Genealogy Trails


Historical Facts about KY


Unknown source, possibly excerpted from "Kentucky"
By Tracy Barrett; 2008


Kentucky comes from a native word but no one is precisely sure which one. It may come from a Cherokee word “Kentahteh” meaning “land of tomorrow” or “meadow land”. One legend states that the word means “dark and bloody ground”.

Kentucky is bordered by Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. One part of Kentucky cannot be reached by land except from another state: 18 square miles that lie inside a loop of the Mississippi River must be entered from Tennessee.

Big Bone Lick in northern Kentucky is named for the fossilized skeletons of mastodons and mammoths that came to lick the salt and got stuck in the mud. Native Americans and early European explorers made furniture from the bones.

Kentucky has 13,000 miles of streams and rivers. At the bottom of Kentucky's rivers you can sometimes find geodes, which are round rocks that when broken open reveal “a crystal world”. Many of the rivers are fed by underground streams. These streams have carved out at least 2000 caves, the most of any state in the country. Kentucky's Mammoth Cave is the largest known cave system in the world.

Kentucky has both mountains and plains so a large variety of plants and animals can live there. There are 175 species of trees in Kentucky and the forests are very thick. The smallest known flowering plant in the world lives in Kentucky, the “Watermeal”. Bluegrass was brought to the area by English settlers around 1625, it looks like regular grass but in the spring, its new blades turn the hills of central Kentucky a soft blue-green color. More the 300 species of birds grace Kentucky.

The Adena culture settled in north-central Kentucky. They established villages, mostly along rivers, and planted crops. They lived in houses made of wood and dried mud and buried their dead in huge mounds, some of which can still be seen.

2nd was the Hopewell culture. They developed extensive trade networks with people as far away as Michigan. By the time whites arrived in the area few Indians lived there. Only small villages of Shawnees, dotted the landscape. The area was mainly used for a hunting ground by many tribes, including the Shawnees, Cherokees, Chickasaws, Wyandots, Delawares, and Iroquois.

Thomas Walker, a doctor from Virginia, aided exploration of the region when he found a low spot in the mountains in 1750. The Cumberland Gap, soon became the most important route to the west.

Daniel Boone made is first trip through the Cumberland Gap in 1767, and in 1775 he helped blaze a trail through Kentucky's forests, the Wilderness Road., which became the major trail west for pioneers.

In 1774, James Harrod led a group of colonists through the gap and founded Harrodsburg, Kentucky's first permanent white settlement. A year later, Daniel Boone established a fort at a site he called Boonesborough. After the American colonies declared their independence from Britain in 1776, the British encouraged Indians to attack whites in the newly settled area. Boonesborough was one of the towns attacked and the settlers often took refuge in Boone's fort.

In 1792 Kentucky became the 15th state.

Agriculture was the most important source of income. Its farmers sold hemp, corn, tobacco, wheat and flax.

Most enslaved Kentuckians labored in fields, others worked in mining and manufacturing. Most farms only had 5 slaves. There were four crimes for which a white person could be executed, while 11 crimes were considered severe enough to execute a black person. Most famous uprising in Kentucky, in August 1818, between 55 and 75 slaves armed themselves and tried to escape to freedom. They got into a gun battle with the state militia, and most were recaptured. Before the Civil War, Berea College was founded with the aim of providing a college education to anyone who wanted one. From the time it opened, blacks and whites studied together. But in 1904, a state law declared it illegal for black and white students to attend classes together. Not until 1950 was Berea permitted to admit black students again.

KY was torn between slavery issues. In 1833 it had passed a law forbidding slaves to be brought into the state for resale. But most Kentuckians had come from the Southern slaveholding states.

KY had both Confederate and Union soldiers.

Battle of Perryville, in Oct. 1862 was the bloodiest with 75,000 soldiers killed or wounded. But during the war the state was ran over by guerrillas fighting skirmishes and raiding and burning down homes. Many farms were damaged or destroyed.

Although civil rights were granted to KY blacks in 1865 relations between blacks and whites remained tense. 150 blacks were executed by a mob or lynched during the 15 years after the war. Public education for Kentucky blacks was established but there was so little funding that very few actually attended school.

Transylvania University was founded in 1780, was the first college west of the Allegheny Mountains.

Established public schools in 1849.

Most were Protestants and Baptists.

The Society of Believers were often called Shakers because of the rhythmic dances that formed part of their services. They believed in living simple. They had 2 main settlements: Pleasant Hill near Harrodsburg and South Union near Bowling Green. Their religion forbade them to marry and have children.

Of English, Scottish and Irish descent.

Kentucky Derby was started at Louisville's Churchill Downs every May since 1875.

Henry Clay was known as the Great Compromiser for his skill in getting opponents to agree with each other. He started his political career in the KY Legislature in 1803. He later served in the US Senate as the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and as secretary of State.

Zachary Taylor, the 12th president of the US, was born in VA. His family moved to KY when he was only a few months old.

Jefferson Davis, the first and only president of the Confederate States of America was born near Elkton, KY the youngest of 10 kids.

Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish Supreme Court justice was born in Louisville in 1856. He joined the Supreme Court in 1916.



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