A Biography of William CALK (1740 - 1823)
Explorer, Surveyor, Speculator and Farmer
Introduction - William's father James CAULK owned a farm in Prince William County, Virginia. As a young man in Wales, James had become dissatisfied and migrated to the Virginia Colony settling in Prince William County where his family prospered. The family holdings consisted of a large plantation, numerous slaves, a general store, a grist mill, a distillery, and a blacksmith shop. James died there in either 1775 or 1776. At least two sons and possibly a daughter were born to James CAULK; James Jr. by his first unknown wife and William by his second wife Eleanor.
William CALK - was born in Prince William County, Virginia on March 7, 1740 to James and Eleanor CAULK.
Among the CALK family papers is this memorandum, written by William's father under date of April 8, 1758; "An agreement made Between James Calk & John Sleep schoolmaster the said Sleep to Teach William Calk and to tend him with Coppies at home and at School & the said Calk Doth agree to Give the said Sleep Ten Shillings & one quart brandy if he Doth his Duty to the full rule of this years Teaching."
This was most fortunate, because CALK was able to keep a diary throughout his adventurous life which much of this biography is based upon.
William married Sarah CATLETT around 1763. They had a daughter Anne, born in June 1764, and a son, William, born about 1765.
In November 1765, William left with his half-brother, James CALK, Jr. and headed to North Carolina. In January 1766, William bought land on the Dan River in Orange County. Due to the uncertainties of this venture, CALK's family did not make the move to North Carolina with him.
Apparently things didn't turn out well in North Carolina, because in March 1767, CALK returned to Virginia and remained there several more years successfully managing his father's plantation. Two more children were born to William and Sarah during this time; Lydia, about 1768 and Elizabeth, about 1770.
But once again CALK succumbed to his adventurous spirit and on March 13, 1775 and in the tradition of "long hunters", he temporarily left his family behind and headed west across the mountains to Kentucky. He travelled with Abraham HANKS, Phillip DRAKE, Enoch SMITH and Robert WHITLEDGE. HANKS was the uncle of Abraham LINCOLN's mother Nancy HANKS.
The men travelled on horseback, carrying their supplies on pack horses and bringing several of their slaves with them.
Richard HENDERSON had formed the Transylvania Company in late 1774 for the purpose of acquiring land in Kentucky. Then on March 14, 1775, he and the soon to be famous Daniel BOONE signed a treaty with the Cherokee acquiring 20 million acres or about half the size of today's Kentucky.
BOONE promptly began blazing what became known as the Wilderness Trail with 30 axe men. It was at Powell's Mountain east of the Cumberland Gap where the CALK party first encountered BOONE and HENDERSON's group.
In his journal William CALK talks of crossing the Cumberland Gap on April 8th. CALK and his companions must have arrived at BOONE's fort about the same time as HENDERSON's party, because numerous preserved records show he helped survey and lay out Ft. Boonesborough.
However, within two months of arriving, William CALK was one of several men who became disenchanted with the Transylvania Company and once again began exploring, this time in the uninhabited wilderness about 30 miles to the east near today's Mt. Sterling. He was accompanied by Enoch SMITH and Robert WHITLEDGE.
They found a spring near Hinkston Creek that William marked and claimed as his own. Soon it became well known to locals as CALK's Spring.
The following year 1776 CALK either returned to Virginia and brought his family back to Boonesborough or had them brought out as one story says.
In 1779 he erected a cabin at the spring with the help of John HARPER and planted a crop which allowed him to file a preemption on 400 acres of land in 1780. William and his family continued to live near Boonesborough in Fayette County, because his land was not yet secure from Indian attacks and the cabin at the spring served well as a hunting lodge for William and his friends.
A son, Thomas, was born at Boonesborough on 7 April 1784. William was still listed in Madison County on the 1792 tax list before moving to his new land in Montgomery County sometime before 1800. He had a large home built of hand-pressed brick near CALK's Spring.
The 1800 Montgomery tax list shows him with 8 slaves, 12 horses and 21 parcels of land ranging from 60 to 6,000 acres in size.
In 1804, after the United States purchased the Louisiana Territories, CALK took a flatboat loaded with corn, tobacco, bacon, and lard to the port of New Orleans. He returned to Kentucky by the way of Natchez Trace.
CALK spent the remaining years of his life at the Calk family farm about 2 miles southwest of Mt. Sterling near the headwaters of Hinkston Creek in Montgomery County, Kentucky.
William CALK died on October 18, 1823, and he was buried at his Hinkston Vale Farm. His will was probated November 30, 1823 naming his wife Sarah and eight children.
The appraisal of his estate sheds some light on CALK's character. He owned a desk, bookcase and several books including [William] Buchan's Domestic Medicine, pub. 1784; [Robert] Gibson's Surveying, pub 1814; 2 Vols. [Thomas] Sheridan's Dictionary, pub 1780 and 5 Vols. [Matthew] Henry's Works on Bible study.
The CALK family has donated hundreds of his papers and other artifacts to the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort.
Compiled by Marvin Allen
In Search of Morgan's Station and the Last Indian Raid in Kentucky, Harry G. Enoch, 2004
The Journal of William Calk, Kentucky Pioneer, Lewis H. Kilpatrick, 1921