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Document Number: AJ-157
Author: Filson, John, ca. 1747-1788
Title: Recollections on Encounters with Indians, 1786 [manuscript]
Source: Draper Manuscripts: Kentucky Papers, 10 CC 1-23, Wisconsin Historical Society.
Pages/Illustrations: 24 / 0
Citable URL:

Author Note

John Filson was born in Pennsylvania about 1753 and sent as a teenager to Maryland for a classical education. During and after the Revolution he tried his hand at farming, teaching, and land surveying. In 1783 the infant U.S. government began to reward veterans of the war with free land. Qualified individuals were given receipts, called warrants, that could be exchanged for acreage in the West. Most veterans never intended to go west, however, and they sold these land warrants to others who did, or to real estate speculators. In this way Filson soon acquired the right to 13,500 acres in Kentucky.

He settled in Lexington in 1784, where he returned to teaching and surveying and met Daniel Boone and other early white settlers of Kentucky. In 1784, hoping to induce more eastern pioneers to come to the region (and to sell his land to them), Filson wrote the book given as document AJ-125. The book did more for Boone than for its author. He returned to Kentucky in 1785 only to find a web of legal and financial problems greeting him. To extricate himself, he went north into Indiana in search of new lands with which to recoup his fortune. While traveling in southern Indiana in 1786 he was attacked by its Indian owners and barely escaped with his life, as described in this document.

He returned to Kentucky in 1787 and in 1788 surveyed a road north from Lexington to the Ohio River, laying out the town of Cinncinati, Ohio, on the far shore. On a surveying trip further into Ohio later that year his party was attacked again by the Shawnee, and Filson fled into the woods, never to be heard from again.

Document Note

Filson related his trip north into Indiana in the document given here, which is dated June 1786. He also kept notes of his journey back to Kentucky the previous year, and internal evidence shows that he intended to publish another volume about the west. These manuscripts are all in volume 10CC of the Draper Manuscripts (Filson Papers). How and when Draper acquired them is not known.

Other Internet and Reference Sources

For more documents on early Kentucky, see AJ-125, AJ-150, AJ-151, AJ-155, AJ-158, and AJ-159. For background on the Shawnees during these years, see Ohio History Central at shawnee.shtml

A rich online source with many related primary documents is the Library of Congress site “The First American West: the Ohio River Valley 1750-1820” ( This contains fifteen thousand 15,000 pages of original historical materials documenting the land, people, exploration and transformation of the trans-Appalachian West, selected from the collections of the University of Chicago Library and the Filson Historical Society of Louisville, Kentucky.

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