Can Married Women Own Property in their Name?

While it is not surprising that 19th century European nations looked to the United States as a model for economic or political best practices, it is intriguing that the government of Bavaria should want to know the status of women’s property rights in Kentucky.

An unusual Civil War example of conversation between the Commonwealth and the sphere of foreign affairs appears in a letter from C. F. Hagedorn of the German state of Bavaria to Gov. James F. Robinson of Kentucky in 1863. In the letter, the consul requests that Robinson provide answers to two specific, enumerated questions about women’s rights in the state of Kentucky.  

Consul General Hagedorn inquires as to the rights of married women to hold property and make decisions based on said property, as well as to what actions they can take to “act without approval to or consent of their husbands!” The docketing of the letter indicates that Robinson did respond to the consul’s inquiries, though his response cannot be found. Governor Robinson’s response to the Bavarian consul’s request to know more “in short about womens rights in your Commonwealth” would undoubtedly provide compelling insight concerning the agency of women in the 19th Century.

While CWGK does not have Governor Robinson’s response we have the initial correspondence. Go here to examine the letter:

It wasn’t until Josephine K. Henry successfully lobbied the Commonwealth of Kentucky for passage of the 1894 Married Woman’s Property Act that women were able to hold property after they were married.

CWGK Welcomes Dr. Chuck R. Welsko

The Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition (CWGK) is pleased to announce the addition of Dr. Chuck R. Welsko to the project’s editorial staff as Project Manager.

Originally from Pennsylvania, Welsko earned his Ph.D. from West Virginia University under the direction of Jason Phillips. He comes to the KHS and CWGK from the University of West Georgia, where he served as a Visiting Professor of Public History. Welsko specializes in the cultural, social, and political history of the Civil War Era, with a particular focus on Border States, loyalty, slavery, nationalism, and identity formation. He has published research in West Virginia History: A Journal of Regional Studies, as well as reviews for H-Net, The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, and West Virginia History. Welsko also has extensive experience with public history, with time spent at Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania National Military Park and the Remembering Lincoln Project at the Ford’s Theatre Society.

CWGK Welcomes Dr. Deborah J. Thompson

The Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition (CWGK) is pleased to announce the addition of Dr. Deborah J. Thompson to the project’s editorial staff.

Thompson’s position is funded by a grant from the National Historical Publications & Records Commission and is focused on preparing text and annotations for publication in the expanded CWGK web interface.

Thompson received her Ph.D. in Geography from the University of Kentucky in 2012 and an M.A. in Appalachian Studies from Appalachian State University in 1988. Prior to her arrival at CWGK in May 2019, she served on the faculty and as coordinator of Country Dance Programs at Berea College, and as faculty and director of the Appalachian Semester at Union College in Kentucky. She is a musician and dancer specializing in traditional art forms of the Appalachian region and is the author of articles on Appalachian music, race, and gender in GeoJournalSmithsonian Folkways Magazine, and Journal of Appalachian Studies. Thompson served as co-editor for Encyclopedia of Appalachia’s (UTP 2006) “Families and Communities” section, including a substantial entry on “Intentional Communities,” as well as a writer in the “Music” section. She contributed to the initial vision of  A Handbook to Appalachia (UTP 2006), also co-writing the chapter on “Folklore and Folklife.” Among her other experiences, she has led several international academic and cultural study exchanges and served as principal investigator for three county-level historic architectural surveys in North Carolina which resulted in publications such as Transylvania: The Architectural History of a Mountain County.

CWGK Welcomes the 2019 Graduate Research Associates— Melissa DeVelvis and Peter Thomas

Once again, with funding from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), the Civil War Governors of Kentucky (CWGK) recruited two Graduate Research Associates (GRAs) from premier history programs across the United States to help annotate 300 documents in 2018.

The GRAs underscore a core principle of CWGK and KHS, that how the work of history gets done is as important as the fact that it gets done. The GRA positions allow CWGK to nurture research skills in emerging scholars as well as exposing them to digital project startup and management, collaborative work as a member of a research team, the establishment and maintenance of project policies, and the production of historical knowledge in diverse forms for audiences beyond academia. Working as a GRA on the CWGK project not only builds these students’ digital humanities skills portfolios, it makes them better scholarly researchers by encouraging them to flip their engagement with the archive and to think seriously about how research collection are built and curated as well as how they are used by audiences beyond academic researchers like themselves.

The 2018 GRA class is as follows:

DeVelvis is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of South Carolina studying the nineteenth-century U.S. South under Dr. Mark Smith. Her dissertation examines gender and secession in South Carolina and the intersection of emotion and politics. DeVelvis also works as an interpretive guide for the Historic Columbia Foundation and as a graduate manuscript processing assistant at the South Caroliniana Library. Most recently, she processed the collection of the late Bishop John Hurst Adams, Civil Rights and religious leader.

