Many stories exist as to Harrod’s final days. The family contended that he hadgone on an exploration to find the legendary lost Swift’s Silver Mine with a mannamed Bridges who murdered him as he feared Harrod would testify againsthim in a land dispute. Others believed him to have been killed by theShawnees. Many maintained that this was yet another Pioneer Divorce and Harrod had deserted his followers, land, and family to absent himself from his wife Ann who it appears was either much loved or much hated by the community. Some felt that Harrod simply fled his home to avoid numerous court proceedings and land disputes that plagued both Harrod and Daniel Boone. In the 1880s a rumor circulated that Bridges, who had returned to Virginia, confessed on his deathbed to the Harrod murder and revealed the place of his burial in what is now Estill County, Kentucky.
No matter the outcome for James Harrod, his leadership and contributions cannot be denied. It is to him that we dedicate the James Harrod Trust, an organization devoted to preserving what James Harrod started.
Harrod and at least 32 other men traveled down the Ohio and up the Kentucky River to Landing Run Creek then inland to the site of present day Harrodsburgwhere they erected cabins and surveyed one acre inlots and 10 acre outlots that became the footprint for their new town.The settlers were briefly Interrupted bytheir participation in the Battle of Point Pleasant, October 10, 1774, (now officially recognized as the first battle of the Revolutionary War) but by September 8,1775 wives and families were moved onto the site and a Fort had been constructed for protection against the British supported, warring Shawnees.Harrod immediately began to lay claim to surrounding acreage and established his home fortification known as Boiling Springs on Harrods Run. On this site alonehe amassed 2818 acres in what is now Mercer and Boyle Counties. He had numerous other land holdings in Kentucky, particularly along the Green Riversignificantly South of his settlement.
In September of 1778 Harrod married the widowed Ann Coburn McDonald. Residing first at Fort Harrod, Harrod soon moved his wife and her son JamesMcDonald Jr. to the fortified Boiling Springs station. Boiling Springs continued to grow and flourish, significantly the fortification was never successfully breachedby Native American attack. Many families are known to have lived within the station and on Harrod land including the Coburns, Kellys, Prathers, Pritchards andHarrods’ nephews. The station also housed the influx of the Low Dutch who Harrod allowed to build cabins, clear and farm land until they could fortify their ownclaims. Old Dutch Station was established nearby on Harrod land.
Within the station walls, Harrod built a large, two storied, twin chimneyed, frame home for his wife Ann. It was the first house of its kind in Kentucky and is said tohave been large enough to sleep sixtyfive comfortably (destroyed by arson in 1833). The home became a center for the establishment of the Methodist Church inKentucky and often housed circuit riders and prostelytes.In 1785, Margaret, the Harrods’ only child was born at Boiling Springs. In 1786 The Harrod Latin School opened at the fortification. A Latin teacher was importedto the station for the education of Harrod’s stepson James as well as other students who came from the surrounding fortifications to dwell with Harrod.
In 1787,James McDonald Jr. was captured by the Shawnee and burned alive at the stake. It is said that Harrod was incredibly attached to his stepson and never fullyrecovered from his grief. The school was closed after James’ death.
Having survived depredation, warring Shawnees, political intrigues, the losses of friends and loved ones, and numerous lawsuits over land disputes as well ashaving shown himself to be a natural born leader, soldier, and statesman; James Harrod disappeared in the winter of 1792, the year Kentucky acquiredstatehood. It is as though the Pioneer Mission was completed.
Unlike Daniel Boone, who gained international notoriety from the dime novels of the nineteenth century, James Harrod has been remembered as an often overlooked footnote in American history.No likenesses of the towering, bearded, black haired, dark eyed, Roman nosed, pioneer remain. No statues honor his existence; no grave memorializes his death.
Yet, Harrod, with the establishment of the first permanent settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains, opened the way for the Westward Expansion of the United States.
Born in 1742 in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, the son of Col. James Harrod and Sarah Moore Harrod, it is known that in the early 1770s Harrod had made several forays into Kentucky before establishing a permanent settlement at Harrods Town (Harrodsburg) on June 16, 1774. On each of these journeys hevisited what is now Mercer County and considered several sitesfor potential settlement.