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3l?ni-l3arti iToUrgr iLilirava 


v^ ^(.-o-^CLo 







VOL. m., No. 3 JULY, 1918 




Ivan E. MpDouGLE : Slavery m Kentucky 211 

I. Introduction ,. 211 

n. The Development of Slavery 214 

m. The Legal Status of Slavery 240 

IV. The Sodai Status of the Slave 281 

y. PubUo Opinion Begarding Emancipation and Colonieaticn 303 

Book Eeviews : * ' 329 

Brawley^s The Negro in Literature and Art in the United States; 
Johnston's The Black Man's Part in the Wax; Bhodes's History of 
the Civil War; Bubmn's Negro Folk Songs, Part I. 

Notes: 383 



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Freedom and Slavery in Appalachian America. 

Antar, the Arabian Negro Warrior, Poet and Hero. 

Colored Freemen as Slave Owners in Virginia. 

The Fugitives of the Pearl. 

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Some Historical Errors of James Ford Rhodes. 

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The Conditions against which Anthony Benezet inveighed. 

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Petition for Compensation for the Loss of Slaves by Emancipation 
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Letters of George Washington bearing on the Negro. 

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Proceedings of the Reconstruction Meeting at Mobile, Alabama. 

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Vol. Ill— July, 1918— No. 3 



This study is an attempt to give a connected and concise 
account of the institution of slavety as it existed in the State 
of Kentucky from 1792 to 1865. Much has been written of 
slavery in other States, but there has not been published a 
single account which deals adequately with the institution 
in Kentucky. A scholarly treatise on The Anti-Slavery 
Movement in Kentucky, by Professor Asa E» Martin, of 
Pennsylvania State College, has appeared but, as this work 
is limited to a discussion of the history of the movement to 
overthrow slavery, our study parallels and supplements it. 
In this study the chief emphasis has been placed upon 
the legal, economic and social history of slavery in Ken- 
tucky, mention being made of a few of the interesting anti- 
slavery incidents when thes© are known to have influenced 
the local status of the slave. iWe have first considered the 
inception of the system as based fundamentally upon the 
type of land .settlement and tenure, followed by a study of 
the growth of the slave population, which brings in the 
question of the local economic value of the slave. An at- 
1/ tempt has been made to explain the internal slave trade ; and 




to consider to what extent Kentucky served as a breeding 
State for slaves destined to the market in the lower South. 

In the chapter on the legal status of slavery special 
emphasis has been placed not only upon the legal position 
of the institution but upon the general evolution of the 
rights of the Negro in servitud'e. This section is vitally 
connected with the anti-slavery movement after about the 
year 1835. The problem of the fugitive slave and the gen- 
eral rights of emancipation and of the freed Negro have 
been approached purely from the legal stand'point. 

The chapter on the social status of the slave considers 
the conditions of slave life that were more or less peculiar 
to Kentucky. There has often been made the statement, 
that in Kentucky Negro servitude was generally on a 
higher plane than in the States to the south and the treat- 
ment of slaves waS much more humane. Some light has 
been thrown on these questions. 

As a supplement to the discussion of the legal and social 
status a general summary of public opinion regarding 
emancipation and colonization has been added. Although 
for the wjtgt part consisting of previously published ma- 
terial^ otion has been treated from the viewpoint of 
the fc led b; nstitution and not from the anti-slavery side 
which uwi ned most of the original publication. 

This study has been made from a consideration of the 
contemporary evidence as found in newspapers, statements 
of slaves, and general evidence of travelers and citizens 
of Kentucky during the period before the Civil War. The 
material for the study of this field is not only scattered 
throughout the country but for the most part it is very 
meager compared with the records of States like Virginia 
and Missouri. All the documents, papers, manuscripts and 
works known to be of value, however, have been con- 
sulted. The most valuable records for this treatise are to 
be found in the Durrett Collection at the University of 
Chicago, the extensive files of early Kentucky papers in 
the Library of the American Antiquarian Society, and the 
documents in the Kentucky State Library at Frankfort. 

■ ■ 

Slaveby in Kentucky 213 

To Mr. Clarence S. Brigham, of tlie American Anti- 
quarian Society, Mr. Edward A. Henry, of the University 
of Chicago Library, and Mr. Frank Kavanangh, of the Ken- 
tucky State Library, I am indebted for invaluable assistance 
rendered in securing material for this work. The treat- 
ment of the legal status of slavery would have been very 
meager, were it not for the valuable aid given by Dr. George 
E. Wire, of the Worcester County (Massachusetts) Law 
Library. To Miss Florence Dillard, of the Lexington (Ken- 
tucky) Public Library, I am indebted for assistance given 
throughout the period of my studies. To Prof. George H. 
Blakeslee, of Clark University, I owe more than to any one 
else — for his inspiration during my three years of study, 
for his most valuable aid in the correction of the manu- 
script, his candid judgment and judicial reasoning and the 
many suggestions which have helped to make this study 
what it is. 

Ivan B. MoDougi/B 

Clark University, 

Worcester, Massachusetts. 

.r Jl 



The Development of Slaveby 

It is impossible to iinderstaiid! slavery in Kentucky with- 
out some knowledge of the method by which the land was 
settled in the latter part of the eighteenth century. OBc- 
tween 1782 and 1802 the seven States which had interest in 
western lands ceded their rights to the United States and 
all that territory with the exception of Kentucky and the 
Connecticut Reserve in Ohio was made a part of the public 
domain. Hence, one of the distinguishing features of the 
settlement of Kentucky as compared with Ohio was that in 
the latter State the land was sold by the Federal Govern- 
ment to settlers coming from all parts of the country but 
particularly from the northeastern section. The result of 
this was that few citizens of Ohio held more than 640 acres. 
fKentucky had been reserved' by Virginia and con- 
sequently the method of settlement was purely a matter 
goven»d fiy that State; and was separate and apart from 
the sysTeija which was employed by the United States 
Government. Furthermore, Kentucky lands were all given 
out by 1790, just one year after the beginning of our national 
period. The federal land policy was at that time just 
beginning. Virginia gave out the lands in Kentucky by 
what is known as the patent system, and all the settlers in 
Kentucky held their lands by one of three different kinds 
of rights. 

\ In the first place there were those who were given tracts 
in the new territory as a reward for military services which 
had been rendered in the Revolution. This had been pro- 
vided for by the legislature of Virginia as early as December, 
1778.^ No land north of the Ohio Eiver was to be granted 
out as a military bounty until all the ' ' good lands ' ' in the 

1 Hening's Statutes, Vol, X, p. 50. 



Slaveby in Kentucky 215 

Kentucky region had been exhausted. The size of these 
tracts was to be governed by the official status of the re- 
cipient in the late war, and the bounties finally granted by 
Virginia ranged all the way from one hundred to fifteen 
thousand acres.^ 

The Virginia legislature of 1779 found it necessary to 
establish a second method of settlement in Kentucky in 
response to the demands of the large number of people who 
were migrating to the west of the AUeghenies. Provision 
was made for the granting of preemption rights to new 
settlers and also for the introduction of a very generous 
system of settlement rights. These settlement and preemi>- 
tion rights were almost inseparable, as the latter was de- 
pendent upon the former. It was provided that four hun- 
dred acres of land would be given to every person or family 
who had settled in the region before the first of January, 
1778.^ The word ** settlement was stated to mean either 
a residence of one year in the territory or the raising of a 
crop of com. In addition to the above grant every man 
who had built only a cabin or made any improvement on the 
land was entitled to a preemption of one thousand acres, 
providing such improvements had been made prior to Jan- 
uary 1, 1778. Preference in the grants was to be given to 
the early settlers and even the most famous heroes of the 
Revolution were not allowed to interfere with the rights of 
those who held a certificate of settlement. 

Thus far provision had been made only for those who 
had settled before 1778. To them was given the best of the 
land. Thereafter all settlement and preemption rights 
ceased and the further distribution of land in Kentucky was 
by means of treasury warrants. A person desiring land 
in Kentucky would appear at one of the Virginia land offices 
and make an entry and pay a fee amounting to about two 
cents per acre. , The paper he would receive would give the 
approximate location of the tract and the recipient would 

2Hening's Statutes, Vol. XI, p. 309; Treat, P. J., NattoncH Land System, 
p. 235. 

sjfetd., Vol. X, pp. 35-45. 

216 Journal of Negro History 

proceed to have the land surveyed at his pleasure. Within 
three months after the survey had been made he was to 
appear at the land office and have the same recorded. A 
copy of this record was to be taken to the assistant register 
of the land office in Kentucky and there it was to remain six 
months in order to give prior settlers, if any, the right to 
prove their claims to the property. No such evidence being 
produced a final record of the patent was to be made and a 
copy given to the original grantee.^ 

An interesting example of this method of settlement is 
shown by the experience of Abraham Lincoln, the grand- 
father of President Lincoln. On March 4, 1780, soon after 
the establishment of the new system, he appeared at the land 
office in Richmond, Virginia, and was given three treasury 
warrants, each for four hundred acres of land in Kentucky. 
The first and third of these warrants were not returned' for 
the final recording until May 16, 1787, at which time Beverly 
Randolph, Governor of Virginia, issued a final deed of 800 
acres of land in Lincoln County, Kentucky, to Abraham 
Lincoln.^ The second treasury warrant was not returned 
until July 2, 1798, more than a decade after the death of 
Abraham Lincoln and six years after Kentucky had be- 
come a State. At that time the warrant was pres-ented with 
a record of the survey by Mordecai Lincoln, the eldest son 
of Abraham. After some period of investigation the deed 
for the four hundred acres in JelBferson County was turned 
over to Mordecai Lincoln on April 26, 1799.® 

The result of this method of granting land was that Ken- 
tucky was settled' by a comparatively few men who rented 
their property to tenants. A large number of the military 
bounties were never settled by the original owners but were 
farmed by the later incoming tenant class. George Wash- 
ington had been given five thousand acres and this land 
was actually settled by the poorer white element. In the 

* Winterbotham, An HisioriM Geographical Commercial and Topograph- 
ical View of the United States, Vol. 3, pp. 156-157. 
6 Kentucky Land Grants, Book 13^^ p. 59. 
6 Ihid,, Book 8, p. 228. 



Slaveby in Ejbntuoky 217 

case of the land! warrant property it was true that it was 
usually granted to the poorer class of early settlers but as 
in the instance of the Lincoln family the land soon passed 
into the hands of the wealthier settlers either by purchase 
or through law suits. It is conunonly stated that Daniel 
Boone thus became landless and was forced to migrate to 

Thus we see that Kentucky was distinctly ddjBferent from 
all the other settlements to the west of the AUeghenies in 
the original system of land tenure and she further inherited 
from her mother State of Virginia the ancient theory of a 
landed aristocracy which was based upon tenantry. The 
early inhabitants of Kentucky can be easily divided into 
three classes, the landed proprietors, their slaves, and the 
tenant class of whites. The second and third classes tended 
to keep alive the status of the former and led to the per- 
petuation of the landed aristocracy. In Kentucky, however, 
the laws of descent were always against primogeniture and 
this resulted in the division of the lands of the wealthier 
class with each new generation. 

• The institution of slavery in Kentucky, as in every other 
State, depended for the most part upon the existence of large 
plantations. The only reason Kentucky had such large 
estates was because of the method by which the land was 
given out by the mother State. Economically Kentucky 
was not adapted to plantation lif ej The greater part of the 
State required then, as it still does, the personal care and 
supervision of the owner or tenant. The original distribu- 
tion of land madte this impossible and there grew up a large 
class of landholders who seldom labored with their hands, 
because of the traditional system. A large number of in- 
habitants as early as 1805, Michaux found, were cultivating 
their lands themselves, but those who could do so had all 
the work done by Negro slaves.® 

With passing years, while Kentucky maintained slavery, 

f Shaler 's Autobiography, p. 33. 

^MicliaTiz (Thwaite's Beprint), Trtwels to the West of the Allegheny 
Mountains, Vol. 3, p. 237. 



it came to have a social system not like that in the South 
but one more like the typical structure of the middle nine- 
teenth century West. There were several reasons for this. 
In the first place, the absence of the policy of primogeniture 
in time came to distribute the lands over a much larger 
population. In' the second place, while all the land in Ken- 
tucky had been granted by the year 1790, the patrician land- 
holding element was completely submerged by the flood of 
so-called plebeians who came in soon after Kentucky be- 
came a State. In 1790 there were only 61,133 white i)eople 
in Kentucky, and although all the land had been granted, 
the white population in the next decade nearly tripled, 
reaching 179,871 in 1800, and this increase, at a slightly 
smaller rate, continued down to about 1820. Still further 
the nature of the soil made it more profitable for the 
wealthier landed class to let out their holdings to the incom- 
ing whites who did their own work and in time came to own 
the property. **Each year increased this element of the 
state at the expense of the larger properties. ' '® 

A studyi of the growth of the slave and white population 
of Kentucky from 1790 to 1860 is necessary to an adequate 
understanding of the slave problem. It will be found ad- 















1790. . 















1810. . 









1820. . 




































1860. . 
















vantageous to deal with two sets of figures— one relating 
to the slave population within the State and the other with 
the slave increase in Kentucky as compared with the general 

• staler, N. S., Kentucky, p. 196. 

10 Includes 182 Indians. 

11 Includes 33 Indians. 

Slaveby in Ejesntuoky 


increase throughout the United States. It would not be of 
any value to compare the figures for Kentucky with those 
of any other State, for that would involve the discussion of 
local factors which are beyond the scope of this in- 

First of all we shall take the census statistics for the 
State for all eight of the enumerations which were taken 
during the slavery era. The figures for the year 1790 were 
originally taken when Kentucky was a part of the State of 
Virginia, but they are included, since Kentucky became a 
State before the census was published. Furthermore they 
furnish an interesting light upon the growth of the slave 
population during the first decade of the new common- 
wealth. The important part of this table is in the increases, 
on a percentage basis, in the slave and white populations. 
Another viewpoint of the growth of the slave population 
may be seen in this little table : 

Batio of Slaves to the Total Population 



















Here it will be seen that the proportion of slaves increased 
down to 1830 and tiien began to decline. Most authorities 
are agreed that this was in a large measure due to the enact- 
ment of the law of 1833 forbidding the importation of slaves 

Trjse Negbo and Slave Population of the UNiTia) States, 1790 to 1860, 

VTiTH Bates of Increase 

Free Negro 

Per Cent Increaae 


Per Cent Increaee 


. 488,070 











23 8 




220 Journal of Nbgbo Histoby 

into Kentucky. But before dealing with that question it 
would be well to have before us the figures for the whole 
country at the same period. 

The facts seem more significant, if we compare the slave 
increase in Kentucky with that of the Negroes in the country 
as a whole. Bearing in mind that Kentucky was a com- 
paratively new region when it became a State and that at 
that time slavery was firmly established along the seaboard, 
we are not surprised to find that the slave increase in Ken- 
tucky was much more rapid for the first three or four dec- 
ades than it was in the nation as a whole. After the year 
1830 the increase in the United States, on a percentage 
basis, was much greater than in Kentucky. It seems that 
the institution started in with a boom and then eventually 
died down in Kentucky. 

There were several reasons for this fact. Al glance at 
the increase of whites in Kentucky for the last three decades 
will show that they were forging ahead while the slaves 
were relatively declining. This was due to a large amount 
of immigration of that class of white people who were not 
slaveholding. A second factor was the non-importation act 
of 1833. About the siame time there came to be a convic- 
tion among a large portion of the population that slavery 
in Kentucky was economically unprofitable. There is 
abundant ground for the position that the law of 1833 was 
passed because of a firm conviction that there were enough 
slaves in the State. The only ones who could profit by any 
amount of importation were the slave dealers and beyond a 
certain point even their trade would prove unprofitable. If 
there was ever a single slaveholder who defended importa- 
tion on the ground that more slaves were needed in Ken- 
tucky he never spoke out in public and gave his reasons for 
such a position. 

Unfortunately there are few statistics concerning the 
number of slaveholdters in Kentucky. Cassius M. Clay in 
his appeal to the people in 1845 stated that there were 31,495 
owners of slaves in the State.^^ The same year the 

12 Greeley, Horace, Writings, Speeches a'nd Addresses of Cassius M. Clay, 
p. 177. 


Slaveby in Ejbntuoky 221 

auditor ^s tax books showed that there were 176,107 slaves in 
Kentucky.^^ This would mean an average of 5.5 slaves for 
each owner. The accuracy of these figures is substantiated 
by those for the census of 1850 which gave 210,981 slaves 
held by 38,456 slaveholders or an average of 5.4 to each 
owner. These holders were classified according to the num- 
ber of slaves held as follows : 

Holders of 1 slave 9,244 

Eloldeirs of over :1 and} less than 5 slaves 13,284 

Holders of 5 and under 10 slaves 9,579 

Holders of 10 and under 20 slaves 5,022 

Holders of 20 and under 50 slaves 1,198 

Holders of 50 and under 100 slaves 53 

V Holders of 100 and under 200 slaves 5 


This distribution shows that, although the average number 
of slaves held may have been 5.4 for each slaveholder, 21,528 
or 50 per cent of them held less than five slaves each, and 
that 34,129 or 88 per cent held less than 20 each. Of the 
132,920 free families in the State only 28 per cent held any 
slaves at aU.- This was somewhat below the average for 
the whole South. The total number of families holding 
slaves in the United States, by the census of 1850, was 347,- 
525. With an average of 5.7 persons to each family there 
were about 2,000,000 persons in the relation of slave owners, 
or about one third of the whole white population of the slave 
States. In South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, and Loui- 
siana about one half of the white population was thus classi- 
fied. As stated above, this percentage in Kentucky was 
only twenty-eight. 

This comparison can be more clearly shown by a table 
of the slave States from the census of 1850 showing the 
number of white people, the slaveholders, slaves, and the 
average number of slaves for each slaveholder. 

i» Collected Documents, 1847, p. 581, 
i^De Bow's Sicntistiedl Beview, p. ^5. 











Mississippi . . . . 


North Carolina 
South Carolina . 








of WUtM 


























































Averace per 










fAmong the fourteen real slaveholding States of the Union 
Kentucky stood ninth in the number of slaves in 1850, but 
was third in the number of slave owners and with the excep- 
tion of Missouri had less slaves for each owner than any 
other Stat^ From the third colunan of this table, however, 
we are rather surprised to find that not only in Missouri 
but in Arkansas, Maryland and Tennessee the number of 
slaveholders was smaller in proportion to the total white 
population than in Kentucky. 

Helper in his Impending Crisis made the following in- 
teresting table from the census figures for 1850. He set a 
perfectly arbitrary valuation of $400 on each slave, but, if 

Value of Slaves at Value of Real and Personal Property 
S400 per Head Leas the Value of Slaves 

Alabama $137,137,600 $ 81,066,732 

Arkansas 18,840,000 21,001,025 

Florida 15,724,000 7,474,734 

Georgia 152,672,800 182,752,914 

Kentucky 84,392,400 217,236,056 

Louisiana 97,923>600 136,075,164 

Maryland. ...: 36,147,200 183,070,164 

Mississippi 123,951,200 105,000,000 

Missouri 34,968,800 102,278,907 

North <?aroHna 115,419,200 111,381,272 

South Carolina 153,993,600 134,264,094 

Ttennessee 95,783,600 111,671,104 

Texas 23,264,400 32,097,940 

Virginia 189,011,200 202,634,638 

IB Adapted from De Bow's Statisticdl Beview, pp. 67, 85, 99, 



Slavery in Kentucky 223 

one takes into account the infants and the aged unable to 
work, his general appraisement of the slave group is fair 
enough for the time and for a basis of comparison. It will 
be seen at a glance that after taking out the value of the 
slaves in all the States Kentucky was the richest southern 

From the three preceding tables it is apparent that while 
the Kentucky slaveholders represented about 28 per cent of 
the white population of the State, on the average they held 
less slaves than in the other Southern States. Slave prop- 
erty in Kentucky was a much smaller part of the wealth 
of the commonwealth than in the States to the south. The 
relatively large number of holders is to be explained by the 
type of slavery which existed in the State. 'Many i)ersons 
held a few servants in bondage and those who held many 
slaves were very few in number. 

The question of the sale of slaves from Kentucky into 
the southern market presents a much more formidable prob- 
lem. The chief charge that the anti-slavery people made 
against Kentucky was that the State regularly bred and 
reared slaves for the market in the lower South. What was 
the attitude of the Kentucky slaveholder and the people in 
general on the question of the domestic slave trade! There 
is no doubt that in the later years of slavery there were 
sold in the State many slaves who ultimately found their 
way into the southern market notwithstanding the contempt 
of the average Kentucky slaveholder for the slave trade. 
This trend of opinion will be seen as we proceed. If the 
sentiment was decidedly against such human commerce how 
did so many slaves become victims of the slave trader! 

There were five general causes which led to the sale of 
slaves in Kentucky: (1) When they became so unruly that 
the master was forced' to sell; (2) when their sale was neces- 
sary to settle an estate ; (3) when the master was reduced to 
the need of the money value in preference to the labor; 
(4) when captured runaways were unclaimed after one year ; 
and (5) when the profit alone was desired by unscrupulous 
masters. Many other reasons have been given, but a care- 

224 JouBNAii OF Negbo Histoby 

ful investigation of all available material confines prac- 
tically every known case of sale to one of the above clas- 
sifications. Mrs. Stowe in her Key to Uncle Tom's Cdbiv}^ 
maintained that the prevalence of the slave trade in Ken- 
tucky was due to the impoverishment of the soil beyond 
recovery and the decrease in the economic value of the slave 
to its owner. This argument is fallacious, for the very 
blue-grass region which held most of the slaves is today the 
most fertile section of the State. 

As long as a slave conducted himself in accordance with 
the spirit of the slave code there was little chance of his 
owner selling him against his will. The president of the 
Constitutional Convention of 1849 stated that in the interior 
of the State, where slaves were the most numerous, very 
few Negroes were sold out of the State and that they were 
mostly those whose bad and ungovernable disposition was 
such that their owners could no longer control them.*'' A 
true picture of the average master ^s attitude has been given 
us by Prof. N. S. Shaler. ''What negroes there were,*' 
said he, ''belonged to a good class. The greater number of 
them were from families which had been owned by the an- 
cestors of their masters in Virginia. In my grandfather's 
household and those of his children there were some two 
dozen of these blacks. They were well cared for; none of 
them were ever sold, though there was the common threat 
that ' if you don't behave, you will be sold South.' One 
of the commonest bits of instruction my grandfather gave 
me was to remember that my people had in a century never 
bought or sold a slave except to keep families together. 
By that he meant that a gentleman of his station should 
not run any risk of appearing as a 'negro trader,' the last 
word of opprobium to be slung at a man. So far as I can 
remember, this rule was well kept and social ostracism- was 
likely to be visited on any one who was fairly suspected of 
buying or selling slaves for profit. This state of opinion 
was, I believe, very general among the better class of slave 

le stowe, Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin, p. 143. 
17 Louisville WeeTcly Journal, October 17, 1849. 


Slaveby in Ejbntuoky 225 

owners in Kentucky. When negroes were sold it was be- 
cause they were vicious and intractable. Yet there were 
exceptions to this high^-niinded humor.''*® 

When a master had a bad Negro about the only thing 
that could be done for the sake of discipline was to sell him. 
If the owner kept the slave, the latter would corrupt his fel- 
lows and if he were set free, the master would reward where 
he ought to punish. The human interest which the owner 
took in his servant when the demands of the institution 
necessitated his sale is shown in the case of the Negro 
Frank, ownedl by A. Bamett, of Greensburg. Witness these 
words of the master in a runaway advertisement: **His 
transgressions impelled me, some years since to take him 
to New Orleans and sell him, where he became the property 
of a Spaniard, who branded him on each cheek thus, QQ , 
which is plain to be seen when said negro is newly shaved. 
I went to New Orleans again last May, where, having my 
feelings excited by the tale Frank told me, I purchased him 
again.''*® After the master had gone to all this trouble in 
the interest of the slave the latter ran away shortly after 
his return to Kentucky. 

It was often necessary to sell slaves in order to settle an 
estate. It was seldom possible for a man to will his prop- 
erty in Negroes without some divisions becoming necessary 
at the hands of the executor in the just interest of the heirs. 
These public auctions usually took place on court day, at 
the courthouse door and were conducted by the master com- 
sioner of the circuit court. The following advertisement 
reveals the necessity and the procedure : 


By virtue of a decree of the Fayette Circuit, the undersigned 
will, as Commissioner to carry into effect said decree, sell to the 
highest bidder, on the public square in the city of Lexington, on 
Monday the 10th of March next, bemg county court day, the fol- 
lowing slaves, to wit : 

18 Shaler 's Autobiography , p. 36. 

18 Louisville Public Advertiser, December 24, 1829. 

226 JouBNAL OP Nbgbo Histoby 

Reiser, Carr, Sally, Bob, Susan, Sam, Sarah and Ben; belong- 
ing to the estate of Alexander Culbertson, deceased. The sale to 
be on a credit of three months, the purchaser to give bond with 
approved security. The sale to take place between the hours of 11 
o'clock in the morning and 3 o'clock in the evening. 

February 26, 1834 John Clabk, Commissioner^^ 

On the same day thie sheriff of the county might appear 
at the courthouse door in accordance with a previous an- 
nouncement and) auction off any unclaimed runaway that 
had been lodged in the county jail or hired out under his 
authority for a period of a year or more. The slaves thus 
sold were usually fugitives from the lower South who had 
been apprehended on their way to Ohio or Indiana. 
Although the utmost publicity would have been given to 
their capture, in accordance with the law, few of the planters 
of the far South seem ever to have claimed their property. 
The usual legal code in this matter is shown by the notice 
below : 

NOTICE : Agreeably to an act of the Qeneral Assembly, passed 
January 11, 1845, 1 will, on the first Monday of May, 1846, before 
the Court House door, in the city of Louisville, sell to the highest 
bidder, on a credit of six months, the purchaser giving bond with 
good security, having the force and effect of a replevin bond, 
JOHN, a runaway slave, 18 or 19 years of age, 5 feet 3 or 4 inches 
high, a rather heavy built, supposed to be the property of Daniel 
McCaleb or Calip, residing on the coast some twenty miles below 
New Orleans. 

F. S. J. BoNALD Deputy Sheriff 
Feb. 25, 1846. for James Harrison Sheriff Jefferson Co.^^ 

Under the three causes of sale thus far cited the blame 
would not be placed upon the master. In the case of the 
unruly Negro the owner was according to the ethics of that 
day not at fault. In the settlement of an estate the slave- 
holder was no longer a factor, for his demise alone had 

20 Lexington Observer and Kentucky Beporter, February 27, 1834. 

21 Louisville WeeJcly Journal, March 4, 1846. 

Slavery in Kentucky 227 

brought the sale, in the case of the runaway the owner 
was unknown. Mrs. Stowe probably showed the attitude of 
the average Kentucky master when she pictured Uncle Tom 
as being sold for the southern market only because of the 
economic necessities of the owner. ,When in such a posi- 
tion the master felt called upon to explain the necessities of 
the case. He was very careful not to be cast under the 
suspicion of public opinion as a * ' slave trader, * * which, as 
Shaler has said, was the **last word of opprobrium.'' Wit- 
ness a few instauces in evidence : 


A yellow negro woman of fine constitution, and two children, 
from the country, and sold for no fault but to raise money. Will 
not be sold to go down the river. Her husband, a fine man, can 
be had also. Apply at the store of 

Jarvis and Trabxje — 3rd & Main" 

The editor of the Lexington Reporter was very careful not 
to get under the ban of his constituents when he was forced 
to sell a farm hand and his wife. 


