Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

David Leitch: Mysterious 18th Century Kentucky Land Speculator

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

David Leitch: Mysterious 18th Century Kentucky Land Speculator

Article excerpt

David Leitch: Mysterious 18th Century Kentucky Land Speculator. By Curtis Dewees. Assisted by Janet M. Lester. (Alexandria, Ky.: Campbell County Historical and Genealogical Society, 2017. Pp. x, 155. Paper, $17.95, ISBN 978-0-692-78790-8.)

Like many Virginia colonists who came of age in the late eighteenth century, David Leitch (1755-1794) sought his fortune in western lands. By the time of his death, Leitch had emerged as one of the largest landowners in northern Kentucky, laying claim to over 350,000 acres spread across twenty-five present-day counties. In his focused examination of Leitch's mark on the historical record, Curtis Dewees concludes that Leitch's name would be "much more well-known by historians and local inhabitants alike" if not for his early demise at the age of thirty-nine (p. 112). As was the case with many lesser-known speculators in the early republic, Leitch amassed a real estate empire in his thirties only to die relatively young, leaving a widow, young children, his business associates, and the courts to sort out his tangled affairs.

Dewees has stitched together what is now the definitive account of Leitch's life and accomplishments. His subject's supposed "mysterious" character, however, is probably more the result of an incomplete historical record than of a life cut short by the fates. Leitch's personal papers and correspondence were lost or destroyed, and only a handful of fugitive letters are to be found in other collections. His military service in a Revolutionary militia unit is unverifiable, though not doubted, as the unit's records have been lost. …

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