Thomas is a history Ph.D. candidate at Auburn University studying Civil War-era America under Dr. Kenneth Noe. He received two degrees in Economics and History from Emory & Henry College and an M.A. in History from the University of North Florida  . While at UNF, he defended a master’s thesis that explored the Civil War soldier’s transition from citizen to soldier, and he also worked closely with the Jacksonville Historical Society. At Auburn, in addition to his duties as a graduate teaching assistant for the history department, Thomas has worked as an editor and author for the Encyclopedia of Alabama, a cultural resource specialist for the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts and Humanities, and a graduate research assistant for Dr. Elijah Gaddis, who co-founded Community Histories Workshop. Thomas’s dissertation research combines the methods of environmental and military historians in order to understand the relationship between Civil War soldiers and military encampments. Thomas plans to teach an upper-level Civil War and Reconstruction course this summer at Auburn, and in the fall and spring he is scheduled to teach World History survey courses.

2019 Graduate Research Associates

Overview: The Kentucky Historical Society seeks two Graduate Research Associates (GRAs) familiar with 19th century United States history to write short informational entries for the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition (CWGK). GRAs will receive a stipend of $5,000 each and can work remotely from their home institutions.

Each GRA will annotate 150 assigned documents. Each GRA must be a graduate student in at least the second year of a M.A. program in history or a related humanities discipline. These positions are funded by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), a branch of the National Archives. This continues a successful two-year program that has involved 10 GRAs

CWGK is an annotated, searchable, and freely-accessible online edition of documents associated with the chief executives of the commonwealth, 1860-1865. Yet CWGK is not solely about the five governors; it is about reconstructing the lost lives and voices of tens of thousands of Kentuckians who interacted with the office of the governor during the war years. CWGK will identify, research, and link together every person, place, and organization found in its documents. This web of hundreds of thousands of networked nodes will dramatically expand the number of actors in Kentucky and U.S. history, show scholars new patterns and hidden relationships, and recognize the humanity and agency of historically marginalized people. To see the project’s work to date, visit

Scope of Work: Each GRA will be responsible for researching and writing short entries on named persons, places, organizations, and geographical features in 150 documents. Each document contains an average of fifteen such entities. This work will be completed and submitted to CWGK for fact-checking before December 1, 2019.

Research and writing will proceed according to project guidelines concerning research sources and methods, editorial information desired, and adherence to house style. This will ensure 1) that due diligence is done to the research of each entity and 2) that information is recorded for each item in uniform ways which are easy to encode and search.

All research for the entries must be based in primary or credible secondary sources, and each GRA is expected to keep a virtual research file with notes and digital images of documents related to each entry. These will be examined regularly by the CWGK team as they fact check the GRA output and turned over to CWGK at the completion of the work. CWGK will fact-check all entries for research quality and adherence to house style. CWGK projects an average rate of one document annotated per two hours of work. Each GRA may expect their workload to be similar to adding on another class for the semester. They should expect to complete an average of 4 to 5 documents per week, though this may vary.

Each GRA will work remotely. Interaction with the documents and the writing of annotations will take place in a web-based annotation tool developed for CWGK, which can be dialed into from any location. CWGK will make use of online research databases to make its work efficient and uniform. Other archival sources may be of value but are not required by the research guidelines. Securing access to the paid databases required by CWGK (,, and ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Louisville Courier Journal) is the responsibility of the GRA. If regular institutional access to these databases is not available to the GRA through a university or library, it is the responsibility of the GRA to purchase and use a subscription to these databases. KHS will not reimburse the GRA for any travel, copying, or other expenses incurred in CWGK research.

In order to maintain quality and consistency as well as to foster a collegial and collaborative work culture, CWGK will conduct weekly virtual “office hours” via Google Hangouts, during which GRAs are required to dial in, ask questions of staff, share expertise and research methods, and make connections with their peers. Virtual attendance at these office hours is mandatory, and multiple sessions may be offered to accommodate schedules.

The Kentucky Historical Society will hold copyright for all annotation research as work for hire.

Evaluation Criteria: A proposal should consist of at least a narrative statement of professional ability in the form of a cover letter, a CV, and two letters of recommendation. Additional supplementary materials that demonstrate capacity in the evaluation factors may also be included.

Proposal materials should be submitted to Patrick Lewis at by no later than February 4, 2019. Any questions about the GRA program may be directed to Lewis as well.

