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A walk through Kentucky

Hinton to portray Thomas Walker
for Locust Grove lecture series

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (February 2006) – Due to the written records of their epic 1803-1806 expedition, historians have labeled Lewis & Clark the “writingest explorers.” But had it not been for Dr. Thomas Walker and his journaling efforts detailing his 1750 trip into Kentucky, what was once “the West” would have been as unknown as Lewis & Clark’s west without this account.

Danny Hinton

Photo provided

Danny Hinton plays
Dr. Thomas Walker;
physician, explorer, surveyer and legal guardian
of Thomas Jefferson.

“Dr. Walker was a man of many talents and had numerous accomplishments in many fields,” said Danny Hinton. Hinton is on the current roster of the Kentucky Humanities Council’s Chautauqua performers as Walker.
Hinton, 58, portrays a slightly older Walker at age 65, during Walker’s survey of what is now the Kentucky-Tennessee state line. He has been re-enacting since the 1970s, but not until the last 10 years or so did he take his interest more seriously.
Hinton will portray his persona for the Afternoon Lecture Series at 1 p.m. on Feb. 1 at Locust Grove, the historic home of the Clark and Croghan families, in Louisville. Light refreshments will be served and an admission price of $5 is charged, or $3 for Friends of Historic Locust Grove.
This is an educational opportunity for the volunteer staff of Locust Grove and for people in the community, said Program Director Aileen Novick. Through August 2006, the focus of this year’s series is on “the early settlement of land in Kentucky,” said Novick.
Beginning in September, the focus will shift to Lewis & Clark in anticipated celebration of the 200-year anniversary date of their 1806 return journey from exploring the Louisiana Purchase territory and their effort to find an inland water route to the Pacific Ocean.
Having Hinton give a presentation of such an interesting character was a “great way to start the year off,” said Novick. Speakers for the Afternoon Lecture Series usually consist of Chautauqua performers, authors and researchers of early Kentucky history.
Aware of Walker’s journey, Boone and others would later trek into Kentucky following his route. But Walker considered himself a failure, said Novick. Walker was not the first man in Kentucky, “but the first one to keep a record of it,” said Hinton.
Walker was born on Jan. 25, 1715, in King and Queen County, Va. He attended the College of William and Mary and studied medicine under Dr. George Gilmer. At the time of his death on Nov. 9, 1794, he was the fourth wealthiest citizen of Albemarle County, Va.
The Loyal Land Co. was founded on July 12, 1749, with Walker as a leading member. The company received a grant of 800,000 acres in what is now southeastern Kentucky and appointed Walker to lead an expedition to explore and survey the region in 1750. Two years later, Walker became head of the Loyal Land Co.
Walker was physician to Thomas Jefferson’s father, Peter. Peter Jefferson had spent much of his life exploring and surveying, and this fact may have influenced and deepened Walker’s love for exploration. So great was their bond that Jefferson appointed Walker as executor of his estate before he died and as legal guardian of his son, Thomas, until age 21.
“Personally, I think his greatest contribution was his influence on Thomas Jefferson,” said Hinton.
Walker became Jefferson’s guardian when Jefferson was 14 years old. In his lifetime, Jefferson would become a great supporter of exploration efforts in an attempt to broaden knowledge of the borders of the United States.
Walker went on to plan a trip into Kentucky, to what was then “the West,” in 1753. His goal was to find an overland passage to the Pacific Ocean, but he was not able to do so because of the ongoing French and Indian War of 1754-1763.
“Jefferson tried to carry out the same exploration three times while governor of Virginia but was not successful until the fourth attempt, in 1803, when he sent Lewis and Clark west,” said Hinton. Walker left behind a detailed account of his trip.
In February 2001, Hinton gave his first performance of Walker at Madison County, Kentucky’s Fort Boonesborough State Park. He will give another performance at the fort at 7 p.m. on Feb. 18 as part of their Fireside Chats program.
A year before that performance, Hinton had received a call from Bill Farmer, Living History Coordinator of Fort Boonesborough. Farmer had wanted someone to travel down to Bell County, Ky., to represent Walker’s party for the 250-year celebration of Walkers’ trek through the Cumberland Gap. Hinton was given the honor of portraying Walker.
To prepare, Hinton researched his character thoroughly. Finding himself drawn to Walker, Hinton decide to do further research.
Since then, his primary sources for information have been Walker’s journal, Daniel Smith’s journal of a 1780 surveying trip, numerous articles from the Filson Club and the Kentucky Historical Society Quarterly. He also traveled to Charlottesville, Va., and Colonial Williamsburg, Va.
“I have always loved American History,” said Hinton. “I have found reenacting to be a quality activity that my whole family could enjoy.”

• For more information, contact Locust Grove at (502) 897-9845 or visit: www.locustgrove.org.

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