Black his­to­ry is a sub­ject receiv­ing much atten­tion from schol­ars and authors.  Researchers are work­ing dili­gent­ly to unrav­el the past, while oth­ers are apply­ing their tal­ents to bring these sto­ries to the pub­lic in print and film.  Their work is impor­tant because much of this his­to­ry and these sto­ries have nev­er been told.

Another flour­ish­ing activ­i­ty is the addi­tion of Black his­to­ry cur­ric­u­la in our pri­ma­ry, sec­ondary and post-sec­ondary schools.  This is begin­ning to fill a gap that last­ed well over three cen­turies.  (Sadly, and shock­ing­ly, the sub­ject has now become a polit­i­cal issue.)

Much of this effort is intend­ed to bring about a bet­ter under­stand­ing of the African American expe­ri­ence in this coun­try, a sto­ry that began in 1619, when the first enslaved Africans were brought to Virginia.  Much of the empha­sis has been at the nation­al and state lev­el, on the “big pic­ture.”  There has been much less focus on local his­to­ry.  For us, that means telling the sto­ries and describ­ing events here in Winchester and Clark County.  These are not easy sub­jects to investigate—and not always pleasant.

In the Antebellum Era, the Clark County Courthouse was the site where enslaved men, women, and chil­dren were reg­u­lar­ly bought and sold and where the jail­er admin­is­tered pub­lic whippings.

It may sur­prise some to learn that at the out­break of the Civil War, 42 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion in Clark County was enslaved.  Put into per­spec­tive, that exceed­ed the per­cent­age in the seced­ing states of the Confederacy: 39 per­cent.[i]  The num­ber of Blacks in Clark County peaked at 4,974 in 1850 and has decreased steadi­ly over time to about 1,600 today.  Blacks now rep­re­sent about 7 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion of Winchester and about 5 per­cent in the coun­ty as a whole.

In the Antebellum Era, the Clark County Courthouse was the site where enslaved men, women, and chil­dren were reg­u­lar­ly bought and sold and where the jail­er admin­is­tered pub­lic whip­pings.[ii]

In many cas­es, the very names we seek are omit­ted from pub­lic doc­u­ments.  As an exam­ple, the first eight U.S. cen­sus­es did not give the name of any enslaved per­sons, because they were con­sid­ered prop­er­ty.  In the much more detailed cen­sus­es of 1850 and ’60, they were list­ed indi­vid­u­al­ly by owner–but their names were omit­ted.  The only data report­ed were age, sex, and whether black or mulat­to.[iii]  (The pres­ence of mulat­toes tells us some­thing of the unequal rela­tion­ship between the enslaved and their owners.)

In a few instances, estate records for exam­ple, slaves were list­ed by their first name, age, and appraised or sale val­ue.  In some ear­ly church min­utes, they were referred to as Striblin’s Daniel or Drake’s Agnes—the owner’s sur­name fol­lowed the slave’s giv­en name.[iv]

The U.S. Census report­ed the pres­ence of free Blacks in Clark County pri­or to the Civil War.  The first cen­sus record for the coun­ty is for the year 1810 (data from the 1800 cen­sus were lost and in 1790 Clark County did not yet exist.).  The num­bers for Clark County are as fol­lows:  23 free Blacks in 1810, 41 in 1820, 67 in 1830, 146 in 1840, 140 in 1850, and 122 in 1860.  The decrease that fol­lowed 1840 is part­ly due to Kentucky laws that were increas­ing­ly unfa­vor­able to free Blacks.

Local research has unearthed numer­ous per­son­al his­to­ries of Clark County’s Blacks before and after abolition.

Reward for return of a runaway from a Winchester newspaper
Reward notice for return of a run­away from a Winchester newspaper.

