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 minstrel song of the same name.

Foster likely wrote "My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night" in 1852, which was published early the next year. Significantly, the same time that Foster wrote the song, the novel "Uncle Tom’s Cabin" by Harriet Beecher Stowe was published and became an immediate transatlantic bestseller. That era's shifting societal views seemingly had an impact on Foster and the subjects he covered in his songs. Written evidence proves that "Uncle Tom's Cabin" had a strong effect on Foster, as it did on many other Americans.

Most people do not realize that the original title to "My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night" was "Poor Uncle Tom, Good Night." Instead of the line, "Then my old Kentucky Home good night," which ends each stanza, Foster's first handwritten manuscripts of the lyrics show that he wrote, "Den poor Uncle Tom, good night."

In a 1936 article -"The Slavery Background of Foster's My Old Kentucky Home" - printed in the Filson Club Historical Quarterly, Dr. Thomas D. Clark contends that Foster probably changed the title and lyrics to make the song more marketable to Southern customers, who despised Stowe's book. Minstrelsy was extremely popular throughout the United Stated during the 1850s, but especially so in the Southern states. Offending one's best customers is not the way to become rich in the music business; then or now.

According to Clark, "Thus it matters little where 'My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night' was written, but it is significant that it mirrors a most interesting background of the nation's history. It is significant, also, that the author's use of a title obscured his context sufficiently to cause Kentuckians, to whom Uncle Tom's Cabin was anathema, to take the song to their hearts and claim it as their very own."

My Old Kentucky Home was officially adopted as the state song in 1928. Some of the song's offensive original lyrics were updated in 1986.