The Kentucky Historical Society will evaluate the proposals based on the following factors:

Research Experience (70 points): Describe your familiarity with research in 19th century U.S. history. Describe some projects you have undertaken. What sources have you used? Have you been published? Have you interpreted historical research in forms other than a scholarly peer-reviewed publication? Discuss how a digital archival experience differs from your traditional archival experience.

Project Experience (30 points): Describe any work you have done in the editing of historical documents. Discuss how a project such as CWGK maintains balance between thorough research and production schedules. Have you worked on other collaborative projects in the field of history or otherwise? Describe the importance of time management and deadlines in your work. Describe your understanding of and/or experience with the Digital Humanities. From what you know of the CWGK project, how does it fit with current trends in the field? What do you hope to gain from working on the CWGK project?

CWGK Best of 2018

The Best of 2018

2018 was an eventful year for CWGK. Numerous teachers, students, researchers, fellows have accessed and utilized the database. 2018 also saw the publication of our 1,000th document. We also started #MondayMystery on social media to help our team discover more Kentuckians.

To recap our year, we’ve organized a series of “Best of” lists that chronicle everything from our individual takes on the most Tragic Case (deaths) in Civil War Kentucky to the one place we would like to travel back to. We hope you’ll enjoy reading these lists these as much as we enjoyed creating them

1.) MOST TRAGIC CASE: The database does not lack unusual and/or gruesome deaths. Each editor has selected the most memorable demise so we asked the CWGK Team to determine the most tragic case in the Archive.

Natalie: While taking refuge for the night in a church, a sleeping man was bludgeoned to death and robbed of the six dollars in his possession. The accused were two men whom the victim had met at a turnpike only one mile from his place of rest. As the three men had traveled together to the church, the victim was evidently unaware that he had anything to fear. To make matters even worse, his body wasn’t discovered until 17 days after the murder had taken place. “I consider this the most aggravated, cold blooded and unprovoked murder I ever heard of,” wrote C. D. Shean, asking that a reward be offered for the capture of the accused men. (KYR-0001-005-0009)

Emily: Thomas Edrington while in a fit from severe alcohol deprivation murdered his wife. He suffered from a severe form of Alcohol withdrawal, delirium tremens. In a petition to Governor Thomas E. Bramlette in 1863, he asked for executive clemency from the verdict of manslaughter based on the defense of insanity. “It like to Broke my poor heart to think of sutch A thing as that to loose my nearest and dearest friend whitch those that knowed us has often said they never seen A more happyer Couple in there life than we were we never had anny Malice towards each other” stated Edrington, in his plea to be released from the verdict and state prison. (KYR-0001-004-0160)

Graduate Research Assistant: Taylor County brothers Merritt and Vardiman Dicken, about 23 and 21 years-old respectively, were both shot and killed in early December 1864 while searching for their stolen mule. They first encountered trouble at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Rinehart in Marion County. Two strangers arrived there on horse and pretended to act as their guides until shooting them both with pistols. The wounded brothers escaped and came upon Michael Foley, a railroad worker and Union Army veteran, who mistook the Dickens for Confederate guerillas and attempted to arrest them. Merritt Dicken refused to surrender and, as he attempted to escape, Foley shot and killed him. Vardiman Dicken died of his wound days later. Governor Thomas E. Bramlette pardoned Foley of his murder charge, believing that he made an “honest mistake” and stated, “No man who kills a guerilla should suffer if I can prevent it.” (KYR-0001-004-1380)

2.) MOST MEMORABLE NAMES: Our editors have compiled a list of the Top 5 most memorable names encountered in the CWGK database in 2018. You can search these names here.

  1. Rye Curry
  2. Michael Scott
  3. Queen Victoria Lucas (daughter of Squire Lucas)
  4. Liberty Langford (who was arguing that a public road shouldn’t be built over his property)
  5. Joel Noel

3.) THE TIMELESS TRAVEL: Finally, we’ve asked each editor to select one place from the CWGK archive that they would most like to visit.

Natalie: I would most like to visit the Capital Plaza Hotel in Frankfort, Kentucky, specifically on the evening of February 24, 1863, to attend the reception held by the governor and Kentucky government in honor of the Union Ladies of Kentucky. With attendees counting among Kentucky’s high society, I’m sure discussions were held that shaped the course of the state’s history. And who wouldn’t love to see 1860s fashion on full display? (KYR-0362-001-0001)

Emily: Located in Kenton County, Latonia Springs was the hot spot for society during the Summer and during outbreaks of disease. Similar to the mineral springs in Bath, England, Latonia served as a retreat to help cure all ills.  I would most like to “take the waters” and discuss with those who anticipated the war in 1860. During the Civil War the springs transformed into a convalescence space. While it would be a fascinating place to visit today, the Springs closed in 1910. (O00009485)

