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, a large piece of history would have went unrecorded forever.
“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 Dr. Thomas Walker.
Hinton, 58, portrays a slightly older Walker at age 65, during Walker’s 1780 survey of what is now the Kentucky-Tennessee state line. He has been reenacting since the 1970s, but not until the last 10 years or so did he take his interest more seriously.
Hinton recently portrayed his persona for the Afternoon Lecture Series at Louisville’s Locust Grove, the historic home of the Clark and Croghan families. He has given 13 such performances since September 2005.
Walker was closely associated with the Clark family, both families having been reared near each other in Virginia. Walker was born on January 25, 1715 in King and Queen County, Virginia. He attended the College of William and Mary and studied medicine under his brother-in-law Dr. George Gilmer.
The Loyal Land Company 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 Company.
Walker considered this exploration a failure. Had he gone another day’s journey west, he and his party would have found the land they sought. But what he didn’t realize was the profound effect his tales of Kentucky would have on men like Daniel Boone. Although Walker was not the first white man in Kentucky, he was “the first one to keep a record of it,” said Hinton.
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. Along with three other adults, Walker was appointed legal guardian of Peter’s 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 boarders of the United States.
Thirty years after his first jaunt into Kentucky, Walker conducted a boundary line survey between what is now Kentucky and Tennessee, to extend the border between Virginia and North Carolina westward. This was accomplished in 1780, during the turmoil of the Revolutionary War. At age 65, most men today would not have thought of making the eleven-month trip, mostly by foot.
A fiery Patriot at heart, Walker served his country and his home state of Virginia well. He was a delegate to the House of Burgesses and a trustee for the town of Charlottesville. He was also influential in his dealings with Native Americans.
In February 2001, Hinton gave his first performance of Walker at Madison County, Kentucky’s Fort Boonesborough State Park. To prepare, he had to search 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 and his wife have also traveled to Charlottesville, VA and Colonial Williamsburg, VA.
When not reenacting, Hinton is a toolmaker, employed at Integrity Mold & Die in Mt. Vernon, KY. “I have always loved American History and always had an interest in how it would have been to live back in this time period,” said Hinton.