I do not wish to depretiate Mr. Imlays stability or Character, he is unknown to me, it is an undertaking of Great magnitude & very few gentlemen are equal to
It has been a matter of debate among scholars as to when exactly Imlay appeared in the western territories of the Ohio Valley. According to his own account of it in the Topographical Description, Imlay rst crossed the Allegheny Mountains ‘in March’, and, nding Pittsburgh ‘not [yet] recovered from the ravages of winter’, immediately decided to leave for the balmy climate of Kentucky, arriving at Limestone, near present-day Maysville, ‘in less than ve days’.2 Unfortunately, he does not give us the year. Pointing out that ‘the long court record of the business and legal entanglements that marked his residence of not quite two years in Kentucky’ begins in 1784, Rusk infers that Imlay did not appear in Kentucky before the spring of that year.3 is date appears to be con rmed by the fact that Imlay was sworn in at Louisville as a deputy surveyor of Je erson County under George May on 7 April 1784.4 However, by that time Imlay had already begun speculating in Kentucky lands. His earliest documented transaction was with the veteran pioneer and land-jobber Daniel Boone. In March 1783 Boone agreed to accept Imlay’s promissory note for £2,000, to be paid in two instalments in exchange for a tract of 10,000 acres located on Hingston’s Fork of the Licking River in Fayette County, which Boone had entered on 26 December the year before.5 Also in March 1783 Imlay purchased another 20,000 acres of land in Fayette in a transaction with Captain John Holder – a deal that, as we shall see, would go horribly sour later.6 On the 3August 1783 Imlay concluded another complicated land deal with Holder’s business partner Matthew Walton; this particular deal involved several thousand acres of land in Je erson County, and would lead to a legal battle that would continue until the early 1800s, long a er Imlay had le Kentucky and America.7 On 11 November of that year Imlay bought Elias Barber’s treasury warrant 18,879, which authorized him to lay o in one or more surveys a quantity of 18,176 acres of land; on the very same day he entered four tracts of land in Fayette County.8 In themselves these early land deals do not prove that Imlay was actually in Kentucky in 1783; land was o en
bought by absent speculators or prospective settlers in the East through the mediation of land-jobbers on site or from ‘outlyers’, men who made improvements to land with the sole purpose of selling it to others, not to settle. Yet the nature and scale of his earliest land acquisitions, as well as later correspondence and legal documentation relating to them, would suggest that Imlay was very much on the ground in Kentucky before 1784.