Graduate Research Assistant: The Steamer St. Patrick traveled between Louisville, Kentucky; Cairo, Illinois; and Memphis, Tennessee on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers during the mid-1860s as the Civil War reached its conclusion. Along with Fulton County minister Nathaniel N. Cowgill, who wrote to Governor Thomas E. Bramlette in May 1865 from this steamboat, passengers witnessed both times of war and peace in this border region where the North meets the South. I would most like to board the St. Patrick at this time to view the landscapes, speak with men and women regarding the current events, and to better understand what Kentucky and its neighbors experienced during this era. (KYR-0002-225-0068)

4.) MOST OUTRAGEOUS STATEMENT: Our documents are not short on their own humor or scandalous affairs. Each member of the staff was tasked with finding their favorite one-liners.

Natalie: “His wife is a poor distressed woman, and the condition of her husband Makes her nearly crazy.” (About the wife of a “no good” man who was imprisoned for quarreling–KYR-0001-020-1212)

Emily: “May the Lord grant that these Duch and all the Duch in Lincoln Army May be Put in front of Batle for they are all Aboliost.” The petitioner here was mad at the Dutch for starting a fight and then joining the Union Army, and you guessed it, he was a Confederate supporter. (KYR-0001-020-1219)

Graduate Research Assistant: “Mr Darnall, I think, too young for such an important position besides, he has been Connected I understood with negro recruiting, which you know would to a great extent paralyze his usefulness.” Maysville’s Robert A. Cochran changed his mind about signing a petition a few days before, and here he does not hide his opposition to Darnall commanding a local militia company. (KYR-0002-225-0070)

5.) MOST REFUSED PARDON: A major component of the CWGK archive is requests for executive clemency. We asked the team to identify a document where they believe the evidence was there for the pardon, but the Governor seemed to have an “off” day.

Natalie: Richard Lucas from Shelby County was fined $200 for keeping a tippling house, though he claims to have had a federal license to sell alcohol. He begs Governor Bramlette to remit his fine as he is dying from tuberculosis and it is unlikely he will recover, and he does not wish to burden his family with the fee. His neighbors confirm in his petition that he had a license at the time, is an honest man, and is undoubtedly dying from the disease. Gov. Bramlette refuses him a pardon. What makes Bramlette’s refusal even more tragic, in my opinion, is that the document shows that he initially offered a 12-month respite, but crossed it out and wrote “Refused” instead. Even a respite would have been a little more compassionate! (KYR-0001-004-0563)

Emily: We don’t often come across a continuous set of “Refused” pardon request. However, between February and March 1864, Thomas E. Bramlette consistently refused these request to help individual Kentuckians. I know, I know, it is his prerogative to give clemency but I mean come on. Fingers crossed as we get into April 1864, he changes his tune.

From #MondayMystery to #TuesdayTranscription

It is always unsatisfying when transcribing a document to not be able to determine a word, phrase, or name. In July, I was working on a document when I came across a name that I could not decipher. After showing the name to the CWGK team, we were all stumped. So, what now? Do we just let this person fall back into the depths of history? I was disgruntled by our defeat.

After a discussion of what to do, we found our solution: social media. I am not a native Kentuckian (though some of my co-workers are), but I thought, who better to look at these signatures than people with ties to the Commonwealth? Who knows–maybe a signature could be a long-lost family member.

Social media users, such as those on Facebook and Twitter, put on their thinking caps and came to our rescue. Every Monday the Kentucky Historical Society post an image of a signature from one of the CWGK documents using the hashtag #MysteryMonday and ask our social media followers to help us decipher the name. In our first week one we discovered the name with ease, and I began to hope this process would open up more doors— I wasn’t wrong.

On August 13, 2018, we posted a signature that I NEVER thought would be determined. In less than one hour, the Kenton County Public Library swooped in and named our mystery person. Who knew success would taste this sweet? Well, I got a little too excited, because over the next three weeks, CWGK and social media were left without resolution. This, as it turned out, would be our longest streak without a name.

But wait! On September 10, one of our Facebook followers ended up identifying a signature that we had already deemed unrecognizable. Not only did Mr. Bigwood give us the name in the 1860 census record (this is where we check the names; every signature has to be corroborated by a primary source), but he gave us historical context. He stated that “This is old Germanic script. You can tell because of the distinctive ‘H’ which looks like it has been tilted on its side (the third letter), and the distinctive ‘a’ which immediately follows it. The signature reads “Johannes Dolle.” His insight has helped our researchers to look at names a bit differently in the transcribing stage.

