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Dr. Thomas Walker (January 15, 1715–November 9, 1794) was a physician and explorer from Virginiamarker who led an expedition to what is now the region beyond the Allegheny Mountains area of British North America in the mid-18th century. He was responsible for naming what is now known as the Cumberland Plateau and by extension the Cumberland River for the hero of the time, the Duke of Cumberland. His party were some of the first Englishmen to see this area—previous white explorers were largely of Spanishmarker and Frenchmarker origins. Walker explored Kentucky in 1750, 19 years before the arrival of Daniel Boone.

Walker was the father of two Congressmen: John and Francis Walker. Walker also served as guardian for Thomas Jefferson after the death of Jefferson's father, Peter Jefferson, in 1757.

Early days

Thomas Walker was born at "Rye Field", Walkerton, King and Queen County, Virginiamarker He was raised as Englishman in the Tidewater region of Virginia. Walker's first profession was that of a physician after he attended the College of William and Marymarker and studied under his brother-in-law Dr. George Gilmer. Even though he never actually received a medical degree, Walker is thought to have been the first to have trephined bone for suppurative osteomyelitis as early as 1757.

Walker became a man of status in the county when he married Mildred Thornton (widow of Nicholas Meriwether) in 1741, and acquires a large portion of land from her late husband’s estate. Here, Walker would set his roots and build his home known as Castle Hillmarker, and have 12 children, who would become prominent Albemarle citizens in their own rights. He began his path to establishing his status by becoming a vestryman in April 1744, a position he would hold until 1785. He served Virginia proudly as a delegate to the House of Burgesses from Albemarle County, a trustee to the newly formed town of Charlottesvillemarker.


On July 12, 1749, the Loyal Land Company was founded with Walker as a leading member. After receiving a grant of 800,000 acres (3,200 km²) in what is now southeastern Kentucky, the company appointed Walker to lead an expedition to explore and survey the region in 1750. Walker was named head of the Loyal Land Company in 1752.

During the expedition, Walker gave names to many topographical features including the Cumberland Gapmarker. His party built the first non-Indian house (a cabin) in Kentucky (today's Dr. Thomas Walker State Historic Site). Walker kept a daily journal of the trip.

At the age of 64, Walker again journeyed to the western areas of Kentucky and Tennessee to extend the border between Virginia and North Carolina westward. This controversial mapped border would forever bear the title of the "Walker Line" and today stands as the separating point between the two states.

Among those who benefited from their close ties to Walker was Joseph Martin , an Indian fighter and explorer and native of Albemarle County who was chosen by Walker to lead one of his expeditions into the Powell Valley region of Western Virginia and Kentucky.

He also had great influence in dealing with Indian affairs. Walker represented Virginia at the Treaty of Fort Stanwix and Treaty of Lochaber (1770) and dealt with the peace negotiations after the Battle of Point Pleasantmarker. In 1775, Walker served as a Virginia commissioner in negotiations with representatives of the Six Nations in Pittsburghmarker at Fort Pitt.

Walker is also credited as the first American to discover and use coal found in Kentuckymarker

Final days

After the death of his first wife, Walker would marry another lady with a famous name in 1781, Elizabeth Thorton (official marriage contract). Thomas Walker died on November 9, 1794 at Castle Hillmarker, Albemarle County, Virginiamarker. At the time of his death Walker was noted as the fourth wealthiest citizen of Albemarle County.


  1. Dr. Thomas Walker
  2. Martin's Station History
  3. History of Coal

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