Bracken County was organized as Kentucky's 23rd county in 1796 from parts of Mason and Campbell counties. It was named after two creeks, the Big and Little Bracken, which in turn were named for William Bracken, an 18th-century explorer and surveyor who visited the area in 1773. He was later killed by Indians during the Northwest Indian War. The county originally extended to southern Nicholas County, north to the Ohio River, west to the Licking River and east to Dover, Kentucky.
The county government moved from Augusta to Woodward's Crossing (now Brooksville) in 1833.
Bracken was the birthplace of John Gregg Fee, founder of Berea College and Kentucky'`s most noted abolitionist. He was a graduate of Augusta College and Lane Theological Seminary. In 1822 Augusta College was founded as the first Methodist college in the world.
Anti-slavery activists in Bracken County played a major role in the movement known as the Underground Railroad. There are several Underground Railroad sites in the Augusta area. A network of citizens sympathetic to escaping slaves helped them cross the Ohio River to nearby Ripley, Ohio and other points north.
Bracken County's economy was largely agricultural. Its chief crops before the Civil War were tobacco and corn. White burley tobacco, a light, adaptable leaf that revolutionized the industry, was first sold at the 1867 St. Louis Fair by the farmer Mr. Webb from Higginsport, Ohio. He had produced it in 1864 from Bracken County seed and developed the type. It became a major product of central Kentucky and central Tennessee.
Agriculture remains vital to the economy, with farms occupying 83.8 percent of the land area in 1982. Commodities include wheat, hay, and milk. Burley tobacco production in 1988 amounted to 5,406,000 pounds. Agricultural receipts in 1986 totaled $19,158,000.