Over the course of the last six months, with the help of social media, CWGK has discovered 16 out of the 23 names published online. Not too shabby!

As we approach the New Year, we are making some changes! First, we will be replacing the #MondayMystery to #TuesdayTranscription. We do this to keep true to the type of work the CWGK team conducts. And we wanted to have a hashtag (#) that would be unique to our postings. We look forward to starting 2019 with a clear perspective. Take a minute and click through our map to look at the locations where we traveled together on Mondays during 2018.

Don’t forget to follow The Kentucky Historical Society on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with #TuesdayTranscription and other CWGK projects.

On the Border of Freedom

Sometimes when starting a new project or phase in life everything around you becomes overwhelming. I am not a Kentuckian, nor by training am I a civil war historian. However, over the course of the last three months one thing is evident as I write this post: Why do I know so little about a state, that for all intents and purposes is “Southern”? This question and my larger goals of wanting my first experience in the “real world” to be successful, led me to dive deep into my work. The Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition (CWGK) is a hidden gem in the realm of digital history. Not only has CWGK developed a unique way to examine the office of the governor, but each document is translated, annotated, and researched. The team assembled to work on this project made it possible for students, teachers, and scholars to do primary source research from their home. As part of learning about my new State (aside from the Kentucky Derby), I am taking a step back and spending my days with the Civil War Governors of Kentucky and their constituents. Which has led me to understand the internal struggle that the US faced was truly felt by all individuals, maybe more in Kentucky than others.

In July, I was brought on to the CWGK team to research and develop educational materials for all levels of scholars through an NEH Grant. I never thought that I would spend my days reading about how the tensions of the Civil War affected everyday individuals. However, that is just what happened. Over the course of the next few months, I hope you will follow along as I highlight some short narratives about the individual struggles Kentuckians faced in the war years. This week we start just prior to secession in Henderson County, Kentucky.

April 1, 1860, just south of Henderson, Kentucky, Dr. Walter Alves Norwood lay on the ground of his stable, dead.[1] Moments prior, a runaway slave known to those in the town as Jim Brown pulled a gun on the doctor and shot him. While members of the community wrote to Governor Beriah Magoffin requesting he take action, others took to the woods in search of the slave. The problem here, and in other places, revolved around the fact that Kentucky bordered the slave holding south and the free north. Henderson County lies along the Ohio River and Indiana— freedom. This was not the first time that Jim Brown escaped the home of his mistress Ms. Pentecost. In 1859, Brown fled the state for the freedom of Indiana for more than three months before returning to his mistress.[2] Robert Glass wrote to Governor Magoffin stating that, “It is feared that he [John Brown] has gone to Indiana (where the stepfather of his mistress lives & who harbored him for four months last year while runaway).”[3] Accounts indicate that John Brown had a wife and on multiple occasions he requested to see, but was continually denied. While Ms. Pentecost owned John Brown, Mr. Furna Cannon owned Brown’s wife. Determined to be with his wife, Brown once again ran away. Being on this border of freedom, “The [Ohio] river held both terror and hope for slaves and made slavery in Henderson County more complicated.”[4]  Slaves could see their freedom, but could not have it. After the death of Dr. Norwood, Captain Bill Quinn lead a search party, equipped with bloodhounds, into the woods and fields to flush out Brown. Their initial searches proved unsuccessful. Wanting to capture the murderer the citizens issued a reward of $500.00 for the “capture, ‘dead or alive’ of the slave ‘Jim Brown’… In addition it is expected that the Governor of the state will offer a reward for his apprehension.”[5] After a continued search of the county, John Quinn, Bunk Hart, and John H. Marshall discovered Brown hiding in the barn of William J. Marshall—John H. Marshall, “fired, the ball striking him [brown] in the right temple, causing instant death.”[6] His murderers were exonerated on the belief that they did what was best for the community. This is not an unusual story to most historians. However, the distinctiveness of Henderson County and the question of slavery, may give more insight as to why Kentucky held a unique position in the full picture of the civil war and why, it is time to reexamine how the commonwealth fits into that narrative.

I hope that you will continue this journey with me as I discover more about the individuals in Kentucky that sought advice or help from the office of the Governor, and what it meant to live in a state that allowed slavery, but aligned with the federal government in the war on slavery.

To use the story of Jim Brown and Dr. Norwood in your classroom click here.

Emily Moses is a Research Associate with the CWGK team. Her work focuses on conducting annotation research and amplifying the outreach efforts to audiences of formal and informal learners.


