Scott County, Tennessee
FNB Chronicles

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The Question Arises: Why Ain’t Winfield in Kentucky?

By Dr. Frank C. Thomas
Contributing Columnist

Dr. THOMAS WALKER was a man of many trades; he was an explorer, a physician, and a land surveyor. He is credited with building the first permanent home in Kentucky.

When North Carolina and Virginia were colonies of Great Britain, the boundary between them was a line beginning on the Atlantic shore at 36° 30’ and continuing west until it reached the ocean. No one was sure just where that ocean was, but no one suspected that it would turn out to be the Pacific Ocean located thousands of miles away.

By 1780 hundreds of pioneers had crossed the mountains to settle in the western sections of both North Carolina and Virginia, and when it became increasingly important to mark the lines between these two states, each state appointed a group of surveyors to work together and mark the dividing line.

Dr. THOMAS WALKER was chosen by Virginia to head their surveying party, but the North Carolina party soon realized that Dr. WALKER was a better talker than surveyor. No one could convince him he was marking the line north of the latitude line, and the North Carolina group gave up in disgust.

WALKER insisted on projecting the line farther west although he was completely without authority to do so. Had he actually walked the line, he would have treaded on Scott County soil.

But WALKER was never in Scott County; he avoided the rough terrain of this area by following the Cumberland River to near Burnside. There he reports killing buffalo on Christmas Day after chasing them across the frozen river. He continued down the river until he was satisfied he was on the correct line, then headed westward.

How far off he was can be discerned by looking at a map of Tennessee; west of the Tennessee River the line between Tennessee and Kentucky takes a noticeable dip to the south. This is the correct line based on the 36° 30’ latitude me. This portion of the state line survey was made years after WALKER’s when the purchase from the Indians by Andrew Jackson was being divided between the two states.

North Carolina accepted his survey as final, as well they should, since it was all in their favor, but when Kentucky and Tennessee were created as new states, Kentucky immediately asked for a correction of the state line, Arguments went back and forth for several years, until once again a joint commission was appointed by the two states to come up with a proper survey.

WALKER was proven to be wrong; the proper line (now known as the Mathews line) was located five to nine miles south of the Walker line. Tennessee was prepared to cede to Kentucky those hundreds of square miles when another strange thing happened; suddenly Kentucky announced a willingness to give up their claim to the area if Tennessee agreed that the land in the disputed area could only legally be granted to settlers by the governor of Kentucky. Once the grant had been made, and Kentucky had received any payment due, it became a part of Tennessee.

No clear explanation of this generosity on the part of Kentucky has ever been made, although there is frequent mention that the Kentucky delegates who went to Nashville to close out the matter spent a considerable amount of time testing Tennessee whiskey to compare it with bourbon from their native state.

Had the line been properly surveyed, the state line would run through Oneida near the traffic light in Oak Grove. Tobe’s would be located in southern Kentucky, as would McDonald’s and Mrs. Winner’s. To have a perfect paper title to land from Oak Grove north to the Kentucky state border the original land grant must be signed by a governor of Kentucky!

The town hall of Winfield is built on land granted by the governor of Kentucky. Had the line been surveyed correctly, Mayor DICK SEXTON of Winfield would be a Kentucky resident; he would be wearing blue and white and singing the University of Kentucky’s alma mater when Kentucky meets Tennessee in their annual football classic.

Let’s hope Dr. WALKER was a better doctor than he was a surveyor.

FNB Chronicle, Vol. 2, No. 2 – Winter 1991
First National Bank
P.O. Box 4699
Oneida, TN 37841
(page 8)

Scott Co, TN Homepage

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