Kentucky History

Early History

Indians established civilizations in Kentucky more than 13,000 years ago. When the first white people entered the area, it was being used as a hunting
ground by the SHAWNEE and CHEROKEE Indians.

Kentucky Pioneers

One of the early explorers, Dr. Thomas Walker, entered Kentucky after discovering Cumberland Gap in 1750. The gap provided a relatively easy route
through the Cumberland Mountains, and in subsequent years countless explorers and settlers were to move through it. One of the best-known explorers was the legendary Daniel BOONE, who first arrived in 1767. Others reached Kentucky via the Ohio River and established settlements at Maysville and Louisville.

The first settlement of Fort Harrod, now known as Harrodsburg, was established by James Harrod in 1774. Boonesborough was settled in 1775 by Daniel Boone and his companions. Increased settlement brought pressures for statehood. Following conventions in Danville, the first constitution was approved in April 1792; Kentucky became the 15th state on June 1, 1792. In what was essentially a compromise between Lexington and Louisville, Frankfort was selected the state capital. The new state legislature adopted a strong STATE RIGHTS position when it adopted (1798) resolutions opposing the Alien and Sedition Acts (see KENTUCKY AND VIRGINIA RESOLUTIONS).

Between statehood and the Civil War, Kentucky increased its population from about 75,000 to more than 1 million. Slavery became the dominant social and political issue as the state expanded its farm production. An agricultural market downstream on the Mississippi River was assured by the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. The steamboat provided transportation on the Ohio River by 1815, and a rail system was developed before 1860.

Civil War Period

A border state, Kentucky attempted to remain neutral during the Civil War but was unsuccessful because of its strategic location and the divided loyalties of its citizens. Farmers who used the Ohio and Mississippi rivers for transporting their produce wanted access to both waterways and the international port of New Orleans. If the South separated itself from the North, this free access would be impeded. On the other hand, influential plantation owners and state rights advocates sided with the Confederacy. As a result, Kentuckians could be found in both Union and Confederate armies. Confederate forces invaded Kentucky in 1861. Most of the fighting within the state’s boundaries, however, had ceased by 1863, after the Confederate army was driven out.

Kentucky Bibliography

Bladen, Wilford A., A Geography of Kentucky (1984); Caudill, Harry M., A
Darkness at Dawn: Appalachian Kentucky and the Future (1976) and Night Comes to the Cumberlands (1963); Channing, Steven A.,
The Encyclopedia of Kentucky (1985); Clark, Thomas D.,
Agrarian Kentucky (1978),
A History of Kentucky, 4th ed. (1961), and Kentucky: Land of Contrast (1968); Coleman, J. Winston, ed.,
Kentucky: A Pictorial History, 2d ed. (1971); Dykeman, Wilma, and Stokely, James,
The Border States (1968); Federal Writers’ Project, Kentucky:
A Guide to the Bluegrass State (1939; repr. 1973); Goldstein, Joel,
Kentucky Government and Politics (1984); Harvey, Curtis E.,
The Economics of Kentucky Coal (1977); High, Ellesa C.,
Past Titan Rock: Journeys into an Appalachian Valley (1984); Jewell, Malcolm E., and Cunningham, Everett W.,
Kentucky Politics (1968); Karan, P. P., ed.,
Kentucky: A Regional Geography (1973); Karan, P. P., and Mather, Cotton, eds.,
Atlas of Kentucky (1977); Miller, Penny M., and Jewell, Malcolm E.,
Political Parties and Primaries in Kentucky (1990); Pearce, John E.,
Divide and Dissent: Kentucky Politics, 1930-63 (1987); Rice, Otis K.,
Frontier Kentucky (1975); Schwendeman, Joseph R.,
The Geography of Kentucky, 3d ed. (1970); Van Hook, Joseph O.,
The Kentucky Story, 3d ed. (1970)


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