[1] Alex H. Major to Beriah Magoffin,  3 April 1861,  Office of the Governor, Beriah Magoffin: Governor’s Official Correspondence File, Apprehension of Fugitives from Justice Papers, 1859-1862,  MG8-114 to MG8-115,  Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives,  Frankfort,  KY.  Accessed via the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition,[2] Please note that the letter indicates that the Slave was brought back to his owner, Ms. Pentecost but it does not state if he came back on his own volition or if he was captured by bounty hunters.[3] Robert Glass to Beriah Magoffin,  4 April 1861,  Office of the Governor, Beriah Magoffin: Governor’s Official Correspondence File, Apprehension of Fugitives from Justice Papers, 1859-1862,  MG8-112 to MG8-113,  Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives,  Frankfort,  KY.  Accessed via the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition,[4] King, Gail, Susan Thurman, and Susan Thurman. Currents: Henderson’s River Book. Henderson, Ky.: Mail Orders to Henderson County Public Library, 1991. Held by the Kentucky Historical Society, Frankfort, KY.[5] F. A. Cannon et al., Five Hundred Dollars Reward!,  4 April 1861,  Office of the Governor, Beriah Magoffin: Governor’s Official Correspondence File, Petitions for Pardons and Remissions, 1859-1862,  MG19-518,  Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives,  Frankfort,  KY.  Accessed via the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition,[6] Starling, Edmund. History of Henderson County, Kentucky: Comprising history of county and city, precincts, education, churches, secret societies, leading enterprises, sketches and recollections, and biographies of the living and dead. Evansville, Indiana: Unigraphic Inc., 1965. P.560-561

Slavery, Sexual Violence, and the Law

That slavery and slaveholders often subjected the enslaved to sexual exploitation, coercion, and assault has been well documented by scholars and by ex-slave narrators like Harriet Jacobs and Louisa Picquet, both of whom endured unwanted sexual advances.[1] For at least two of slavery’s survivors, and probably countless more, the guerrilla conflict that engulfed Kentucky late in the Civil War also brought with it an additional danger of sexual violence. [2] Incomplete though they are, what follows are the stories of these two women—what they endured; how it was preserved in the historical record; and what that tells us about the politics of sex, race, gender, and the law on the cusp of slavery’s demise.

In November 1864, Hugh H. Martin, a Greenville farmer and avowed Unionist, wrote to Thomas Bramlette to “complain of the conduct of some of the men calling themselves State Guards.”[3] Eight to ten days earlier while a group of men under the command of Sebastian C. Vick commandeered a wagonload of corn from Martin’s property, one of the men “pursued and caught” a slave woman owned by Martin and “despite her resistance committed violence on her.” Since then, wrote Martin, the woman and her husband and been “greatly distressed and outraged, and I as their protector feel deeply injured.”[4] The identity of the woman is unknown, as Martin never names her in the letter. He mentions only that she was the wife of his favorite slave and that the couple had two children. The U.S. census shows that Martin owned four enslaved persons in 1860—three males ages 10, 18, and 36 and one woman who was 23 years old at the time.[5] But it is unclear if she is the same woman of whom Martin wrote. What is clear is the paternalism that permeates Martin’s account of sexual violence. Although he acknowledged that the woman and her husband felt “greatly distressed and outraged,” he also managed to make the assault, ultimately, about his perceived injury as a slaveholder. By styling himself as the couple’s “protector,” Martin conjured a favorite argument of slavery’s defenders that figured the relationship between master and slave as tantamount to that between parent and child. It portrayed bondspeople as perpetual children in need of protection and obscured the reality of slavery as a violent, exploitative institution in which the master benefitted from slaves’ expropriated labor. In reporting his own feelings of deep injury, Martin also gestured toward a feature of 19th century jurisprudence. In a case of sexual assault against a slave, an antebellum slaveowner might sue another white man for damages to his legal property, but the enslaved had no legal recourse; if the owner of the enslaved committed the assault, the law demanded no culpability.[6] The crime of rape against an adult slave did not exist until shortly before the Civil War, when an 1861 Georgia statute expanded the definition of rape to include victims both slave and free. [7]  In Kentucky, the law defined rape specifically in terms of gender and race: “Whoever shall unlawfully and carnally know any white woman [emphasis added], against her will or consent, or by force, or whilst she is insensible, shall be guilty of rape.”[8] Not until February of 1866 could black or multiracial Kentuckians charge a white person with a crime, and then only by affidavit; they could be witnesses in criminal proceedings only against other African-Americans.[9] In a time and place where the law did not acknowledge sexual violence against African-Americans as a crime, the assault committed against the unnamed enslaved woman was ultimately recorded in the grievance registered by the man who owned her as property. Hugh Martin complained to the governor that he could not expect “protection or redress” from officers who could not keep their men in line, but at the time, if there had been any possibility of redress, it would have been Martin’s to seek, not that of the woman who had endured the assault.

