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Kentucky History
© 2005 Rickie Lazzerini

Page 2

Historical Review 1.4   
The Settlers

     Who were Kentucky's settlers? Virginia, Pennsylvania and North Carolina supplied most of the migrants. Only a small number came from abroad. The migrants from Virginia, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania were mostly of English decent.

Descent of Migrants
Percentage of Population
English
51.6
Scotch-Irish or Scots
24.8
Irish
9
Welsh
6.7
German
4.9
French
1.6
Dutch
1.2
Swedish
.2

Table 1: Ethnicity of Kentuckians as of 1790

     During the 1790s, the number of slaves in Kentucky rose 241 percent, which was greater than the population growth of the state as a whole. A law prohibiting the importation of new slaves was enacted but was not strictly enforced.


Statehood

     In 1780, a petition was submitted to the Continental Congress lobbying for statehood, and Thomas Paine wrote a pamphlet in Kentucky's support. But, it took ten conventions for Kentucky to achieve statehood because different factions of citizens in Kentucky wanted different outcomes. Landless citizens wanted land redistribution, and landowners wanted the disbursement of land to remain as it was. There were also some Kentuckians who wanted to secede from the United States and join with Spain. James Wilkinson was the leader of this scheme that came to be known as the Spanish Conspiracy. Wilkinson convinced the Spanish governor of New Orleans that Kentucky was close to seceding from the United States and claimed that he could direct immigration into Kentucky to bring the area into the Spanish sphere. In return, Wilkinson wanted a trade monopoly. He obtained permission to sell $37,000 worth of produce in New Orleans, but fell into debt , losing his credibility. This forced him to abandon the project and flee to the Northwest.

     After ten years and ten conventions, Congress finally passed a bill admitting Kentucky into the Union on June 1, 1792. Vermont also gained statehood around this same time, which helped Kentucky's bill pass because it alleviated concern about admitting another slave state.


The War of 1812

     The Americans battled the British once more in the War of 1812. Kentucky supplied many of the troops to the western armies. Although no battles took place in Kentucky, Kentuckians were heavily involved in the war, particularly the Battle of the Thames and the Battle of New Orleans. About 67 percent of Kentucky's qualified men fought in the War of 1812, and 1,200 were killed.

     Kentucky men were eager to enlist at the start of the war, but with early losses, as with the debacle at Raisin River, recruitment slowed. The successful Battle of the Thames was the last major battle for Kentuckians in the Northwest. They believed their part in the war was over, so were reluctant to join General Andrew Jackson in New Orleans. The regiments who did join were unprepared, but were still successful in winning the battle, bestowing immense military fame upon General Jackson.

Antebellum Kentuckians

     The population of Kentucky rose dramatically during the beginning of the 18th century, from 150 in 1775, to 564,135 in 1820. But after 1820 more people left the state than came to it, leaving Kentucky to depend on natural increase to populate the state. Because of the static nature of Kentucky's population, there was little change in the composition of the state's population in 1820 as compared to 1790.


Descent of Migrants
% of Population in 1790
% of Population in 1820
English
51.6
56.6
Scotch-Irish or Scots
24.8
18.2
Irish
9
8.2
Welsh
6.7
8.7
German
4.9
5.6
French
1.6
1.5
Dutch
1.2
1.0
Swedish
.2
.02
Table 2: Ethnicity of Kentuckians in 1820 as compared to 1790

     Even after the great influx of German and Irish immigrants to America during the antebellum period, only 5.2 percent of Kentuckians were foreign born. Most of the state's population between 1820 and 1860 consisted of descendents of people who had settled in Kentucky prior to 1820. Louisville was somewhat of an exception, attracting 11,000 German and Irish immigrants. Immigrants here were rather unwelcome, and on August 6, 1855, an anti-Catholic riot took place in Louisville. At least twenty-two people were killed during this manifestation of stress between the immigrants and native Kentuckians.

     In contrast to the stagnant white population, the black population continued to grow during this era. By 1830, 24.7 percent of the population was African-American. However, only a mere 0.7 percent of these African-Americans were free. The majority of Kentuckians never owned slaves, but 28 percent of Kentucky families did. Slaves in Kentucky succeeded in creating their own sub-culture that included strong family ties and religion.

     Religion served a major part of the lives of many Kentuckians, both white and black. Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians were most numerous, but Catholics, Cumberland Presbyterians, Lutherans, Disciples of Christ, and Jews were also present. One of the most intriguing religious sects in Kentucky during this time was a group called the Shakers. This group developed out of the English Quaker movement. They believed that they could achieve direct contact with Christ through communal living, celibacy, and other uncharacteristic practices. By the 1830s there were nineteen Shaker communities in America. Two of these communities were in Kentucky, one at Pleasant Hill, the other at South Union. The Pleasant Hill community was founded in 1806 and claimed 500 residents. The South Union community was founded in 1807, claiming a lesser 350 residents.

     As the 19th century progressed, and the Civil War became imminent, churches began dividing along lines of slavery. Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptist all divided into north and south branches.


By Rickie Lazzerini
Historian

BA History
University of California, Santa Barbara

Index of Historical Reviews

2005 Rickie Lazzerini, All Rights Reserved
This page may be freely linked to but may not be reproduced
in any form without prior written consent from the author.



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