Wednesday, March 9, 2016

1862 Article: Impressment of slaves in Kentucky

This is a brief untitled story from the Covington Journal of August 30, 1862.

A special dispatch to the Cincinnati Commercial from Lexington, Ky., says that an order was issued Saturday to impress 1,200 slaves to repair the road between Lexington and Cumberland Gap. Impressment has been made in Fayette and Madison counties.

Loyal owners are to be paid laborer's wages, but rebels are to refer their claims to the Department at Washington for settlement. 

The rebels are in great distress. Many of their negroes have been taken while working in hemp fields. 


Kentucky did not produce cotton like the states of the deep south. Hemp fields were one of the main areas where Kentucky farmers used slave labor.

This article was written during the Confederate invasion of the state, just one day before the Confederate victory at the Battle of Richmond, in the aforementioned Madison County, and just a few weeks before the Battle of Perryville ended Braxton Bragg's incursion into the Commonwealth.

This story also serves as an example of the strange situation in which Kentucky found itself. It remained part of the United States, yet still had thousands of slaves, similar to the Confederate states. Of course, this was three weeks before Abraham Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, so the abolition of slavery was not yet an official United States goal, though many people believed slavery had caused the war and that abolition would be a consequence of it. Even the Federal government was still willing at this point to use slave labor for necessary work. (The Confiscation Act of 1862, passed in July, would have allowed the federal government to take, without compensation, the slaves from Confederate officials who did not surrender, but it did not apply to Kentucky since the state was not occupied by the U.S. Army.)

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