A negro man, a first rate farm hand, about 27 years of age ; and 
a very likely woman, the wife of the man, about 22 years of age, 
a good house servant. They will not be sold separately, or to any 
person wishing to take them out of the State. Enquire at this 

In 1834 Thomas J. Allen, a citizen of Louisville, desired to 
exchange his property in the city for 40 or 50 slaves, but he 
specifically stated that they were to be for his own use and 
that he wanted them to be *' in families.''^* The same atti- 
tude appears in the case of a house servant for sale with the 
reasons for such specifically stated': 

22 LouisviUe Weekly Journal, September 3, 1845. 

28 Lexin{iton Observer and Kentucky Beporter, Jan. 28, 1835. 

24 !&«!., July 9, 1834. 

228 JouBNAL OP Nbgbo Histoby 


I wish to sell a negro woman, who has been accustomed to house 
work. She is an excellent cook, washes and scours, and is in every 
respect, an active and intelligent servant. I do not require her 
services, which is my only reason for wishing to dispose of her. 

Maslin Smith*** 

The prevalence of statements giving the reasons for and 
the restrictions upon these sales shouldl show beyond any 
reasonable doubt that public opinion would not tolerate any 
suspicion of a heartless traffic in slaves. These sentiments 
were especially prevalent in the central i)ortion of the State. 
The only case known to the writer where a large number of 
slaves were sold without any qualification was near 
Harrodsburg in August, 1845; but in this instance all the 
man^s property, including 450 acres of land, was sold at 


the same time.*® 

There were, naturally, some unscrupulous masters who 
cared little for the fate of their slaves when sold. They 
placed no restrictions upon the sale, either in destination or 
in the break-up of family ties. We will cite only two, one 
for the earlier and one for the later period, noticeable chiefly 
for the lack of regard for Negro family life. 


The subscriber has for sale a negro man and woman, each about 
24 years of age, both are excellent plantation hands, together with 
two children. They will be sold separately or altogether. 

Lunx)RES LucAs*^ 


I wish to sell a negro woman and four children. The woman is 
22 years old, of good character, a good cook and washer. The 
children are very likely, from 6 years down to 1%. I will sell 
them together or separately to suit purchasers. 

J. T. Underwood.*^ 

26 Lexington Observer and Kentucky Beporter, Jan. 7, 1835. 

26 Lomsville Weekly JowmoA, August 6, 1845. 

27 Bairdatovm Candid Bevietv, June 20, 180d. 

28 Louisville Weekly Joumdi, May 2, 1849. 

Slaveby in Kjbntucky 229 

The aggregate of all these causes was sufl&cient to bring 
about a supply for the southern market. The question now 
arises as to how the demand! was met commercially. To 
what extent were there slave traders in Kentucky! George 
Prentice, the famous editor of the Louisville Journal, him- 
self a loyal exponent of slavery, early pointed out that Ken- 
tucky had an ample supply of Negreos and that they were 
being sent south in large numbers. He further stated that 
any one who wanted slaves could always purchase them by 
leaving an order in Louisville.^® This opinion was ex- 
pressed at a time when the non-importation act of 1833 had 
been in force for sixteen years, which meant that Kentucky 
was producing slaves faster than she needed them. It was 
only two months after this that Richard Henry Collins in an 
editorial in the Maysville Eagle gave a flagrant example of 
a slave trader in Kentucky who violated thte spirit as well as 
the letter of the law. But the sentiment of the people on the 
slave dealer had been expressed much earlier. In 1833 a 
Lexington editor felt exasperated because of the appearance 
of a large group of slaves in the streets of the city on their 
way to be sold south. When another trader appeared with 
his Negro slaves held together with a chain he voiced his 
wrath in this fashion : 

"A few weeks ago we gave an account of a company of men, 
women and children, part of them manacled, passing through the 
streets. Last week, a number of slaves were driven through the 
main street of our city, among them were a number manacled 
together, two abreast, all connected by, and supporting, a heavy 
iron chain, which extended the whole length of the line."^® 

About the same time a citizen of Danville sold a Negro 
woman to a regular slave trader. The news spread around 
the town rapidly and to save himself from the threats of 
the gathering mob the owner was compelled for his own 
safety to follow the slave dealer and repurchase the woman 
at a decided increase in price.^^ 

29 Louisville Weekly Journal, September 26, 1849. 
^^ Lexington Western Luminary, June 5, 183S. 
31 Blanchard and Bice, Debates on Sla/very, p. 133. 

230 JouBNAL OP Nbgbo Histoby 

It is very diflScult to find out bow many slave dealers 
there were in the State, for few of them ever came out in 
the open and advertised their tradie. As would be expected 
from its size and situation Louisville was the place where 
the dealer could ply bis trade to the best advantage. It was 
the central business point and the port from which most 
slaves from Kentucky were shipped down the Ohio and 
Mississippi. There is no mention in the newspapers of any 
dealers there before the year 1845. Thereafter there were 
several who advertised for any number of slaves and made 
no secret of the purpose of purchase. In the Journal for 
October 29, 1845, William Kelly called for all persons who 
had slaves to sell to see him and offered them the highest 
prices. He further stated that he had slaves for sale. His 
name does not often appear in succeeding years. During 
the next decade there were four regular dealers who appar- 
ently did considerable business : T. Arterbum, J. Arterburn, 
William F. Talbott, and Thomas Powell. Later John 
Mattingly came upon the scene presumably from St. Louis. 
In July, 1845, the Arterbum brothers began a series of 
advertisements which ran for several years. **We wish to 
purchase 100 negroes for the Southern market, for which we. 
will pay the highest prices in cash.''^'* Talbott began his 
publicity in 1848 with these words : ' ^ The subscriber wishes 
to purchase 100 negroes, for which he will pay the highest 
cash prices. Can always be found at the Louisville 
Hotel. ' '^^ Two years later he was still advertising, but had 
ceased placing any limit on the number to be bought and 
had moved his quarters to the Hotel O'Bain.^* Thomas 
Powell also began in 1848 with this stock phraseology— 
** Persons having negroes for sale can find a purchaser at 
the highest cash prices by calling on the subscriber, on Sixth 
Street, between Main and Market, adgoining H. Duncan's 
stable.''*^ This advertisement ran continually for a period 

82 Louisville Weekly Journal, July 30, 1845. 
88 76wl., July 19, 1848. 
34 7&i(l., August 14, 1850. 
ssj&id., August 2, 1848. 



Slavery in Kentucky 231 

of two years. John Mattingly evidently came from Mis- 
souri in the same year, and remained until 1852, when he 
returned to St. Louis to ply his trade.^® While he was in 
Louisville he ran an advertisement in the Journal after this 
fashion : ' ' The undersigned wishes to purchase 100 negroes 
both men aad women, for which he will pay the highest cash 
prices. Those who have negroes for sale would do well to 
call on him at the Q-alt House. ''^"^ 

It is noticeable that none of the Louisville directories for 
this period mention any slave dealers. This failure may 
have been due merely to the fact that there were so few 
traders in the city and that they were more or less transient 
residents. On the other hand, public opinion apparently 
never acknowledged that there were any real citizens of the 
city engaged in the slave trade. Beginning in 1840 the 
Louisville Journal published a weekly pai)er called Louis- 
ville Prices Current. Li 1855 this was succeeded by tilie 
Commercial Review and Louisville Prices Current, which 
was published by the Louisville Chamber of Commerce. 
These two papers devoted themselves exclusively to the 
commercial transactions of the city and gave price quota- 
tions weekly for every conceivable kind of goods in the 
market together with the volume of sales. Strange to say, 
there has not been found a single issue of either of these 
papers, which mentions the selling price of slaves or any 
transaction in Negroes. If there was a trade in slaves 
which was regarded purely as a commercial enterprise, as 
some would have us think, then it is very hard to under- 
stand why these splendid trade papers did not contain any 
account of the business. 

There were some Louisville business men who bought 
and sold slaves as only one of the branches of their com- 
mercial activities. This would account to some extent for 
the failure to list traders in the local directories for it is 
noticeable that such men never called themselves slave 
dealers. As early as the year 1825 John Stickney estab- 

86 St Louis Daily Times, October 14, 1852. 

»7 LovisvUle Daily Journal, November 23, 1848. 

232 JouBKAL OF Neqbo Histoby 

lished the Louisvitte Intelligence Office on Main Street, 
which was a sort of labor and real estate exchange. He 
advertised that he sold books; had money to loan; houses 
for rent and sale; horses and Negroes for sale and hire; 
carriages for sale ; conducted a labor exchange, and recom- 
mended the best boarding houses/® A year later J. C. 
Gentry opened the ''Western Horse Market'' at the comer 
of Market and Fourth. Streets. He advertised that he con- 
ducted a livery stable, and also sold on commission, at 
public or private sale, horses, carriages, cattle, wagons and 
slaves; and that he would conduct an auction on Wednes- 
days and Saturdays.'® A similar case was that of A. C. 
Scott, who in 1854 opened a real estate and land office but 
who stated in the press that he not only bought and sold 
land and rented houses but that he would sell and hire 
slaves.*^ Consequently Scott was listed as a real estate and 
land agent in the local directories. It is impossible to de- 
termine how many of these occasional slave dealers there 
were, but in so far as available material shows these three 
were the only ones to announce their trade publicly. 

It would appear from all the evidence at hand that while 
Kentucky furnished many slaves for the southern market 
there was no general internal slave trade, as a commercial 
enterprise. There were in Louisville, however, a few heart- 
less business men who took advantage of the decreasing 
value of slave labor in Kentucky and the rising prices of 
slaves in the far South. In this respect, Kentucky became 
a field of supply for the slave markets of the lower South. 

Unfortunately there are no statistics available by which 
the number of slaves sent south can be computed. The 
most comprehensive anti-slavery publication on the internal 
slave trade was unable to decide with certainty what pro- 
portion of slaves for the southern market was furnished by 
each of the so-called breeding States. The author of 
Sla/oery and Internal Slave Trade in the United States 

88 Louisville Pviblio Advertiser, November 2, 1825. 

99ihid., September 13, 1826. 

«o Louisville Daily Times, M&rch 1, 1864. 

Slaveby nsr Kentucky 233 

estimated that 80,000 slaves were animally exported from 
seven States to the South. He gave no figures that were 
not his own estimates. He ranked the seven States, how- 
ever, in the ordter of the number of slaves which he thought 
they furnished as follows : Virginia, Maryland, North Caro- 
lina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri and Delaware.*^ 

Martin estimates that Kentucky sent on the average 
about 5,000 slaves to the southern market.*^ Again this 
must be considered purely conjectural. It is reasonable to 
suppose that during the last two decades of the slavery era 
there were few slaves imported into Kentucky that were 
intended for the purely Kentucky market. What Negroes 
came into Kentucky were for the most part on their way 
to the more profitable southern trade. The- average death 
rate among the slaves during this period was 1.9 per one 
hundred and the birth rate was 3.2, or an excess of births 
over deaths of 1.1 per hundred. This would make the 
annual natural increase among the slave population about 
2,000 per year. Comparing this with the growth of the 
slave group from 1840 to 1850 we find that the increase of 
slaves was much more. But it was during the next decade 
that the slave trade reached its height and here we find that 
the slave population increased 14,502, whereas the natural 
increase during that period should have been 23,190. Hence 
the slaves failed to reach even their natural increase by a 
deficiency of 8,688. Taken literally that would mean that 
dtiring the ten-year period that number of slaves were ex- 
ported from Kentucky. But it is reasonable to suppose 
that many more than that were sent to the South. With 
the exception of the last decade, however, the slave popu- 
lation of Kentucky increased faster than the mere natural 
increase of the Negroes. The law would not permit of any 
importation of slaves intended for Kentucky, so the export 
of purely Kentucky slaves appears never to have been 
prominent except dtiring the decade from 1850 to 1860. 

The selling price of slaves naturally presents itself at 

*i Slavery and Internal Slave Trade in the U, 8., p. 12. 

42 Martin^ Asa E.^ Anti-Slavery Movement m KentucJcy, p. 89. 

234 Journal op Nbgbo Histoby 

this point. In Kentucky these records are very few be- 
cause the tax books in practically all the counties of the 
State have been destroyed. We have no accurate state- 
ments extant before about the year 1855. The prices which 
we have obtained are quotations from the auction of slaves 
of estates to settle the interests of the heirs. On January 
court day, in 1855, there were sold in the settlement of 
estates in Bourbon, Fayette, Clark and Franklin Counties 
Negro men who brought $1,260, $1,175, $1,070, $1,378, 
$1,295, $1,015 and $1,505.*^ The county commissioner of 
Harrison auctioned the slaves of the deceased George Kirk- 
patrick with the following prices received : 

America 40 years of age 

all for $1,600. 

Pegg7 6 years of age I 

Eliza 4 years of age 

Brown 6 months of age J 

Peter 23 years of age $1,290 

Emanuel 24 years of age 750 

Tom 16 years of age 1,015 

Ann 14 years of age 775 

Emma 12 years of age 865 

Sarah 26 years of age 350^* 

The county commissioner at Henderson received the 
following prices for slaves in the settlement of several 
estates on January 28, 1858:*^ 

Buth 33 years of age $ 800 

Willis 59 years of age 475 

George 35 years of age 1,200 

Belphy 80 years of age 75 

Leila 65 years of age 282 

Clarissa 24 years of age 1,131 

Andrew 19 years of age 1,500 

iSusan 17 years of age 470 

Jennie 17 years of age 1,100 

Cupid 85 years of age 74 

Eliza 32 years of age 500 

BeH 41 years of age 1,000 

48 Collins, History of Kentucky, Vol. 1, p. 74. 

** CyntMana News, January 10, 1868. 

*5 Henderson WeeUy Commercial, January 29, 1858. 

Slavery in Kentucky 235 

This sale is most significant for the cases of ''Delphy," 80 
years old, and ' * Cupid, ' ' 85 years of age. It is difficult to 
account for such a sale in any discussion of the slave trade, 
but it does show the humanitarian side of Kentucky slavery. 
Negroes at such an age had no economic value even if they 
were given away, because the expense of their maintenance 
was more than the value of any possible labor they could 

At Georgetown in December of the same year we have 
this record:*® 

GrifBin 45 years of age $ 640 

Mary 14 years of age 1,060 

Ellen 12 years of age 800 

Blizabeth 11 years of age 406 (one-eyed) 

Sanf ord 9 years of age 700 

Arabel 10 years of age 690 

Adam 41 years of age 700 

Bettie 3 years of age 260 

Aaron 28 years of age 1,191 

Sam 25 years of age 1,350 

The auction of the slaves of the estate of Sj)encer C. 
Graves at Lexington in April, 1859, brought these prices :*^ 

John 18 years of age $1,500 

Dick 21 years of age 1,400 

Jerry 38 years of age 700 

Major 50 years of age 480 

Charles 31 years of age 1,155 

John Jr 18 years of age 1,140 

Billy 31 years of age 1,100 

Isabella 40 years, with 3 children, ages 

11, 5 and 2 1,610 

Bebecca 30 years, with 3 children, ages 

11, 6 and 4 2,410 

Lucy 18 years of age, with infant. . 1,280 

Bavidella 31 years of age 1,220 

Mary Ann 31 years of age 835 

Patience 18 years of age 1,350 

Catharine 15 years of age 1,130 

Such a series of prices would show beyond a reasonable 

4* Georgetown Gaeeite, December 23, 1858. 

*T WeeJcly Free 8o%ah (Newport), April 29, 1869. 

236 JouBNAL OP Nbgbo Histoby 

doubt that the value of slaves was detenninedl entirely by 
the increasing demand for slaves in the lower South and was 
in no way an indication of the value of slave labor within 
Kentucky. As was pointed out earlier in this chapter, the 
labor value of an agricultural slave in the State steadily 
decreased after about the year 1830. 

Was slavery profitable to the Kentucky planters! In 
the many debates on the slavery question which took place 
after 1830 no one ever stood out in the aflSmiative. The 
only ones to discuss the economic sid^ of the issue were 
those in opposition to slavery. As has often been said of 
the Kentucky situation, ''the program was to use negroes 
to raise com to feed hogs to feed negroes, who raised more 
corn to feed more hogs.'' Tobacco was the largest crop 
raised in the State and com came next. Neither proved to 
be peculiarly adapted to slave labor. There were few large 
plantations in the State where it could be made advan- 
tageous. What Negro work there was to be done was never 
confined to any particular kind of cultivation but was used 
in the manner of farm labor today in the State. Squire 
Turner, of Madison County, in the Constitutional Conven- 
tion of 1849 made a careful summary of the existing eco- 
nomic problems of slavery. ''There are,*' said he, "about 
$61,000,000 worth of slave property in the state which pro- 
duces less than three per cent profit on the capital invested, 
or about half as much as the moneyed capital would yield. 
There are about 200,000 slaves in Kentucky. Of these about 
seventy-five per cent are superannuated, sick, women in 
unfit condition for labor, and infants unable to work, who 
yield no profit. Show me a man that has forty or fifty 
slaves on his estate, and if there are ten out of that number 
who are available and valuable, it is as much as you can 
expect. But my calculation allows you to have seventy-five 
per cent who are barely able to maintain themselves, to pay 
for their own clothing, fuel, house room and doctor's bills. 
Is there any gentleman who has a large number of slaves, 
who will say that they are any more profitable than that!"*® 

*8 Debates of the Convention of 184&, p. 73. 


Slaveby in Kentucky 237 

No one in the convention answered! the last question pnt 
by Squire Turner. But regardless of such an economic 
condition, not a single piece of remedial legislation was 
passed and the members of the Constitutional Convention 
added a provision to the Bill of Eights which rooted the 
slavery system firmer than ever. That most adSbairable of 
all southern characters, and at the same time the most diflS- 
cult to understand, the Kentucky master, took little heed of 
a question of dollars aad cents when it interfered with his* 
moral and humanitariaa sentiments. He had inherited, in 
most cases, the slaves that were his. He knew well enough 
that the system did not pay but supposing that he should 
turn his slaves loose, what would become of theml What 
could they do for a living! The experience of later years 
proved that his apparently obstinate temperament was 
mixed with a good deal of wisdom, for once the slaves were 
set free their status was not to any great extent ameliorated 
if they went abroad from the plantation where they had 
lived from childhood. 

There was a certain amount of profit in the labor of 
able-bodied slaves but they only represented a fraction of 
the Negroes whom the master was called upon to support. 
The law comi)elled the owner to maintain his old and help- 
less slaves and this represented the spirit of the large ma- 
jority of the slaveholders. Those were rare cases indeed 
when an owner was hailed into court for failing to provide 
for an infirm member of his slave household. The true 
Kentuckian never begrudged the expense that such support 
incurred. One of the ablest lawyers of the State, Benjamin 
Hardin, made the statement that '4f it were not for sup- 
porting my slaves, I would never go near a courthouse. ' **® 

Rev. Stuart Robinson, speaking before the Kentucky 
Colonization Society in 1849, gave another viewpoint of the 
economic value of the slave. *'The increase of slaves in 
Kentucky,'' said he, *'has hardly reached three thousand 
annually for eighteen years past. The increase since 1840 
has been 27,653— the increase for the year just closed 2,921. 

^oiiittle, L. P.^ Ben Mardin, hU Times and Contemporaries, p. 544. 

238 JouBNAL OP Negbo Histoby 

In twenty-six counties, embracing one fourth of the slave 
population— some of them the largest slave-holding coun- 
ties—there has been an actual decrease in the last year of 
881 slaves. In twelve other counties the increase has been 
only twenty-three. There are ten counties in the State, 
which contain one third of all the slave population of Ken- 
tucky ; in these ten counties, the increase of slaves for five 
years past has been 2,728— an increase of less than one per 
cent per annum. Nor is this slow increase of slavery to 
be attributed to any stagnation or decline of public pros- 
perity, for in the meantime the state has been growing in 
population and wealth as heretofore. During these five 
years the taxable property of the Commonwealth has in- 
creased in value more than seventy-six millions. Now this 
decrease of slaves while the other property of the common- 
wealth is increasing must arise from one of three causes— 
and in either case the inference is the same as to the fate 
of slavery in Kentucky. (1) Is it because the climate is 
unhealthy to the African! If so then African labor cannot 
continue. (2) Is it owing to emigration! Then something 
is wrong in the system of labor, that causes the emigration 
of our people— for no finer soil— no more desirable resi- 
dence can be found in the world. (3) Or is it owing to the 
domestic slave trade! Then for some reason slave labor 
is less profitable here than elsewhere, and must soon be 
given up.*'^^ 

These figures quoted by the si)eaker on the slave popu- 
lation for year by year are available in the auditor's tax 
books for the years 1840 to 1859:" 

1840 164,817 1847 189,549 1854 200,181 

1841 168,853 1848 192,470 1855 202,790 

1842 171,035 1849 195,110 1856 201,160 

3843 176,107 1850 196,847 1857 201,590 

1844 178,837 1851 196,336 1858 207,559 

1845 182,742 1852 200,867 1859 208,625 

1846 185,582 1853 200,015 

^0 Presbyterian Herald, April 12, 1849. 

^1 Collected Docwments, 1847, pp. 581-583; 1853, pp. 401-403; 1860, pp. 

Slavery in Kentucky 239 

The very small growth shown here would barely account 
for the natural increase among the slaves by virtue of the 
high birth rate. The mortality rates were about the same 
for slaves as for whites. The relative decline was un- 
doubtedly due to the rising prices for slaves which were 
sent to the South and the consequent decreasing value of a 
slave's labor to the Kentuckian, He knew beyond a doubt 
that the time would eventually come when he would have 
to part with his slave and that jyortion of the holders who 
were not averse to selling their chattels did so during this 


The Legal Status op Slaveby 

Slavery in its more economic form naturally spread to 
the Kentucky district as the western frontier of Virginia 
became settled. Of the 293,427 slaves which were held in 
the State of Virginia in the year 1790, however, only 11,830 
were in the district of Kentucky, which at that time had a 
total population of 73,077. Few thought, however, of dis- 
puting the rights of the institution in the newly created 
State. The final convention which met to form a constitu- 
tion was held at Danville, beginning on April 2, 1792, and 
in the course of its proceedings it was apparent that there 
was no fundamental division among the delegates regard- 
ing any of the proposed provisions with the exception of the 
one dealing with slavery. Virginia had stipulated in giving 
permission for the formation of the new State that slavery 
as an established institution should not be disturbed, and 
this policy had the support of a majority of the members 
of the constitutional convention. George Nichols, a native 
of the Old Dominion, was the leader of the assembly and 
had charge of most of the work which was done and natu- 
rally was most interested in carrying out the wishes of his 
native State in the formation of the new document. The 
only serious opponent was David Rice, a noted Presbyterian 
minister, but, having resigned on April 11, he was not 
present at the time when the slavery issue came up for final 

A separate vote was taken on Article IX, the slavery 
section, which passed 26 to 19. It was finally provided that 

The legislature shall have no power to pass laws for the emanci- 
pation of slaves without the consent trf their owners, or without 
paying their owners, previous to such emancipation, a full equiva- 
lent in money, for the slaves emancipated ; they shall have no power 



Slaveby in Kentucky 241 

to prevent immigrants to this state, from bringing with them such 
persons as are deemed slaves by the laws of any one of the United 
States, so long as any person of the same age or description shall 
be continued in slavery by the laws of this state: that they shall 
pass laws to permit the owners of slaves to emancipate them, saving 
the rights of creditors, and preventing them from becoming a 
charge to the county in which they reside; they shall have full 
power to prevent slaves from being brought into this state as mer- 
chandise; they shall have full power to prevent any slave being 
brought into this state from a foreign country, and to prevent 
those from being brought into this state, who have been since the 
first of January, 1789, or may hereafter be imported into any of 
the United States from a foreign country. And they shall have 
full power to pass such laws as may be necessary to oblige the own- 
ers of slaves to treat them with humanity, to provide for them 
necessary clothes and provisions, to abstain from all injuries to 
them extending to life or limb, and in case of their neglect or re- 
fusal to comply with the directions of such laws, to have such slave 
or slaves sold for the benefit of their owner or owners.^ 

In any discussion of the slavery question in Kentucky 
in its historical aspects this article of the first constitution 
is fundamental. It is evident that even at that early day 
the difficulty of the slavery problem was already in the 
minds of the jyeople in spite of many other apparently more 
pressing issues.. The article itself remained practically 
intact throughout the existence of slavery in the State. 
Were there ever in later years gathered vnthin the con- 
fines of the State any body of men who had a better grasp of 
the future? The single instance of the recommendation 
that the legislature should pass laws permitting the eman- 
cipation of slaves only under the provision that they should 
be guaranteed from becoming a public charge to the county 
shows the comprehension of a difficulty that could not at 
such an early date have developed to any great degree, but 
which in later decades was a formidable problem. iWe may 
well say vnth John Mason Brown, however, that ^Hhe sys- 
tem of slavery thus contemplated was designed to be as 

iLittelVs Laws, 1: 32. 

242 JouBNAL OP Negbo Histoby 

mild, as human, and as much protected from traffic evils as 
possible, but it was to be emphatically perpetual, for no 
emancipation could be had without the assent of each par- 
ticular owner of each individual slave. ' '^ 

The session of the State assembly which met in No- 
vember, 1792, only attempted to carry out the constitutional 
provision prohibiting commercial transactions with slaves. 
No person was permitted to buy of, or sell to, any slave, any 
manner of thing whatsoever without a written permit de- 
scriptive of the article under the i)enalty of four times the 
value of the thing bought or sold. The jurisdiction of such 
cases was given to the county court, if they concerned values 
of more than five pound's. The slave was to receive ten 
lashes, which by the standards of those days was a meager 
punishment for any offense.^ Whenever jyossible the slave 
was not brought into consideration as an offender. The 
theory seems to have been that the slave was better off when 
left alone. It was only when some unscrupulous outsider 
came in to use the slave either as a victim or as an object of 
profit that it was necessary to draw the strings tighter on 
the Negro, not because of any inherent tendency to crime so 
much as to keep the slave from becoming unruly when in 
the power of a superior influence. 

