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Revised 27 December 2010


Kentucky was long an embittered and embattled state.  It was first claimed by Virginia as part of her Augusta County area and was included in the Virginia County as far back as 1584.

The French, Spanish and English began entering the region in the early 17th century and by 1749, land companies were being formed to survey Kentucky and stake claims for land.  Robert Cavelier, sier de La Salle claimed all regions drained by the Mississippi and its tributaries in the name of France.  Shortly thereafter, the British became interested in the region.  The first expedition of any size was led by Dr. Thomas Walker, who explored the eastern mountain region in 1750 for the Loyal Land Company.  Hunters and Scouts then started moving into the area.  This continued until the last conflict (1754-1763 of the French and Indian Wars between the French and British for control of North America.  From 1963-1766, there was a Native American uprising as well (Pontiac's Rebellion).  The British were victorious and the settlers soon began moving into Kentucky.

There was a royal proclamation in 1763, which forbade settlement west of the Appalachians, but this edict was ignored.  Daniel Boone, born in Pennsylvania of English parents, entered Kentucky for the first time in 1767, liked what he saw and returned in 1769, at which time he stayed for two years then left. He returned again in September 1773 with his family from Rowan County, North Carolina, on the Yadkin River.  

A surveying party under the leadership of James Harrod, established the first permanent settlement at Harrodsburg in 1774, and a year later, Daniel Boone, acting as an agent for Colonel Richard Henderson and the Transylvania Company, a colonizing group of which Henderson was a member, blazed the Wilderness Road from Tennessee into the Kentucky region and founded Boonesboro. Colonel Harrison made a purchase of land from the Native American tribes which purchase encompassed almost half of what is not the state of Kentucky.  These lands included all the land between the Kentucky River, in the central part of the state, and the Cumberland River in the extreme western part.  A combination of lawsuits over title and the Revolutionary War were Henderson's undoing and the project failed.   The state of Virginia challenged the title to this land and legislature, in 1778, voided the Transylvania Company's claims but confirmed the grants of some of the individual settlers.

In December of 1776, Kentucky was made a county of Virginia and a new group of settlers came in through the Cumberland Gap and over the Wilderness Road or down the Ohio River.  In 1780, it was divided into three counties, and by 1790, those three counties had grown to nine.  There was constant conflict between the settlers and the Native Americans.  The pioneers, who felt that Virginia was failing to give them adequate protection, began working for statehood in their own right and as a result a series of conventions were held at Danville (1784-1791).  Some wanted to form an independent nation rather than joining the Union because they felt the United States government was weak.  They considered an alliance with Spain because of their trade connections down the Mississippi Rover and out of Spanish-held New Orleans and the importance of that trade on their economy.  To that end, United States General James Wisconsin worked.

In 1792, the decision was finally made and a constitution was framed and accepted and Kentucky, under the designation of the Commonwealth of Kentucky was admitted to the union, becoming the first state West of the Appalachians and Frankfort was chosen as its capital.  Three other U. S. states were designated as Commonwealths in addition to Kentucky.  These were Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Virginia.  When Kentucky separated from Virginia, it chose to remain a commonwealth.  The term Commonwealth means a government based upon the common consent of the people, a term which dates to the time of Oliver Cromwell of England.

The battles between the settlers and the Native Americans finally culminated in the battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794 under the direction of U. S. led General Anthony Wayne.  In 1795, Pinkney's Treaty between the United States and Spain finally granted Americans the right to navigate the Mississippi, a right which was guaranteed by the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.  However, peace was still illusive. In 1798, the federal government enacted a series of acts entitled the Alien and Sedition Acts, an enactment required due to threats of war with France.  These acts were promoted by the Federalists  and were purported to be an attempt to prevent opposition from the local Republicans.  The first of the Alien  acts required a five-year waiting period before alien residents could be naturalized as U.S. citizens.  The second of these acts authorized the President to deport "aliens" deemed dangerous to the peace of the country and the third allowed the wartime arrest, imprisonment and deportation of any alien subject to an enemy power.  The Sedition Acts, passed on July 14, declared it treasonable to publish any false, scandalous or malicious writings, said publication punishable by fines and imprisonment.  The Kentuckians deeply resented these acts as several prominent publishers were arrested, most of them Republicans and opposed to President Adams, and their papers closed down.  The constitutionality of the acts was challenged and the outcome of it all was the subsequent election of Republican President, Thomas Jefferson in 1800.  Jefferson pardoned all those imprisoned and ordered the fines to be repaid with interest.

