When Virginia was partitioned in 1663, Tennessee became a
western part of Carolina; thirty years later a further division left Tennessee within the
jurisdiction of North Carolina. Ideas about the region remained vague well into the
middle of the eighteenth century. The Upper Tennessee Valley, which Virginians
thought was within their boundaries, was not explored until 1748, when Dr. Thomas
Walker, sent out by the Loyal Land Company of Virginia, penetrated the territory to the
present Kingsport. Two years later Walker with a party of Long Hunters (probably
already familiar with the region) came down the upper Holston Valley, followed
well-beaten bison trails westward, and crossed the Clinch River. From this point Walker
his wilderness scouts pushed north into Kentucky through the great mountain pass
which he later named Cumberland Gap in honor of the Duke of Cumberland.
When the French and Indian War broke out, the Overhill
Cherokee petitioned the colonial governments of Virginia and South Carolina to build
and strongly garrison a fort in their country. Virginia acted first Major Andrew Lewis
led a party into the Overhill country and built a fort near Chota, the Cherokee capital.
The South Carolinians, refusing to cooperate with the Virginians, set about building a
fort of their own. The work was pushed to completion in 1757 by British regulars and
militia from South Carolina, under the command of Captain Paul Demore. Named Fort
Loudoun in honor of the Earl of Loudoun, commander of the British forces in America
at the time, this was the first Anglo-American fort garrisoned west of the Alleghenies.
The Virginia fort at Chota was never occupied.
No sooner had the garrison taken possession than traders,
artisans, blacksmiths, and small farmers began settling in the region protected by the
fort. Many of them brought their wives, and "undoubtedly the first child born in the
West to parents of the Anglo-Saxon race saw the light of day in the little community."
Fort Loudoun remained the westernmost English outpost for three years. Abandoned at
the outbreak of the Cherokee War, it was reoccupied by the North Carolinians after the
British victory of 1761. Trade with the Cherokee was resumed and white men could
again travel unmolested through the Overhill region.