Aaron Abbott earned enough mon­ey to pur­chase his free­dom in 1838.  He acquired a small farm and soon was able to pur­chase free­dom for his wife Charity and their three sons then, lat­er, for his sec­ond wife Harriett and their two chil­dren.[v]

On Independence Day 1868 nine­teen Black mem­bers of Providence Church, all for­mer slaves, resigned from the white church to form their own body.  That con­gre­ga­tion endures today as the Providence Missionary Baptist Church, and they wor­ship at the Old Stone Church, a local land­mark.[vi]

Moses Robinson was an enslaved shoe­mak­er who earned free­dom for him­self and his fam­i­ly.  At the time Robinson died in 1861, he had accu­mu­lat­ed an estate of more than $5,000, or the equiv­a­lent of $155,000 today.  His will direct­ed that the funds be used to buy farms for his chil­dren.  Three of them came to live near Schollsville, in a Black com­mu­ni­ty they found­ed called “Dry Ridge.”[vii]

Peter Bruner ran away from his own­er numer­ous times before reach­ing Camp Nelson, where he enlist­ed in the Union Army in July 1864.  Assigned to the 12th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery, he was engaged in com­bat in Kentucky and Tennessee.  He lat­er penned his auto­bi­og­ra­phy, A Slave’s Adventures Toward Freedom.[viii] 

There are many more sto­ries of indi­vid­ual deter­mi­na­tion and per­se­ver­ance that space pre­vents us from shar­ing here.

Following Emancipation, free­dom did not result in social or eco­nom­ic equal­i­ty for Blacks.  Upon escap­ing slav­ery, most Blacks suf­fered from a short­age of mate­r­i­al goods, near-star­va­tion con­di­tions, and expo­sure to the ele­ments.  Harassment and worse forms of ter­ror­ism often made mere sur­vival a challenge. 

While vio­lence here did not approach that expe­ri­enced in the Deep South, there were inci­dents here in Clark County.  For exam­ple, there were at least six lynch­ings that occurred between 1839 and 1895:  “a young negro named Knight,” Daniel Sphar’s “negro man,” Fielding Waller, William Hart, Ben Plunkett, and Bob Haggard.  A mob hung Plunkett from a tree in the cour­t­house yard.[ix] (See also: Racial Terror in Clark County).

Clark County Black men and women have reg­u­lar­ly answered their country’s call to arms in num­bers greater than their por­tion of the pop­u­la­tion.  According to Retired Army Lt. Col. Michael Lee Lanning, “For more than 200 years, African-Americans have par­tic­i­pat­ed in every con­flict in U.S. his­to­ry.  They have not only fought brave­ly the com­mon ene­mies of the United States but have also had to con­front the indi­vid­ual and insti­tu­tion­al racism of their countrymen.” 

After exam­in­ing only a por­tion of the Civil War enlist­ment records, more than 600 men who served in the U.S. Colored Troops from Clark County have been iden­ti­fied.[x]

A Revolutionary War vet­er­an, John Sidebottom, lat­er ran the Boonesborough Ferry.  He enlist­ed from Prince William County, Virginia, and is cred­it­ed with sav­ing the life of future pres­i­dent James Monroe at the Battle of Trenton.[xi]

Clark County men in the Ninth Cavalry, a Black reg­i­ment, were cit­ed for their hero­ism in Cuba dur­ing the Spanish-American War.  Teddy Roosevelt, who led the Rough Riders up San Juan Hill, lat­er stat­ed that “the Ninth and Tenth Cavalry Regiments fought one on either side of mine at Santiago, and I wish no bet­ter men beside me in bat­tle than these col­ored troops showed them­selves to be.”[xii]

Ruins of a historic home in Dry Ridge, Clark Co., Kentucky
Ruins of a his­toric home in Dry Ridge, Clark Co., Kentucky

Discrimination against Blacks con­tin­ued well into the 20th cen­tu­ry.  Clark County pub­lic schools were seg­re­gat­ed until 1956.  Our deed books record numer­ous sales of homes that pro­hib­it­ed the prop­er­ty from being sold to “a per­son of African descent.”  The fol­low­ing lan­guage is typ­i­cal:  “said prop­er­ty shall nev­er be leased, sold nor con­veyed to any col­ored per­son or negro.”[xiii]

The fed­er­al prac­tice of “red-lin­ing” pre­vent­ed Blacks from secur­ing home loans in Poynterville.  A local banker told me that banks here fol­lowed that pol­i­cy of redlin­ing Black neigh­bor­hoods.  The term refers to the prac­tice of using a red line on a map to delin­eate areas where finan­cial insti­tu­tions would not invest.  From 1934 to 1964, the Federal Housing Administration prac­ticed a pol­i­cy of “redlin­ing” when deter­min­ing in which neigh­bor­hoods to approve mort­gages.[xiv] 

