Most people with more than a passing interest in Harlan County's history are aware that the Brock, Turner and Howard families were early settlers in this area. They were here very early, settling in these mountains in the 1790's. But, they were not alone. These families became numerous and several of their members were prominent in early county affairs so their early presence here has been noted. It is difficult to determine with any certainty who was actually here first. Certainly the families already mentioned were among the earliest but there were many others who settled her before 1800 and stayed.
Originally the entire state was a part of Virginia. Settlement began in the Bluegrass region in the 1770's although explorers and hunters had been there as much as 20 years earlier. At first, Kentucky was a part of Fincastle Co., Va. In December of 1776, it was changed to Kentucky Co., Va. In 1780, it was split into three counties - Fayette, Jefferson and Lincoln. The southeastern part of the state was in Lincoln Co. In 1792, Kentucky became a state and in 1799, the southeastern portion of Lincoln Co. became Knox Co., covering all or part of the counties of Bell, present Knox, Clay, Perry, Whitley, Laurel, Letcher, Leslie, Harlan and more. Explorers and hunters traveled through our mountains from about 1750 on but there was no known settlement in what was to become Harlan Co. before about 1790.
Some information about a family or individual's appearance before 1800 might be located in the earliest Lincoln Co. records. The 1800 tax list for Knox Co. lists many familiar surnames who were living in or near the section that became Harlan. There were many familiar surnames on the early Knox Co. tax lists: Blanton, Howard, Brock, Brittain, Asher, Daniels, Cox, Spurlock, Brewer, Lee, Thomas and other families still living in this area. Many more of our early families first settled just across the mountains in what is now Lee Co., Va., and Claiborne Co., Tn. Among these are the Noe, Farmer, Harris and Hall families.
These any many other families expanded with the frontier. The Noe family is an excellent example of the spreading settlements. Several related Noe families settled on the Virginia frontier families was that of John and Elizabeth Patrick Noe. Most of their children remained in Virginia or moved on elsewhere but two of their sons ended up in Harlan County.
Their son John came first, moving about 1807 to the part of Knox Co. that was to become Harlan in 1819. Most of his children settled in Harlan including his daughter Lucy who married David Fee and another daughter who married a Jones and was the mother of Speed and Mastin Green Jones. This John Noe had a son who was also named John who married John and Lucy Harris' daughter Susannah. Another of the Harris girls, Morning, married David, another son of John and Elizabeth Patrick Noe. Thus, the sisters married and uncle and nephew. Morning Harris was David Noe's second wife. He did not settle in Harlan until this second marriage, about 1820. David Noe settled in the Cranks Creek area while his brother John lived at the mouth of Catrons Creek. From these two brother, John and David Noe, descend most of the Noe families whose roots run deep into Harlan's history. Others descend from their Virginia cousins.