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 missionary work in Lewis County, Kentucky. Although his first congregation numbered only five souls, through hard work and a reliance on the power of moral suasion, membership soon increased. In 1848, his ministry efforts were financially assisted when he became employed by the American Missionary Association.

In 1845, Fee wrote a number of articles for The True American, a newspaper owned by Kentucky emancipationist Cassius M. Clay. This lay the foundation for a sometimes contentious relationship that developed between the two antislavery advocates. In 1853, Clay invited Fee to settle on his land in Madison County and start an antislavery community. Fee agreed and relocated there 1854. Fee called his settlement Berea.

Fee’s antislavery work in Madison and surrounding counties proved to be more difficult than it had been in Lewis County, which had a smaller slave population. From his arrival in 1854 to his exile in 1859, Fee and his fellow missionaries experienced intimidation and threats of mob violence on numerous occasions.

In December 1859, with the country still reeling from John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia, the citizens of Madison County exiled the community of abolitionists from Berea. Appeals to Kentucky Governor Beriah Magoffin were denied. Fee and the Bereans settled in and around Cincinnati, Ohio.

During the Civil War, Fee and several of his associates attempted to return to Berea, but were again persuaded to leave. Finally, in 1864, Fee returned to Kentucky to work with African American soldiers being recruited and trained at Camp Nelson in Jessamine County. In 1866, Fee returned to Berea and started his educational dream, an integrated, co-educational, non-class-based school. His legacy continues today as Berea College.