Which States Border Kentucky?

Welcome sign on a bridge spanning the Ohio River between Cincinnati, Ohio and Covington, Kentucky. Editorial credit: EQRoy / Shutterstock.com
Welcome sign on a bridge spanning the Ohio River between Cincinnati, Ohio and Covington, Kentucky. Editorial credit: EQRoy / Shutterstock.com

Kentucky bordered seven other US states. These boundaries are mainly defined by rivers. The borders with Tennessee and Virginia are the only two that do not follow a river. The Tug and Big Sandy rivers mark the boundary between Kentucky and West Virginia to the east and northeast. The Ohio River forms the boundary between the states of Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio to the north. The Mississippi River demarcates the short southwestern border with the state of Missouri.

Establishing the Borders of Kentucky

The Fincastle County in Virginia was divided in 1776 by the General Assembly leading to the formation of Kentucky, Washington, and Montgomery counties. The borders of the new County of Kentucky were inherited from the straight line forming the Virginia and North Carolina boundary as well as the twisted boundary formed by the Cumberland Mountain and Sandy River. Kentucky location west of the Allegheny Front attracted settlers who crossed the Cumberland Gap to purchase cheap farmland. Surplus agricultural produce such as corn was converted to whiskey and transported through Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans. The rapid development of the county led to increased pressure to improve road infrastructure in the region. However, the General Assembly was unresponsive to the demands as it felt that the agricultural produce would be transported down the Mississippi River as opposed to the desired Port of Virginia. Virginia later opted to cede territory north of the Ohio River to the new Continental Congress and the Northwest Territory.

Retaining a hold of the far western territories required funding for defense against the British and Native Americans as well as infrastructure. Virginia found that such spending would not aid the further development of Richmond, Petersburg, Fredericksburg, and Alexandria. Residents of Kentucky felt that they did not gain much from Virginia and thus decided to form an independent state. Ten conventions were held in Kentucky between 1784 and 1792 to discuss the formation of a future government. The state was finally admitted into the Federal Union in 1792 as an independent state. The addition of a pro-slavery Kentucky helped balance the addition of Vermont. Virginia supported Kentucky joining the Federal Union with the borders remaining unchanged since the formation of Kentucky County in 1772.

Establishment of Kentucky’s Border with Indiana and Ohio

The Ohio River forms the boundary between the states of Indiana and Kentucky. The border initially separated the Holdings of Virginia and the Old-Northwest Territory. The deed documenting the cessation was silent on the exact borderlines, and that resulted in a dispute between Indiana and Kentucky over the border. Kentucky held that its border extended on the opposite side of the shore at the highest watermark. The dispute was forwarded to the Supreme Court which held that the lowest watermark would form the border, which favored Indiana's claims. The ruling did not end the dispute as Kentucky claimed the whole river to be its territory and collected millions of dollars in revenue over the river's use. Another ruling was delivered by the US Supreme Court in 1980 establishing the low water mark on the Indiana and Ohio shores as the boundary as was the case in 1792 when Kentucky became a state. The states were directed to settle the matter. Determining the low water mark proved to be challenging as the river's course had changed considerably since 1792. The low water mark of 1792 was finally established by the US Geological Survey using data obtained from surveys conducted in 1896 and 1914 by the Corps of Engineers.

Establishment of the Mississippi River Border

The Mississippi River boundary, unlike the Ohio River boundary, was set to be at the Middle of the River. The Mississippi River boundary was determined by the 1783 Treaty of Versailles that ended the American Revolution. The Treaty which included England and Spain as signatories was separate from The Treaty of Paris that was signed between the United State and England. In the Treaty of Paris, England agreed that American boats could float goods on the Mississippi River. England, however, signed the Treaty of Versailles with Spain which held control of the Louisiana Territory giving it exclusive rights to the river. Spain was against letting Americans boats floating goods to New Orleans, and this led to years of dispute between the two sides.

The Southern Border with Tennessee

The boundary between Kentucky and Tennessee is not straight as it shifts down and up multiple times between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River. The border is seen to shift by a couple of miles between the lakes before shifting south by 12 miles at the point where Tennessee River goes into the territory of Kentucky. The boundary then runs in a near perfect straight line all the way to the Mississippi River. The shifts in the boundary have been blamed on faulty and difficult to use survey equipment that was used at the time. The history of Kentucky's southern border with Tennessee is divided into two periods. The first period starts from the 1665 grant of Charles II to the cessation Act of North Carolina in 1790 when the borderline between Virginia and North Carolina was established. The second period starts from the Cessation Act of 1790 to the completion of the borderline in 1860. The borderline had previously formed the bounder with the Southwestern Territory until 1796 and later with the state of Tennessee.

Current Status

At present, the state does not have significant border issues with its neighbors. The total area of the State is currently 40,408 square miles, making it the 37th, largest in the country. Kentucky is home to an estimated 4,468,402 people, making it the 26th, most populous state in the US. Frankfort is the state capital of Kentucky and it lies between the cities of Louisville on the Ohio River and Lexington. The state is one of the four states making up the commonwealth state and the other three being Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.


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