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 during the Reconstruction era in Kentucky. Some were formed from land sold to freedmen by their former masters. One such community was formed in Lincoln County on property formerly owned by Hugh Hays. According to the 1860 U.S. census, Hays was a seventy-three year old farmer with real estate worth $20,500 and personal property valued at $19,000. The majority of Hays's personal estate was in the seventeen enslaved individuals he held. The census indicates that Hays also owned three slave houses.
During the Civil War, Napoleon Bonaparte Hays left his enslaved life and enlisted in the United States army, becoming a private in Company C of the 12th United States Colored Heavy Artillery. It is not known if Hays had permission from his owner to enlist or not. The 12th trained at Camp Nelson before spending a good deal of the war on garrison duty in Bowling Green. Hays and the 12th mustered out of service in April 1866.
After his military service, Hays returned to Lincoln County and purchased seven acres of property from J.C. Hays, son of Hugh Hays, in 1867. Three years later, Bonaparte Hays was listed in the census as a thirty-one year old "mulatto" farm hand who owned $400 in personal property. Listed, too, were his forty-nine year old wife Rachel, and children Lucy (14), Martha (12), Laura (6), Malverna (3), and Eugenie, who was 6 months old. By 1880, only "Bone," Rachel, Malverna, and Eugenius lived in the household.
Assisting Hays in establishing the Boneyville community—which was named after Bonaparte "Bone" Hays—was Alfred Simpson, a former slave from Garrard County. The Hays and Simpson families joined when Lucy Hays married Elias Simpson, Alfred’s son, around 1877. Both men valued the importance of education and religion in building a strong community. They established a one-room school in Boneyville that was used until 1961.
It is believed that Napoleon Bonaparte Hays died in 1907. Records indicate that the county court appointed administrators for his estate in that year. He was buried in the Buffalo Springs Cemetery.
The marker reads:
One of several "free towns" in Lincoln Co. Created in 1867 from Hugh Hays' estate and named for founder, Napoleon Bonaparte Hays (1838-1907). "Boney" earned freedom in 1864 enlisting at Camp Nelson as Pvt., Co. C., 12th Regt. U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery during Civil War. One of founders of AME Church in Stanford & the Boneyville School.
Alfred Simpson (1828-1905), a former slave, purchased 225 acres in Boneyville. He helped establish one-room school after Civil War. It was used until about 1961. Marriage joined the Hays & Simpson families. Many descendants still reside in this area. Community supports two churches, Bethel AME and First Missionary Baptist.
The marker was dedicated September 6, 2008.