the country, at the expense of the Government, and its subdivision into whole, half and quarter sections, as is now done by the United States. Instead of this, each possessor of a warrant was allowed to locate the same where he pleased, and was required to survey it at his own cost, but his entry was required to be so special and precise, that each subsequent locator might recognize the land already taken up, and make his entry elsewhere. To make a good entry, therefore, required a precision and accuracy of description which such men as Boone and Kenton could not be expected to possess; and all vague entries were declared null and void. Unnumbered sorrows, law suits and heart-rending vexations were the consequences of this unhappy law. In the unskillful hands of the pioneers and hunters of Kentucky, entries, surveys and patents were piled upon each other, overlapping and crossing in endless perplexity. In the meantime the immediate consequence of the law was a flood of immigration. The hunters of the elk and buffalo were succeeded by the more ravenous hunters of land; in the pursuit they fearlessly braved the hatchet of the Indian and the privations of the forest. The surveyor’s chain and compass were seen in the woods as frequently as the rifle; and during the years 1779-80-81, the great and all-absorbing object in Kentucky was to enter, survey and obtain a patent for the richest sections of land. Indian hostilities were rife during the whole of this period, but these only formed episodes in the great drama.”

We have a sample of this in Christian County. John Montgomery, one of the first white men in the county, was a surveyor, and was killed by the Indians, as detailed in a preceding chapter, while surveying land. The troubles about land titles and litigation prevailed here as elsewhere, and many men lost their lands which they thought secured to them. Some of the early lawyers paid little attention to any other branch of the practice except land claims, and the litigation over such claims for years encumbered the dockets of the courts of the county. The pioneers were mostly simple and honest, and some have characterized them as stupid. They knew how to endure privations with constant and necessary activity, they lived in the free wilderness, where action was unfettered by law, and where property was not controlled by form and technicality, but rested on the natural and broader foundation of justice and convenience. They knew how to repel the aggression of the private wrong-doer, but they knew not how to swindle a neighbor out of his acres, by declaration, demurrer, plea and replication, and all the scientific pomp of chicanery. Hence, in the broad and glorious light of civilization, they were stupid. Their confidence in men, their simplicity, their stupidity, by whatever name proper to call it, rendered them an easy prey to selfish and unprincipled speculators. There are many still living in Christian County who remember the trouble and ill-feeling caused by these defective land-titles.


Perrin, William Henry, ed., Counties of Christian and Trigg, Kentucky, Historical and Biographical, Chicago : F. A. Battey Publishing Co., 1884.

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