The War of 1812, while spurring economic prosperity for some, brought threats of ruin after the war.  The state responded by chartering a number of new banks in 1818 and allowing these banks to issue their own currency.  These banks collapsed shortly thereafter and the state legislature passed measures for relief of the banks' creditors, however, this relief act was declared unconstitutional by a state court.  The legislature then repealed legislation that had established the offending court and set up a new court.  This action split the state between the pro-relief group and the anti-relief group and split the state politically between the followers of Andrew Jackson and the now rising political Whig party who supported Henry Clay.

Kentucky continued to have political problems when the slavery issue reared its ugly head.  Kentucky was primarily a state of small farms as opposed to large plantations and the use of slave labor was not extensive.  The use of slave labor declined after 1830 and for the next 17 years, the importation of slaves was forbidden.  However, in 1850, this restriction was repealed and Kentucky converted to a huge slaver market for the lower South. By the 18th century, the churches and abolitionist, under the leadership of such men as James G. Birney and Cassius M. Clay began the battle for emancipation of these slaves before the Civil War.  Kentucky, like other border states, was deeply embattled over the slavery issue.  There was a third group involved as a conciliatory group.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Kentucky attempted to remain neutral.  Governor Beriah Magoffin refused to sanction President Lincoln's call for volunteers.  Ignoring his warnings, Confederate forces invaded and occupied part of South Kentucky including the areas of Columbus and Bowling Green.  The state legislature voted to oust the Confederates and Ulysses S. Grant crossed the Ohio and took Paducah, securing the state for the Union.  There was no major fighting within the state after 182, but raids and guerilla warfare from the Confederates were constant.  Kentucky was deeply split by the Civil War as families fought against families, friends against friends and neighbors against neighbors.  After the war, Kentucky refused to ratify the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments to the U. S. Constitution.  Their economic problems have continued to this day and only the diligent efforts of their leadership have finally allowed Kentucky to reinvent itself and join in the move to economic prosperity. Its greatest asset is the beauty of its countryside and the character of its people.

(Source of information Handy book for genealogists, the SHG history website.)  

