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York : York and Slavery

Slavery in Early Louisville and Kentucky

African Americans entered Kentucky as the earliest European explorers and settlers brought slavery into the trans-Appalachian west. By 1800, there were 220,955 people in Kentucky, 41,084 of whom were African American.

African Americans in early Kentucky were exploited as property by an institution that denied their humanity and often brutalized them physically. Their lives were also shaped by conditions unique to the state.

Kentucky's climate was not conducive to large-scale plantation agriculture. As a result, through the antebellum period, only 20 percent of Kentucky families owned slave property and the average size of slaveholdings was under five. Slave-hiring became common and, after 1820, a thriving inter-regional slave trade developed. This domestic slave trade, which shifted enslaved African Americans to the cotton growing regions of the lower South, gave Kentucky the reputation of being a "slave trading" state.

African Americans have been a vital presence in Louisville and Jefferson County since the earliest days of settlement. Throughout the ante-bellum period, African Americans represented roughly one- third of the county population and virtually all African Americans living in the county were enslaved.

Few enslaved African Americans stand out as individuals in the early historical record. The most significant exception to this general anonymity is York.


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