Martin also felt compelled to assure the governor of his belief that the enslaved spouses were “faithful to one another.”[10] That Martin thought this detail material to the case betrays, if not his own acceptance, then at least an awareness of the derogatory stereotype of bondspeople as promiscuous. Specifically, Martin may have wanted to dispel the idea that the woman who was assaulted resembled in any way the cultural myth of the Jezebel, the unchaste African-American woman who was, according to Deborah Gray White, “the counterimage of the mid-nineteenth century ideal of the Victorian lady.”[11] A number of factors contributed to the myth of Jezebel in the minds of white Americans,  including the fact that slavery left the bodies of female slaves exposed–whether due to ragged clothing, methods of punishment, or the intrusive examinations to which they were subjected on the auction block—and the concubinage often imposed by the men who owned them.[12] Even when the law seemed prepared to punish predation against enslaved children, it managed to reinforce the Jezebel stereotype. In Kentucky the “rape upon the body of an infant under the age of twelve years,” was punishable by death, and the statute did not specify the race of the victim.[13] But such a statute, even if used to prosecute the sexual abuse of an enslaved child–as Peter Bardaglio has argued about a Mississippi law that established the same age of consent–essentially codified the Jezebel myth into law by implying that slaves older than twelve could not be raped because they were, to borrow Bardaglio’s phrase,  “incapable of withholding consent.”[14]

Within a few weeks of the assault in Greenville, a band of about twenty-five guerrillas carried out a robbery and murder spree in Washington County, leaving four men dead.[15] One of the leaders, Samuel O. Berry, was later tried for his guerrilla activities by a U.S. military commission. The charges included fourteen murders, six counts of robbery, and two counts of rape. The trial was held in Louisville and covered extensively by the Daily Courier, which published a daily transcript of the testimony. Among the prosecution witnesses was a Nelson County freedwoman named Laura, who testified that she had been raped by Berry at gunpoint. “I cried and begged him not to,” Laura told the prosecutor, “but he would do it; he had his pistol drawn on me all the time.” Asked if she was a free woman at the time of the assault, Laura answered, “Well, I supposed I was what was called ‘free’; I had a husband in the army.” Her response seemingly hinted at a disparity between the legal qualification of freedom and the reality of Laura’s living situation at the time, but it was also essential to her ability to testify. Before he began his cross-examination, Berry’s attorney moved to have Laura’s testimony excluded because of her color and on the grounds that she had been a slave at the time of the assault. Implicit in his motion was the abhorrent suggestion that these two factors somehow rendered the violence against Laura insignificant, that her color and her enslaved status negated her right to seek legal redress against her rapist. And that might have been the case but for the one critical factor that her husband was in the army. Legally, this made her a free woman at the time of the assault. Her testimony would stand.[16]

On cross-examination, the defense asked all manner of intrusive and degrading questions in an attempt to blame and discredit the witness. Why hadn’t she run away or called for help? “I was afraid to,” replied Laura, who testified that her child was also upstairs in the house where the rape occurred and that Berry held a pistol the whole time. The defendant, who reportedly lost his hand above the wrist in an industrial accident before the war, was widely known as “One-Armed Berry.”[17] Throughout the trial, as the attorney for the defense attempted to challenge witness identifications of Berry, his efforts were undermined when people who did not know Berry personally, cited this distinguishing feature as the means by which they recognized him during the commission of various crimes. In cross-examining Laura, the defense tried to use this disability—which had not seemed to interfere with Berry’s marauding—as a way to cast doubt on her testimony. “How could he ravish you if he kept his pistol in his hand all the time?” the attorney asked. Laura’s terse and matter-of-fact reply suggests she was unflappable: “Well, he did it.” “I want to know how he did it,” the attorney persisted. Again, Laura stated, “He ravished me with his pistol in his hand.” The attorney turned to another line of questioning: “Did this party that went up stairs with you offer you any money?” In the exchange that followed, Laura revealed that the assailant had given her a quarter “after he got through and [was] just ready to come downstairs.”[18] Though he did not say as much directly, the implication of the defense’s question was that the monetary transaction had rendered the incident an act of prostitution for which Laura was financially compensated. But Laura stated repeatedly throughout her testimony that her assailant had held a gun and that fear prevented her from running away or calling for help. No wonder she did not refuse the coin, as that act might have provoked the rapist to shoot Laura or harm her child.

