News From Terre Haute, Indiana

July 14, 2013

Genalogy: Kentucky has a history quite different from Indiana

Tamie Dehler
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Many of us in Indiana have ancestors from Kentucky. Although located so near to us, Kentucky has a history quite different from our Hoosier state. The land that is Kentucky was first an extension of Virginia, called Fincastle County, and then Kentucky County. As such, many Virginians settled in Kentucky and brought their traditions with them. One of these was slavery.

According to Kentucky law, slavery was legal throughout the commonwealth. During Kentucky’s early settlement, the number of slaves brought into the region first increased faster than the white population. In 1790, slaves represented about 17 percent of the population. This had increased to 24 percent by 1830. However, it started dropping after that. In 1850, enslaved persons were 21 percent, and in 1860, 19.5 percent, of the total population.

Although found in every Kentucky county, slavery was more concentrated in the southern and western part of the state, particularly the counties of Christian, Todd, Trigg and Warren, the Bluegrass Region, and Henderson and Oldham counties on the Ohio River. It was directly related to the economy of these regions. Overall, slavery was more popular in counties which relied on growing the traditional cash crops of tobacco and hemp, and less popular in counties with more diversified economies. As a border state, Kentucky was very important strategically to both the Union and the Confederacy.

Although a slave state, Kentucky did not secede from the Union to join the Confederacy. The commonwealth tried to maintain its neutrality during the war even as its citizens were divided over support for either the North or the South. As a result, Kentuckians joined both the Union and Confederate armies, with divisions existing within communities, neighborhoods, and even households. About 100,000 citizens of Kentucky joined the Union forces, while 25,000 to 40,000 Kentuckians went to the Confederate side. In addition 24,000 black soldiers from Kentucky fought for the Union.

When the Emancipation Proclamation was announced by President Lincoln on Jan. 1, 1863, the slaves in Kentucky were not immediately freed because the Emancipation covered only the slaves in the Confederacy. Kentucky slaves had to wait until the end of the war to be freed by the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution on Dec. 6, 1865. The commonwealth of Kentucky, still divided about slavery after the war, failed to support ratification the 13th Amendment, as well as the 14th Amendment (granting citizenship to former slaves) on July 9, 1868, and the 15th Amendment (granting the right to vote to male citizens of all races) on Feb. 3, 1870. The amendments all passed without Kentucky’s support.

Two free websites are available for those seeking information about their Union or Confederate serviceman from Kentucky. The National Park Service Soldiers and Sailors Database at


base.htm allows the user to search for a Union or Confederate soldier or sailor from any state. The site provides information on the unit in which the soldier served as well as his rank upon joining and leaving the military. This site also has information about each unit, battles fought, burial records in national cemeteries, and the prisoner of war records for Fort McHenry and Andersonville.

The Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives hosts the Department of Confederate Pensions (1912-1946) site located at dspace.kdla. Here you can check whether your Confederate ancestor or his widow ever applied for a pension. The site enables the user to download the entire pension application, and it goes without saying that many of these make for interesting reading.