It was not until the session of 1798 that the legislature 
drew up the fundamental slave code which was to carry out 
all the recommendations of the constitutional convention 
and which remained the basis of all legal action throughout 
the entire period of slavery. Among the early acts of the 
State had been the temporary adoption of the statutes of 
Virginia on the treatment of slaves and slavery problems, 
which were then in force.* These remained as a slave code 
for Kentucky until the enactment in 1798 of these new laws, 
which contained forty-three articles and involved almost 
every question that could come up for legal consideration 
in connection with the institution. The experience of six 

2 Brown, Jolm Mason, The Political Beginnings of Kentucky, p. 229. 
^LittelVs Laws, 1: 44. 
^Ihid,, 1: 161. 

I ^ 

Slaveby in Ejsntuoky 243 

years as a separate State had served to show that many 
existing provisions of the Virginia codte were not readily 
adapted to the rapidly growing State, and then too there 
was a decided tendency to ameliorate the condition of the 
slave as much as possible. In Kentucky they were not then, 
at least, confronted with such a large mass of slaves that 
they conld not meet problems in a much easier manner than 
in the Old Dominion. 

In the beginning, it was naturally found necessary to 
place some restrictions on the slave and his movements. 
He was not allowed to leave his master's plantation without 
written permission and if he did go away, any person could 
apprehend the offender and take him before a justice of the 
peace, who was empowered to order the infliction of stripes 
at his discretion. Furthermore, he was not to wander off 
to any other plantation without the written permission of 
his owner, with the provision in this instance that he was 
not to be taken before a justice of the peace, but before his 
owner, who was entitled to inflict ten lashes upon the of- 
fender. Should the slave be found carrying any powder, 
shot, a gun, club, or any weapon he could be apprehended by 
any free person and taken before a justice and a much 
severer penalty exacted in the form of thirty-nine lashes, 
**well laid on, on the bare bacf ^ It is clear that this law 
was drawn up to keep the slave from becoming a public 
menace and not as a sign of absolute restriction on the 
servant, for it was further provided in Section 6 that in 
case the slave lived in a frontier community he could go to 
the local justice of the peace and secure a i)ermit to keep 
and use guns, powder, shot and other weajxms for either 
offensive or defensive purposes. This permission was to 
be indorsed by any free Negro, mtilatto or Indian and did 
not necessarily involve the approval of the owner of the 

It was declared unlawful for slaves to engage in riots, 
unlawful assemblies, in trespasses or in seditious speech and, 
if so accused, they were to be taken before the local justice 

sLitteU'8 Laws, 2: 113. 

244 JouBNAL OP Negbo History 

who was to punish them at his discretion. But the Negroes 
themselves were not to be considered as the only guilty 
ones. In order to prevent any such disorderly meetings no 
owner of slaves was to be allowed to permit any ^lave not 
belonging to him to remain on his plantation for more than 
four hours at any one time under a nominal penalty to such 
owner of $2 ; but, if he allowed more than five such slaves 
to assemble on his property, he was to be fined more 
severely. If such a group were brought together by the 
written permission of the owner and for business reasons, 
however, there was involved no offense whatever.® It was 
realized that oftentimes the chief leaders in the unlawful 
meetings of slaves were free Negroes and sympathetic 
whites. Were any such to be found present they were to be 
arrested and if found guilty when tried before a justice of 
the peace, should be fined 15 shillings, to be paid, not to the 
court, but to the informer and if the money was not forth- 
coming the court was to have twenty lashes inflicted— no 
matter whether the convicted be white or black. Inasmuch 
as the degree of punishment of the slaves for being present 
at such a meeting was not sjyecified it would seem that the 
legislature meant that the free persons involved should be 
treated more severely than slaves by the court. 

The law of 1792 regarding trading with slaves had not 
proved to be effective, for in many cases the owner for a 
stipulated wage paid by the slave had permitted him to go at 
large and engage in trade as if he were a free man. The 
legislature found that this encouraged the slaves to commit 
thefts aad engage in various evil practices and naturally 
censured the owner. A fine of $50 was to be paid by the 
master for each offending slave and no punishment whatever 
was to be given the latter. But should the servant go so 
far as to hire himself out, he would be imprisoned by order 
of the court and, at the next session of the county court, 
he would be sold. One fourth of the money thus re- 
ceived was to be applied to the county funds and 5 per 
cent was to be given to the sheriff and the owner was to 

fiLittelVs Laws J 2: 114. 

Slaveby in Kentucky 245 

receive the remaining 70 per cent. Here too the slave was 
not punished and his condition of servitude was not chaaged. 
It was merely a change of owners. Again the offending 
owner was the victim and for his carelessness he was de- 
prived of 30 per cent of the money value of his slave.'^ 

The leading Kentucky case bearing on slaves engaged in 
trade is that of Bryant vs. Sheely (5 Dana, 530). Five of 
the main points are worth mentioning here : 

1. To buy or receive any article from a slave, without the con- 
sent of his master, in writing, specifying the article, is a highly 
penal offense. 

2. A sale made by a slave, without such written consent, is void, 
and does not divest the master of his property ; he may sue for, and 
recover it; or he may waive his right to the specific thing, affirm 
the sale, and recover the price or value, if it was not paid to the 

3. A general permission to a slave to go at large and trade for 
himself as a free man, is contrary to public policy, and a violation 
of a penal statute. The owner or master of a slave could maintain 
no action for any claim acquired by a slave while acting under 
such illegal license. 

4. But a slave may be permitted by his master to buy or sell 
particular articles, and any form of consent or permission given by 
the master, or his assent after the fact, will give validity to the 
sale — ^though the purchaser may be liable to the penalty, if the con- 
sent be not in writmg. 

5. A slave, being authorized by his master to sell any particu- 
lar thing, becomes the agent of his master for that purpose; and 
from the authority to sell, an authority to transfer the property, 
and to fix and receive the price must be inferred; but the slave 
cannot exercise or receive an authority to maintain any action in 
relation to it ; the right of action for the price belongs to the master, 
and if he sues, that fact itself is sufficient evidence that he author- 
ized or approved and confirmed the sale. 

I Unlike the more southerly States, Kentucky did not leave 
the slave helpless in the courts] If a slave were charged 
with a capital crime he was brought before the court of 
quarter sessions, which was composed of the various county 

tLiitelVa Laws, 2: 11^117. 

246 JouBNAL OP Negbo Histoby 

justices of the peaxje. They were to constitute a court of 
oyer and terminer. But they alone were not to decide the 
fate of the Negro, for the sheriff was required to empanel a 
jury of twelve men from among the bystanders, who were to 
constitute the trial jury. It was explicitly stated that legal 
evidence in such a case would be the confession of the 
offender, the oath of one or more credible witnesses, or such 
testimony of Negroes, mulattoes, or Indians as should seem 
convincing to the court. When a slave was called upon to 
testify in such a case, the court, the witness **not being a 
Christian, ' ^ found it necessary to administer the following 
charge that he might be under the greater obligation to 
declare the truth: **You are brought hither as a witness, and 
by the direction of the law I am to tell you, before you give 
your evidence, that you must tell the truth and nothing but 
the truth, and that if it be found hereafter that you tell a 
lie, and give false testimony in this matter, you must, for so 
doing, receive thirty-nine lashes on your bare back, well 
laid on, at the common whipping post. * *® 

Section 22 of the law of 1798 provided that the master 
or owner of any slave might appear in court at a trial of his 
servant and **make what just defense he can for such 
slave. ' ' The only restriction was that such defense should 
not interfere with the form of the trial. Naturally the 
liberally disposed slaveholders interpreted this to mean that 
they could employ counsel to defend their Negroes and it 
remained a disputed question down to 1806, when the legis- 
lature made the provisions ijaore specific. By this new law 
it was provided that it was not only the privilege but the 
duty of the owner of a slave who was being prosecuted to 
employ an attorney to defend him. The owner neglecting 
to do so the court must assign counsel to defend the slave 
and the costs thereby incurred were to be charged to the 
owner. The fee for defense was not to exceed $200 and if 
not forthcoming the court was empowered to recover the 
amount in the manner of any other debt of similar amount, 

^lAttell'a Laws, 2: 117-118. 

Slaveby in Kjsntucky 247 

It was plainly the intention of the legislature to provide a 
just trial for any slave, for they even went so far as to 
enact that the lawyer appointed by the court for the prisoner 
should * * defend such slave as in cases of free persons prose- 
cuted for felony by the laws of this state. ' '* 

When the slave was convicted of an offense which was 
punishable by death but which was within the benefit of 
clergy the capital penalty was not pronounced, but the 
offender was burnt in the hand or inflicted with any other 
corporal penalty at the discretion of the court. Should the 
criminal be sentenced to suffer death, thirty days were to 
elapse before the execution, except where it was a case of 
conspiracy, insurrection or rebellion. When the court had 
decided to sentence the slave to the death penalty a valua- 
tion of the Negro was made. This statement was to be 
turned over to the State auditor of public accounts who was 
required to issue a warrant on the treasury for the amount 
in favor of the owner of the convicted party. The owner on 
his part was to turn over to the treasurer the certificate of 
the clerk of the court showing that the slave had been con- 
demned and the statement of the sheriff that the offender 
had been executed or had died before execution.^^ 

This matter of the payment to the owner of the value of 
the executed slave appears never to have been questioned to 
any extent even by the abolitionists in the legislature until 
the session of 1830 when a bill was introduced for the repeal 
of the law. The bill was lost but in the course of the debate 
it was stated that while Kentucky contained over 160,000 
slaves only about one fifth of the tax-paying whites were 
slaveholders and that $68,000 had already been paid out of 
the State treasury as indemnity for slaves executed. After 
the defeat of this bill there was offered a substitute which 
proposed that a tax of one fourth of one per cent should 
be levied upon the value of all slaves in the State for the 
creation of a fund out of which to make such disbursements, 
but this was likewise lost.^^ 

^Littell's Laws, 3: 403. 

10 nid., 2 : 117-118. 

iiNiles' Begisier, February 2, 1830. 

248 JouBNAL OF Nbgbo Histoby 

Until 1811 there were no special enactments on slave 
crimes and their punishments. The court had, therefore, 
more or less range in the exactment of penalties but the 
legislature of 1811 passed during the first fortnight of its 
session a specific law governing slave crimes. Only four 
offenses were to be regarded as punishable by death: (1) 
conspiracy and rebellion, (2) administering poison with 
intent to Mil, (3) voluntary manslaughter and (4) rape of a 
white woman. If any slaves were to be found guilty of con- 
sulting or advising the murder of any one, every such con- 
sultation was to constitute an offense and be punishable by 
any number of stripes not exceeding one hundted.^^ 

As time went on the list of capital crimes was increased 
as a natural result of the growth of the slave population and 
their growing state of unrest after the incoming of the anti- 
slavery propaganda. By the close of the slavery era in 
Kentucky there were eleven offenses for which slaves 
should suffer death: (1) murder, (2) arson, (3) rape of a 
white woman, (4) robbery, (5) burglary, (6) conspiracy, 
(7) administering poison with intent to kill, (8) man- 
slaughter, (9) attempting to commit rape on a white woman, 
(10) shooting at a white person with intent to kill, and (11) 
wounding a white person with intent to kill. It will readily 
be seen that from a practical standpoint these eleven of- 
fenses can be narrowed down to eight. The severity of the 
slave code can be shown by comparison of the capital crimes 
for white persons at the same time. These were four in 
number, (1) murder, (2) carnal abuse of a female under 
ten years of age, (3) wilful burning of the penitentiary and 
(4) being an accessory to the fact.^^ 

Virginia had early enacted that slaves should be con- 
sidered as real estate in the settlement of inheritances. But 
the growing tendency to look upon the slaves in all things 
else as personal chattels led to such legal and popular con- 
fusion that the Virginia assembly often observed that they 
were **real estate in some respects, jxersonal in others, and 

i2Littell'a Laws, 4: 223-224. 

18 Stroud, Laws relating to 8laA)ery, p. 86. 

Littell & Swigert, 2: 1066-9; 1060-4. 

Slaveey in Kentucky 249 

both in others.'* Eegardless of such legal complexity it 
was not until 1793 that it was enacted that **all negro and 
mulatto slaves in all courts of judicature shall be held and 
adjudged to be personal estate/' 

In drawing up the slave code of 1798 Kentucky disre- 
garded the legal experience of Virginia and her more re- 
cent remedial legislation and enacted that **all negro, 
mulatto or Indian slaves, in all courts of judicature and 
other places within this commonwealth, shall be held, taken 
and adjudged to be real estate, and shall descend to the heirs 
and widows of persons departing this life, as lands are 
directed to descend." It was further provided, however, 
that * * all such slaves shall be liable to the payment of debts, 
and may be taken by execution for that end, as other 
chattels, or personal estate may be."^* 

Such a law coupled with the legal precedents of Virginia 
served to intensify the mixed property conception of the 
slave. The confusion, however, was purely legal, for slaves 
were held in all other respects as jxersonalty; but in cases 
of inheritance and the probation of wills the Kentucky 
Court of Appeals was often called upon to define clearly the 
legal status of the Negro in bondage. The first important 
decision was handed down in 1824 in the case of Ohinn and 
wife vs. Respass, in which it was pointed out that while 
slaves were by law made real estate for the purpose of de- 
scent and dower, yet they had in law many of the attributes 
of i)ersonal estate. They would pass by a nuncupative will, 
and lands would not; they could be limited in a grant or 
devise no otherwise than personal chattels; and personal 
actions might be brought to recover the possession of them. 

1^ It would perhaps be well to point out here the general common-law differ- 
ence between the treatment of real and personal estate in a wilL The title of 
the personal property of the deceased is veeted in the executor and he holds it 
for the payment of debts and distribution according to the will of the testator. 
On the other hand the real estate vests in the dcTisees or heirs and does not go 
to the administrator, unless by statute enactment, which was in part true in 
Kentucky, in the case above, where the slaves, although real estate, were held 
liable for the debts of their master. lAtieWa Laws, 2: 120. 

250 Journal op Negbo Histoby 

Furthermore **they were in their nature personal estate, 
being moveable property, and as such might attend the 
person of the proprietor wherever he went ; and in practice 
they were so considered' by the people in general/ '^^ 

Conversely, the court was often called upon to interpret 
the phrase ** personal estate** in wills and contracts, where 
it appeared without any other restrictive expression or 
provision, and it consistently held that the term should be 
construed as embracing slaves.^* Oradually the personal 
property conception began to secure even legal precedence 
over that of real estate when the two interpretations came 
into close conflict. 'This was accomplished by placing more 
stress on the proviso in the original slave code, which placed 
slaves in the hands of the administrator as assets for the 
payment of debts. This led to increasing power for the 
executor who could even defeat the title of the heirs, though 
the property may have been specifically devised. Hence it 
was not surprising that in the Eevised Statutes of 1852 it 
was provided that slaves should thereafter be deemed and 
held as personal estate. Coming after all doubt of the 
personalty of slaves had been removed by the decisions of 
the highest tribunal in the State, this law meant little more 
than the repeal of the old statute making slaves real estate. 

The wonder is that Kentucky should have chosen to hold 
to an antiquated legal conception for fifty years after Vir- 
ginia had proved its fallacy by her experience in the eigh- 
teenth century. While it did little harm, it had few ad- 
vantages. The existence of the theoryi was chiefly notice- 
able in the frequent legal battles over technicalities in the 
settlement of estates. In the popular mind slaves were 
always considered personal property, and the spirit of the 
slave code itself embodied that conception as regarded all 
things save the question of inheritance. 

With respect to the liberty of the slaves the code of 

15 T. B. Monroe's Beport L, 23. 
i« Beatty vs. Judy, 1 Bana, 101. 
Plumptoii! V8. Ck)ok, 2 A. K. Marshall, 450. 

Slavery in Kjsntuoky 251 

1798 clearly shows that the existing type of slavery was 
purely rural, for the restricftions on slaves concerned only 
the plantation Negroes^ Strictly understood, the slave was 
not to leave the farm of his owner without a pass from his 
master, the main purpose being to keep the Negroes from 
congregating on any one farm. Later when emissaries from 
the North became unusually active the rights and privileges 
of the slaves were further restricted. This change was due 
to the current belief that these foreign individuals were bent 
upon stirring up strife among the slaves and inciting them 
to insurrection. Once started such a scheme would have 
resulted in anarchy especially in the towns. The real curb- 
ing provisions were not started until along in the thirties 
when these outside forces had begun to make their appear- 
ance in the urban communities.^'' 

In some parts of the State were instituted mounted 
patrols, who went about at night and watched the movement 
of slaves. They were to apprehend any servant who was 
caught away from his home plantation without a pass from 
his master.^® Such an institution was based on good Negro 
psychology, for his fear of the spirits of night was well 
known. Citizens of that time have told us many tales of 
the dread which the slave had of meeting these night raiders 
whom they termed "patter-rollers'* and how they came to 
sing of them in true Negro fashion : 

Over the fence and through the paster, 
Eun, nigger, run, oh, run a little faster, 

Eun, nigger, run. 
The. patter-roller ketch you. 

Such a system of county patrols did not prove to be suffi- 
cient as the slave population grew and the towns became 
larger and more attractive to the country slave. The legis- 
lature of 1834 in drawing up a law concerning tavern keepers 
had this problem clearly in mind when they provided that 
no person should sell, give or loan any spirituous liquors to 

iTEothert, History of MuMenburg County, p. 343. 
18 Young, B. H., History of Jessamine County, p. 89. 

252 JouBNAL OF Nbgbo Histoby 

slaves, other than his own, under a penalty of $10 for each 
offense. Furthermore, if the offender was a licensed liquor 
dealer, he should have his license taken away, from him- for 
the term of two years.^® That even this measure did not 
prove effective enough to curb the evil of Negroes congre- 
gating in the towns is shown by the further provision passed 
March 6, 1850, to increase the fine to $50 for each offense.^ 
A still further extension was that of February 27, 1856, 
which provided that free Negroes were to be included in the 
restriction unless they presented a certificate from **some 
white person of respectable character.'' No slaves or free 
Negroes were to be employed in the selling or distribution 
of liquor nor were they to be allowed to visit or even loaf 
around any place where intoxicants were kept for sale.^^ 
The session of 1858 made the force of the law more explicit 
by defining very clearly the jurisdiction in such cases.^^ 

Not only the State authorities but the towns as well 
were active in the measures adopted to meet the growing 
problem. The best available sample of the many provisions 
which the town councils drew up is this one which was 
passed by the trustees of Henderson in 1840: 

It shall be and is hereby made, the duty of the Town Sergeant 
or either of his assistants, to punish with any number of lashes not 
exceeding ten, all or any negro slave or slaves who may be found 
in any grog shop, grocery or other place where spirituous liquors 
are retailed in said town, or who may be found on the streets of 
said town after ten o'clock at night, unless it shall appear to the 
said Town Sergeant, or assistant, that said negro slave or slaves, 
are acting under the orders of his, her or their master or mistress, 
and it shall further be the duty of the Town Sergeant, or either of 
his assistants, to enter into any grog shop, grocery or other place 
where spirituous liquors are retailed, in said town, whenever he 
shall be informed that any negro slave or slaves are collected 
therein. Provided, said Town Sergeant, or assistant, can enter 
the same peaceably and without force.^'^ 

18 Session Laws, 18<34, p. 726. 

20 Ihid., 1850, p. 51. 

21 Ihid., 1856, Vol. 1, pp. 42-44. 

22 Ihid., 1858, Vol. 1, pp. 47-48. 
28 Starling, p. 290. 

Slaveby in Kentucky 253 

f This town regulation offers jxerhaps another proof of 
the oft-repeated statement regarding the slave laws of Ken- 
tucky that while they appeared severe on the statute book s 

fhfty -^^ftrft always nriild in, \\{(^. Anfaffigrngint The regulation 

of the movement of slaves in the towns was always subject 
to the local conditions. Beginning about 1850 there was a 
growing feeling in some of the more thickly populated sec- 
tions of the State that the type of Negro slave who sought 
to frequent the village saloons would sooner or later start 
an insurrection. But no such uprising ever occurred and 
the fear of such seems to have been due to the current ani- 
mosity towards the activities of the abolitionists, which was 
prevalent throughout the State. 

In the course of time it was considered necessary to treat 
more seriously also the importation of slaves. The advisa- 
bility of preventing the importation of bondmen had been 
foreseen in Kentucky from the experience of the mother 
State of Virginia which had enacted a stringent law in 1778 
imposing a penalty of one thousand pounds and the for- 
feiture of the slave upon the importer of any into that com- 
monwealth. The ninth article of the Kentucky Constitu- 
tion of 1792 had provided that the legislature ** shall have 
full power to prevent slaves being brought into this common- 
wealth as merchandise; they shall have full power to pre- 
vent auy slave being brought into this state from a foreign 
country, and to prevent those from being brought into this 
state, who have been since the first of January, 1789, or may 
hereafter be imported into any of the United States from a 
foreign country. ' '^^ 

The session of the State assembly in 1794 drew up a law 
concerning the importation and emancipation of slaves but 
it was largely a mere modification of the law of the State 
of Virginia. It was not until the adoption of the slave code 
of 1798 that the question was firmly settled by a more def- 
inite statement. By article 25 of that act it was provided 
*Hhat no slave or slaves shall be imported into this state 

^^LittelVa Laws, 1: 32. 

254 Journal of Negbo Histoby 

from atiy foreign country, nor shall any slave who has been 
imported into the United States from any foreign country 
since the first day of January, 1789, or may hereafter be 
imported into the United States from any foreign country 
under the penalty of $300.'^ 

This was merely carrying out the provisions of the 
constitution. Section 26 provided that **no slave or slaves 
shall be imported into this state as merchandise, and 
any person offending herein, shall fxofeit and pay the 
sum of $300 for each slave so imported, to be recov- 
ered by action of debt or information, in any court hav- 
ing cognizance of the same, one half to the prosecutor, 
the other half to the use of the commonwealth.'* More 
significant was the proviso that **this act shall not extend to 
prevent any citizen of this state bringing for his own use, 
provided, they have not been brought into the United States 
from any foreign country since January 1, 1789; nor shall 
it be construed to prevent persons emigrating to this state 
bringing their slaves with them, but either a citizen of this 
state or persons emigrating to this state may bring slaves 
not prohibited by this act. ' '^^ 

An act of 1814 amended the above by prohibiting the 
importation of slaves by any of the emigrants if they 
did not intend to settle in Kentucky.^® An attempt was 
made by a law of February 8, 1815, to remedy some of 
the defects which had been found. The legal penalty 
for importation was increased to $600 for each slave 
imported and a fine of $200 was added for every per- 
son buying or selling such slave. No indictment was to 
be subject to a shorter limitation than five years and once 
so accused no person was to be discharged or acquitted 
unless he could produce evidence to show that within sixty 
days of his arrival in Kentucky he had deposited the follow- 
ing oath, duly signed, in the county clerk's office where he 

resides : **I, , do swear that my removal 

to the state of Kentucky was with the intention of becoming 

^^LiiteU's Laws, 2: 119. 
i^Ibid., 5: 293. 


Slavery in Kentucky 255 

a citizen thereof, and! that I have brought no slave or slaves 
to this state, with the intention of selling them. ' '^'^ 

It is evident from all contemporary discussions of the 
question of importation that it was the firm conviction that 
in order to do justice to the slave and the institution as a 
whole within the State it was necessaryi to prevent the in- 
fusion of any foreign slave element. Once such a policy 
had been carriedl out to a successful conclusion, they would 
have been confronted only with a purely domestic type of 
slavery and its increase. With such an ideal condition, for 
those times, the institution eventually would have been 
easily handled. But these early lawmakers, while no doubt 
honest in their intentioils, did not have the wisdom that was 
tempered with experience, and the unscrupulous slave 
traders found further defects in the law and took advantage 
of them. A careful examination of the law of 1794, the 
codification of 1798, and the amendments of 1814 and 1815 
will show that the whole theory of non-importation is 
summed up in the word intent. It was the intent with which 
the slaves were introduced, and to this alone the penalty 
attached. They were not to be imported as merchandise but 
every citizen could import slaves for his own use. Once 
these slaves were within the State there was no penalty pro- 
vided if they were sold. There was nothing to prevent a 
man from selling what slaves he had imported and later 
going without the confines of the State and bringing in 
more. If he were brought before the court, he would claim 
that he had not intended to sell them when they were brought 
in, and no one could place a penalty on his intentions. It 
seems that there were other violators of the spirit of the 
law, who never sold any of the slaves but brought them into 
the State in large numbers and then hired them out for such 
long terms as 99 years.^® The fundamental idea of the law 
had been to place a curb on the increase of the slave popula- 
tion by importation and these acts were in direct opposi- 
tion to the intention of the enactments. 

i'Tlhid., 5: 435-437. 

28 Barre, W. L., Speeches <md Writmga of Thomas F. Ma/rshdll, p. 115. 

256 JouBNAL OF Nbgbo Histoby 

An index of the inefficiency of the existing provisions re- 
garding importation can be found in the j&gures on the 
growth of the slave population during this period when it 
is borne in mind that legally slaves could not be imported, 
except for personal use, after the year 1794. The slave 
population in 1790 had been 11,830 and by 1800 had in- 
creased to 40,343 or at the rate of 241.02 per cent ; in 1810 
there were 80,561 slaves or an increase of 99.69 per cent ; in 
1820 there were 126,732, a gain of 57.31 per cent ; and by 
1830 they had increased 30.36 per cent to a total of 165,213. 
During the same period there was a great increase in the 
white population but it was always from 20 per cent to 40 
per cent below that of the slaves. It appears that the law 
prohibiting importation was not as effective as it should 
have been. While none of the statesmen appear to have 
figured from the statistical viewpoint there was no end of 
discussion regarding the necessity of extending the law to 
include more than the question of intent at the time of 

" Th e avowed resoluti nr? ^^ K^TitTjoVy fn rl eal with ^ e 
slavery que stion in the ^o st humane manner_and Jq sto p 

^J^Z^B^^E^^^ ^*^^^^^^^ in slaves for the mere sske pf 
pr^t is nowheremore clearly shown than in the firm action 
which was taken not only in the court room but in the legis- 
lative halls when it was found that advantage had been 
taken of the letter of the law at the expense of its spirit. 
On February 2, 1833, the legislature passed a law prohibit- 
ing all importation of slaves even for personal use. The 
only exception provided in this case was that emigrants 
were allowed to bring in slaves, if they took the oath that 
had been provided in the law of 1815. The evil mentioned 
above brought about by hiring slaves for excessively long 
terms was prohibited by declaring illegal any contract which 
extended beyond one year and exacting a penalty of $600 
for each offense. This law of 1833 was destined to be the 
crux of many a heated argument for the remainder of the 
slavery period. Many a candidate for office during the 

Slaveby in Kentucky 257 

next thirty years rose to victory or fell in defeat because 
of his position with regard to this one statute of the State. 
It was the briefest of all the enactments on the slavery ques- 
tion but it was by far the most important and far-reaching 
provision that the legislature ever enacted in connection 
with the institution.^® 

It is noticeable that this measure was not brought about 
in any sense by the activities of the abolitionists, for they 
had not at that time made their appearance in the State. 
It was an honest endeavor on the part of the native popula- 
tion, slaveholding as well as non-slaveholding, to carry out 
the spirit of their State constitution which had been adopted 
back in 1792. Thomas F. Marshall, who later was the 
leader of the Lexington group which removed Cassius M. 
Clay's True American to Cincinnati, has borne testimony to 
the fact that the slaveholding element voted for the law of 
1833. **At the time of the passage of this law,'* said he, 
*Hhe sect known by the title of * abolitionists' had not made 
their appearance. And, as I was sworn then upon the con- 
stitution of my country, by all the obligations of that oath, 
I affirm now that I do not believe that the principles and 
designs ascribed to that party were in the contemplation 
of any human being who voted for the law. I was myself 
not only never an abolitionist, but never an emancipationist 
upon any plan which I ever heard proposed."^ 

But the question was not settled for all time, for with 
the coming of the abolitionist element there was a general 
tendency throughout the State to enact stricter laws govern- 
ing slaves. 'Many who had voted for the enactment began 
to cry for a repeal of the law, but it was not until the session 
of 1841 that it was seriously debated in the general assembly. 