There are numer­ous exam­ples of Blacks with col­lege degrees being denied employ­ment in Winchester except in menial posi­tions such as jan­i­tors and domes­tic ser­vice.  The dis­tin­guished William Webb Banks (1862−1928), author and news­pa­per pub­lish­er, spent near­ly three decades in Winchester as jan­i­tor of the Elks Club; when he died he left his estate of about $10,000 to his alma mater, Simmons University.  William “Pie” Didlick (1907−1980), who grad­u­at­ed from Kentucky State University with degrees in his­to­ry and edu­ca­tion, was the long-time cus­to­di­an at a Winchester bank.[xv]

This brief essay on Black his­to­ry in Clark County is not intend­ed to ren­der moral judg­ment on the past, but rather to lay out the begin­nings of a his­tor­i­cal record.  While some of this record is not easy to accept, there is no sense deny­ing the past ever hap­pened or keep­ing it hid­den so we don’t have to be remind­ed.  It is our shared history.

My per­son­al belief is that in order to know who we are as a peo­ple, we must have a real­is­tic knowl­edge of where we have been.  We can­not change the past.  We are respon­si­ble for what we do today to make Winchester a bet­ter place to live for all.  Although much progress has been made, much more remains to be done for Winchester to become a tru­ly inclu­sive community.


Footnotes

[i] Online at www.britannica.com/topic/Confederate-States-of-America.

[ii] Clark County Will Book 10:53, I. N. Massie, “Winchester in Olden Times,” Clark County Republican, April 28 and May 19, 1916, and Thomas N. Allen, Chronicles of Oldfields (Seattle, WA, 1909), p. 88.

[iii] U.S. Census, Clark County, 1810–1860.

[iv] George F. Doyle, First Record Book of Providence Church (Winchester, KY, 1924).

[v] Lyndon Comstock, Before Abolition, African-Americans in Early Clark County, Kentucky (n.p., 2017), pp. 34–44.  Comstock, who lives in California but has ties to Clark County, has worked on this prob­lem for over a decade.  His 800-page book, Before Abolition, includes the names of more than 7,000 African Americans who lived in Clark County pri­or to Emancipation.  His work includes much bio­graph­i­cal infor­ma­tion and many per­son­al sto­ries.  He is now prepar­ing a much-expand­ed ver­sion of the book. 

[vi] Providence Church Minutes, Vol. II, p. 211.

[vii] Harry G. Enoch, The Robinsons of Dry Ridge, History of a Black Family and Post-Civil War Community in Clark County, Kentucky (Winchester, KY, 2020).

[viii] Peter Bruner, “A Slave’s Adventures Toward Freedom,” online at https://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/bruner/bruner.html.

[ix] Clark County Democrat, April 7, 1880, Winchester Democrat, July 19, 1895 Winchester Democrat, February 16, 1897, Cincinnati Enquirer, February 25, 1870, George C. Wright, Racial Violence in Kentucky, Lynchings, Mob Rule and “Legal Lynchings” (Baton Rouge, LA, 1996), p. 309, and To the Senate and House of Representatives in Congress assem­bled: “Memorial Of A Committee Appointed At A Meeting Of Colored Citizens Of Frankfort, Ky., And Vicinity, Praying The Enactment Of Law For The Better Protection Of Life, April 11, 1871, online at https://omeka.coloredconventions.org/items/show/539.

[x] Lists are avail­able online at Ancestry.com.

[xi] Eric G. Grundset, Forgotten Patriots (Washington, DC, 2008), p. 503.

[xii] “A Winchester Boy at Santiago,” Winchester Democrat, October 11, 1898, T. G. Steward, Colored Regulars In the United States Army (Philadelphia, PA, 1904), p. 281.

[xiii] The author first ran across this restric­tion when research­ing deeds in the Burns Addition (Clark County Deed Book 89:616, 93:615, 94:95, 96:159) and French Avenue (Deed Book 81:371, 83:560, 95:97, 123:341). 

[xiv] “A ‘Forgotten History’ Of How The U.S. Government Segregated America,” online at www.npr.org.

[xv] Winchester Sun, September 19, 1928, September 14, 1979.

  • Harry is a Mt. Sterling native who has lived in Clark County since1999. He has a pas­sion for the past and has researched and writ­ten exten­sive­ly about the his­to­ry of this area.