Explore KY's Slavery and Emancipation History

A history of Kentucky would be incomplete without mentioning the significant role that slavery played in creating the Commonwealth and crafting the culture of the state.

Long before Kentucky became the 15th state in the Union, slavery was introduced into the region by its earliest settlers. From the beginning, enslaved people sought freedom. From those early years until slavery was ultimately outlawed by the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Kentuckians have helped, hindered, encouraged and fought for and against the "peculiar institution."

This tour highlights some of the important people, places, and events that have been recognized as significant and placed on Kentucky's highway markers. Here you find information about emancipationists, abolitionists, politicians, soldiers and enslaved people, whose lives were impacted by slavery and then freedom. Also included are numerous primary source images and documents that help illustrate Kentucky's slavery and emancipation story. We hope that you will use this tour to learn about, and thus better understand, one of our state's most troubling, contentious and important periods of history.

Stonetown

Historical Marker #2375 in Scott County notes the location of Stonetown, one of a number of Kentucky African American rural communities that formed in the years following the Civil War. When the Civil War ended, many of Kentucky’s freed slaves…

Slavery Laws in Old Kentucky

Historical Marker #1989 in Jefferson County notes the legal history of slavery in Kentucky. Slavery was a part of Kentucky long before statehood was granted in 1792. The state's earliest settlers brought their human property with them from…

Uncle Tom Lived Here

Historical Marker #1241 in Daviess County notes the location of the Riley family home place. The Rileys were the owners of Josiah Henson, a slave whom Harriet Beecher Stowe used to help model her main character in the famous novel "Uncle…

Slave Escape

Historical Marker #1863 in Kenton County notes the escape of enslaved woman Margaret Garner, who murdered her daughter to prevent the child’s return to slavery. In the winter of 1856, Boone County slave owner Archibald Gaines learned how…

Petticoat Abolitionist

Historical Marker # 1099 in Trimble County notes the work of abolitionist Delia Webster. Born in Vermont and educated at Oberlin College in Ohio, Delia Webster was tried, convicted, and jailed in Kentucky for helping slaves run away from Lexington…

Lion of White Hall

Historical Marker #533 in Madison County notes the life of Kentucky emancipationist Cassius Marcellus Clay. During his long life, Clay participated in many battles. Some were fought to ensure free speech for antislavery advocates. Others,…

Kentucky Fugitives to Canada

Historical Marker #2072 in Louisville notes the escape of two slaves, Thornton and Lucie Blackburn, who made their way to Canada. In 1831, newlywed slaves Thornton and Lucie Blackburn learned that Lucie was about to be sold to the Deep South slave…

John Gregg Fee

Historical Marker #2076 in Bracken County commemorates abolitionist John Gregg Fee. Born in 1816, Fee was the son of a Bracken County slaveholder. Educated at Augusta Academy, Miami University, and Lane Seminary in nearby Cincinnati, Fee began his…

Home of Early Minister

Historical Marker #844 in Greensburg notes the home of the Reverend David Rice, an early emancipationist in Kentucky. In 1792, Kentucky entered the Union as the fifteenth state. As a former county of Virginia, the Bluegrass State inherited many of…

For Mountain Youth

Historical Marker #773 in Madison County notes the location of Berea College, a school founded in 1855 by abolitionist John G. Fee. In 1853, Kentucky emancipationist Cassius Marcellus Clay invited minister and abolitionist John G. Fee to Madison…

Diamond Cavern

Historical Marker #2259 in Barren County notes the location of Diamond Cavern, which was discovered by a slave in 1859. When most people envision slavery, they think of agricultural workers toiling away in fields on farms and plantations. For the…

Cheapside Slave Auction Block

Historical Marker #2122 remembers Lexington’s Cheapside slave auction block and the thousands of enslaved Kentuckians sold here. For decades before the Civil War, Lexington was the center of the slave trade in Kentucky. Located in the heart of the…

Camp Nelson Refugee Camp

Historical Marker # 1965 in Jessamine County notes the location of the Camp Nelson refugee camp, which housed the families of hundreds of African American soldiers. Camp Nelson was established in 1863 as a recruiting station and quartermaster supply…

James G. Birney Home

Historical Marker #36 in Danville, Kentucky, notes the birthplace of abolitionist and nineteenth-century presidential candidate, James Gillespie Birney. Birney was born in Danville in 1792 to a slaveholding family. As a young man he was educated at…

Ashland

Historical Marker #1 in Lexington notes the location of "Ashland," the home and estate of Kentucky statesman Henry Clay. Ashland was Clay’s pride and joy. At this grand estate the "Great Compromiser" entertained guests, raised…

8th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery

Historical Marker #2361 in McCracken County notes the Civil War service of the 8th United States Colored Heavy Artillery. During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln believed that Kentucky-a loyal, slaveholding border state-was critical to the…

Willis Russell House

Historical Marker #2386 notes the location of the Willis Russell Memorial Cabin in Danville. Russell, a free man of color who owned a house across the street, now gone, taught African American children during the mid-nineteenth century. During the…

Judge George Robertson

Historical Marker #816 in Robertson County commemorates the naming of that county after George Robertson, a prominent judge who tangled with Abraham Lincoln about slavery during the Civil War. Born in Mercer County in 1780, Robertson was a lawyer,…

Camp Nelson

Two historical markers--#1515 and #2222---commemorate Camp Nelson in Jessamine County, where most of the state's African American Union soldiers were recruited. Established near Nicholasville in 1863, Camp Nelson was named for Union General…