2» Sectian 1 of the law ISSS- read: "Each and every person or persons who 
shall hereafter import into this state any slave or slaves, or who shall sell or 
buy, or contract for the sale or purchase, for a longer term than one year, of 
the service of any such slave or slaves, knowing the same to have been imported, 
shall forfeit and pay $600 for each slave sa imported, sold, or bought, or whose 
service has been so contracted for; recoverable by indictment of a grand jury 
or any action of debt, in the name of the Commonwealth in any circuit court, 
where the offenders may be found." Session Ijaws, 18i33, pp. 258-261. 

80 Barre, W. L., p. 116. 

258 Journal op Negbo Histoby 

Then after a long and ardent discussion in the House of 
Eepresentatives a vote was taken on the ninth of January— 
with 34 in favor of the repeal and 53 against it. Never 
within the previous decade had a bill before the House pro- 
duced such popular interest.^ ^ It came up in the Senate 
at the session of 1843 but after another warm debate it 
failed by a vote of 14 to 21. Sentiment for the repeal con- 
tinued to grow and! in 1849 the law was amended so as **no 
longer to prohibit persons from purchasing and bringing 
into the State slaves for their own use.*'^^ This changed 
the situation back to what it was before 1833, for it will be 
recalled that the main feature of the law of 1833 compared 
with that of 1815 was the prohibition of importation even 
for personal use. It could easily have been predicted' that 
such an amendment would pass, for the legislature of 1847 
had passed 27 distinct resolutions granting to as many indi- 
viduals the right to import slaves for personal use. The 
session of 1848 made 24 similar provisions. 

jThis apparently radical swing towards the side of the 
slave owner in 1849 was more than likely brought about by 
the very intense campaign which was carried on by the 
emancipationists. Such a movement served to unite the 
slave forces against any attack upon the institution) This 
tendency was shown not only in the halls of the State legis- 
lature but in the constitutional convention which met later 
in the same year. Although the abolitionists had looked 
forward to some advanced constitutional provisions on 
emancipation and the inclusion of the law of 1833 in the 
organic law of the State they were astounded to be met 
with the virtual repeal of that statute by the legislature. 
On the other hand the constitutional convention not only 
rejected bodily all the reform measures but added to the 
Bill of Eights this extraordinary amendment : * * The right of 
property is before and higher than any constitutional sanc- 
tion, and the right of the owner of a slave to such slave and 
its increase is the same and as inviolable as the right of 
the owner of any property whatsoever/^ 

^^Niles' Begister, January 25, l&4rl. 
82 CoUins, VoL 1, p. 83. 

Slaveby in Kentucky 259 

The slave trader once more had the courage to appear 
in the State. Richard Henry Collins in an editorial in the 
McbysviUe Eagle, November 6, 1849, gives us some vivid 
evidence of the effect which the repeal of the law of 1833 
had had in a few weeks' time. **A remarkably forcible and 
practical argument in favor of incorporating the negro law 
of 1833 into the new constitution reached this city in bodily 
shape on Sunday, per the steamer Herman from Charleston, 
Virginia. Forty-four negroes — ^men, women and children 
—of whom seventeen men had handcuffs on one hand and 
were chained together, two and two, passed through this 
city for the interior of the State, under charge of two 
regular traders. We opine that few who saw the spectacle 
would hereafter say aught against the readoption of the 
anti-importation act of 1833. '^ Such scenes as this were 
the result of the passage of an innocent-looking measure 
which allowed citizens to import slaves for their own use, 
but which could really be made to include almost any influx 
of slaves. 

No further change in the importation laws was made 
until the crisis immediately preceding the Civil War, when 
practically all opposition was removed and the law of 1833 
was abolished in its entirety.^^ Explanations of the sudden 
turn of mind are not hard to find for the enactment was 
passed amid the turmoil and chaos brought on by an im- 
pending war and the radical slaveholders found it easy to 
get votes for their side in a last vain endeavor to save the 
institution, not so much from an economic standpoint as 
from a matter of principle. The last chapter in the legal 
history of the importation problem in Kentucky, however, 
had not yet been written. After three years of the armed 
conflict between the North and the South, Kentucky, which 
had remained loyal to the Union and fought against the 
slave power of the South, reenacted on February 2, 1864, 
the old law of 1798 on the prohibition of the importation of 
slaves.^* The wording was somewhat different, but the 

M Sesmon Laws, 1860, Vol. 1, p. 104. 
M76id., 1864, pp. 70-72. 

260 Journal of Negbo BEistoby 

essential provisions were the same. Coming at such a 
time, it never had any significance in the slavery problem 
in the State, but it is interesting as one of the last vain 
efforts of the institution before it was mustered out of the 
State by an amendment to the federal constitution, which 
was passed without the assent of the State legislature of 

No less serious than the question of importation was the 
problem of the fugitive slave. This has been treated many 
times and every discussion of it has involved much of what 
transpired in Kentucky or on its borders. It is not the 
purpose here to repeat any of that story because it belongs 
rather to the anti-slavery field, and, furthermore, has been 
recently very well treated by A. E. Martin in his Anti- 
slcuvery Movement in Kentucky. We are here concerned 
with the legal phase of the fugitive problem as it existed in 
Kentucky throughout this period, as an internal question; 
in the relation between the State and other States; and 
between the State and the federal authorities. In so far 
as it relates to the law within the State such a discussion 
naturally divides itself into two phases— those measures 
which affected the fugitive slave himself, and those which 
were directed towards conspirators who might have brought 
about the escape of slaves. The former group of laws were 
enacted, for the most part, in the early days of statehood, 
for a runaway slave was a natural evil in any condition of 
servitude. The latter group of measures were passed in 
the later days of the institution when the anti-slavery propa- 
gandists came in from the North, for until then there were 
no cases of enticement. 'A large majority of those who 
were placed on trial for conspiracy in the history of slavery 
in Kentucky proved to be outsiders who had come into the 
State after 1835. The citizens of the commonwealth who 
were opposed to the institution were satisfied- to confine 
themselves to mere words advocating the emancipation of 

The State early adopted the slave code of Virginia in 
regard to the treatment of runaway slaves just as it did in 

Slaveby in Kentucky 261 

regard to the general legal rights of the bonded Negro but 
provided more drastic regulations in 1798. Any person 
who suspected a Negro of being a runaway slave could 
take him before a justice of the peace, and swear to his 
belief in the guilt of the accused. Being provided with a 
certificate from the justice where he found the slave, the 
apprehender could then take the fugitive back to the owner 
and might collect ten shillings as a reward and an additional 
shilling for each mile of travel necessary in bringing the 
slave to the master. If the money should not be paid, the 
person entitled to it could recover the sum in any court of 
record in the State upon the production of his certificate of 
apprehension as legal evidence.®'^ 

In many cases the runaway could not be identified as the 
property of any particular owner, so provision was made 
for the commitment of the offender to the county jail. The 
keeper was forthwith to post a bulletin on the courthouse 
with a complete description of the Negro. If at the end of 
two months no claimant appeared the sheriff was to publish 
an advertisement in the Lexington Gazette for three con- 
secutive months so that the news of capture would reach a 
larger public. In the meantime the sheriff was authorized 
to hire out the fugitive and the wages thus received were to 
pay for the reward of the captor and the expenses incurred 
by the county officials. If the owner appeared during the 
period and proved his property, he could have the slave 
at once in spite of any labor contract, providing he would 
pay any excess of expenses over wages received. But often 
the master never appeared and if a year had expired since 
the last advertisement had been published in the Gazette, 
the sheriff could sell the slave and place the proceeds of the 
sale plus the wages received over the expenses, in the county 
treasury. This sum was credited to the unknown owner, 
for if he should appear at any future time the county would 
reimburse him for his loss, otherwise the fund reverted to 
the county.®^ 

^^Littell'8 Laws, 2: 5-6. 
86 Ihid., 2 : 5-6. 

262 JouBNAi. OF Negbo Histoby 

This legal code for the apprehension of runaway slaves 
remained practically unchanged throughout the period of 
slavery. The only amendments which were ever made were 
those for the increase of the reward to the captor and it is 
significant that the first of these changes did not come until 
more than a generation later in 1835. Then the compensa- 
tion was divided into three classes: for those captured in 
their own county, $10; in another county, $20; out of the 
State, $30.^*^ Just three years later it was found necessary 
to increase this by the following interesting law : * * The com- 
pensation for apprehending fugitive slaves taken without 
this commonwealth, and in a State where slavery is not 
tolerated by law, shall be one hundred dollars, on the de- 
livery to the owner at his residence within this common- 
wealth, and seventy-five dollars if lodged in the jail of any 
county in this commonwealth, and the owner be notified sp 
as to be able to reclaim the slave. "^® There were no more 
advances until a law of March 3, 1860, increased the reward 
to one hundred and fifty dollars if the slave were caught 
outside the State and brought back to the home county; 
one hundred and twenty-five dollars if caught outside the 
State and brought back to any county in Kentucky; and 
twenty dollars if caught anywhere in the home county. 

The trend of these laws, from the viewpoint of tiie re- 
wards alone, shows the increasing importance of the fugi- 
tive problem to the slaveholding group. It is noticeable 
that from the year 1798 until 1836 there was not sufficient 
pressure upon the State legislature to increase the reward 
to the captor of a runaway. It is further evident from the 
scarcity of contemporary advertisements that there were 
comparatively few Negroes who ventured forth from the 
neighborhood of their masters. But with the rise of the 
anti-slavery movement in the North and the growth of aboli- 
tion sentiment as expressed by the apostles of Negro free- 
dom who had come from across the Ohio, the slaves tended 
to run away in ever-increasing numbers. This was soon 

w Session Laws, 1855, pp. 82-83. 
»8ldul., 1838, p. 158. 

Slaveby in Kentucky 263 

followed by a more rigid policy of apprehension upon the 
part of the Kentucky legal authorities, apparent in the in- 
creasing reward. 

Not all cases of fugitives were to be reached by a mere 
system of capture and reward. 'Barely did a slave make 
his escape into a free State without the aid of some one in 
sympathy with him. Hence the need for legal machinery to 
punish those who assisted runaways. Prom a chronological 
point of view the laws- governing such cases divide them- 
selves into two parts ; in the early days they refer to those 
who would help a slave who had already escaped; in the 
later period they were directed towards those who induced 
slaves to leave their home plantations. 

Whichever of the free States he tried to reach it was 
necessary for the Negro to cross the Ohio River to get to 
his haven of refuge. If the Kentucky authorities could 
prevent him from crossing the stream on the northern and 
western boundary, they could prevent any slave from 
making a successful escape. Consequently the legislature 
as early as 1823 attempted to solve the problem by passing 
a law forbidding masters of vessels and others from em- 
ploying and removing Negroes out of the State.^® This 
act prevented runaways from securing work on a steamboat 
with the specific purpose of leaving once they were on free 
soil. But as usual this enactment was not effective, be- 
cause there was a loop-hole in it. The State assembly in 
1831, therefore, provided that no ferryman on the Ohio 
River should transport slaves across from Kentucky. No 
other person, not owning or keeping a ferry, was to be 
permitted to set slaves over, or to loan them boats or water- 
craft. Slaves could only cross the river when they had the 
written consent of their masters. Each and every owner 
of a ferry was required to give bond in the sum of $3,000 to 
carry out the spirit of the law; and for every violation he 
was subject to a fine of $200.^ 

80 Session Laws^ 182a, p. 178. 
*^Ihid,, 1831-2, pp. 54r-55. 

264 JouBNAii OF Negbo Histoby 

Not content with their previous efforts the general as- 
sembly of 1838 went still further and prohibited slaves from 
going as passengers on mail stages or coaches anywhere 
within the State, except upon the written request of their 
owners, or in the master's company. The liability for the 
enforcement of the law rested upon the stage proprietors, 
who were to be fined $100 for each slave illegally trans- 

No stringent laws were made against the enticement of 
slaves to run away until 1830 when the abolitionists first 
began to appear. Until that time there seems to have been 
no need for any legal enactment regarding the question. 
The only trouble previously had been with the whites and 
free Negroes who aided a slave already on his way to the 
North. It was in response to the popular demand that on 
January 28, 1830, the State legislature provided severe 
penalties for any person found guilty of (1) enticing a slave 
to leave his owner, (2) furnishing a forged paper of free- 
dom, (3) assisting a slave to escape out of the State, (4) 
enticing a slave to run away, or (5) concealing a runaway 
slave. Should a person be suspected of any one of these 
offenses and not be found guilty, he was to give security for 
his good behavior to avoid all accusation in the future.*^ 

The most interesting legal case based on this law was 
that of Delia Webster, a young lady from Vermont, who was 
tried in the Fayette Circuit Court in December, 1844, for 
the enticement of a Negro slave boy from Lexington. The 
details of the trial show that the court was just and fair in 
spite of the fact that both Miss Webster and her copartner, 
Calvin Fairbank, were not citizens of the State and had 
furthermore used all kinds of deceit to accomplish their 
purpose. For the sake of aiding one Negro slave boy to 
reach freedom they went to the expense and trouble to 
feign an elopement to Ohio via Maysville, but the Lexing- 
ton authorities caught them as they were coming back on 
the Lexington Pike near Paris. lAt the trial it was shown 

41 Session Laws, 1838, p. 15d. 
« Ihid., 1830, pp. 173-175. 

Slavbby in Kentucky 266 

that Fairbank was in Kentucky for no other reason than 
to induce slaves to escape to the North and that Miss 
Webster had come to Lexington as a school teacher merely 
as a cloak for her abolitionist work. The evidence offered 
by the prosecution was damaging in the extreme. The de- 
fense put forth no data for her side at all, evidently pre- 
ferring to be hailed as a martyr to the cause for which she 
stood. The jury brought in a verdict of guilty and she 
was sentenced to serve two years in the State penitentiary.*^ 
The young accomplice, Calvin Fairbank, proved to be 
the most persistent abolitionist the Kentucky authorities 
ever encountered. He pleaded guilty to the indictment as 
charged and was sentenced to serve 15 years in the peni- 
tentiary, to which he was taken February 18, 1845. Evi- 
dently convinced that he had been^ punished sufficiently 
Governor John J. Crittenden pardoned him August 23, 
1849, on condition that he leave the State at once.** But 
such an ardent young enthusiast for the cause of Negro 
freedom soon found that there were other slaves who were 
in need of his aid and on November 3, 1851, he came across 
from Jeffersonville to Louisville under the cover of night 
and ** kidnapped" a young mulatto woman who had been 
doomed to be sold at auction.**^ Presumably in the hope of 
rescuing other slaves he remained in the vicinity for several 
days until on the morning of November 9 he was arrested 
by the Kentucky authorities. Fairbank was placed in jail 
pending his trial, which took place in the following March, 
when he was again sentenced to serve 15 years at hard labor 
in the State penitentiary. He began his term March 9, 
1852.*® This time he was not so fortunate in an early re- 
lease. The chief executives of the State from time to time 
refused to pardon him. In April, 1864, Governor Bram- 
lette was called to Washington by President Lincoln for a 

«8 Western Law Jov/mcU, 2: 232r-2d5 (best report of the trial). 

NUes' Begiater, December 21, 1844. 

Webster, Delia A., Kentucky JvHsprudence, pp. 1-84. 

** Fairbank, How the Way was Prepa/red, pp. 53, 57. 

« IJ>id., p. 85. 

*«7did., p. 103. 

266 JouBNAii OP Negbo Histoby 

conference and Richard T. Jacobs, the Lientenant-Grovemor, 
became the acting Governor. This son-in-law of Thomas 
H. Benton had taken more or less pity on Fairbank, for he 
had stated to the prisoner that if he ever became the chief 
executive he would release him. The opportunity thus 
being presented for the first time, Jacob pardoned Fairbank 
on April 15, 1864, after a continuous imprisonment of 
twelve years. Such was the experience in Kentucky of an 
ardent northern abolitionist who boasted that he had 
** liberated forty-seven slaves from hell.^^*'^ 

The systematic stealing of slaves from Kentucky had 
begun about 1841 and at the time of the Webster and Fair- 
bank trial was at its height. This movement was one of 
the results growing out of the animosity created by another 
legal case which occurred in 1838 — ^that of the Rev. John B. 
Mahan of Brown County, Ohio. This Methodist minister, 
although living in the State of Ohio, was indicted by the 
grand jury of Mason County, Kentucky, for having aided 
in the escape of certain slaves. Oovemor Clark, of Ken- 
tucky, then issued a requisition on the Governor of Ohio for 
Mahan as a ^^fugitive from justice. '* Upon receipt of the 
demand, the chief executive of Ohio immediately issued a 
warrant for the arrest of the minister. A; short time later 
he became convinced that this step had been too hasty, be- 
cause Miahan had never been in Kentucky. His offense had 
merely consisted in helping runaways along the *^ under- 
ground railroad, ' ' once they were on free soil. 

Hence, Governor Vance sent a special messenger to the 
chief executive of Kentucky redemanding the alleged fugi- 
tive from justice. Governor Clark made this very cordial 
and diplomatic reply: 

The position assumed by you in relation to the fact of Mahan 
having never been within the limits of Kentucky is clearly correct, 
and if upon the legal investigation of the case it be found true, he 
will doubtless be acquitted. I feel great solicitude that this citizen 
of your state, who has been arrested and brought to Kentucky, 

*7 Fairbank, pp. 144, 149. 

Slavbey in Kentucky 267 

upon my requisition, shall receive ample and full justice, and that, 
if upon legal investigation he be found innocent of the crime al- 
leged against him, he shall be released and set at liberty. I will, 
therefore, address a letter to the judge and commonwealth attorney 
of the Mason Circuit, communicating to them the substance of your 
letter, and the evidence which you have transmitted to me.** 

The efforts of the Governor of Ohio were eventually suc- 
cessful, for in spite of his slaveholding sympathies Governor 
Clark wrote to the judge of the Mason Circuit and the latter 
charged the jury in no uncertain terms regarding the juris- 
diction in the case. lAfter a trial of six days Mahan was 

The importance of this case does not rest in the trial 
and its events but rather in the reactions which it had upon 
the Kentucky populace. No one doubted that Mahan was 
guilty of aiding slaves; but it was seen that he had been 
shrewd enough to confine his activities to the State of Ohio, 
where the Kentucky authorities had no jurisdiction. In 
his opening message to the State legislature, which met the 
next month after the acquittal of Mahan, Governor Clark 
voiced the sentiment of a large majority of Kentuckians. 
Bear in mind that these words came from* the same man 
who a month before had advised the Circuit judge of the 
illegality of the Mahan indictment. 

Some of the abolitionists of an adjoining state, not contented 
with the mere promulgation of opinions and views calculated to 
excite a feeling of disaffection among our slave population, and to 
render this description of property insecure in the hands of its 
proprietors, have extended their operations so far as to mingle per- 
sonally with our slaves, to enter into arrangements with them, and 
to afford them the means and facilities to escape from their owners. 
This flagitious conduct is not to be tolerated — ^it must be checked 
in its origin by the adoption of efficient and energetic measures, or 
it will, in all human probability, lead to results greatly to be depre- 
cated by every friend to law and order. This demon-like spirit 
that rages uncontrolled by law, or sense of moral right, must be 

*^ American Antusla/oery Society Bepori, 1839, p. 90. 

268 JouBNAL OP Negbo Histoby 

overcome — it must be subdued; its action in the state should be 
prohibited under such penalties as will effectually curb its lawless- 
ness and disarm its power.*® 

In pursuance of this and similar recommendations the 
State legislature early in 1839 despatched a delegation of 
members to the general assembly of Ohio then meeting at 
Columbus. These men were charged to secure a law in 
Ohio for the better security of Kentucky fugitive slave 
property. The Kentucky officials had always been con- 
fronted with, the problem of recovering runaways captured 
in Ohio, even when they personally knew the captive. The 
old law of 1807 in Ohio was never lax in the enforcement, 
but the plea of habeas corpus was habitually used for the 
defendant and, furthermore, it often happened that the 
necessary proofs of ownership were not in evidence. These 
facts coupled with the publicity of the Mahan trial brought 
about the peculiar legislative commission from Kentucky. 

Here was a delegation from a slave commonwealth sent 
to a free State to demand a rigorous fugitive slave law for 
their own benefit. The Kentucky committee went even 
further and suggested the provisions of the proposed enact- 
ment—and the remarkable thing was that they actually suc- 
ceeded. Although Ohio was known to be the home of anti- 
slavery interests the law passed without any difficulty. By 
its provisions a slave owner or his agent could appear 
before any judge, justice or mayor, who was authorized to 
issue a warrant to any sheriff in Ohio calling upon him to 
arrest the fugitive and bring him before any judge in the 
county where caught. Upon proof of his ownership to the 
court the owner was entitled to a certificate for removal. A 
heavy fine and imprisonment were the penalty for any 
interference with the execution of either the warrant or the 
removal of the slave. The vote on this measure in the 
House of Representatives was 53 to 15. There has been 
made an analysis of this roll call, which shows that the 
opposition all came from northern Ohio— whereas those in 

*9 American Anti-slavery Society Beport, 18S9, pp. 93-94. 

Slaveby in Kentucky 269 

the southern part of the State voted for it because they were 
not inclined to allow any disturbance of the friendly com- 
mercial relationship which they had with their neighbor 
State to the south. Moreover, they objected to their locality 
being used as a place of refuge for unfortunate Negroes.'^^ 

Henceforth Ohio became a veritable hunting ground for 
fugitive slaves, but the wiser of the Negroes and the aboli- 
tionists diverted their efforts to other fields of escape, espe- 
cially through Indiana and Illinois. The legal authorities 
at this time began to realize that their hope lay in the enact- 
ment of a federal law but no definite steps were taken until 
after the affair of Francis Troutman at Marshall, Michigan, 
in January, 1847. Troutman came from Kentucky to 
Michigan to bring back six runaways that had been located 
at Marshall. iWhen he had found them and was about to 
take them before a magistrate for identification, a crowd of 
citizens of the town put in their appearance and threatened 
injury to Troutman and his three Kentucky companions. 
Although the latter were acting in accordance with the law 
the mob would not let them proceed in any manner— not 
even to appear before the magistrate— but demanded that 
they leave town within two hours. In the meantime they 
were all four arrested, tried and found guilty of trespass.*^^ 
When these events were reported back to Kentucky mass 
meetings were held throughout the State in protest against 
the Michigan action. The State legislature dtew up a 
resolution calling upon Congress to enact a new fugitive 
slave law.*^^ The Senate referred the petition to the Com- 
mittee on Judiciary and they later reported a new fugitive 
slave bill which was read twice and then pigeonholed. The 
same action was repeated at the next session in 1849. 

The general feeling in Kentucky was intensified just at 
this time by a decision of the United States Supreme Court 
in the case of Jones vs. Van Zandt, which had been pending 
in various courts for five years. In April, 1842, John Van 

BO Chaddock, P. E., Ohio before 1850, p. 86. 

5iMeMaster, History of the United States, Vol. 7: 262-263. 

62 Senate Document No. 19, 30th Congress, let Session. 

270 Journal of Negbo Histoby 

Zandt, a former Keiituckian, then living in Springdale just 
north of Cincinnati, was caught in the act of aiding nine 
fugitive slaves to escape, and one of them got away even 
from the slave catchers. Consequently "Wharton Jones, the 
Kentucky owner, brought suit against Van Zandt in the 
U. S. Circuit Court under the federal fugitive slave act of 
1793 for $500 for concealing and harboring a fugitive slave. 
The jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff in the sum of 
$1,200 as damages on two other counts in addition to the 
penalty of $500 for concealing and harboring. Salmon P. 
Chase was the lawyer for Van Zandt and in a violent at- 
tack on the law 1793 he appealed to the U. S. Supreme 
Court on the grounds that this statute was repugnant to the 
Constitution of the United States and to the sixth article 
of the Ordinance of 1787. Van Zandt in the appeal had the 
advantage of the services of William H. Seward in addition 
to Chase while Jones was represented by Senator More- 
head, of Kentucky. Justice Levi Woodbury in rendering 
the decision of the court sustained all the judgments against 
Van Zandt and denied that the law of 1793 was opposed to 
either the Constitution or the Ordinance of 1787.*^^ 

At last the people of Kentucky had secured a firm ruling 
from the highest judicial authority on the force of the exist- 
ing laws. Cold reason in the light of that day, apart from 
all anti-slavery propaganda, justified them in making these 
demands. Henceforth, there was no doubt about the 
legality of their position — it was a question merely of the 
illegal opposition to the return of fugitives from the States 
to the North. The Troutman case and many others, how- 
ever, had served as an index of northern sentiment in the 
matter, for the troubles of the Kentucky slaveholder were just 
beginning. A year later, in 1848, a requisition was issued 
on the Governor of Ohio for the return of fifteen persons 
charged with aiding in the escape of slaves. Imagine the 
feeling in Kentucky when Governor Bell of Ohio positively 
refused to give these persons up, stating that the laws of 

«8 5 Howard's Eeports, 215-23^. 

Slaveey in Kbntitcky 



Ohio did not recognize man as property. It was apparently 
a political move on his part, for there was no question of 
the property conception of slavery involved whatsoever. 
He acted in direct opposition to the laws of his State en- 
acted in 1839 and to the federal fugitive slave law of 1793. 