Berry was found guilty of being a guerrilla and of the various specifications of robbery, rape, and murder. He received a sentence of death, but this was later commuted to ten years in prison.[19] That Laura’s status as a free woman and, thus, the admission of her testimony hinged on her marriage to a U.S. soldier highlights the reality that emancipation and the citizenship rights of freedpeople rested largely on the military service of African-American men. Laura was able to tell her story and to speak for herself in the public record. Still, it was her relationship to her husband that made that possible. Laura’s case can hardly be read as a sweeping victory for the formerly enslaved who endured sexual exploitation and assault in slavery. It seems unlikely that the rape would have been prosecuted had it not been one in a litany of charges brought in a U.S. military court against an infamous guerrilla leader.  But in a justice system that was more apt to treat victims like the anonymous enslaved woman owned by Hugh H. Martin, it was a notable, if rare, instance in which a survivor had her day in court.

Christina K. Adkins has a PhD in American Studies. Her work focuses on slavery and cultural memory.


[1] Harriet Jacobs, 1861, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Documenting the American South, University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2003,; Louisa Picquet,1861, Louisa Picquet, the Octoroon: or Inside Views of Southern Domestic Life, Documenting the American South, University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2003,

[2] On guerrilla war in Kentucky, see especially Daniel Sutherland, A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009) 220-25.

[3] Martin and at least one other correspondent, W. H. Faris, questioned whether Vick and his men had the governor’s approval to operate as members of the State Guard. Faris reported to the governor that Vick had been  “acting out the most complete military force that has come to pass during this war” and warned Bramlette that if Vick and his men were allowed to continue a controversial policy of impressment, they would grow bolder and “a vast amount of civil injuries…will grow out of this thing,” W. H. Faris to Thomas E. Bramlette,  10 August 1864,  Guerilla Letters,  Document Box 1, Folder G. L. 1864,  Kentucky Department of Military Affairs,  Frankfort,  KY.  Accessed via the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition,

[4] H. H. Martin to Thomas E. Bramlette,  11 November 1864,  Guerilla Letters,  Document Box 1, Folder G. L. 1864,  Kentucky Department of Military Affairs,  Frankfort,  KY.  Accessed via the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition,

[5] Eighth Manuscript Census of the United States (1860), Slave Schedules, Kentucky, Muhlenberg County, District 1, p. 8.

[6] Peter W. Bardaglio, Reconstructing the Household: Families, Sex, And the Law in the Nineteenth-Century South, (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1995), 66.

[7] Peter W. Bardaglio, Reconstructing the Household: Families, Sex, And the Law in the Nineteenth-Century South, (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1995), 68.

[8] Richard Stanton, Revised Statutes of Kentucky, Approved and Adopted By the General Assembly, 1851 And 1852, And In Force From July 1, 1852, vol. 1 (Cincinnati: Robert Clarke & Co., 1867) 379-80.

[9] Harvey Meyers, ed., A Digest of the General Laws of Kentucky: Enacted by the Legislature, Between the Fourth Day of December, 1859, And the Fourth Day of June, 1865: Embracing the General Laws Passed Since the Publication of Stanton’s Edition of the Revised Statutes : With Notes of the Decisions of the Court of Appeals of Kentucky : With an Appendix Containing the Laws of the Winter Session, 1865-’66 (Cincinnati: R. Clarke, 1866), 735-36.

[10] H. H. Martin to Thomas E. Bramlette,  11 November 1864,  Guerilla Letters,  Document Box 1, Folder G. L. 1864,  Kentucky Department of Military Affairs,  Frankfort,  KY.  Accessed via the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition,

[11] Deborah Gray White, Ar’n’t I a Woman: Female Slaves in the Plantation South, rev. ed. (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1999), 29.

[12] White, Ar’n’t I a Woman, 31-34.

[13] Stanton, Revised Statutes, 379.

[14] Bardaglio, Reconstructing the Household, 68.

[15] Richard J. Browne to Thomas E. Bramlette,  29 November 1864,  Guerilla Letters,  Document Box 1, Folder G. L. 1864,  Kentucky Department of Military Affairs,  Frankfort,  KY.  Accessed via the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition,

[16] William L. Myers and Albert E. Cochran, “Trial of One-Armed Berry, the Guerrilla: Second Day’s Proceedings,” The Louisville Daily Journal (Louisville, Ky.), Jan 17, 1866, p. 1.

[17] “Sam Berry’s Lost Arm,” Louisville Daily Courier, (Louisville, Ky.), January 26, 1866, p. 3.

[18] Myers and Cochran, “Trial of One-Armed Berry,” 1.

[19] The Papers of Andrew Johnson, vol. 10, February- July 1866, ed., Paul H. Bergeron (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1992), 249.