Kentucky was admitted into the Union as the 15th state on June 1, 1792, splitting from Virginia in the process. It is known as the "Bluegrass State", a nickname based on Kentucky bluegrass, a species of grass found in many of its pastures, which has supported the thoroughbred horse industry in the center of the state.
Others have suggested the term Kenta Aki, which could have come from an Algonquian language and were possibly derived from Shawnee. Folk etymology translates this as "Land of Our Fathers". The closest approximation in another Algonquian language, Ojibwe, translates as "Land of Our In-Laws", thus making a fairer English translation "The Land of Those Who Became Our Fathers". In any case, the word aki means "land" in most Algonquian languages. Some also theorize that the name Kentucky may be a corruption of the word Catawba, in reference to the Catawba people who inhabited Kentucky.
Native American settlement
It is not known exactly when the first humans arrived in what is now Kentucky. Based on the evidence in other regions, humans were likely living in Kentucky prior to 10,000 BCE, but "archaeological evidence of their occupation has yet to be documented". Around 1800 BCE, a gradual transition began from a hunter-gatherer economy to agriculturalism. Around 900 CE, a Mississippian culture took root in western and central Kentucky; by contrast, a Fort Ancient culture appeared in eastern Kentucky. While the two had many similarities, the distinctive ceremonial earthwork mounds constructed in the former's centers were not part of the culture of the latter.
In about the 10th century, the Kentucky native people's variety of corn became highly productive, supplanting the Eastern Agricultural Complex, and replaced it with a maize-based agriculture in the Mississippian Era. French explorers in the 17th century documented numerous tribes living in Kentucky until the Beaver Wars in the 1670s; however, by the time that European colonial explorers and settlers began entering Kentucky in greater numbers in the mid-18th century, there were no major Native American settlements in the region.
As of the 16th century, the area known as Kentucky was home to tribes from five different culture groups – Iroquoian, Sioux, Algonquian, Muskogean and Yuchi. Around the Bluestone River was the Siouan Tutelo. North of the Tennessee River was the Yuchi and south of it was the Cherokee. Much of the interior of the state was controlled by the Algonquian Cisca; the confluence region of the Mississippi and Ohio was home to the Chickasaw. During a period known as the Beaver Wars, 1640–1680, another Algonquian tribe called the Maumee, or Mascouten was chased out of southern Michigan. The vast majority of them moved to Kentucky, pushing the Kispoko east and war broke out with the Tutelo that pushed them deeper into Appalachia, where they merged with the Saponi and Moneton. The Maumee were closely related to the Miami of Indiana. Later, the Kispoko merged with the Shawnee (who broke off from the Powhatan on the east coast) and the Thawikila of Ohio to form the larger Shawnee nation which inhabited the Ohio River Valley into the 19th century.
The Shawnee from the northeast and Cherokee from the south also sent parties into the area regularly for hunting.
In 1774 James Harrod founded the first permanent European settlement in Kentucky at the site of present-day Harrodsburg.
County of Kentucky and statehood
On December 31, 1776, by an act of the Virginia General Assembly, the portion of Fincastle County west of the Appalachians extending to the Mississippi River, previously known as Kentucky (or Kentucke) territory, was split off into its own county of Kentucky. Harrod's Town (Oldtown as it was known at the time) was named the county seat. The county was subdivided into Jefferson, Lincoln and Fayette Counties in 1780, but continued to be administered as the District of Kentucky even as new counties were split off.
On several occasions the region's residents petitioned the General Assembly and the Confederation Congress for separation from Virginia and statehood. Ten constitutional conventions were held in Danville between 1784 and 1792. One petition, which had Virginia's assent, came before the Confederation Congress in early July 1788. Unfortunately, its consideration came up a day after word of New Hampshire's all-important ninth ratification of the proposed Constitution, thus establishing it as the new framework of governance for the United States. In light of this development, Congress thought that it would be "unadvisable" to admit Kentucky into the Union, as it could do so "under the Articles of Confederation" only, but not "under the Constitution", and so declined to take action.