After two decades of struggle the abolitionists had come 
into their own and it was almost impossible to recover 
slaves who had run away in spite of the legal machinery 
that had been set up. Furthermore, the more extreme 
abolitionists had disregarded all law, orders and rights of 
private property and had even gone so far as to proclaim 
that there was a ** higher law than the Constitution. ' ' 
Against such a powerful foe the forces of all parties in 
Kentucky united in a firm stand, demanding more stringent 
measures. The Supreme Court had decided that the exist- 
ing law was sufficient to recover fugitives and to demand 
and secure damages for the interference with that right. 
With the coming of new conditions, however, it was realized 
on all sides that new and most extreme measures were 

The existing circumstances are well shown by the atti- 
tude of Henry Clay, senator from Kentucky as well as 
author of the Compromise of 1850. Noted for his leanings 
towards the North, throughout his public career of more 
than half a century, and as far back as 1798 the advocate of 
gradual emancipation in Kentucky, he felt called upon in 
this crisis to express the irritation of his own people : 

I have very little doubt, indeed, that the extent of loss to the 
state of Kentucky, in consequence of the escape of her slaves is 
greater, at least in proportion to the total number of slaves that 
are held within that commonwealth, even than in Virginia. I know 
full well, and so does the honorable senator from Ohio know, that 
it is at the utmost hazard and insecurity to life itself, that a Ken- 
tuckian can cross the river and go into the interior to take back 
his fugitive slave from whence he fled. Recently an example oc- 
curred even in the city of Cincinnati in respect to one of our most 
respectable citizens. Not having visited Ohio at all, but Coving- 
ton, on the opposite side of the river, a little slave of his escaped 

272 JouBNAL OP Negbo Histoby 

over to Cincinnati. He pursued it; he found it in the house in 
which it was concealed ; he took it out, and it was rescued by the 
violence and force of a negro mob from his possession — ^the police 
of the city standing by, and either unwilling or unable to afEord 
the assistance which was requisite to enable him to recover his 

Upon this subject I do think that we have just and serious cause 
of complaint against the free states. I think they fail in fulfilling 
a great obligation, and the failure is precisely upon one of those 
subjects which in its nature is the most irritating and inflaming to 
those who live in the slave states.*^* 

The Fugitive Slave Law of 1793 was superseded by that 
of 1850 by a sort of political bargaining on the other 
measures of the Compromise. The letter of the new law 
was not much different from the one of 1793— the chief 
changes being in the exaction of severer penalties and 
the transfer of jurisdiction to the federal courts. But 
even if members from the North did vote for the new 
provision there was no public sentiment in the North back 
of its enforcement. Everyone in Kentucky was heartily 
in favor of it, but that mattered little. The effectiveness 
of any fugitive slave law depended upon the spirit in which 
it was met in the North, for it was there that the law was to 
be applied. It remained for a more or less forgotten deci- 
sion of the Supreme Court in 1861 to show the greatest 
weakness of all laws for the recovery of runaway slaves in 
the North. 

In October, 1859, the Woodford County (Kentucky) 
grand jury returned an indictment against Willis Lago, a 
free Negro, charging him with the seduction and entice- 
ment of Charlotte, a Negro slave, from her owner, C. W. 
Nickols. A copy of this indictment certified and authenti- 
cated according to the federal law was presented to the 
Governor of Ohio by the authorized agent of the Governor 
of Kentucky and the arrest and delivery of the fugitive 
from justice demanded. The Governor of Ohio referred the 
matter to the Attorney-General of the State and upon his 

B* Colton, Reed and McKinley, Works of Henry Clay, Vol. 3: 329. 

Slaveby in Kentucky 273 

advice the chief executive refused to deliver up the Negro. 
The Supreme Court having original jurisdiction in suits 
between two States, the demand for a mandajnus to compel 
the Governor of Ohio to deliver Lago to the Kentucky 
authorities was heard by that body in a suit under the title 
of Kentucky vs. Dennison (the Governor of Ohio). The 
decision of the court was rendered by Chief Justice Taney 
and it contained five important statements: (1) **It was the 
duty of the executive authority of Ohio upon the demand 
made by the Governor of Kentucky, and the production of 
the indictment, duly certified to cause Lago to be delivered 
up to the agent of the Governor of Kentucky, who was ap- 
pointed to demand and receive him.'* (2) **The duty of 
the Governor of Ohio was merely ministerial, and he had no 
right to exercise any discretionary power as to the nature 
or character of the crime charged in the indictment.'* 
(3) **The word *duty* in the act of 1793 means the moral 
obligation of the state to perform the compact, in the Con- 
stitution, when Congress had, by that act, regulated the 
mode in which the duty should be performed.'* (4) **But 
Congress cannot coerce a state officer, as such, to perform 
any duty by act of Congress. The state officer may per- 
form if he thinks proper, and it may be a moral duty to 
perform it. But if he refuses, no law of Congress can 
compel him." (5) **The Governor of Ohio cannot, through 
the judiciary or any other department of the general govern- 
ment, be compelled to deliver up Lago; and upon that 
ground only this motion for a mandamus is overruled. ' '^^ 

This decision came as a fitting climax to the legal history 
of the fugitive slave problem as it concerned Kentucky. 
Such an interpretation placed by the highest judicial author- 
ity upon an act of Congress which had stood throughout the 
slavery era in Kentucky showed beyond any doubt whatever 
that the legal battle over slavery questions was at an end. 
If any solution was to be found in the future it would not 
be in the legislative halls nor in the court room. 

B«24 Howard's Beports, 10^110. 

274 JouBNAL OF Negbo Histoby 

Emancipation was an important question closely con- 
nected with tliat of the fugitive. This was one of the prob- 
lems to be discussed in the Constitutional Convention of 
1792. There were some few members who were in favor 
of immediate liberation and others inclined towards a 
scheme of gradual release of the Negro from bondage. 
But, as has been shown in the early part of this chapter, the 
group in favor of the existing institution easily dominated 
the convention and drew up the famous article IX, which 
remained without change throughput the slavery era as a 
part of the fundamental constitutional law. It is significant 
that it was provided that the legislature should have no 
power to pass la^^s for the emancipation of slaves without 
the consent of their owners, or without paying their owners, 
previous to such emancipation, a full equivalent in money, 
for the slaves so emancipated: that the legislature should 
not pass laws to permit the owners of slaves to emancipate 
them, saving the rights of creditors, and preventing them 
from becoming a charge to the counties in which they 

From a purely objective viewpoint it is doubtful if a 
fairer legal guide for the institution of slavery in relation 
to the rights of emancipation could have been drawn up. 
On one side, it prevented the State authorities from depriv- 
ing a slaveholder of his property without due compensation. 
On the other hand, no unscrupulous master was to free his 
old and invalid slaves and thereby inflict the burden of 
their support upon the community as a whole. But this 
constitutional provision had no legal force in itself. It was 
to serve as a guide for the enactment of statute laws later. 

The State assembly on December 17, 1794, proceeded to 
the enactment of the first emancipation law of the State. 
The contents of Article IX of the Constitution were care- 
fully followed and the detailed legal code of emancipation 
laid down in these words : 

It shall be lawful for any person by his or her last will and 
testament, or by any other instrument in writing, under his or her 

SiiAVEBY IN Kentucky 275 

hand and seal, attested and proved in the county court by two wit- 
nesses, or acknowledged by the party in the court of the county 
where he or she resides, to emancipate or set free his or her slave or 
slaves : who shall thereupon be entirely and fully discharged from 
the performance of any contract entered into during servitude, 
and enjoy as full freedom as if they had been bom free. And the 
said court shall have full power to demand bond and sufficient 
security of the emancipator, his or her executors or administrators, 
as the case may be, for the maintenance of any slave or slaves that 
may be aged or infirm, either of body or mind, to prevent their 
becoming chargeable to the county. And every slave so emanci- 
pated shall have a certificate of freedom from the clerk of such 
court on parchment with the county seal affixed thereto, for which 
the clerk shall charge the emancipator five shillings; saving, how- 
ever, the rights of creditors and every person or persons, bodies, 
politic and corporate, except the heirs or legal representatives of 
the person so emancipating their slaves.*^* 

This law remained throughout the slavery period in 
Kentucky and the only changes which were ever made in it 
were in the minor details to untangle some legal ambigui- 
ties. The law of 1823, however, is important in showing 
the discrepancies of the original provisions. By this 
amendment it was enacted that when the county courts re- 
ceived proof or acknowledgment of a deed of emancipation, 
or of a will emancipating slaves, they were to note on their 
record a description of any such slaves. The certificate of 
freedom which was given to the Negro was also to contain 
this description and no other certificate was to be issued 
except on the presentation of proof that the first one had 
been lost or when such was required for use as evidence in 
some suit. If any slave thus liberated was found to have 
presented his certificate to another still held in bondage 
with a design of freeing him, the emancipated slave was to 
suffer severe penalties.*^*^ These added provisions appar- 
ently came to fill all the gaps in the previous law and no 
further amendments of importance were needed to make the 
laws of emancipation run smoothly. 

fi^IAttelVs Laws, 2: 246-247. 
B7 Session Laws, 1823, p. 56a. 

276 Journal of Nbgbo Histoby 

Of all the many slavery eases which were brought before 
the Court of Appeals in the next thirty years it is interest- 
ing to note that nearly all of them concerned themselves 
more or less with the question of freedom. The very fact 
that they reached the highest court is also conclusive evi- 
dence that the law was not quite as clear as one would at first 
suppose. Close study of the findings of the court will show 
that the judiciary was always consistent in its interpreta- 
tion of the law and that most of the cases were carried up 
from the lower courts because of disputes between the heirs 
of an estate and the administrator as to their precedence in 
the matter of slaves. This part of the controversy con- 
cerned itself with the property conception of the slave, 
whether he was real or personal estate, which was discussed 
earlier in this chapter. The purely emancipation cases 
before the Court of Appeals divide themselves into three 
parts: (1) those which concerned the interpretation of the 
statute law, (2) those suits for freedom which were based on 
the question of residence and (3) those which involved 
persons detained as slaves. 

Most of the first class of cases concerned themselves with 
the emancipation of slaves by will. The number of slave- 
holders who freed their Negroes during their own lifetime 
seems to have been very small. On the other hand, from 
a study of the slave cases in court it appears to have been 
a very common thing for an owner to provide for the free- 
dom of his slaves in his will. The right of a master to dis- 
pose of his own property was beyond dispute, but, as is 
often the case, the heirs were seldom satisfied and they 
brought the will into court on one or more technical grounds 
in an attempt to break the document which freed so much 
valuable property. The court in every case held that the 
right of the owner was absolute and that if by the letter 
of his will his slaves were freed, that right was subject to 
no dispute. Furthermore, when the Negroes were thus 
emancipated they did not pass to the personal representa- 
tives of the deceased, as assets. They passed by will just 
as land, and the devise took effect at the death of the 

Slaveby in E[bntucky 277 

testator, whether it be a devise to the slave, of his freedom, 
or of the slave, to another. The servant, thus affected, had 
only to appear before the county court and establish his 
emancipation. This accomplished, it was the duty of the 
court to give him a certificate of freedom without the con- 
sent of the representatives of the emancipator.**® The right 
of disposal rested with the owner, who could emancipate by 
a-ct, or by will, and he who denied the right or placed any 
claim against it was compelled to show the prohibition.**® 

While the owner had absolute powers of disposal of his 
own slaves he could not draw up a will of prospective free- 
dom which would hold in spite of the rights of his heirs. 
If a master desired to be very lenient with his servants, he 
had to make their freedom absolute and in writing. This 
was well brought out in the case of an apparently kind- 
hearted Kentucky slaveholder who provided in his will that 
his slaves were to select their own master without regard 
to price. They chose as their future owner a man who did 
not need them, but who offered to take them at about half 
their real value. The court held that in such a case the 
executor was not bound to accept the offer, since the in- 
terests of those entitled to the proceeds of the sale, as well 
as the desire and comfort of the slaves, were to be re- 
garded.®^ Another owner had the right idea, but defeated 
his own intentions by willing all his forty slaves to the Ken- 
tucky Colonization Society. The court held that such an 
act by no means freed the slaves and that by the laws of 
the State until they were free they could be hired out and 
the proceeds considered as a part of the estate.®^ 

As in all border States there were many legal battles for 
freedom, which involved the question of residence on free 
soil. These cases were largely concerned with the question 
of the right of a citizen of Kentucky to pass through a free 
State on business or pleasure attended by his slaves or 

88 Black V8. Meauz, 4 Dana, 189. 

^9 Sufian V8, Ladd, 6 Dana, 30. 

<)oHopkinfl vs. Morgan's executor, 3 Dana, 17. 

<}i Isaac et al. vs. Graves' executor, 16 Ben Monroe, 365. 

278 Journal of Negbo Histoby 

servants without losing his right of ownership over such 
slaves. The principle involved was early considered in the 
Kentucky Court of Appeals and faithfully carried out in 
succeeding generations, viz.: that a ** fixed residence'' or 
being domiciled in a non-slaveholding State would operate 
to release the slave from the power of the master ; but that 
the transient passing or sojourning therein had no such 
effect. In an early case in 1820 involving a suit for free- 
dom the court held that a person of color from Kentucky 
who was permitted to reside in a free State could prosecute 
his right to freedom in any other State. It was held to be 
a vested right to freedom, which existed wherever he went.®^ 
In another instance an owner permitted his slave to go at 
large for twenty years, but the court held that that alone did 
not give him freedom. Still under this liberty of move- 
ment the slave went off into a free State to reside and the 
court held that the Negro was then free because his right 
grew out of the law of the free State and not out of that 
in which the owner resided.®® An owner permitted his slave 
to go to Pennsylvania and remain there for a longer period 
than six months, with a knowledge of the law passed in 
that State in 1780, and the Kentuckv Court of Appeals held 
that the slave was entitled to his freedom and that even if 
the slave had returned to Kentucky his right could be as- 
serted there just as well as in Pennsylvania.®^ But should 
a slave go with his master to a free State and later return 
to Kentucky with him, whatever status he had then was to 
be determined by the law of Kentucky and not by the rule 
of any State where the slave might have been.®*^ The fact 
that a slave stayed in New York for three months before his 
return to Kentucky, his owner knowing he was there, and 
making no effort to bring him away, did not give to such 
slave a right to freedom.®® A slaveholder sent one of his 

03 Bankin vs. Lydia, 2 A. K. MarshaU, 467. 
68 15 Ben Monroe, 328. 
64 14 Ibid., 355. 
66 12 Ibid., 542. 
66 4 Metcalfe, 231. 


Slaveby in Kentucky 279 

servants over into Illinois to cut some wood for a few weeks 
and later the latter brought suit for freedom on the grounds 
of residence in a free State but the court denied any such 
right, since the slave returned to his master in Kentucky 

If an emancipated Negro for any reason was held in 
slavery and later established his right to freedom in court, 
he could not recover compensation for his services or 
damages for his detention, unless he could prove that he was 
held under full knowledge of his right or with good reason 
to believe him free. If pending his suit for freedom he 
should be hired out by order of the court, the net hire was 
to be awarded to him if he succeeded.^® 

The actual number of manumissions which took place in 
Kentucky will no doubt never be known. Among the few 
statistics are those of the federal census for 1850 and 1860 
and they include only the figures for the one census year. 
According to this source in 1850 only 152 slaves were volun- 
tarily set free in the State or one slave out of every 1,388, 
a percentage of only .072; and in 1860 there were 176 
Negroes recorded as freed or one out of every 1,281 slaves, 
a percentage of only .078. We can easily assume from the 
accounts which we have from papers of that time that these 
numbers were far short of those that were really set free by 
their masters. It was the custom of many owners who were 
about to free their slaves to take them to Cincinnati and 
there have them set free in the Probate Court. 

Early in 1859, forty-nine slaves from Fayette County, 
mostly women and children, were brought to Cincinnati and 
set free and later sent to a colony of emancipated Negroes 
in Green County, Ohio.®® In March of the same year 
Robert Bamet of Lincoln County, Kentucky appeared with 
eighteen slaves— a father, mother, nine children and three 
grandchildren and another woman and four boys, who were 
all emancipated in the Cincinnati Probate Court. Before 

67 11 Ben Monroe, 210, 

68 4 Dana, 589, 7 Dana, 360. 

«9 American AntirSlavery Society Beport, 1859, p. 79. 

280 JouBNAL OP Negbo Histoby 

crossing the Ohio, while in Covington, he was offered $20,- 
000 for all of them but he stated that he would refuse even 
$50,000J^ In January, 1860, William McGinnis, of Bour- 
bon Coimty, appeared with fourteen slaves before the same 
probate court and set them all freeJ^ 

The law of Kentucky plainly provided that no slave was 
to be emancipated unless bond were given that he would 
immediately leave the State. Hence it was but natural that 
a master who intended setting his slaves free should take 
them as slaves to a free State and there give them their 
freedom, thus satisfying his own conscience and at the same 
time removing any future legal trouble that might ensue on 
account of his former slaves being found in the State of 
Kentucky. For this reason it would seem that a large num- 
ber of the kind-hearted slaveholders who freed their slaves 
did so outside the bounds of Kentucky and thus that State 
was deprived of the credit for many emancipations which 
took place voluntarily at the hands of her own slaveholders. 

70 Weekly Free South (Newport), March 4, 1»59. 

''1 American Anti-Slavery Society Beporty 1860, p. 44. 

The Social Status op the Slave 

As many of the slave regulations were enacted to deal 
with extreme eases and some of them were not generally 
enforced, it is necessary to consider also the social status of 
the blacks to determine exactly what the institution was in 
Kentucky. In this commonwealth slavery was decidedly 
patriarchal. The slave was not such an unf ortimate crea- 
ture as some have pictured him. He usually had set apart 
for himself and his family a house which was located near 
the master's mansion. While this home may have been a 
rude cabin made of small logs, with a roof covered with 
splits and an earthem floor, likely as not the master's son 
was attending school a few weeks in the year in a neighbor- 
ing log cabin which boasted of no more luxuries than the 
humble slave dwelling. The servant and his family were 
well fed and had plenty of domestic cloth for all necessary 
wearing apparel. 

The kind of clothing which the Kentucky slave had can 
be seen best by a study of the runaway slave advertisements 
where a description of apparel was often essential to the 
apprehension of the Negro. * * Billy ' ' in 1803 ran away from 
his owner in Lexington and took such a variety of clothing 
with him that the master was unable to give a description of 
them.^ **Jack," running away from his owner in Mercer 
County, had on when he left and took with him **one pale 
blue jeans coat, one gray jeans coat, and an old linsey coat; 
one pair of cloth pantaloons, one pair of jeans, and one of 
linen. "2 **Thenton," when leaving his master in Warren 
County, took with him **a new black smooth fur hat, a 
yellow woollen jeans frock coat, more than half worn ; three 

1 Lexington Gazette, August 2S, 1803. 

2 Louisville PiibUo Advertiser, July 10, 1&24. 


282 Journal of Negbo Histoby 

shirts, two of coarse cotton and one entirely new, the third a 
bleached domestic and new; one blanket; one pair of 
pantaloons, of cotton and flax."^ **Jarret,*' from Leitch- 
field, wore when he left **a smooth black Russia hat" and 
took with him ^*a pair of buckskin saddle bags . . . and a 
great deal of clothing, to wit: one brown jeans frock coat, 
and pantaloons of the same; also, a brown jeans overcoat, 
with large pockets in the side ; a new dark colored overcoat, 
two pair blue cloth pantaloons, and an old silver watch."* 
The clothing of *^Esau," from Meade County, was described 
as "brown jeans pants, black cassinet pants, blue cloth 
pants, three fine shirts, one black silk vest and one green 
vest, one brown jeans frock coat, one pale blue coat, velvet 
collar; coarse shoes and black hat."*^ "Stewart" left his 
master in Bullitt County dressed in typical Negro attire^ 
"a black luster coat, made sack fashion, and a pair of snuff 
colored cassinet pantaloons ; also, a black fur hat with low 
crown and broad brim, and vest with purple dots on it."® 
"George," living in Marion County, had an outfit of 
"Brown jeans frock coat (skirt lined with home-made 
flannel dyed with madder), a pair of new black and yellow 
twilled negro jeans pantaloons, white socks, factory shirt 
with linen bosom, aod black wool hat. ' ^ An owner adver- 
tising in 1852 stated that his slave "Andy" had three suits 
of clothes with him' when he ran away.® It is perfectly 
evident from the reading of these slave advertisements that 
the male Negroes were as substantially clothed' as any mem- 
bers of their race could expect to be at that time even in a 
state of freedom. The surplus clothing as described above 
was all a part of the slave's own property and not taken 
from the master's wardrobe. There were many cases of 
theft but they need not be considered in this discussion. 
A large majority of all runaway slaves were men and 

9 Louisville Weekly Jowmal, October 15, 1845. 
^lUd,, October 22, 1845. 
5 Ibid., September 27, 1848. 
a Ibid., May 16, 1849. 

7 Ibid,, I>eceinber 10, 1851. 

8 Ibid., December 22, 1852. 

Slavebt IK EIentucky 283 

even when advertisements dealt with female fugitives it 
was only on rare occasions that the owner attempted to give 
a description of the clothing which was worn. Will Morton 
in 1806 gave a list of ^^Letty^s** clothing as ^^two or three 
white muslin dresses, one of fancy chintz, salmon colored 
linsey petticoat, white yam stockings, and good shoes, with 
sundry other clothing of good quality.*^ At such an early 
date in the history of Kentucky slavery the apparel of this 
yoimg slave woman compares very favorably with that 
which was worn by the white people. 

In sickness the slaves were cared for by the same physi- 
cian who looked after the master and his family and should 
occasion demand assistance any member of the owner *s 
household might be foimd nursing a sick Negro. There 
was no limit to the supply of fuel for the winter, for the 
slaves had the right to cut timber for their own use any- 
where in the woods of the estate.^® 

As in Virginia, the slave was permitted to have a little 
* * truck-patch ' * of half an acre or more, where he could raise 
any crop that he desired. In Kentucky these small plots of 
ground were nearly always filled with sweet potatoes, 
tobacco and watermelons. The soil was not only conducive 
to their cultivation but they were the three favorite agri- 
cultural products for personal consumption. These par- 
ticular crops needed little cultivation once they were planted 
and such as was necessary could easily be done on Satur- 
day afternoons, when the slave was at leisure. 

Historians have reminded us that in most of the 
Southern States there was a tendency for the more energetic 
of the slaves to work for pay during their idle hours and 
thus eventually secure a sufficient surplus to buy their own 
freedom. In Kentucky such cases were very rare. Most 
Negroes seem to have been content with their condition in 
such bondage as existed in the State. There were many 
cases in which a Negro refused to purchase his freedom 

• Lexington Gaeette, April 12, 1806. 

10 The best eontemporary treatment of this subject in general is bj Dr. B. 
J. Spnrr — ^the sole printed text being in Perrin's History of Bourbon County, 
pp. 5^-60. 

284 Journal op Negbo Histoby 

although he had the necessary amount of money. George 
Brown, the famous Negro author of Recollections of an 
Ex-slave, published in the Winchester Democrat, has given 
us some experiences which testify to the feeling existing 
between master and slave. In 1857 his mistress was offered 
$2,100 for George, but when talking the matter over with 
him she found that he had serious objections to the pro- 
spective purchaser. She showed an interest in Brown \s 
welfare by refusing to sell him. In later years when free- 
dom was within his grasp for the asking. Brown ^^ bought 
himself for $1,000 because, as he says in his own words, 
it was not honorable for him to * ^ swindle his young mistress 
out of her slave.'' Such was the example of a Kentucky 
slave who purchased his own freedom, not for his own 
benefit, but for that of his mistress. 

Another factor entered into this question. In the later 
years, once a slave secured his liberty, he was immediately 
required to leave the State and if such a one had lived all 
his life in Kentucky, he would naturally hesitate to depart 
into an unknown region. (Many of the slaves did earn con- 
siderable money by cobbling shoes, cutting wood, and 
making brooms, but most of them showed little tendency 
to save their earnings for any future deliverance from bond- 
age. They were more concerned then — as they often are 
even yet— with the pleasures of the day. More often they 
were to be found wasting their spare change on whisky, a 
problem which grew greater for the master with passing 

In addition to the regular Saturday afternoon and 
Sunday off every week the slaves were given several other 
holidays throughout the year, the most extensive being at 
Christmas time. At Easter they were allowed two or three 
days rest and when an election was being held there was no 
work done outside of the regular chores. The general elec- 
tion day in those times was the first Monday in August and 
it was the custom for most of the slaves throughout the 
** penny-royal' ' aiid ^^bluegrass" to journey to the couiity 
seat, where they would all congregate and have a general 

Slavbby in E[bntucky 285 

frolic in accordance with Negro standards of a good time. 
In the later years of slavery the towns had established suffi- 
cient control of the Negroes gathering in their jurisdiction 
so that the drink evil was more or less mitigated. The fear 
of the law was a great incentive to their proper conduct on 
those rare occasions when they had a whole day in town to 
themselves without any tasks to perform for their master. 
As Rothert has well observed, however, the slave sometimes 
did have to care for his drunken owner and take him home. 
To the student acquainted with Kentucky history and social 
conditions such a brief statement suggests a wealth of ma- 
terial on the local type of slavery. 

That ardent abolitionist from across the sea, James Silk • 
Buckingham, has recorded a characteristic picture of the 
Kentucky slave at rest and in gala attire : 

'* We remained at Henderson the greater part of the day, it being 
a holiday with the negro slaves on the estate, so that it was difficult 
to get the requisite number of hands to complete the landing in a 
short time. Some of the female slaves were very gaily dressed, and 
many of them in good taste, with white muslin gowns, blue and 
pink waists, ribbons, silk handkerchiefs or scarfs, straw bonnets, 
and a reticule for the pocket handkerchief held on the arm. In 
talking with them, and inquiring the reason of the holiday, one 
said she believed it was Easter, another said it was Whitsuntide, 
and a third thought it was midsummer. They were chiefly the 
household slaves, who are always better treated, better dressed, 
and more indulgent than the field laborers. The men who were 
employed in landing the cargo appeared to be more cheerful in 
their general aspect and behavior than the field slaves I have seen 
at the South : and there is no doubt that in Kentucky their condi- 
tion is very much better than in most other states, their work 
lighter, their food and clothing better, and their treatment more 
kind and humane."" 

Legally, there were no marriages among the slaves. 
They were not citizens, but property. The men were urged 
to take their ** wives** from among the women of the home 
estate, if a suitable companion could be found. But if not 

11 Buckingham, Eastern and Western States, Vol. 3 : 41. 

286 JouBNAL OP Negbo Histoby 

they eventually secured one in the neighborhood and the 
master usually allowed the slave a pass to see his wife every 
night in the week. While such a cohabitation was not 
exactly a legal affair most of them were held as sacred as 
those more legalized unions among the master class. Many 
masters paid an unconscious tribute to these unions. When 
there ran away a slave who had a wife living in the neigh- 
borhood or even at a great distance the owner would make 
mention of the exact locality of the wife in order that people 
in that region would be on the lookout for the fugitive. 
J. C. Bucklin in 1824 did not give much of a description of 
David, who had left his master, but he very carefully stated 
that he had a *^ wife and children at William Shirley *s, about 
16 miles from this place, on the Westport Road.''^^ An 
owner in Fayette county after giving a detailed picture of 
*^ Arthur" added that **Capt. Peter Poindexter, eight miles 
from Lexington owns his wife, and I expect that he will be 
in that neighborhood.'^^ A more extreme example was 
that of ^*Dick,'' a Lexington slave who ran away to New 
Orleans, the owner thought, because ^*he has a wife living 
in that city, and he has been heard to say frequently that 
he was determined to go to New Orleans. ''^* Such cases 
as this were the logical consequence of the slavery system. 
They existed in Kentucky just as in any other slave State, 
but they were few compared with those slaves unions that 
were never broken. 