Simpsonville Massacre

Historical Marker #2283 in Shelby County commemorates the massacre of members of the 5th United States Colored Cavalry (USCC) near Simpsonville. On January 25, 1865, Company E of the 5th USCC was transporting a herd of 900 cattle to Louisville. …

Union Colonel Frank Wolford

Historical Marker #604 in Adair County commemorates Union Colonel Frank Wolford, a Columbia native who had a controversial military career. Wolford was a vocal opponent of President Abraham Lincoln's policies in Kentucky during the Civil War,…

Fort Wright - The Black Brigade

Historical Marker #1917 in Kenton County commemorates Fort Wright, a defensive position that was named in honor of Union General Horatio G. Wright. In August and September 1862, Confederate generals Edmund Kirby Smith and Braxton Bragg invaded…

First Hemp Crop

Historical Marker #1279 in Danville notes the first recorded hemp crop in Kentucky, which was grown on Clark's Run Creek in 1775. Hemp has a long history in Kentucky. From its first recorded planting near Danville to its reemergence during…

John Marshall Harlan

Historical Marker #1606, located at the Boyle County Courthouse in Danville, commemorates John Marshall Harlan, a Boyle County native, Civil War veteran, and U.S. Supreme Court justice. Born a few miles west of Danville in 1833, Harlan's family…

Andrew Jackson Smith

Historical Marker #2107 in Lyon County commemorates Andrew Jackson Smith, an African American soldier who won the Medal of Honor for heroism in the Civil War. Smith, the son of an enslaved African American and her white owner, was born in Lyon…

Federal Hill – My Old Kentucky Home

Historical Marker #1102 in Bardstown notes the location of Federal Hill, better known as "My Old Kentucky Home." This Kentucky landmark was the estate of Judge John Rowan and reputedly served as the inspiration for Stephen Foster's…

Freetown Church

Historical Marker #1347 commemorates Freetown Church, which is located near Gamaliel, Kentucky, in Monroe County. The church was built in the late 1840s by three former slaves who had been freed by their owner, William Howard. Howard had migrated to…

Maysville

Historical Marker #68 in Maysville commemorates the founding of that Mason County city. Originally called Limestone and located on the Ohio River, Maysville, like Cumberland Gap in the Appalachian Mountains, was a natural avenue for the earliest…

Kentucky African American Civil War Memorial

Historical Marker #2226 in Frankfort commemorates the only monument in the state that honors the nearly 25,000 African American Kentuckians who served in the United States Colored Troops during the American Civil War. Although Kentucky remained…

First USCT Recruits at Camp Nelson

Historical Marker #2388 in Danville notes the community's African American contributions to the Union army during the Civil War. In many instances, slaves and free men of color who tried to join the Union army faced substantial danger. The…

African American Cemetery #2

Historical Marker #2110 in Lexington notes the location of African American Cemetery #2, which was established in 1869. After the Civil War, Kentucky African Americans looked to make good on the social, political, and economic changes produced by…

Boneyville

Historical Marker #2268 in Lincoln County notes the location of Boneyville, an "emancipation" or "free town" formed in the years immediately following the Civil War. Numerous small, rural, African American communities sprang up…

Charles Young Birthplace

Historical Marker #124 in Mason County notes the birthplace of Charles Young, an early African American graduate of the United States Military Academy and the first black colonel in the U.S. Army. Young was born into slavery in 1864, just as the…

Edward Dudley Brown

Historical Marker #2027 in Woodford County notes the historical significance of Edward Dudley Brown, an African American jockey, horse owner, and trainer. Brown, better known as Brown Dick—nicknamed after a fast horse of that era —was born into…

Forest Home Cemetery

Historical Marker #2094 in Jefferson County notes the location of Forest Home Cemetery, one of the oldest African American cemeteries in Kentucky. Forrest Home Cemetery would not exist were it not for one of the individuals buried there: Eliza…

General Custer Here

Historical Marker #606 in Elizabethtown notes the service of Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and his men in Kentucky during the Reconstruction era. During the early 1870s, racial violence was so prevalent in Kentucky that the federal government…

Ham Brown Log Cabin

Historical Marker #2249 in Nelson County notes the location of free man of color Ham Brown’s residence, which was formerly a slave quarters. Ham Brown appears in the historical record on several occasions. He and his wife, Adeline, are listed in…

Lewis and Clark in Kentucky – York

Historical Marker #2119 in Louisville notes the historical significance of York, William Clark’s slave, who was an active participant in the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition to the Pacific Northwest. One of many sad realities of slavery is that…

Slave Trading in Louisville

Historical Marker #1990 in Louisville notes the historical significance of the interstate slave trade to Kentucky’s economy before the Civil War. During the antebellum era, Kentucky, like the other border and upper-South states, served as an…

Frankfort Barracks

Historical Marker #2061 in Frankfort notes the location of barracks built by the federal government to house soldiers serving in Reconstruction era Kentucky. The immediate post-Civil War period in Kentucky has often been referred to by historians as…

8th of August

Historical Marker #1957 in Paducah commemorates the eighth day of August. African Americans in Paducah have traditionally observed this day in celebration of their ancestors' emancipation from slavery. Even before the guns fell silent at the…

Lexington Colored Fair Association

Historical Marker # 1961 notes the importance of the Lexington Colored Fair Association, which highlighted the achievements of African Americans to society in the years following emancipation. Most often relegated to second class status by…

Shake Rag

Historical Marker #2158 in Warren County remembers Shake Rag, an African American community founded in the 1800s. Shake Rag was added to the National Register of Historic Places in September 2000, becoming Bowling Green’s first National Register…