On December 18, 1789, Virginia again gave its consent to Kentucky statehood. The United States Congress gave its approval on February 4, 1791. (This occurred two weeks before Congress approved Vermont's petition for statehood.) Kentucky officially became the fifteenth state in the Union on June 1, 1792. Isaac Shelby, a military veteran from Virginia, was elected its first Governor.
Relationship Between Native Americans and European Settlers
A 1790 U.S. government report states that 1,500Kentucky settlers had been killed by Native Americans since the end of the Revolutionary War. As more settlers entered the area, warfare broke out with the Native Americans over their traditional hunting grounds. Historian Susan Sleeper-Smith documents the role of Kentucky settlers in displacing Native American communities living in the northern Ohio River Valley during the late 18th century.
Central Kentucky, the bluegrass region, was the area of the state with the most slave owners. Planters cultivated tobacco and hemp (see Hemp in Kentucky) and were noted for their quality livestock. During the 19th century, Kentucky slaveholders began to sell unneeded slaves to the Deep South, with Louisville becoming a major slave market and departure port for slaves being transported downriver.
Kentucky was one of the border states during the American Civil War, and it remained part of the Union. Despite this, representatives from 68 of 110 counties met at Russellville calling themselves the "Convention of the People of Kentucky" and passed an Ordinance of Secession on November 20, 1861. They established a Confederate government of Kentucky with its capital in Bowling Green. The Confederate shadow government was never popularly elected statewide. Although Confederate forces briefly controlled Frankfort, they were expelled by Union forces before a Confederate government could be installed in the state capital. After the expulsion of Confederate forces after the Battle of Perrysville, this government operated in-exile. Though it existed throughout the war, Kentucky's provisional government had very little effect on the events in the Commonwealth or in the war.
Kentucky remained officially "neutral" throughout the war due to the Union sympathies of a majority of the Commonwealth's citizens. Despite this, some 21st-century Kentuckians observe Confederate Memorial Day on Confederate leader Jefferson Davis' birthday, June 3, and participate in Confederate battle re-enactments. Both Davis and U.S. president Abraham Lincoln were born in Kentucky. John C. Breckinridge, the 14th and youngest-ever Vice President was born in Lexington, Kentucky at Cabell's Dale Farm. Breckenridge was expelled from the U. S. Senate for his support of the Confederacy. Modern historians such as Aaron Astor, Maryjean Wall, and Anne Marshall argue that many of Kentucky's white leaders and influential figures embraced a romanticized Southern identity, drawing from misleading and mythologized conceptions of the Old South and on the Lost Cause of the Confederacy, in the decades following Reconstruction. This phenomenon mirrors similar cultural trends in other states during the nadir of race relations.
The Black Patch Tobacco Wars, a vigilante action, occurred in Western Kentucky in the early 20th century. As a result of the tobacco industry monopoly, tobacco farmers in the area were forced to sell their crops at prices that were too low. Many local farmers and activists united in a refusal to sell their crops to the major tobacco companies.
An Association meeting occurred in downtown Guthrie, where a vigilante wing of "Night Riders", formed. The riders terrorized farmers who sold their tobacco at the low prices demanded by the tobacco corporations. They burned several tobacco warehouses throughout the area, stretching as far west as Hopkinsville to Princeton. In the later period of their operation, they were known to physically assault farmers who broke the boycott. Governor Augustus E. Willson declared martial law and deployed the Kentucky National Guard to end the wars.
The Battle of Mill Springs, Kentucky, fought on January 19, 1862 near Nancy, Kentucky led to the first significant Union victory of the Civil War. Here at Mill Springs, Union forces under the command of George H. Thomas defeated Confederate forces under the command of George B. Crittenden and Felix Zollicoffer. Zollicoffer, conducting a reconnaissance in front of his forces, was shot and killed by Union soldiers during the battle. The Federal victory at Mill Springs, not only helped bolster sagging Northern morale, but it also helped to keep Kentucky and its population more solidly within the control of the Union. Learn More About This Battle >>