A large part of our work in Special Collections is helping researchers access manuscript materials. Over the years, an archivist notices patterns in research topics, and it is interesting to observe which collections are frequently used and which are not. Some collections are used by a variety of researchers working on any number of topics from the eighteenth century to the twentieth century. Sometimes, though, collections are overlooked. Either based on the way they were cataloged or some other twist of fate, they are never used by researchers when they would prove to be a wealth of information.
Recently, I was in the stacks retrieving materials for a researcher when I spotted an interesting volume on one of our shelves. It was labeled “Kentucky Fee Book, 1787-1788.” Usually, any frontier era collections are heavily used, but I had no recollection of ever pulling this volume. Curious, I glanced through the record book and almost immediately began spotting the biggest names in Kentucky’s frontier history: Daniel Boone, George Rogers Clark, James Wilkinson, and Simon Kenton, among many others. The book contains over two hundred pages recording legal fees paid for a variety of actions ranging from filing suits to registering land claims.
Unfortunately, the volume offers little detail about the claims, except in the case of lawsuits where the name of the opposing party is given. Even so, it still provides useful and important information. The record of these claims supports the litigiousness often associated with early Kentucky, particularly for those with substantial land claims. For example, the 1787 entry for land speculator John May takes up a full page while an average page will list from five to eight individuals, often more. In addition, the book’s entries offer evidence of the presence of individuals, or at least their land holdings, in early Kentucky. Historians of course know when Boone, Clark, and others came west. Often it is more difficult to trace lesser known settlers. This volume, like many government records, contains valuable information for historians and genealogists tracking pioneers who have not received the attention given to the legendary frontiersmen.