It was to the economic as well as humanitarian interest 
of the master to have sympathy with the peace and content- 
ment of his servant. Thus most of them took care that the 
family relationships of the slaves should not be disturbed. 
Oftentimes when the owner of either a husband or a wife 
was on the point of moving out of the county the masters 
would get together and make a trade which would obviate 
any disruption of the slave family. Under such conditions 
a man would part with a servant who otherwise could not 

^^LowiaviUe Ptiblio Advertiser, August 11, 1824. 
li Lexington Gaeette, Jwob 14, 1803. 
1* Lexington Intelligencer, July 7, 1838. 

Slaveby in Kentucky 287 

have been bouglit at any price. Such a situation was pos- 
sible only in a State where the personal interest in a slave 
and his welfare took precedence over merely his economic 
value to the owner.^*^ 

Charles Stewart in My Life as a Slave has given us his 
own experiences of home life and marriage among slaves in 
Kentucky. He lived in Paris and was engaged in handling 
race horses. Soon after coming from Virginia to Ken- 
tucky he fell in love with a young mulatto girl, who was the 
property of a Mr. Robertson, who gave his consent to their 
marriage, promising never to part them by his own free 
will. In his own dialect Stewart dictated his story. **So 
I married her, an' tuk her to a little house I had fixed up 
near de stables, an' she clear-starched an' sewed an' 'broid- 
ered an' wukked wid de hand-loom, an' made more pretty 
things dan I could count. She paid her marster, en course, 
reg'lar, so much a month fur her hire, but, lor', she neber 
touched her aimin 's fur dat. I had plenty of money to hire 
as many wives as I wanted, but dis one was de onliest one 
I eber did want, an' so it was easy enough." After two 
years his wife became very sick and died and the grief of 
the Negro man was touching in the extreme. ^*She was 
jes' as fond o' me as I was of her, an' it did 'pear hard luck 
to lose her jes' as I was makin' up my mind to buy her out 
and out, only en course, it was a fortunate thing I hadn't 
bought her, as long as she had to die, kase den I would ha' 
lost her an' de money too. Arter she was in de ground it 
jes' 'peared to me like eberything was different; I tuk a 
dislikement to Paris, an' I didn't feel like goin' home to 
Virginny." His master agreed to let him go wherever he 
liked if he could find an owner to suit him and finally 
Stewart went to Louisiana after an interview with Senator 
Porter of that State. He was to stay six months to see 
how he liked it and then if agreeable he was to stay there. 
He must have been a rather unusual Negro, for his selling 
price was finally fixed at $3,500.^® 

iBPerrin (Bourbon Counly), p. 60. 

1^ Harper's Magazine, October, 1884, pp. 730-738. 

288 JouBNAL OF Negbo Histoby 

But life among the slaves of Kentucky was not by any 
means a path of roses. Many anti-slavery leaders attested 
to this f acft. The most trustworthy statement that was ever 
made on this general subject was that embodied in the 
pamphlet of the Presbyterian Synod of Kentucky in. 1835 
advocating gradual emancipation. The following brief 
extracts are most significant: 

"The system produces general licentiousness among the slaves. 
Marriage, as a civil ordinance, they cannot enjoy. Until slavery 
waxeth old, and tendeth to decay, there cannot be any legal recog- 
nition of the marriage rite, or the enforcement of its consequent 
duties. For, all the regulations on this subject would limit the 
master's absolute right of property in the slaves. In his disposal 
of them he could no longer be at liberty to consult merely his own 
interest . . . their present quasi-marriages are continually voided 
(at the master's pleasure). . . . They are in this way brought to 
consider their matrimonial alliances as things not binding, and act 
accordingly. We are then assured by the most unquestionable tes- 
timony that licentiousness is the necessary result of our system. 

One would infer from this observation of apparently fair- 
minded men that slave unions were not very sacred affairs 
and that any disruption of them would amount to little, but 
in the same document these Presbyterian preachers give a 
back-handed compliment to the stability, at least in tempera- 
ment, of the average slave marriage. 

*' Brothers and sisters, parents and children, husbands and wives, 
are torn asunder and permitted to see each other no more. 1?hese 
acts are daily occurring in the midst of us. The shrieks and 
agony often witnessed on such occasions proclaim with a trumpet 
tongue, the iniquity of our system. There is not a neighborhood 
where these heartrending scenes are not displayed; there is not a 
village or road that does not behold the sad procession of manacled 
outcasts, whose mournful countenances tell that they are exiled by 
force, from all that their hearts hold dear. ' ' 

It is strange that these two opposing views should appear 
in the same pamphlet, but nevertheless they are both un- 
doubtedly true pictures of slavery in Kentucky. It is 

SiiAVBBY IN E[bntuoky 289 

merely a question as to which of the two represented the 
majority of cases. Licentiousness there was, but it was cer- 
tainly very much less among the slaves of Kentucky than 
in the far South. Slave unions were treated with more 
respect by the masters of Kentucky than in most slave 
States. As has been pointed out in a previous chapter, the 
very fact that the few instances of inhuman separation of 
slave families produced such a storm of public disapproval 
shows that it was not a very general practice in the State. 

From the legal standpoint the slave had no rights or 
privileges in the attainment of even a meager education. 
On the other hand Kentucky was the only slave State, with 
the. exception of Maryland and Tennessee, which never 
passed any laws forbidding the instruction of slaves. Thus 
no penalty was attached to Negro education, neither was 
any encouragement given. Those slaves who learned to 
read were the servants of masters who because of consci- 
entious scruples taught them how to read the Bible. Few 
slaves ever learned to write, for they might then be tempted 
to serve as unofficial dispensers of passes in the owner's 
name. The general objection to any reasonable amount of 
education was the tendency towards dissatisfaction with 
the servile status thereby aroused. If the slave could learn 
to read well, it was feared that he would become a victim of 
the *^ filthy '* abolitionist literature, which through the re- 
sultant effect upon the Negroes would have produced no 
end of trouble to the slavery system. Hence, for the most 
part, the Kentucky slave remained in blissful ignorance, 
and well for him as such and the institution he represented 
that his learning was no greater." 

Out of a collection of some three hundred and fifty run- 
away slave advertisements concerning Kentucky slaves the 
author has found 71 cases in which mention was made that 
the Negro could read and 37 instances in which he could 
write. The latter cases are all included in the former 

17 Clarke, Sufferings of Lewis and Milton Clarke, p. 104. 
Bothert, "History of MvMenhurg County, p. 104. 
Perrin (Bourbon CJounty), p. 60, 

290 JouBNAii OP Negbo Histoby 

classification also. On that basis a little over ten per cent 
of the slaves could read and write and about twenty per 
cent could read but were unable to write. There are, how- 
ever, two strong reasons against any such general con- 
clusion. In the first place, the more a slave learned the 
more liable he was to become dissatisfied and run away ; and 
secondly, the careful mention which was made in advertise- 
ments of the Negro 's ability to read or write would tend to 
show that it was more or less an unusual accomplishment. 

Taking up the question of the education of slaves in the 
State, the Presbyterian Synod of Kentucky said in 1834 
that '^Slavery dooms thousands of human beings to hope- 
less ignorance ... if slaves are educated it must involve 
some outlay upon the part of the master. ... It is incon- 
sistent with our knowledge of human nature to suppose that 
he will do this for them. The present state of instruction 
among this race remains exactly what we might . . . natu- 
rally anticipate. Throughout the whole land (State), so 
far as we can learn, there is but one school in which, during 
the week, slaves can be taught. The light of three or four 
Sabbath schools is seen glimmering through the darkness 
that covers the black population of the whole State. Here 
and there a family is found where humanity and religion 
impel the master, mistress or children to the laborious task 
of private instruction.''^® 

It should be added in this connection that the same state- 
ment would hold true of the free Negro population of Ken- 
tucky at the same period. Until long after the Civil War 
there was no provision made for their education other than 
that of individual enterprise. The public education of the 
whites was not on a plane comparable to that of any of the 
Northern States until after the reconstruction period, and 
even then Kentucky lagged behind for years. 

The church and its influence for the betterment of society 
under the slavery system was more effective than the school. 
The chief religious paper of the State was the Presbyterian 
Herald and one of its most persistent pleas was that the 

18 Address to t7^ People of Kenittchy, p. 8. 

Slaveby in Kentucky 291 

proper religious instruction of the Negro servant class 
would answer most of the objections to the institution, 
**The most formidal^le weapon in the hands of the aboli- 
tionist,** said the editor, *4s the indifference which he 
charges to the Christian slaveholder toward tiie spiritual 
welfare of the slave under his control. Disarm him of this 
weapon, and you have done much to render him power- 
less. "^^ 

Eeligious instruction in families of Christian habits of 
life, however, was not so sadly neglected. The household 
servants were usually brought to the house during the 
family worship and the scriptures were not merely read to 
them but explained. No restrictions were ever placed on 
church attendance either by law or by custom. Many slaves 
united with the white churches and throughout the State 
today one may find any number of old churches whose records 
still show several of these Negroes on the church rolls. 
Most of them are very kindly remembered for their good 
moral character and abiding faith. Such a condition was 
not so prevalent among the agricultural slaves, except 
where they were few in numbers. Even here, however, the 
religious instinct was not suppressed in any manner. Their ^ 
religion at the most was a very crude imitation of the-*-* 
worship of their masters. They were not confined to the 
rear seats of the white churches for their attendance at 
Sunday services. They could hold their own meetings in 
schoolhouses and vacant church edifices. 

It was these distinctively slave gatherings that gave rise 
to one of the most interesting of all Negro characters— the 
preacher. Tradition and story have related many a charm- 
ing picture of this quaint representative of Negro faith, 
but unfortunately few life stories of any of them have ever 
been preserved. In nearly all the county histories we find 
mention of several of these Negro exhorters who seemingly 
were men of some degree of intelligence. The majority of 
them were apparently themselves slaves, subject to the will 

^9 Presbyterian Herald, April 16, 1846. Bee espeeiallj the editorial and 
articles in the issue of October 4, 1849. 


292 Journal op Negbo Histoby 

of their masters, and while the restrictions on their move- 
ments were very lax, they seldom if ever spoke beyond the 
borders of their home connty.^ 

One of the famous Negro preachers of the early nine- 
teenth-century South was Josiah Henson. From 1825 to 
1828 he was a slave in Daviess County, Kentucky, and in his 
autobiography he has given us a picture of the circum- 
stances under which he became a slave preacher. **In Ken- 
tucky,*' said he, **the opportunities of attending on the 
preaching of whites, as well as of blacks, were more numer- 
ous; and partly attended by them, and the campmeetings 
which occurred from time to time, and partly from study- 
ing carefully my own heart, and observing the developments 
of character around me, in all the stations of life which I 
could watch, I became better acquainted with those religious 
feelings which are deeply implanted in the breast of every 
human being, and learnt by practice how best to arouse 
them, and keep them excited, and in general to produce 
some good religious impressions on the ignorant and 
thoughtless community by which I was surrounded. . . . 
I cannot but derive some satisfaction, too, from the proofs 
I have had that my services have been acceptable to those 
to whom they have been rendered. In the course of the 
three years from 1825 to 1828 I availed myself of all the 
opportunities of improvement which occurred and was ad- 
mitted as a preacher by a conference of the Methodist 
Episcopal Church.* '21 

In Ballard County there was another interesting ex- 
horter. Advertising for his Negro Jack who had run away 
in 1850, C. B. Young pointed out that although l\e was a 
slave and the property of the ** subscriber'* he was a well- 
educated Baptist preacher and in the pursuit of his voca- 
tion he was well known by **many of the citizens of Pa- 
ducah, McCracken County, and also by citizens of Hickman 
and Fulton Counties, and is thought by many to be a free 
man. * '^2 

20Botlxert| History of MuMeriburg Cotmty, p. 340. 

21 Henson, Life of Josiah Henaon, pp. 26-27. 

22 Louisville Weekly Journal, March 27, 1850. 

Slaveby in Kentucky 293 

The only credentials which the Negro preacher carried^ 
according to his own testimony, came directly from the 
Lord. His education was only of a sufficient character to 
enable him to read the Bible and line out the words of the 
hymns. His creed was never the creation of any school 
of theology. It was usually an original interpretation of 
supernatural phenomena varying widely even in one indi- 
vidual from time to time. Convinced of his supernatural 
calling, he felt inferior to no one in the power of exegesis. 
As long as he held his balance and remained on terra firma 
his followers believed in him as he believed in himself. But 
as Lucius Little has well said: **Once in a while a colored 
preacher lost his influence with his congregation by drink- 
ing too deeply of the Pierian spring. Too much learning 
raised him out of their orbit. They fell on stony ground. ' * 
Strange, yet how true, that the more ignorant a slave 
minister was, the more power of influence for good he had 
among his fellow human beings.^^ 

James Lane Allen has given us a splendid little sketch 
of three of these native characters whom he evidently knew 
in his younger days : 

**One of these negro preachers was allowed by his master to fill 
a distant appointment. Belated once, and returning home after 
the hour forbidden for slaves to be abroad, he was caught by the 
patrol and cruelly whipped. As the blqws fell, his words were, 
''Jesus Christ suffered for righteousness' sake; so kin I." 

Another was recommended for deacon's orders and actually 
ordained. When liberty came, he refused to be free, and continued 
to work in his master's family until his death. With considerable 
knowledge of the Bible and a fluent tongue, he would nevertheless 
sometimes grow confused while preaching and lose his train of 
thought. At these embarrassing junctures it was his wont sud- 
denly to call out at the top of his voice, *'Saul, Saul. Why per- 
seeutest thou me?" The effect upon his hearers was electrifying: 
— ^as none but a very highly favored being could be thought worthy 
of enjoying this persecution. He thus converted his loss of mind 
into spiritual reputation. 

28 Little, L. P., Ben Hardin, his Times and Contemporaries, pp. 544r^45. 

294 JouBNAL OF Negro Histoby 

A third named Peter Cotton, united the vocations of exhorter 
and wood-chopper. He united them literally, for one moment 
Peter might be seen standing on his log chopping away, and the 
next kneeling down beside it praying. He got his mistress to make 
him a long jeans coat and on the ample tails of it to embroider, by 
his direction, sundry texts of scripture, such as '* Come un^ Me ^ 
all yethgrt are heavy laden.'' Thus literally clothed with right- 
eousness, Peter went from cabin to cabin, piteaching the Word. 
Well for him if that other Peter could have seen him."^* 

One of the dominant features of such a tyjpe of religion 
among the Negroes was the resulting prevalence of super- 
stition. It almost seems that m their ignorance they 
adopted every form of supernatural fear that was ever 
known among our ancestors. But if it had ended there 
the matter would not have been se important socially. In 
their constant association with white children they brought 
their fears of **ghost-hauntings" and other fantastic ideas 
into the minds of the very young. The peculiarity of the 
Negro slave as compared with the other superstitious races 
was his own sinister imaginative productions. They re- 
lated none of the valuable tales of ancient mythology, but 
rather did they fill the earth with goblins, witches and 
ghosts — the result of their own dreams and fancies.^* 

The many stories of this sort which a ** mammy'' related 
to a child a half century ago can be reproduced by the old 
man of the twentieth century and the effect of the old ideas 
of magic is still with him. The prevalence of superstitious 
ideas in Kentucky today might easily be traced back to the 
associations of slavery times. But such a weakness may 
not always have done harm; not every child was so influ- 
enced. The natural play of the Negro instinct was worth 
much to his peace and contentment. Here again Shaler 
has given us a rather unique observation from his own 
experience : 

24 Allen, James Lane, Blue Grass Begion of Kentucky, pp. 77-78. 
36 Bobertson 's Autobiography, pp. 124^125. 

Slaveby in Kentucky 29b- 

**The only movements of the spirit in the religions field that I 
can remember came from two sources: my mother's singing. . . . 
The other spiritual influence came from the negroes. A number of 
them used to meet at night to talk religion beneath a shed which 
lay open to the northern sky. One of them, well named "Old 
Daniel," had a fervid imagination and excellent descriptive powers. 
He would picture the coming of the great angel as if it were before 
his eyes; the path of light shooting down from about the North 
star, — ^the majesty of his train. Then the rolling of the heavens 
*'like a scroll" — ^I did not know what this process was like, but it 
seemed vaguely fine — and then the burning up of the world. I 
was always greatly moved when hearing these exhortations which 
must indeed have been rather wonderful things, but they made no 
permanent impression upon me. In fact I regarded them as * nig- y 

The patriarchal character of slavery as it existed in 
Kentucky is best shown in the relationship which generally 
existed between the master and his slave. The pioneers 
who brought their slaves with them from Virginia en- 
countered many dangers not only in crossing the moun- 
tains but after they had settled in the new State. Many 
were the times when the slave proved himself a hero and 
even encountered death in order to protect the master and 
his family. Tradition and history have handed down many 
of these stories to us, but the most famous of all, as well as 
the best authenticated, was the experience of Monk Estill, 
who was the slave of Colonel James Estill, of Madison 
County. In a struggle with the Indians in 1782 in the 
region where Mount Sterling is now located Monk cried out 
to his master in the thick of the fray: ** Don't give way, 
Marse Jim; there's only twenty-five of the Injuns and yon 
can whip them.'' Colonel Estill was killed and Monk was 
taken prisoner but he soon managed to escape, and after 
joining his comrades carried one of the wounded men 
twenty-five miles. The young master was so grateful to 
Monk that he gave him his freedom and kept him in the 
best of comfort the rest of his life. This was the experi- 

26 Shaler 's Autobiography, pp. 57-^8. 


rt is supposed to have been the first slave in the 


)r was the slave on a par with his master when 
•^ facing dangers but even in the field of sports he 
had as pleasant an outing as his overlord. While the one 
may have spent the day in fox hunting or deer driving, when 
nightfall came the Negro was apt to emerge from his 
quarters followed by his faithful dog in search of possum 
or coon. While the master may have enjoyed a feast of 
venison at his table the Negro was just as well satisfied with 
the less valuable but savory game that graced his own meal. 
With the exception of the house servants most of the 
slaves of the State were employed in agricultural pursuits, 
but, as we have seen elsewhere, even here they were not to be 
found in large droves as in the States of the South. There 
were only a few big landed estates which were cultivated by 
the owners under their own supervision and in the large 
majority of cases the field slaves worked side by side with 
the whites. Often an owner's circumstances compelled him 
to labor in the fields with his slaves and when doing so he 
rarely demanded more of them than he did himself. Such 
a condition was not only true in the early days when there 
were few slaves but it extended throughout the slavery era.^^ 
The stories of the mildness of the institution in Kentucky 
which reached the North were little accredited by the radical 
element, which could never see any virtue in servile labor. 
Perhaps the most zealous abolitionist who visited the State 
was J. W. Buckingham, who wrote in 1840 that the * * condi- 
tion of the Negroes, as to food, clothing, and light labor 
struck me as being better in Kentucky than in any other 
State. * '2® While traveling in the heart of the slave section 
of the State between Frankfort and Louisville he saw many 
instances of black and white laborers, slave and free, work- 
ing side by side in the same field.^^ 

27 Collins, History of Kentucky, Vol. 2, pp. 634-636. 

28 Cotterill, History of Pioneer Kentucky, p. 245. 

Little, L. P., Ben Hardin, his Times and Contemporaries, p. 543. 

29 Buckingham, Eastern and Western States, Vol. 3: 7-8. 
80 Op. eit., Vol. 3 : 8. 

Slaveby in Kentucky 297 

The relation between tlie owner and the household type 
of slave was of a more intimate nature and the maister was 
careful to pick only the best of the Negroes. In such an 
environment we see the picture of the Kentucky gentleman 
of song and story, and the Negro in all the best that tradi- 
tion has related of him. The latter became identified with 
the, family of the master in sentiment and feeling. Under 
ordinary circumstances he had nothing to worry about, and 
with no cares pressing upon him, he became as happy as any 
Negro ever was. If the crops failed, or the owner became 
bankrupt he had none of the anxiety of his master, although 
he may have displayed the greatest sympathy with the exist- 
ing condition. It was his duty to give only his labor to his 
master and in return he was sheltered, clothed and sup- 
ported when sick or too old to labor; and at last when his 
earthly toils were over, he was given a Christian burial. 
The humble affection which the slave had for his master in 
conjunction with the extreme confidence which he held for 
the outcome of all pecimiary troubles is shown by instances 
in the life history of every slaveholding family. No matter 
what might be the circumstances and conditions of the estate 
the slave could go on in his daily work without any fears or 
cares, except for the one great cloud that in the event of a 
disruption of the estate through a legal process he might 
be sold to satisfy his master's creditors. 

From our present viewpoint the treatment may have 
been at times rather harsh but we must be careful to judge 
it from the general standard of those times. It has been 
pointed out that it would bear **favorable comparison with 
the treatment of the white sailors in the British and Ameri- 
can navies of the same period. *'^^ The slave code allowed 
a much severer policy than was generally carried out, for 
it must be considered that the law was made to fit the worst 
cases, where such action was justifiable. Often the attitude 
of the master appeared harsher than it was really meant to 
be. It may have been merely a display of authority on his 

SI Little, L. P., Ben Hardin, his Times and Contemporaries, pp. 541-2. 

298 JouBNAL OF Negbo Histoby 

part when he reprimanded a servant who had really com- 
mitted only a minor indiscretion.^^ 

There were naturally other scenes in which the treat- 
ment of slaves would not appear in such a favorable light. 
The chronically bad master, however, was at all times and 
under all circumstances under the ban of a just public senti- 
ment. Should, by chance, a slave under such a one secure 
vengeance on his heartless overlord, the general feeling of 
the community was on the side of the slave. Strange to 
say, it was very often true that persons who had known little 
concerning slavery until they came to Kentucky, as soon as 
they had accumulated a sufficient surplus, became the 
owners of slaves and proved to be the hardest task- 
masters.^^ Much light is thrown on this situation by Shaler. 

«2A typical example of this has been related hj one of Kentucky's dis- 
tinguished sons: 

' ' In the households where I was intimate the slaves were about on the same 
footing as the other members of the family; they were subjected to sudden ex- 
plosions of the master's temper much as were his children. I well remember a 
frequent scene in my grandfather's house, where it was the custom that I 
should go every Sunday afternoon for counsel and instruction. They were at 
first somewhat fearsome occasions for a little lad thus to be alone with an aged 
and stately grandfather. I soon won his interest, in some measure by my fears, 
and came greatly to enjoy the intercourse, for he knew how to talk to a boy, 
and we became, in a way, boys together, in our sense of the funny side of 
things. It was the custom, too, for him to divide the session of three or four 
hours with a brief nap taken in his chair. . . . 

"As his rooms were near the negro quarter he would make ready for his 
siesta by sending forth the servantman who waited on him, bidding him tell the 
people that they were to keep quiet during the performance. I can see him 
now with his pig-tail hanging down behind the back of the easy chair and a 
handkerchief over his face as he courted slumber. For a minute or two it 
would be still, then the hidden varlets would be as noisy as before. Then the 
pig-tail would begin to twitch, and he would mutter: 'Jim, tell those people 
they must be stiU. ' Again a minute of quiet, and once more the jabbering and 
shouting. Now with a leap he would clutch his long walking-stick and charge 
the crowd in the quarter, laying about him with amazing nimbleness, until all 
the offenders were run to their holes. Back he would come from his excursion 
and settle himself to sleep. I could see that his rage was merely on the surface 
and that he had used it for a corrective, for he evidently took care not to hurt 
anyone." Shaler 's Autobiography, p. 37. 

S3 Little, L. P., Ben Hardin, his Times and Contemporaries, p. 543. 

Slaveey in Kentucky 299 

"There is a common opinion,'' said he, "that the slaves of 
the Southern households were subjected in various ways to 
brutal treatment. Such, in my experience, was not the 
case. Though the custom of using the whip on white chil- 
dren was common enough, I never saw a negro deliberately 
punished in that way until 1862, when, in military service, I 
stayed at night at tiie house of a friend. This old man, 
long a widower, had recently married a woman from the 
state of Maine, who had been the governess of his children. 
In the early morning I heard a tumult in the back yard, and 
on looking out saw a negro man, his arms tied up to a limb 
of a tree, while the vigorous matron was administering on 
his back with a cowhide whip. At breakfast I learned that 
the man had well deserved the flogging, but it struck me 
as curious that in the only instance of the kind that I had 
known the punishment was from the hands of a Northern 
woman.' '3^ Shaler lived in Campbell County in the ex- 
treme northern section of the State, where there were only 
a few slaves and the treatment was milder perhaps than in 
any other part of Kentucky. 

The general attitude is best shown by the two laws 
passed in 1816 and 1830. It had always been considered 
that the slave, being the property of his owner, it remained 
for him and for him alone to serve as the disciplinarian of 
the Negro. The increasing abuse of this right by outsiders 
led to a law in 1815 giving the owners a power of action 
against persons abusing their slaves, and in February, 1816, 
the provisions were made more specific. If any person 
should "whip, strike or otherwise abuse the slave of 
another" without the owner's consent, the latter could re- 
cover damages in any circuit court in the commonwealth— 
regardless of whether or not the punishment so inflicted 
injured the ability of the slave to render service to his 

Some of the contemporary comment would seem to imply 
that the theory of the law was based on the property con- 

3* Shaler 's Autobiography, pp. 3^37. 
wLittelVa Laws, Vol. 5: 578-579. 

300 JouBNAL OP Nbgbo Histoby 

ception of the slave and not upon humanitarian motives. 
In other words, it was perfectly proper to punish any slave 
as one saw fit as long as one did not interfere with the 
property value of the servant. Fearon, while visiting the 
State in 1818, came across an example of this kind and after 
telling the story of the punishment makes this comment: 
*^It appears that this boy (the one who had been whipped) 
was the property of a regular slave-dealer, who was then 
absent at Natchez with a cargo. Mr. Lawe's humanity fell 
lamentably in my estimation when he stated, that * whipping 
niggers, if they were his own, was perfectly right, and they 
perhaps deserved it ; but what made him mad was, that the 
boy was left under his care by a friend, and he did not like 
to have a friend's property injured.* ''^® The conduct ob- 
served by Fearon was clearly in violation of the law of 
1816, unless the absent master had given over his rights in 
full to the man Lawe, who administered the punishment. 
It may have been the spirit of the laws of Kentucky that 
Lawe had in mind when he spoke to Fearon. On the other 
hand, it could easily be given the interpretation which 
Fearon made. The trend of public opinion was more and 
more in the interest of justice for the slave as the law of 
1830 shows : 

If any owner of a slave shall treat such slave cruelly, so as in 
the opmion of the jury, to endanger the life or limb of such slave, 
or shall not supply his slave with sufficient food or raiment, it shall 
and may be lawful for any person acquainted with the fact or facts, 
to state and set forth in a petition to the Circuit Court, the facts, 
or any of them aforesaid, of which the defendant hath been guilty, 
and pray that such slave or slaves may be taken from the posses- 
sion of the owner, and sold for the benefit of such owner, agreeably 
to the 7th article of the Constitution.'^ 

In accordance with this law, if a jury of twelve men 
were convinced that a master treated his slave cruelly, or 
failed to provide him the proper food and clothing, the 

«« Fearon, Sketches in America, p. 241. 
«7 Session' Laws, 1830, p. 174. 

