Dr. Thomas Walker (1715-1794) was a prominent resident of Louisa and Albemarle counties. He was a physician, planter, trader, surveyor, cartographer, and explorer. He also served in the House of Burgesses, in local government, and in the Fredericksville Parish. In 1741 he married Mildred Thornton, sister of Meriwether Lewis’s maternal grandmother and widow of Nicholas Meriwether (1699-1739). From this marriage Walker came into the possession of large tracts of land along the Southwest Mountains--part of the large grant to Nicholas Meriwether (1667-1744). Thomas Walker was an executor of the estates of Meriwether Lewis’s grandfather and Peter Jefferson and a guardian of Thomas Jefferson for a short period. In 1779 he served, along with Daniel Smith, as a Virginia Commissioner responsible for extending the Virginia-North Carolina border to the Mississippi River. In 1752 he became the head of the Loyal Company, a position he held until his death.
In 1749 the Loyal Company appointed Thomas Walker to lead an expedition to explore and survey its grant of 800,000 acres in what is now southeastern Kentucky. In 1750, seventeen years before Daniel Boone’s legendary adventures in Kentucky, Thomas Walker traveled through the Cumberland Gap (which he named), explored much of eastern Kentucky, and built the first house in Kentucky.
Upon returning home, Walker produced a map from the information he gathered on this expedition. He presented it to the House of Burgesses in 1769 during a debate over the boundary between Virginia’s western settlements and Indian lands. George Washington, who was then head of the Mississippi Company, modified this map in 1769 and included it in that land-speculating company’s petition for 2.5 million acres near the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. The map shown in this exhibition is a facsimile of the Walker-Washington map; the original belongs to the Library of Congress.