Selected Documents from Henderson in the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition
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Selected Documents from Henderson in the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition
Edited by Anthony P. Curtis, Patrick A. Lewis, and Whitney R. Smith

The Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition (CWG-K) is a major documentary editing and research project of the Kentucky Historical Society, which has been generously supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. Conceived at the outset of the Civil War sesquicentennial, this project will locate, image, transcribe, and fully annotate a range of historical documents associated with Kentucky’s five Civil War governors. The project covers the three official governors—Beriah Magoffin (1859–1862), James F. Robinson (1862–1863), and Thomas E. Bramlette (1863–1867)— as well as the two provisional Confederate governors—George W. Johnson (1861–1862) and Richard Hawes (1862–1865).

The aim of CWG-K is not to produce a biographical edition that focuses on these five men, however. The project uses the office of the governor as a lens to see new stories and raise new questions in the [End Page 703] traditional stories of Civil War Kentucky. The office of the governor interacted with presidents, war departments, generals, and (most important) tens of thousands of individual Kentuckians who found their lives and livelihoods threatened by civil war and the collapse of slavery in Kentucky. It is these voices, from men and women, enslaved and free people, rich and poor, and from across the state, that have not made it into Kentucky and Civil War history. CWG-K wants to unearth these voices and enrich our understanding of how conflict, power, emancipation, and reunion worked in counties across the commonwealth.

As a preview of the rich resources CWG-K will provide, we have selected five documents (out of twenty-three thousand currently collected and an estimated forty thousand eventually) from the Henderson area for inclusion in this special issue. Together, they suggest just a few of the important themes and hidden treasures that this project will uncover. The restrictions of print limit the annotation we can provide to these five documents. But we have annotated each person and institution identified in these documents, just as the eventual CWG-K digital edition will do.1 The true power of the digital edition will reveal itself when clicking on each footnote on these pages will link users to every document in which that person, place, or business is mentioned. Imagine, too, a selection of documents from a much wider set of archives and libraries. In this selection of documents on Henderson, each comes from the official governors’ papers at the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives. For the project as a whole, however, a nationwide search for Kentucky governors’ papers (currently underway) will link these documents to ones held at the Library of Congress, the National Archives, university and historical society libraries, and state archives across the country.

In the first document, we see an early example of the issues surrounding law and justice in Kentucky’s slave society. John W. Crockett, a secessionist, wrote to Governor Beriah Magoffin about [End Page 704] a routine court case concerning the sale of liquor to a slave. But the peripheries of this document are as fascinating as its core. Crockett’s postscript to secessionist-sympathizing governor Magoffin is a telling piece of political information. Crockett’s rebel sympathies are not surprising; he would later become a member of the Confederate Congress, serving from 1862 to 1864. But long before the advent of public polling, short notes appended to official correspondence like this kept politicians in Frankfort and Washington apprised of political opinion back at home. They are scattered throughout the CWG-K collection, and a few excellent research projects could come out of collecting and quantifying such statements from across Kentucky over time.

This document also shows how CWG-K will deal with unknown individuals, or those about whom we can find no further information. Many of the people mentioned in the document—Henry Gobin, the slave Tom, Mrs. Clay, and Mr. Posey—have placeholder entries at the moment. It is important to log them into the digital system, however. It creates...