Slavery in Kentucky 301 

slave would be sold into better hands and the master would 
have to pay the costs of the suit. Most assuredly there was 
no place in the eyes of the law for an inhuTTian slaveholder. 
Not only was such a one a criminal in the eyes of the courts 
but he was socially ostracized in the ordinary circles of the 

Two instances of this kind in Lexington will show the 
public feeling. In 1837 Mrs. Turner, the wife of a wealthy 
Lexington judge, was accused of inhuman cruelty. Her own 
husband was the chief complainant, stating that **that 
woman has been the cause of the death of six of my servants 
by her severities.*' The trial caused intense excitement 
among the people of Lexington, more so perhaps for the 
reason that the defendant was a member of a prominent 
Boston family and her husband was a former judge of the 
criminal court in New Orleans. The court proceedings 
were brought to an end when the woman was pronounced 
insane and placed in the asylum.^® 

Early in 1839 a Mr. and Mrs. Maxwell were tried in Lex- 
ington for the inhuman treatment of a female slave servant. 
The indignation of the citizens of Lexington is apparent 
from the publicity that was given to the proceedings in the 
local papers. A Dr. Constant testified that he saw Mrs. 
Maxwell whipping the Negro severely, without being par- 
ticular whether she struck her in the face or not. The lac- 
erations had brought blood in considerable quantities for he 
had found some on the steps. He had noticed previously 
that the slave had been thinly clad and was barefooted even 
in cold weather. During the previous months he had noticed 
several scars on her and at one time she had had one eye 
tied up for a week. A Mr. Winters was once passing along 
the street and saw one of the boys whipping the slave girl 
with a cowhide. "Whenever she turned her face to him he 
would hit her across the face either with the butt end or 
smiall end of the whip to make her turn around square to the 
lash, in order that he might get a fair blow at her. A Mr. 

ssBlanchard and Bice, Delate on Slavery, p. 135. 
«» American Slavery As It la, p. 87. 

302 JoTJBNAL OF Negbo Histoby 

Say had noticed several wounds on her person, chiefly 
bruises. Capt. Porter, the keeper of the workhouse, thought 
the injuries on Milly's person were very bad, some of them 
appeared to be burns, and some were bruises or stripes 
from a cowhide whip. The trial was held amidst a turmoil 
of resentment against the defendants and there was ap- 
parently no one in sympathy with them whatever.^^ 

Any discussion of the relationships in slavery times 
would be incomplete without adding the characterization of 
the Kentucky master as drawn by a celebrated author who 
was bom in the heart of the bluegrass and was thoroughly 
familiar with the type : 

''The good in nature is irrepressible. Slavery, evil as it was^ 
when looked at from the remoteness of human history as it is to 
be, will be judged an institution that gave development to a cer- 
tain noble type of character. 

''Along with other social forces peculiar to the age, it produced 
in Kentucky a kind of farmer the like of which will never appear 
again. He had the aristocratic virtues: highest notions of per- 
sonal liberty and personal honor, a fine especial scorn of anything 
that was little, mean, cowardly. As an agriculturist he was not 
driving or merciless or grasping ; the rapid amassing of wealth was 
not among his passions, the contention of splendid living not among 
his thorns. To a certain carelessness of riches he added a certain 
profuseness of expenditure ; and indulgent towards his own pleas- 
ures, towards others, his equals or dependents, he bore himself with 
a spirit of kindness and magnanimity. Intolerant of tyranny, he 
was no tyrant. To say of such a man, as JeflPerson said of every 
slave-holder, that he lived in the perpetual exercise of the most 
boisterous passions and imremitting despotism, and in the exaction 
of the most degrading submission, was to pronoimce judgment 
hasty and unfair. 

"Rather did Mrs. Stowe, while not blind to his faults, discern his 
virtues wjien she made him, embarrassed by death, exclaim: "If 
anybody had said to me that I should sell Tom down south to one 
of those rascally traders, I should have said, 'Is thy servant a dog 
that he should do this thmg?' ''*^ 

^oj^ington Beporter, January 15, 1839. 

«i Allen, James Lane, Bltte Grass Begion of Kentucky, pp. 67-^S. 


Public Opinion Eegabding Emancipation and 


Although the facts herein set forth indicate that slavery 
in Kentucky was a comparatively mild form of servitude it 
is not the aim here to leave the impression that the anti- 
slavery element found no grounds for attacking the institu- 
tion. On the contrary, there were various elements that ' 
devised schemes for exterminating the institution. This • 
was especially true of the churches, which represented more j 
than any other one force the sentiment of the State on the | 
subject of emancipation. The three prominent Protestant 
denominations of the State were the Presbyterians, the Bap- 
tists, and the Methodists. The only one of the three which j 
maintained a general continuous policy throughout the early ! 
nineteenth century on the question of slavery was the Pres- 

It was on the eve of the first Constitutional Convention 
of 1792 that David Eice, at that time the leader of the Pres- 
byterians in Kentucky, published a pamphlet under the 
nom-de-plume of philantheopos entitled Slavery Inconsist- 
ent with Justice and Good Policy. While the author went 
into the general evils of slavery, such as the lack of protec- 
tion to female chastity, lack of religious and moral instruc- 
tion, and the comparative unproductiveness of slave labor, 
he was not one of those violent opponents of the institution, 
who would abolish the whole system without any construc- 
tive measures. A large part of his treatise wa^ devoted to 
the supposed sanction of the scriptures and his own evidence 
that the same source was against rather than in favor of the 
system then in vogue. It was but natural that Eice should 
recommend that the convention should put an end to slavery 
in Kentucky in view of his firm opinions in the matter, but 
he had a clear vision of the future and he expressed his con- 


304 JouBNAL OF Negro Histoby 

viction that '*a gradual emancipation only can be advis- 
able/* He summed up his ideas in this sentence: *^The 
legislature, if they judged it expedient, would prevent the 
importation of any more slaves ; they would enact that all 
bom after such a date should be free ; be qualified by proper 
education to make useful citizens, and be actually freed at a 
proper age."^ He put these ideas forth as a citizen of Ken- 
tucky who was interested in its welfare and as a prospective 
member of the constitutional convention. When that body 
assembled at Danville he did not hesitate to voice his views 
again but the forces of slavery were dominant and the 
majority enacted the famous article IX, which determined 
the slave code of the State until the institution was abolished 
by the 13th amendment to the federal constitution. The 
significance of the attitude of David Eice lies in the fact that 
as early as the year 1792 he put forth the idea of gradual 
emancipation, a policy far in advance of his age but which 
in the course of time was held by a large number of the fair- 
minded statesmen of Kentucky. 

In 1794 the Transylvania Presbytery, which was the gov- 
erning body of that sect at that time for the whole State, 
passed a resolution asking that slaves should be instructed 
to read the Bible, having in view the sole idea that when 
freedom did come to them they would be prepared for it.^ 
The same body in 1796 expressed the following fair-minded 
attitude in the form of a resolution : 

Although the Presbytery are fully convinced of the great evil 
of slavery, yet they view the final remedy as alone belonging to the 
civil powers ; and also do not think that they have sufficient author- 
ity from the word of God to make it a term of Christian com- 
munion. They, therefore, leave it to the consciences of the brethren 
to act as they may think proper; earnestly recommending to the 
people under their care to emancipate such of their slaves as they 
may think fit subjects of liberty; and that they also take every 
possible measure, by teaching their young slaves to read and give 
them such other instruction as may be in their power, to prepare 

1 Davidson, History of the Preshyiericm Church in Kentucky, p. 336. 

2 Minutes of Transylvania Preshytery, Vol. 1, p. 147. 

Slaveby in Kentucky 305 

them for the enjoyment of liberty, an event which they contemplate 
with the greatest pleasure, and which, they hope, will be accom- 
plished as soon as the nature of things will admit.' 

In the year 1797 the same organization decided that slavery 
was a moral evil but on the question of whether those per- 
sons holding slaves were guilty of a moral evil they decided 
in the negative. As to what persons were guilty they were 
unable to decide and the matter was postponed for future 

As early as 1800 the West Lexington Presbytery pointed 
to the trouble and division which slavery was likely to cause 
among the churches, but they were unable to come to any 
decision upon the exclusion of slaveholding members from 
church privileges and in a letter to the Synod of Virginia 
they asked for the judgment of higher ecclesiastical author- 
ities.^ In 1802 the same body decided on a policy of non- 
interference with the rights of the slaveholding members of 
the church.® 

Beginning in 1823 the Synod of Kentucky advocated the 
cause of the American Colonization Society. Their general 
attitude on the slavery question was an open one as late as 
the year 1833 when they adopted a resolution to the effect 
that ** inasmuch as in the judgment of the Synod it is inex- 
pedient to come to any decision on the very difficult and 
delicate question of slavery as it is within our bounds; 
therefore, resolved, that the whole matter be indefinitely 
postponed. **'' The vote on this resolution stood 41 to 36. 

The enactment of the law of 1833 forbidding the impor- 
tation of slaves into Kentucky seems to have induced the 
Synod to take a step in advance, for when they next met in 
1834 at Danville they adopted by the decisive vote of 56 to 7 
a resolution calling for the appointment of a committee of 
ten to draw up a plan for the instruction and future emanci- 

9 Minutes of Tramylvcmia Presbytery, Vol. 2, pp. 102-3. 

* Ibid., Vol. 2, pp. 163, 224. 

^Minutes W, Lexington Presbytery, Vol. 1, p. 38. 

« Ibid., p. 81. 

t Minutes of Kentucky Synod, Vol. 5, pp. 28, 31. 

306 JouBNAL OP Negbo Histoby 

pation of slaves in the State.® The following year this com- 
mittee published a 64-page pamphlet entitled **An Address 
to the Presbyterians of Kentucky proposing a plan for the 
instruction and emancipation of their slaves." Many edi- 
tions of this work were published throughout the country 
even as late as 1862 when it was issued by the United Pres- 
byterian Board of Publication in Pittsburgh. It was her- 
alded throughout the northern section of the United States 
as a very able document and was regarded all the more 
valuable because it was published in a slaveholding State. 
The major portion of the pamphlet was taken up with the 
general arguments setting forth the evils of the slavery 
system but in the last few pages they set down their plan 
for the gradual emancipation of the slaves in Kentucky — 
the most able contribution towards a reconstruction of the 
existing social system in the State which had been made up 
to that time. 

**The plan, then, which we propose is, for the master to 
retain during a limited period, and with regard to the wel- 
fare of the slave, that authority which he before held, in 
perpetuity, and solely for his own interest. Let the full 
liberty of the slave be secured against all contingencies, by 
a recorded deed of emancipation, to take effect at a speci- 
fied time. In the meanwhile, let the servant be treated with 
kindness — ^let all those things which degrade him be re- 
moved — let him enjoy means of instruction, let his moral 
and religious improvement be sought— let his prospects be 
presented before him, to stimulate him to acquire those 
habits of foresight, economy, industry, activity, skill and 
integrity, which wiU fit him for using well the liberty he is 
soon to enjoy." The actual plan of potential freedom was 
stated briefly in these words: **(!) We would recommend 
that all slaves now under 20 years of age, and all those yet 
to be bom in our possession, be emancipated as they sev- 
erally reach their 25th year. (2) We recommend that deeds 
of emancipation be drawn up, and recorded in our respec- 
tive county courts, specifying the slaves whom we are about 

BMiwiUea of Kentucky Synod, Vol. 5, pp. 50-52. 

Slaveby in Kentucky 307 

to emancipate, and the age at which each is to be free. (3) 
We recommend that our slaves be instructed in the conmaon 
elementary branches of education. (4) We reconmaend that 
strenuous and persevering eflForts be made to induce them 
to attend upon the ordinary services of religion, both do- 
mestic and public. (5) We recommend that great pains be 
taken to teach them the Holy Scriptures ; and that, to eflfect 
this the instrumentality of Sabbath Schools, wherever they 
can be enjoyed, be united with that of domestic instruction. ' ^® 

This appeal was not to the officials of the State but to the 
members of a particular religious body by its governing 
organization. The success or failure of the plan depended 
entirely upon the individual slaveholder's attitude in the 
matter. The committee added this sentence by way of ex- 
planation : * * These are measures which all ought to adopt ; 
and we know of no peculiarity of circumstances in the case 
of any individual which can free him from culpability if he 
neglects them.''^^ 

The sentiments embodied in this appeal were not, how- 
ever, any indication of the feeling among the slaveholding 
Presbyterians of the State nor were they expressive of the 
Synod itself, for that body never took any action upon the 
address, it being the work of the committee of ten entirely.^^ 
Davidson, writing in 1847, made the following comment on 
the sentiment of the church people in Kentucky at that time. 
* * In the morbid and feverish state of the public mind, it is 
not to be concealed, that by some they (the Committee) 
were considered as going to an unwarrantable and impru- 
dent length. The northern abolitionists were waging a hot 
crusade against slavery, sending out itinerant lecturers, and 
loading the mails with inflammatory publications. Their 
measures were marked with a fanatical virulence rarely ex- 
hibited, and the people were exasperated beyond forbear- 
ance . . . the eflfects were truly disastrous. The prospect. of 
emancipation was retarded for years. The laws bearing on 
the slave population were made more stringent than ever, 

9 Address to Presbyterians of Kentucky, pp. 33-34. 

lojfttd., p. 34. 

11 Davidson, History of the Presbyterian Chwch in Kentucky, p. 340. 

308 JouBNAL OP Negbo Histoby 

and their privileges were curtailed. In Kentucky, the re- 
ligious meetings of the blacks were broken up or interrupted 
and their Sabbath schools dispersed. "^^ 

When the subject of emancipation was under discussion 
in the Kentucky Synod one of the elders arose and stated 
that he owned one hundred slaves, nearly all of whom he 
had inherited. Many of them were so old that they could 
not provide for themselves, others were women and children 
whom no one was willing to feed and clothe for their labor. 
He stated emphatically that he had no desire to hold them 
in bondage, but that he was willing to do whatever was best 
for the slaves themselves. If he should free them, what 
would become of the aged and the women and children? 
Furthermore, it was a serious matter to give bond and 
security for the support of so many slaves of different ages 
and character. He could not send them out of the State, 
for they were intermarried with the slaves of others ; and 
as to giving them wages, he could not, for they were eating 
him up as it was. With a feeling of intense interest in the 
slave and anxiety on his own behalf to do the right, he asked 
his brethren of the Synod, what he ought to do.^^ The 
position of this kind-hearted Kentucky slaveholder shows 
more clearly than any other picture we could draw the diffi- 
culties of emancipation in Kentucky even when one was 
convinced of the evils of the slavery system. 

The final word of the Presbyterian Church on the whole 
subject of slavery was sounded at its General Assembly in 
Cincinnati in 1845, when a resolution was adopted, as sub- 
mitted by Nathan L. Eice, of Kentucky, stating that it was 
not competent for the church to legislate where Christ and 
his apostles had not legislated. This, at least for the time 
being, proved acceptable to the churches south of the Ohio 
and avoided a breach in the Presbyterians such as had just 
taken place among the Methodists and Baptists. 

The Baptists as a State organization did not pursue a 
policy similar to that of the Presbyterians. After the 

12 Op. cit, p. 340. 

18 Blanchard and Bice^ Debate on Shwery, p. 88. 

Slaveby in Kentucky 309 

failure of the emancipationist campaign in 1792 and again 
at the constitutional convention in 1799 a few members of 
the Baptist Church began a movement for immediate aboli- 
tion under the lead of several ministers -Tarrent, Barrow, 
Sutton, Holmes and others. The policy which they advo- 
cated was not only one of immediate abolition but of non- 
fellowship with the slaveholders within their own denomi- 
nation. There was no general governing body for the 
State, as the Baptists had several so-called associations 
which covered only a few counties each. The trend of 
opinion throughout the various commonwealth organiza- 
tions was apparently against the position held by the eman- 
cipationist group, for the latter in 1807 withdrew from the 
regular organizations and established an association of 
their own which they called the Licking Locust Association. 
They were only able to muster the assent of twelve churches 
to their newer group and soon died out in importance." 
The real sentiment of the Baptists was no doubt much like 
that of the Presbyterians, but these early advocates of Ne- 
gro freedom in their own organization were entirely too 
radical even for their own church membership. Had they 
followed a course of action and policy more in keeping with 
their own constituents they might have accomplished much 
good, whereas, as it was, they only stirred up the feeling 
within their own denomination to such an extent that there- 
after little progress was made towards a policy of even 
gradual emancipation of the slave. 

Throughout the slavery era, however, the Baptists in the 
State were divided into the ** regular^' and the ** separa- 
tists,^^ the former being in favor of non-interference with 
the question and the latter representing the advocates of 
emancipation in one form or another. Both agreed that 
slavery was an evil, but the regular group was unwilling to 
make it the cause of the expulsion of a slaveholder from the 
church. In May, 1845, a ** Southern Baptist Convention'^ 
was held at Augusta, Georgia. The meeting had been 
hastily called and representatives were present only from 

1* Spencer, History of the Baptists in Kentucky, Vol. 1, p. 186. 

310 JouBNAL OP Negbo Histoby 

Maryland, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Ala- 
bama, Louisiana, Kentucky, and the District of Columbia. 
Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee and Florida were repre- 
sented only by letters. The convention had been summoned 
as a protest against the action of the *' Acting Board" of 
the church in the country in refusing to consent to the ap- 
pointment of a slaveholder to any field of foreign mis- 
sionary labors.^^ In June of the same year the Kentucky 
Baptists for the most part withdrew from the northern 
organization and pledged themselves to this newly formed 
southern convention. The creed was not changed. It was 
simply a matter of rebuke toward the northern section ^s 
attitude on the slavery question.^® 

The Methodists had also struggled to find a peaceful 
solution of the problem of harmonizing Christianity with 
slavery. At the meeting of the General Conference of the 
Methodist Church in 1845, several days were taken up in the 
debate over the status of Bishop James Osgood Andrew, of 
Kentucky. By inheritance and marriage he was a slave- 
holder. Finally he was requested by a vote of 110 to 68 **to 
desist from the exercise of the ofiBce of Bishop while this 
impediment remained. ' ' The southerners in the convention 
became unusually indignant, declaring that the infliction of 
such a stigma upon Bishop Andrew would make it impossi- 
ble for them to maintain the influence of Methodism in the 
South.*'' So they withdrew from the convention and in 
May, 1845, held a convention of the Methodist churches of 
the Southern States in Louisville. After a nineteen-days ' 
session they decided to set up an organization of their own 
to be known as the '^Methodist Episcopal Church South^' 
and to have their first meeting at Petersburg, Virginia, in 
May, 1846.18 

The Kentucky Methodist Conference met at Frankfort 
on September 17, 1845, and the entire attention of the meet- 
ing was given over to the question of whether they would 

i^mies' Begister, May 24, 1845. 
le Ihid,, June 28, 1845. 

17 Hid., June 8, 1844. 

18 n,id,, May 17, 24, 31, 1845. 

Slavbby in Kentucky 311 

adhere to the general conference or would pledge them- 
selves to the newly formed southern organization. Bishop 
Andrew appeared at Frankfort at the crucial moment and 
stated all the facts concerning himself and the action which 
the Louisville Conference had taken as a result of the 
trouble in the previous Gteneral Conference. By a vote of 
146 to 5 they then declared that henceforth they would ad- 
here to the Methodist Episcopal Church South, and that all 
proceedings, records and official acts would thereafter be in 
the name of the '* Kentucky Conference of the Methodist 
Episcopal Church South. '^^^ 

At its annual conference in 1858 held in Hopkinsville 
the Louisville Conference held a very heated debate over 
the rules of the church regarding slaveholders. Finally 
they voted to expunge from the General Eules the one which 
forbade *Hhe buying and selling of men, women and chil- 
dren, with the intention to enslave them.'^^^ The regula- 
tion thus repealed, although it was a part of the rules of 
Methodism, was just another indication of the sentiment in 
Kentucky at that time to resent more and more the en- 
croachments of the North on the slave system of the South 
and to hang on to the institution with a grim determination. 
But they were not willing to go to unwarrantable lengths, 
for at the Kentucky Conference held in Germantown in 
March, 1860, a proposition submitted by the sister confer- 
ences to the South with a view to further altering the rules 
on slavery was denied.^^ 

The churches of Kentucky for the most part pursued a 
policy of benevolent neutrality in the struggle which the 
slave forces of the State were having with their neighbors 
to the North. The Baptists and Methodists within the com- 
monwealth officially never made any positive contribution 
to the forces of either side, and they took no definite stand 
until the whole southern division of their general national 
organization withdrew from membership in the national 
conventions and set up an organization of their own. When 

i^Niles' Register, September 27, 1845. 

20 ColHiiB, History of Kentucky^ Vol. 1, p. 81. 

21 Hid., Vol. 1, p. 83. 


this much had been done both the Methodists and Baptists 
of Kentucky pledged their allegiance to their respective 
newly formed southern conventions. On the other hand 
the Presbyterians of the State maintained a policy that was 
distinctively their own, separate and apart from any acts 
of their national organization. They were the only religious 
body in Kentucky to issue officially a constructive plan for 
the betterment of social and economic conditions under 
slavery. When it came to the advocacy of even gradual 
emancipation they were careful to state that the plan was 
only published for the benefit of the slaveholding members 
of their own religious body. The Presbyterians went 
further in their interference with the institution of slavery 
in the State than any other religious body, but even they 
were not willing to try to extend their home missionary field 
beyond their own membership, ^n the whole, the churches 
in Kentucky merely followed the dictates of public opinion 
on the subject of slavery, trying to pursue a policy of 
neutrality as long as possible and then when it was no longer 
feasible, most of them sided with the slaveholding group. 
The northern section of none of these religious bodies, how- 
ever, was driven out of the Stat^ There were a good many 
of the so-called ** northern ^^ churches which remained loyal 
to the old national orgaaizations. 

The summary of the actions of the three principal re- 
ligious bodies of the State shows that there was a ^growing 
sentiment against the institution of slaveryj Kentucky 
being a slaveholding State, the significance of this attitude 
was very important. While it may be true that the majority 
sentiment even among the churches was not in favor of the 
elimination of slavery the very fact that even a minority 
were coming to the front unmolested by violence and threats 
and favoring the gradual elimination of the established in- 
stitution revealed the general trend of public opinion among 
the people of Kentucky. These measures were taken en- 
tirely upon their own initiative and were not prompted by 
an outside anti-slavery influence. 

Any discussion of the evolution of public opinion in 

Slaveby in Kentucky 313 

Kentucky on the subject of emancipation and of slavery in 
general would be incomplete without describing the attitude 
of Henry Clay toward the institution in Kentucky. During 
almost the entire period of slavery in Kentucky he was the 
foremost citizen of the State and one of the principal slave- 
holders. From those two viewpoints alone anything that he 
had to say on the local type and problems of slavery is 
valuable in this connection. 

The general position of Clay on the subject of Negro 
servitude has never been very widely understood. Among 
the radical abolitionists of the North he was looked upon as 
a friend of slavery for the sake of political advancement 
and among the slaveholders in some parts of the South he 
was regarded as almost a member of the Garrisonian group 
of the enemies of slavery. To understand Clay's real posi- 
tion we need only to consider his relation to the institution 
as it existed in his native State. 

Coming from Virginia to Lexington in 1797, Clay soon 
found ample opporiiunities for a public career. He first 
came into prominence as a writer on slavery in the columns 
of the Lexington Gazette and the Kentucky Reporter. 
When the constitutional convention of 1799 was called for 
a revision of the fundamental law of the State Clay bent all 
his efforts towards the adoption of a system of gradual 
emancipation for the slaves of Kentucky. It was pointed 
out that there were relatively few slaves in the State and 
that a progressive plan of liberation would be much easier 
than at any future time. 

The consensus of opinion at the time was that the 
emancipationists led by this young man from Virginia 
would have been successful, had it not been for the interven- 
ing excitement produced by the Alien and Sedition Laws 
and the resulting famous Virginia and Kentucky Resolu- 
tions of 1798. Clay threw himself heart and soul into the 
newer campaign against the mistakes of the Federalists and 
the former enthusiasm for the gradual freedom of the slaves 
seems to have died down in his thought as well as among 
the Kentucky people in general. Thus the constitutional 

314 JouBNAii OP Negbo Histoby 

convention of 1799 left the conditions of slavery as they 

In a speech delivered three decades later before the Ken- 
tucky Colonization Society, Clay said in commenting on his 
position in 1798 : * * More than thirty years ago, an attempt 
was made, in this commonwealth, to adopt a system of grad- 
ual emancipation, similar to that which the illustrious Frank- 
lin had mainly contributed to introduce in 1780, in the state 
founded by the benevolent Penn. And among the facts of 
my life which I look back to with most satisfaction is that 
of my having cooperated, with other zealous and intelligent 
friends, to procure the establishment of that system in this 
state. We were overpowered by numbers, but submitted to 
the decision of the majority with that grace which the 
minority in a republic should ever yield to that decision. I 
have, nevertheless, never ceased, and shall never cease, to 
regret a decision, the effects of which have been to place us 
in the rear of our neighbors, who are exempt from slavery, 
in the state of agriculture, the progress of manufactures, 
the advance of improvements, and the general progress of 
society. ''22 In his famous speech in the Senate on Aboli- 
tion in 1839, referring further to his activities in 1798, Clay 
stated that ''no one was rash enough to propose or think of 
immediate abolition. No one was rash enough to think of 
throwing loose upon the community, ignorant and unpre- 
pared, the untutored slaves of the state, "^s 

Clay's private dealings with the institution were always 
consistent with his political principles on the subject of 
slavery. He bought many slaves during his lifetime but he 
never sold any.^* Clay believed that the slaves should be 

22 Schurz, Carl, Eenry Clay, Vol. 1, p. 31. 

28 Colton, Works of Clay, Vol. 6, p. 153. 

24 His attitude was perhaps best shown when, on. a visit to Bichmond, 
Indiana, in the fall of 1846, he was presented with a petition hj a Quaker by 
the name of Mendenhall asking him to liberate all the slaves he owned. Clay 
made a rather lengthy speech to the gentleman on the general principles of the 
question and then, came down to the practical side of the problem: 

''Without any knowledge of the relation in which I stand to my slaves, 
or their individual condition, you, Mr. Mendenhall, and your associates, who 
have been active in getting up this petition, call upon me forthwith to liberate 

Slaveby in Kentucky 315 

freed, but at the same time considered the difl&culties at- 
tendant upon instant emancipation. Among the mass of the 
slaveholders of the State, Clay was one of the very few 
who held a perfectly consistent attitude on gradual eman- 
cipation as was finally shown by his will.2« 

the whole of thenu Now let me tell you, that some half a dozen of them, from 
age, decrepitude, or infirmity, are whoUy unable to gain a livelihood for them- 
selves, and are a heavy charge upon me. Do you think that I should conform 
to the dictates of humanity by ridding myself of that charge, and sending them 
forth into the world with the boon of liberty, to end a wretched existence in 
starvation? Another class is composed of helpless infants, with or without 
improvident mothers. Do you believe as a Christian, that I should perform my 
duty toward them by abandoning them to their fatef Then there is another 
class who would not accept their freedom if I would give it to them. I have 
for many years owned a slave that I wished would leave me, but he would not. 
What shall I do with that class f" 

"What my treatment of my slaves is you can learn from Charles, who 
accompanies me on this journey, and who has traveled witii me over the greater 
part of the United States, and in both the Canadas, and has had a thousand 
opportunities, if he had chosen to embrace them, to leave me. Elzcuse me, Mr. 
JBiiendenhall, for saying that my slaves are as well fed and clad, look as sleek 
and hearty, and are quite as civil and: respectful in their demeanor, and as 
little disposed to wound the feelings of any one, as you are." 

