March 26, 1865: Slavery in Kentucky

Thomas E. Bramlette
Gov. Thomas E. Bramlette


A New York Times correspondent describes the situation in the loyal border state of Kentucky.


In my last I barely touched upon the breaking up of the patriarchal system in this State, as leading to the leasing of land, or letting it “go to grass” the coming year. In truth this is the easy method by which Kentuckians have been accustomed to restore the fertility of the soil, after being exhausted by several year’s cropping, without the application of manure. The fields are allowed to lie in fallow, when they acquire a fresh supply of carbonaceous matter, that, added to the limestone of which the Bluegrass region consists, makes them as productive as ever. It is unnecessary to add that no country on the globe is better adapted to dairy farming than that embraced within a radius of 70 or 80 miles of Cincinnati, and lying in this State.

“Ye have taken away my gods, and what have I left?” exclaimed the apostate Hebrew; and this may be regarded as the interrogations of the Kentucky planters and farmers as a body. Most of them are at a loss what to do or say. Shiftless, at best they seem hardly to know how to turn themselves. They profess loyalty, and would be happy to be with freedom, “were ‘tother dear charmer away;” but with this they cannot think of parting company. Gov. BRAMLETTE lately recommended the ratification of the constitutional amendment, on condition of the receipt from the general Government of thirty-four millions of dollars as compensation: but the Legislature was coaxed or bullied into rejecting this most sensible of BRAMLETTE’s recommendations. The result will be that they will lose the slaves and get nothing.

The sybil, when she returns, will not have even one book spared. Of the 225,000 bondmen in this State, five years ago, about 23,000 have already enlisted as soldiers; doubtless as many other able-bodied men have taken their departure. Senator WILSON’s bill will probably set free more than 50,000 of the wives and children of colored troops. If this were insufficient to hasten the overthrow of the system, the owners are driving away the old, the infirm, and the children or such as have enlisted, after accompanying this with a “blessing in disguise,” administered through the cat-o’-nine-tails, I have talked with several who were cripples, or too infirm to render further service, or too young to be marketable in time, and so were turned adrift to shift for themselves.

White this is largely the rule, there are numerous exceptions. In families where the slaves were treated as human beings rather than brutes, (and there were not a few of these,) the masters have comprehended the course of events, and adopted the sensible method of offering their servants regular wages, which they readily accept and stay. The native kindness of heart and attachment to home of the negro are well known, and there is little doubt that if common prudence, instead of revenge, actuated the masters as a class, they would at once emancipate their slaves, and so keep them morally adscripti glebae forever.

“What!” exclaimed a loyal citizen in Lexington the other day; ask my nigger to work for me on condition of giving him regular wages. No! I would see him in _____ first!” This illustrates the spirit of nearly the whole caste, especially in the southern and western counties.

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