County Named, 1842

Historical Marker #809 in Letcher County notes the namesake of the county, Governor Robert Perkins Letcher.

Letcher was born in Goochland County, Virginia, in 1788. His family moved to Garrard County, Kentucky, about twelve years later. As a young man, Robert was educated at Fry’s private academy in Boyle County and studied law before entering the practice in Garrard County.

Letcher’s work as an attorney led to an active political career. After serving in the War of 1812, he was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives before serving in the U.S. Congress.

Known popularly as "Black Bob," Letcher, a Whig, won the governorship in 1839 and served for one term. As governor, Letcher instituted a number of measures to help deal with the lingering effects of the economic Panic of 1837. Although he was a dedicated Whig, Letcher cut spending on internal improvement projects, which helped pull the state though this difficult economic period.

After his gubernatorial term, Letcher opened a law practice in Frankfort. He continued to support and campaign for the Whig party. In the aftermath of the Mexican-American War, Letcher was named U.S. Minister to Mexico. He served in that capacity until 1852.

In 1853, Letcher unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. House, losing to the rising Democratic political star John C. Breckinridge. With the death of Henry Clay in 1852, the Whig party slowly began to dissolve. Like many former Whigs, Letcher latched on to the Know-Nothing, or American, party. During the sectional crisis election of 1860, Letcher supported John Bell and the Constitutional Union ticket. Letcher did not live to see the nation come to war. He died on January 24, 1861, and was buried in the Frankfort Cemetery.

Letcher County, named for the governor, was formed in 1842 as the state’s 95th county. It is bordered by the state of Virginia and Harlan, Perry, Knott, and Pike counties in southeastern Kentucky.