"I shall, Mr. Mendenhall, take your petition into respectful and deliberate 
consideration; but before I come to a final decision, I should like to know what 
you and your associates are willing to do for the slaves in my possession, if I 
should think proper to liberate them. I own about fifty, who are probably worth 
about fifteen thousand dollara To turn them loose upon society without any 
means of subsistence or support would be an act of cruelty. Are you willing 
to raise and secure the payment of fifteen thousand dollars for their benefit, if 
I should be induced to free themf The security of the payment of that sum 
would materially lessen the obstacle in the way of their emancipation." — Col- 
ton, Beed & MoKinley, WorJca of Senry Clay, Vol. 6, pp. 388-390. 

This sums up in Clay's own words his treatment of the slaves that were 
under his control. It is not to be presumed in any case that general condi- 
tions in the State were like this. There were obvious reasons why Clay couldn 't 
get one or two of his slaves to accept freedom when he offered it, for they 
realized that they were far better off under his own particular care than they 
could ever hope to be under an absolutely free status in society. 

25 So consistent was Clay in deed as well as words in spite of all that the 
opposing forces had accomplished in the iState of Kentucky that when he died 
he left a will which did for his own slaves just what he would have had others 
do in his lifetime. As long as he lived he refused to emancipate his slaves but 
when he passed away he left a written document, the following portion of 
which forms the eminent climax to a career of continuous labors for the 
eventual good of the Kentucky slave owners as well as the slaves themselves. 


With a more radical policy than that of Henry Clay 
the Kentucky Abolition Society had been established as 
early as 1807, but its membership was composed largely 
of Presbyterian and Baptist preachers who were not in 
sympathy with the stand taken by the constitutional con- 
vention of 1799. It was not until about 1830 that there 
began in the State any real movement which was wide 
enough in influence to be taken as an indication of the trend 
of public opinion. It will be recalled tbat it was not until 
1835 that the Presbyterian Synod was able to decide on a 
plan of gradual emancipation. 

It was in 1831 that some 48 slaveholders of Kentucky 
met and declared themselves in favor of the gradual libera- 
tion of the slaves.^ James G. Bimey, who was at that time 
living in Danville, took this statement of the slave owners 
rather seriously and sent out an invitation to the prominent 

''In the sale of any of mj slaves^ I direct that members of families shall 
not be separated without their consent. 

"My will is, and I accordingly direct, that the issue of all my female 
slaves, which shall be bom after the first day of January, 1860, shall be free 
at the respective ages, of the males at twenty-eight, and of the females at 
twenty-five; and that the three years next preceding their arrival at the age of 
freedom, they shall be entitled to their hire or wages for those years, or of the 
fair value of their services, to defray the expense of transporting them to one 
of the African colonies and of furnishing them with an outfit on their arrival 

"And I further direct, that they be taught to read, to write, and to 
cipher, and that they be sent to Africa. I further will and direct, that the 
issue of any of the females, who are so to be entitled to their freedom, at the 
age of twenty-five, shall be free at their birth, and that they be bound out as 
apprentices to learn farming, or some useful trade, upon the condition also, of 
being taught to read, to write, and to cipher. And I direct also, that the age 
of twenty-one having been attained, they shall be sent to one of the African 
colonies, to raise the necessary funds for which purpose, if they shall not have 
previously earned them, they must be hired out for a sufficient length of time. 

"I require and enjoin my executors and descendants to pay particular at- 
tention to the execution of this provision of my will. And if they should sell 
any of the females who or whose issue are to be free, I especially diesire them to 
guard carefully the rights of such issue by all suitable stipulations and sanctions 
in the contract of sale. But I hope that it may not be necessary to sell any such 
persons who are to be entitled to their freedom^ but that they may be retained 
in the possession of some of my descendants. "—<!olton', Beed & McKinley, Vol. 
3, p. 15d. 

26 Birney, William, James G, Birney and his Times, p. 132. 

Slaveby in Kentucky 317 

men of the State to attend an emancipation convention on 
December 6, 1831. After several months of determined 
eflfort Bimey only succeeded in getting together nine men, 
all slaveholders. It is evident from the writings of Bimey 
that he thought these men were all determined to free their 
slaves and that whatever plan he should propose would be 
accepted. But when the nine slaveholders began to talk 
about the existing conditions in Kentucky Bimey 's eyes 
were opened. It was pointed out that those who advocated 
immediate emancipation were coming more and more to be 
victims of social ostracism. Furthermore, Bimey learned 
that there was among the prominent slaveholders of the 
State a sort of secret organization which had been formed 
to protect the constitutional rights of Kentucky slaveholders 
against the encroachments of the people from the North. 
James G. Bimey was one of the most intelligent of the 
Kentuckians who favored emancipation, but the ardent en- 
thusiasm which he had hitherto held for the future of his 
cause in Kentucky was decidedly cooled by this little gather- 
ing of nine slaveholders. These men showed him a point of 
view about which he had thought very little. Outside of the 
new vision which this conference gave to Bimey the only 
result of the deliberations was that there was formed a 
society of slaveholders which advocated the gradual eman- 
cipation of the future oflFspring of slaves when they reached 
the age of twenty-one.?'^ 

Soon after this episode Bimey came out in opposition to 
both gradual emaacipation and colonization. The majority 
of liberal-minded Kentuckians were coming more and more 
to believe in these two propositions as the ultimate solution 
of the slave problems of the State and once Bimey came 
out in opposition to them he was put down as a radical 
abolitionist. In July, 1835, the feeling of the people of 
Danville was aroused to the highest pitch and his anti- 
slavery paper The PhUcmthropist was forced to suspend 
publication when the local printer was bought out.^® The 

27 Bimey, William, James G» Birney and hia Times, p. 133. 
^^Ilid,, p. 182. The interesting story of Birney and his troubles with 
his fellow townsmen does not come within the scope of this investigation and 


feeling of the people tbroughout the State, however, was 
well shown by the fact that for the next two months Bimey 
made personal visits to Lexington, Frankfort and Louis- 
ville in an attempt to get a printer to issue his newspaper. 
He was entirely unsuccessful and on September 13 he wrote 
to Gerrit Smith that he had determined to move to Cin- 
cinnati.2® While the people of the State could not agree 
with Birney^s attitude on slavery they were the first to 
admire his courage. George D. Prentice, the pro-slavery 
editor of the Louisville Journail, had this comment to make : 

''He is an enthusiastic, but, in our opinion, a visionary philan- 
thropist, whose efforts, though well intended, are likely to be of no 
real service to the cause of humanity. He at least shows, however, 
that he has the courage to reside among the people whose institu- 
tions he assails. He is not like William Lloyd Garrison living in 
Massachusetts, and opening the battery upon the states five hun- 
dred or one thousand miles off. He is not such a coward or fool 
as to think of cannonading the South from the steeple of a New 
England meeting house. '/ 

The climax of Bimey 's career in Kentucky had been 
reached in the early part of 1835 when he split with the 
Kentucky Colonization Society. Judge Underwood in the 
annual colonization address at Frankfort had attempted to 
show that the only way to exterminate slavery in the State 
was by African colonization. He advocated the expendi- 
ture of $140,000 annually for the transportation of four 
thousand Negroes between the ages of seventeen and twenty. 
The plan if followed for fifty years he stated would rid the 
State of all slaves.^^ In a letter to Gerrit Smith on Jan- 
uary 31, 1835, Bimey voiced his opposition to the plan of 
Judge Underwood and to any scheme of colonization. Thus 
on another point he was to be classed as a radical abo- 
litionist and his career of usefulness in Kentucky was at ao 
end. If he had chosen a more middle ground and aided 

will be found treated at length in WiHiam Bimey 's James G, Bimey and 
His Times. 

2»Birney, William, James G, Birney and his Times, p. 185. 

sojftid., p. 155. 


Slaveby in Kentucky 319 

the cause of colonization, he would no doubt have accom- 
plished much good. As it was, he was forced to leave the 
State after many threats and thereafter he stormed the in- 
stitution of slavery in his native State from a safe region 
north of the Ohio River. From that time on everything 
that he uttered in opposition to slavery in Kentucky was met 
with a strong current of opposition. Where Bimey might 
have accomplished much for his native State he really did 
harm because he went beyond the point where the people 
would listen to his advice. In September, 1834, he visited 
Henry Clay and that most liberal of all Kentucky slave- 
holders pointed out to Bimey the error of his ways but the 
latter showed no signs of listening to advice and thereafter 
Clay and Bimey were sworn political antagonists. Had 
Bimey joined with Clay at this time there might have been 
a much brighter future in Kentucky for the cause of emanci- 
pation. As it was, Bimey never receded from his position 
and when the Presbyterian Synod came out with its plan of 
gradual emancipation Bimey voiced his determined opposi- 
tion to the scheme because it did not favor the immediate 
liberation of the slaves.'^ With the advent of the abolition 
movement most of the Kentucky masters who were in favor 
of gradual emancipation receded from their position and 
held on firmly to the existing institution.^^ 

31 Bimey, William, James G. Birney and his Times, p. 156. 
82 Quick to recognize this tendency^ Clay referred to it in his Senate speech 
of February 7, 1839: 

"The proposition in Kentucky for gradual emancipation did not prevail, 
but it was sustained by a large and respectable minority. That minority had 
increased, and was increasing, until the abolitionists commenced their opera- 
tions. The effect has been to dissipate all prospects whatever, for the present, 
of any scheme of gradual or other emancipation. The people of that state 
have been shocked and alarmed by these abolition movements, and the number 
who would now favor a system even of gradual emancipation is probably less 
than it was in the years 1798-9. At the session of the legislature held in 
1837-8 the question of calling a convention was submitted to a consideration 
of the people by a law passed in conformity with the Constitution of that state. 
Many motives existed for the passage of the law, and among them that of 
emancipation had its influence. When the question was passed upon by the 
people at their last annual election, only about one fourth of the whole voters 
of the state supported a call of a convention. The apprehension of the danger 

320 JouBNAL OP Neobo Histoby 

The series of events from 1831 to 1835, centering around 
the activities of Bimey, brought the attention of the public 
to the slavery question more than ever. As was common in 
all other movements of popular interest it became the cus- 
tom for local gatherings to be held to discuss the problem. 
It was always customary at the conclusion of these meetings 
to draw up a series of resolutions and it is noticeable that 
they all voiced a similarity of sentiment on the slavery ques- 
tion. Ai typical set of resolves were those drawn up at a 
gathering held in Shelbyville in June, 1835 : 

** Resolved, that the system of domestic slavery as it now exists 
in this commonwealth, is both a moral and a political evil, and in 
violation of the rights of man. 

''Resolved, as the opinion of this meeting, that the additional 
value which would be given to our property, and its products by 
the introduction of free white labor, would in itself be sufi5cient, 
under a system of gradual emancipation, to transport the whole of 
our colored population. 

''Resolved, that no system of emancipation will meet with our 
approbation, unless colonization be inseparably connected with it, 
and that any scheme of emancipation which will leave the blacks 
within our borders, is more to be deprecated than slavery itself."'* 

These resolutions were just another indication that the 
feentiment of the people of Kentucky during the decade 
from 1830 to 1840 was in favor of gradual emancipation of 
the slaves and their colonization in Africa. We have seen 
that this was the plan of the various church bodies, and also 

of abolition was the leading consideration among the people for opposing the 
call. But for that, but for the agitation of the question of abolition in states 
whose population had no right, in the opinion of the people of Kentucky, to 
interfere in the matter, the vote for a convention would have been much larger, 
if it had not been carried. . . . Prior to the agitation of this subject of aboli- 
tion, there was a progressive melioration in the condition of the slaves — ^schools 
of instruction were opened by humane and religious persons. These are now 
all checked, and a spirit of insubordination having shown itself in some locali- 
ties, traceable, it is believed, to abolition movements and exertions, the legisla- 
tive authority has found it expedient to infuse fresh vigor into the police and 
the laws which regulate the conduct of the slaves. ' ' — Colton, Beed & McKinley, 
WorJcs of Henry Clay, Vol. 6, pp. 153-154. 
^^miea' Begister, July 4, 1806, 

^ ^ 

Slavbby in Kentucky 321 

of Kentucky's greatest statesman, Henry Clay. Added to 
this we find that the majority of the liberal-minded people 
of the State held to the same conviction. But why, one 
asfcs, did all this feeling come to naught. The answer can 
be better expressed in the words of a contemporary Ken- 
tucMan, Nathaniel Shaler: ''From the local histories the 
deliberate student will easily become convinced that if there 
had been no external pressure against slavery at this time 
there would still have been a progressive elimination of the 
slave element from the population by emancipation on the 
soil, by the sale of slaves to the planters of the Southern 
States, and by their colonization in foreign parts. * '^* 

During the decade from 1840 to 1850 this outside pres- 
sure of which Shaler speaks was at its height. We have 
seen typical examples of it within the borders of Kentucky 
in the discussion of the cases of Delia Webster, Calvin Fair- 
bank and John B. Mahan. The change in the trend of pop- 
ular thought during this period does not show itself much 
in the open until 1849, when the third constitutional con- 
vention was about to assemble. It was then that all phases 
of the problem of slavery were discussed, in the press, in 
the pulpit, on the platform and in the elections. George D. 
Prentice in an editorial gave the best exposition of Kentucky 
sentiment. He said: ''The sentiment of Kentucky we be- 
lieve to be, that slavery is an evil which must be borne with 
patience, simply because there is no known plan for its 
rapid extinction which would not produce incalculable sac- 
rifices and appalling risks. At the same time we think the 
people of Kentucky are not inclined to increase the evil, but 
are inclined to favor its gradual emancipation and remote 
termination, by prohibiting the further introduction of 
slaves and by some provision tending to encourage volun- 
tary emancipation with colonization. These measures they 
believe, taken in connection with the known tendency in 
widening circles to substitute free for slave labor, will has- 
ten the social revolution in question as fast as it can be 

8* Shaler, N. S., Kentucky, p. 197. 

322 JouBNAL OF Nbgbo Histoby 

carried with safety to the Commonwealth or with benefit to 
the colonized negro. ' *** 

So miiversal was this feeling that even Cassius M. Clay, 
the only real abolitionist left in the State, came out more or 
less in favor of it. Under his leadership there was held at 
Frankfort, April 25, 1849, an emancipation convention to 
which all the more radical element were invited. Clay himself 
proved to be the most radical member of the convention but 
when they came to draw up a series of resolutions the only 
ones to pass were those which favored the absolute pro- 
hibition of the importation of any more slaves into Ken- 
tucky and the complete power to enforce and perfect, under 
the new constitution, whenever the people desired it, a sys- 
tem of gradual emancipation of the slaves.^® Here we are 
confronted with the unusual fact that the radical element of 
the State agreed with the plan of George D. Prentice, one 
of the chief pro-slavery men of Kentucky, and with that of 
Henry Clay. 

While sojourning for his health in New Orleans in Feb- 
ruary, 1849, Clay sent Richard Pindell for publication a 
letter on the gradual emancipation of slavery in Kentucky, 
as the State at that time was about to hold another constitu- 
tional convention. This long and able document constitutes 
the most constructive program for the progressive elimina- 
tion of slavery from the State that was ever drawn up. It 
embodied not only the fundamental principles of Clay's atti- 
tude on the Kentucky slavery question but it undoubtedly 
typified the real position of the average high-minded Ken- 
tucky slaveholder of that day. Clay frankly admitted that 
he had little hope of the immediate success of the plan, but 
he thought it was his duty to present the facts of the prob- 
lem to the people of his own State, at a time when they were 
about to alter the existing constitution. The spirit of the 
plan as well as its context shows that Clay had thoroughly 
considered the emancipation question from all aspects, 

ss Louisville Weekly Journal, September 26, 184^. 
s^mies' J&egister, May », 1849. 
Clay, CassiuB, MeTnoirs, pp. 17'5-178. 
CodlinB, History of Kentuclcy, Vol. 1, p. 59. 

Slavbby in Kentucky 323 

especially in relation to its practical operation. The actual 
plan was based on three principles: (1) that any gradual 
emancipation should be slow in its operation, so as not to 
disturb the existing habits of society; (2) as an indispen- 
sable condition the liberated slaves were to be sent out of 
the State and colonized in Africa; (3) and the expenses of 
their transportation and six months subsistence were to be 
borne by a fund supplied by the labor of the freed negro. 

Eegarding the progressive plan of liberation, Clay sug- 
gested that a certain date, January 1, 1855 or 1860, be fixed 
for the commencement of the plan. All slaves born after 
that date were to be free at the age of twenty-five ; but they 
were liable thereafter to be hired out under State authority 
for a period of not more than three years, in order to raise 
money to pay for their expenses of transportation to their 
colony and their subsistence for the term of six months. It 
was suggested that the offspring of those who were to be 
free at twenty-five should be free at their birth, but subject 
to apprenticeship until they reached their majority and 
then to be hired out as in the case of the parent to pay the 
expenses of transportation to the colony and their settle- 
ment there. In the meanwhile the master would have the 
usual legal rights over the slaves and could sell, devise or 
remove them out of the State. 

Clay considered colonization to be an indispensable part 
of his scheme and went so far as to say that he would be 
'* utterly opposed'* to any system of emancipation without 
it. He firmly believed that the nearly two hundred thou- 
sand blacks along with their descendants * * could never live 
in peace and harmony and equality with the residue of the 
population*' if they were free. He thought the expense of 
colonizing should be borne by a fund from the labor of the 
liberated Negro because he was the individual who secured 
the most benefit thereby. The non-slaveholder should not 
be taxed for any share in the expense and the slaveholder 
would have enough sacrifices to make without any addi- 
tional financial burdens. Clay figured that the average 

324 JouBNAL OP Nbgbo Histoby 

annual hire of each slave would be about fifty dollars, or 
one hundred and fifty dollars for the whole period of three 
years. One third of this sum would be required for the 
transportation of the Negro to Africa and the other two 
thirds would go towards a fund to establish him in his new 

The persistence of Clay in his avowed convictions on 
the subject of slavery and emancipation in Kentucky was 
kept up in spite of the fact that within a few days after the 
publication of his plan of emancipation throughout Ken- 
tucky the House of Eepresentatives at Frankfort by the 
unanimous vote of 93 to declared that **we the represen- 
tatives of the people of Kentucky, are opposed to abolition 
or emancipation of slavery in any shape or form whatever, 
except as now provided by the laws and constitution of the 
state. '*^® This was their answer to the plea set forth by 
Clay and strange to say the same group of men voted unan- 
imously at the same session to return Clay for six years 
more to the United States Senate. 

A convention of the so-called *' Friends of Constitutional 

S7 Clay endeavored in Mb plan to be fair to all parties concerned, not only 
the Negro but the slave owner as well, as is well evident in the following para- 
graph, in which he sought to show the justice of his scheme to the holders of 
Negroes in the State: 

''That the system will be attended with some sacrifices on the part of the 
slaveholders, which are to be regretted, need not be denied. What great and 
beneficent enterprise was ever accomplished without risk and sacrifice! But 
these sacrifices are distant, contingent, and inconsiderable. Assuming the 
year 1860 for the commencement of the erystem, all slaves born prior to that 
time would remain such during their lives, and the present loss of the slave- 
holder would be only the difference in value of the female slave whose off- 
spring, if she had any, bom after the first day of January, 1860, should be 
free at the age of twenty-five or should be slaves for Hf e. In the meantime, if 
the right to remove or sell the slave out of the State should be exercised, that 
trifiing loss would not be incurred. The slaveholder, after the commencement 
of the system, would lose the difference between the value of the slaves for life 
and slaves until the age of twenty-five years. He might also incur some incon- 
siderable expense in rearing from their birth the issue of those who were to be 
free at twenty-five, until they were old enough to be apprenticed out; but as it 
is probable that they would be most generally bound to Imn, he would receive 
some indemnity from their services until they attained their majority." 

»8 Collins, History of Kentucky, Vol. 1, p. 58. 

Slavbby in Kentucky 325 

Eeform** had been held at the State capital on February 5, 
1849, and had drawn up a series of twelve resolutions on 
the several questions which were to be debated in the con- 
stitutional convention. They made mention incidentally of 
the desired reforms in connection with slavery stating 
''that we do not desire or contemplate any change in the 
relative condition of master and slave in the new Cfonstitu- 
tion, and intend a firm and decided resistance to any such 
change. We have no objection to a proper provision for 
colonizing the present free blacks, and those who shall here- 
after be set free, but protest against abolition or emancipa- 
tion without the consent of the owner, unless upon full com- 
I)ensation and colonization. ' *'* 

This element dominated the convention. The body not 
only ignored any plan of emancipation but drew the reins 
of the existing institution tighter than ever before by incor- 
porating in the Bill of Eights the famous phrase that ' ' the 
right of property is before and higher than any constitu- 
tional sanction, and the right of the owner of a slave to such 
slave and its increase is the same and as inviolable as the 
right of the owner of any property whatsoever.*' Such a 
statement was, however, not brought on by the words of 
Clay, but was a direct answer to the ''higher law than the 
constitution** plea of the abolitionists.*^ The convention 
amended the standard article on slavery with a section to 
the effect that the "General Assembly should pass laws 

••Nilea' Begister, Pebniary 21, 1849. 

M W€ know how day felt about this matter, for he referred to it at length 
in his speech in the Senate on February 20, 1850, in the debate on the Cknn- 
promise resolutione. Speaking particularly of his letter of emancipation he 
declared: ''I knew at the moment that I wrote that letter in New Orleans, as 
well as I know at this moment, that a majority of the people of Kentucky 
would not adopt my scheme, or probably any project whatever of gradual 
emancipation. Perfectly well did I know it; but I was anxious that, if any 
of my posterity, or any human being who comes after me, should have occasion 
to look into my sentiments, and ascertain what they were on this great institu- 
tion of slavery, to put them on record then; and ineffectual as I saw the project 
would be, I felt it was a duty which I owed to myself, to truth, to my 
country, and to my God, to record my sentiments. The State of Kentucky has 
decided as I anticipated she would do. I regret it; but I acquiesce in- her de- 
cision." — Colton, Beed & MdKinley, Works of Henry Clay, Vol. 3, p. 353. 

326 JouBNAL OF Nbgbo Histoby 

providing that any free negro or mulatto immigrating to, 
and any slave thereafter emancipated in, and refusing to 
leave that State, should be deemed guilty of a felony, pun- 
ished by confinement in the penitentiary/' 

The obvious purpose of this amendment was to reduce 
the number of Negroes in the State. Accordingly every 
slave emancipated was forced to leave the State and the 
Negro population was decreased just so much every time 
any slaves were set free. The convention was thus willing 
to do something towards eliminating the Negro, but was not 
in favor of any scheme of a general gradual liberation of the 
slaves. The necessary legislative act for carrying out the 
provision of the constitution was enacted March 24, 1851.*^ 
This law only went half way in that it only prevented those 
Negroes who had been freed in Kentucky from living in the 
State. It was not until March 3, 1860, that the prohibition 
was extended to all free Negro immigration into the State.*^ 
An interesting development of this policy was shown in the 
enactment of the legislature in 1863 which declared it un- 
lawful for any Negro or mulatto claiming to be free under 
the Emancipation Proclamation to migrate to or remain in 
the State. Any Negro violating this law was to be treated 
as a runaway slave.* ^ 

The desire of the State authorities to eliminate the free 
Negro was accompanied by constructive measures in behalf 
of the emancipated slave. On March 3, 1856, the State leg- 
islature passed a law appropriating $5,000 annually to aid 
the Kentucky Colonization Society in the transportation of 
free Negroes to Liberia.** The universal sentiment of the 
time was that the salvation of the Negro race rested in their 
elimination from the State even as free men and their trans- 
portation to their native African soil. Henry Clay of all 
others was the most persistent advocate of colonization. 

We have seen that the general trend of public opinion 
from about 1798 had been progressively in favor of gradual 

*i Collins, Eiatory of Kentucky, VoL 1, p. 61. 
^^Ihid., VoL 1, p. Sa. 
«sSefl6ion Laws of 1363; p. 366. 
4* Ihid., 1856, Vol. 1, p. 50. 



Slavbby in Kentucky 327 

emancipation provided it was coupled with some form of 
colonization which would remove the liberated Negroes from 
the State. Public sentiment, however, received a serious 
set-back about 1838 with the beginning of the Underground 
Railroad system and the incoming of the abolitionist litera- 
ture. In a speech in the Kentucky legislature of 1838 James 
T. Morehead, one of the leading anti-slavery statesmen of 
the State, portrayed the coming of the newer era in the 
history of Kentucky slavery when the people would make 
more strenuous efforts to hold firmly to the slavery institu- 
tion. Morehead pictured the popular mind in these words : 
'*Any man who desires to see slavery abolished— any friend 
of emancipation, gradual or immediate— who supposes for 
a moment that now is the time to carry out this favorite 
policy, must be blind to the prognostics that lower from 
every quarter of the political sky. Sir, the present is not the 
period to unmanacle the slave in this or any other state of 
the Union. Four years ago you might have had some hope. 
But the wild spirit of fanaticism has done much to retard 
the work of emancipation and to rivet the fetters of slaverj- 
in Kentucky. . . . The advocates of abolition— the phren- 
zied fanatics of the North, neither sleep nor slumber. 
Their footsteps are even now to be seen wherever mischief 
can be perpetrated — and it may be that while the i)eople of 
Kentucky are reposing in the confidence of fancied security, 
the tocsin of rebellion may resound through the land— the 
firebrand of the incendiary may wrap their dwellings in 
flames — their towns and cities may become heaps of ashes 
before their eyes and their minds drawn off from all 
thoughts of reforming the government to consider the means 
necessary for their self-preservation— the protection of 
their families and all that is dear to men. ' ^^^ 

Such was the idea of one of the most prominent public 
men of Kentucky and such became in time the opinion of the 
average citizen who had come to believe in gradual emanci- 
pation as the hope and solution of the Negro problem in the 
State. The future course of events regarding slavery in 

«6 MayavUle Eagle, April 11, 18^8. 

328 JouBKAL OF Negbo Histoby 

Kentucky is to be explained by this radical change of mind. 
Thus did the wise and constructive plans of the gradual 
emancipationists come to naught with the incoming of the 
radical abolitionist movement which the Kentucky populace 
thought would bring about a civil insurrection among the 
slaves in their own State. The abolitionists misunderstood 
the gradual emancipation movement in Kentucky and really 
fanned the flame of the pro-slavery sentiment that came in 
its place. 




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