Name Date formed Parent County County Seat
Adair 1801 Green Columbia
Allen 1815 Barren, Warren Scottsville
Anderson 1827 Franklin, Mercer, Washington Lawrenceburg
Ballard 1842 Hickman, McCracken Wickliffe
Barren 1798 Green, Warren Glasgow
Bath 1811 Montgomery Owingsville
Bell (Originally Josh Bell) 1867 Knox, Harlan Pineville
Boone 1798 Campbell Burlington
Bourbon 1785 Fayette Paris
Boyd 1860 Carter, Lawrence, Greenup Catletsburg
Boyle 1842 Mercer, Lincoln Danville
Bracken 1796 Campbell, Mason Brooksville
Breathitt 1839 Clay, Estill, Perry Jackson
Breckinridge 1799 Hardin Hardinsburg
Bullitt 1796 Jefferson, Nelson Shepherdsville
Butler 1810 Logan, Ohio Morgantown
Caldwell 1809 Livingston Princeton
Calloway 1822 Hickman Murray
Campbell 1795 Harrison, Mason, Scott Alexandra
Carlisle 1886 Graves, Ballard Bardwell
Carroll 1838 Gallatin, Henry, Trimble Carrollton
Carter 1838 Greenup, Lawrence Grayson
Casey 1806 Lincoln Liberty
Christian 1797 Logan Hopkinsville
Clark 1792 Bourbon, Fayette Winchester
Clay 1806 Madison, Floyd, Knox Manchester
Clinton 1835 Wayne, Cumberland Albany
Crittenden 1842 Livingston Marion
Cumberland 1796 Green Burkesville
Daviess 1815 Ohio Owensboro
Edmonson 1825 Grayson, Hart, Warren Brownsville
Elliott 1869 Carter, Lawrence, Morgan Sandy Hook
Estill 1808 Clark, Madison Irvine
Fayette 1780 Kentucky Lexington
Fleming 1798 Mason Flemingsburg
Floyd 1799 Fleming, Mason, Montgomery Prestonsburg
Franklin 1794 Woodford, Mercer, Shelby Frankfort
Fulton 1845 Hickman Hickman
Gallatin 1798 Franklin, Shelby Warsaw
Garrard 1796 Madison, Lincoln, Mercer Lancaster
Grant 1820 Pendleton Williamstown
Graves 1823 Hickman Mayfield
Green 1792 Lincoln, Nelson Greensburg
Greenup 1803 Mason Greenup
Hancock 1828 Daviess, Ohio, Breckinridge Hawesville
Hardin 1792 Nelson Elizabethtown
Harlan 1819 Knox Harlan
Harrison 1793 Bourbon, Scott Cynthiana
Hart 1819 Hardin, Barren, possibly Green Mumfordville
Henderson 1798 Christian Henderson
Henry 1798 Shelby New Castle
Hickman 1821 Caldwell, Livingston Clinton
Hopkins 1808 Henderson Madisonville
Jackson 1858 Castle, Owsley, Madison, Clay, Estill, Laurel McKee
Jefferson 1780 Kentucky Co. Louisville
Jessamin 1798 Fayette Nicholasville
Johnson 1843 Floyd, Morgan, Lawrence Paintsville
Josh Bell 1867 Name changed to Bell*see above)
Kenton 1840 Campbell Independence
Knott 1884 Perry, Breathitt, Floyd, Letcher Hindman
Knox 1799 Lincoln Barbourville
Larue 1843 Hardin Hodgenville
Laurel 1825 Whitley, Clay, Knox, Rockcastle London
Lawrence 1821 Floyd, Greenup Louisa
Lee 1870 Owsley, Breathitt, Wolfe, Estill Beattyville
Leslie 1878 Clay, Harlan, Perry Hyden
Letcher 1842 Perry, Harlan Whitesburg
Lewis 1806 Mason Vanceburg
Lincoln 1780 Kentucky Co., Virginia Stanford
Livingston 1798 Christian Smithland
Logan 1792 Lincoln Russellville
Lyon 1854 Caldwell Eddyville
Madison 1785 Lincoln Richmond
Magoffin 1860 Floyd, Johnson, Morgan Salyersville
Marion 1834 Washington Lebanon
Marshall 1842 Callaway Benton
Martin 1870 Lawrence, Floyd, Pike, Johnson Inez
Mason 1788 Bourbon Maysville
McCracken 1824 Hickman Paducah
McCreary 1912 Wayne, Pulaski, Whitley Whitley City
McLean 1854 Muhlenberg, Davies, Ohio Calhoun
Meade 1824 Hardin, Breckinridge Brandenburg
Menifee 1869 Powell, Wolfe, Bath, Morgan, Montgomery Frenchburg
Mercer 1785 Lincoln Harrodsburg
Metcalfe 1860 Monroe, Adair, Barren, Cumberland, Green Edmonton
Monroe 1820 Barren, Cumberland Tompkinsville
Montgomery 1796 Clark Mount Sterling
Morgan 1822 Floyd, Bath West Liberty
Muhlenberg 1798 Christian, Logan Greenville
Nelson 1784 Jefferson Bardstown
Nicholas 1799 Bourbon, Mason Carlisle
Ohio 1799 Hardin Hartford
Oldham 1823 Henry, Shelby, Jefferson LaGrange
Owen 1819 Scott, Franklin, Gallatin, Pendleton Owenton
Owsley 1843 Clay, Estill, Breathitt Bonneville
Pendleton 1798 Bracken, Campbell Falmouth
Perry 1820 Clay, Floyd Hazard
Pike 1821 Floyd Pikeville
Powell 1852 Clark, Estill, Montgomery Stanton
Pulaski 1798 Green, Lincoln Somerset & Dabney
Robertson 1867 Nicholas, Bracken, Mason, Fleming, Harrison Mt. Olivet
Rockcastle 1810 Pulaski, Lincoln, Madison Mount Vernon
Rowan 1856 Fleming, Morgan Morehead
Russell 1825 Cumberland, Adair, Wayne Jamestown
Scott 1792 Woodford Georgetown
Shelby 1792 Jefferson Shelbyville
Simpson 1819 Allen, Logan, Warren Franklin
Spencer 1824 Shelby, Bullitt, Nelson Taylorsville
Taylor 1848 Green Campbellsville
Todd 1819 Christian, Logan Elkton
Trigg 1820 Christian, Caldwell Cadiz
Trimble 1836 Henry, Oldham, Gallatin Bedford
Union 1811 Henderson Morganfield
Warren 1796 Logan Bowling Green
Washington 1792 Nelson Springfield
Wayne 1800 Pulaski, Cumberland Monticello
Webster 1860 Hopkins, Union, Henderson Dixon
Whitley 1818 Knox Williamsburg
Wolfe 1860 Owsley, Breathitt, Powell, Morgan Campton
Woodford 1788 Fayette Versailles