Kentucky, officially the Commonwealth of Kentucky, is a state located in the east south-central region of the United States. Kentucky is one of four U.S. states constituted as a commonwealth (the others being Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts). Originally a part of Virginia, in 1792 Kentucky became the 15th state to join the Union. Kentucky is the 37th most extensive and the 26th most populous of the 50 United States.
Kentucky is known as the "Bluegrass State", a nickname based on the bluegrass found in many of its pastures because of the fertile soil. One of the major regions in Kentucky is the Bluegrass Region in central Kentucky which houses two of its major cities, Lexington and Louisville. It is a land with diverse environments and abundant resources, including the world's longest cave system, Mammoth Cave National Park, the greatest length of navigable waterways and streams in the contiguous United States, and the two largest man-made lakes east of the Mississippi River.
Kentucky is also home to the highest per capita number of deer and turkey in the United States, the largest free-ranging elk herd east of the Mississippi River, and the nation's most productive coalfield. Kentucky is also known for horse racing, bourbon distilleries, automobile manufacturing, tobacco, and college basketball.
Derivation of Name
The name "Kentucky" is said (Source:Skinner, 1921:95) to be derived from "Ken-ta-ke". an Iroquois word meaning "the place of old fields."
What is now Kentucky was inhabited by varying cultures of Native Americans from at least 1000 BC to about AD 1650, particularly along the waterways and in areas of game. Bison roamed in the region. By the time that European and colonial explorers and settlers began entering Kentucky in greater number in the mid-18th century, there were no major Native American settlements in the region. The Iroquois had controlled much of the Ohio River valley for hunting from their bases in what is now New York.
The Shawnee from the northwest and Cherokee from the south also sent parties into the area regularly for hunting. As more settlers entered the area, warfare broke out because the American Indians considered the settlers to be encroaching on their traditional hunting grounds. Today the Southern Cherokee Nation of Kentucky is a state-recognized tribe, although the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes have all vociferously disparaged the authenticity of state-recognized entities claiming to be "Cherokee".
According to a 1790 U.S. government report, 1,500 Kentucky settlers had been killed in Indian raids since the end of the Revolutionary War. In an attempt to end such raids into the state, Clark led an expedition of 1,200 drafted men against Shawnee towns on the Wabash River in 1786, one of the first actions of the Northwest Indian War.
After the American Revolution, the counties of Virginia beyond the Appalachian Mountains became known as Kentucky County. Eventually, the residents of Kentucky County petitioned for a separation from Virginia. Ten constitutional conventions were held in the Constitution Square Courthouse in Danville between 1784 and 1792. In 1790, Kentucky's delegates accepted Virginia's terms of separation, and a state constitution was drafted at the final convention in April 1792. On June 1, 1792, Kentucky became the fifteenth state to be admitted to the union. Isaac Shelby, a military veteran from Virginia, was elected the first Governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
Central Kentucky, the Bluegrass region, was the center of the greatest slaveholding, as planters cultivated tobacco and hemp, and also were noted for their quality livestock. During the 19th century, Kentucky slaveholders began to sell surplus slaves to the Deep South, with Louisville becoming a major slave market and departure port for slaves being transported downriver.
It was one of the border states during the American Civil War. Although frequently described as never having seceded, representatives from several counties met at Russellville calling themselves the "Convention of the People of Kentucky" and passed an Ordinance of Secession on November 20, 1861. They established a Confederate government of Kentucky with its capital in Bowling Green.
Though Kentucky was represented by the central star on the Confederate battle flag, the Russellville Convention did not represent the majority of residents. Kentucky officially remained "neutral" throughout the war due to Union sympathies of many of the Commonwealth's citizens. In a revival of the "Lost Cause" that has exceeded the support it gained during the war, some contemporary people observe Confederate Memorial Day on Confederate President Jefferson Davis' birthday, June 3 and participate in Confederate re-enactments.
The Black Patch Tobacco Wars, a vigilante action, occurred in the area in the early 20th century. As result of the tobacco industry monopoly, tobacco farmers in the area were forced to sell their tobacco at low prices. Many local farmers and activists united to refuse to sell tobacco to the tobacco industry.
A vigilante wing, the "Night Riders", terrorized farmers who sold their tobacco at the low prices demanded by the tobacco corporations. They burned several tobacco warehouses, notably in Hopkinsville and Princeton. In the later period of their operation, they were known to physically assault farmers who broke the boycott. The Governor declared martial law and deployed the Kentucky Militia to end the Black Patch Tobacco Wars.
On January 30, 1900, Governor William Goebel, flanked by two bodyguards and walking to the State Capitol in downtown Frankfort, was mortally wounded by an assassin. Goebel was contesting the election of 1899, which William S. Taylor was initially believed to have won. For several months, J. C. W. Beckham, Goebel's running mate, and Taylor fought over who was the legal governor, until the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in May in favor of Beckham. After fleeing to Indiana, Taylor was indicted as a co-conspirator in Goebel's assassination. Goebel is the only governor of a U.S. state to have been assassinated while in office.
Note: Kentucky was part of Virginia prior to its admission as a State on June 1, 1792. It had essentially its present boundaries, except that because of erroneous surveys portions of the Kentucky- Tennessee boundary were in dispute for many years until finally resurveyed in 1859. Kentucky was reported separately from Virginia in 1790; the county boundaries at that time corresponded to the present-day State lines between Kentucky and Virginia-West Virginia. Census coverage in 1790 included much of the State's territory, but the area west of the Tennessee River (the Jackson Purchase) was first enumerated in 1820.. Total for 1790 is for the counties of Virginia that comprised the present State of Kentucky.
Births, Marriages, and Deaths
Ancestry.com has a number of vital record collections for Kentucky including:
FamilySearch.org has a variety of collections available for free online:
Death record availability from 1852 to 1910 is spotty. . Ancestry.com has made available returns searchable with this source. The state has made available an index of deaths from 1911 to 2000 that is widely available.
Finding Aids: Kentucky Genealogy, Facts and Records Resources#extinct formerly familyhistory101.com. This site has links to all Kentucky counties.
Outstanding guide to Kentucky family history and genealogy (FamilySearch Research Wiki). Birth, marriage, and death records, wills, deeds, county records, archives, Bible records, cemeteries, churches, censuses, directories, immigration lists, naturalizations, maps, history, newspapers, and societies.