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CATHOLIC SLAVES AND SLAVEHOLDERS IN KENTUCKY C.Walker Gollar* Late March of 1787, a band of warriors on Eighteen Mile Island just above the Falls of the Ohio fired upon a flatboat of Maryland Catholics. An ounce ball ripped through both thighs of Thomas Hill, while another bullet took the life of Hill's property, a black man. His name was not recorded. Other white and black voyagers stayed low while their horses were shot down one at a time. The current then took the craft out of range. Eventually the surviving travelers made it to central Kentucky ,where some bought farms on Pottinger's Creek in Nelson County. But after Hill had recovered from his wounds, he purchased sixty-three acres adjoining the property of another Catholic, Henry Cambrón, on Cartwright's Creek near Springfield in what would become Washington County in 1792. At Hill's home a score of Catholic families periodically gathered for prayer. Early tax receipts indicate that Hill was the largest slaveholder among these pioneers, about a quarter of whom also owned slaves. Like the Hill family, numerous white lay Catholics during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries left behind the exhausted tobacco fields of Maryland in pursuit of unspoiled Kentucky land.They had hoped that clergy would follow, but before such spiritual guidance could be secured, physical labor already was assured through the appropriation of black slaves. Whether or not these bond women and men adhered to the faith of their masters and thus truly might be called Catholic slaves can only be determined by piecing together what remains of their story. The reconstruction that follows demonstrates that lay Catholics not only accepted slave labor as a part of Southern culture, but also essentially endorsed the institution of human bondage.1 *Mr. Gollar is an assistant professor in the Department of Theology of Xavier University , Cincinnati. 1In his discussion ofthe early Catholicism in Kentucky,Benedict Webb listed the names of many of the earliest Catholic pioneers living near the waterways of Washington and Nelson Counties, as well as the neighboring counties noted in the chart below. Twentythree persons listed in the 1792 tax list of Washington County also appear in the Saint 42 BY C. WALKER GOIXAR43 The overall picture of slavery in the truly pioneering period largely remains obscured by the fact that neither the earliest census records, nor most of the first church registers have survived. Incomplete Nelson County tithable lists reveal that twenty-four percent of the Catholics from Maryland owned slaves in 1786, but only thirteen percent held slaves the following year.2 Not until 1810 are more representative and consistent numbers found. By that time, according to the first surviving census records, half of the Catholic pioneers to central Kentucky 1810 CATHOLIC SLAVEHOLDERS Rose Register, and/or in Webb's enumeration of the people associated with Cartwright's Creek. Five (or 21.7%) of these people owned slaves. Other Catholics appear on this tax list (e.g., Leonard Hamilton with eight slaves) who were not associated with the Cartwright's Creek community. Undoubtedly, more Cartwright's Creek Catholics also appear on this 1792 tax list as well as on the earliest (and now lost) Saint Rose registers, but not on the surviving registers. Hill's five slaves numbered only two above the average possessed by Catholic masters in this area at that time. These figures reflect almost exactly those found among the general population ofWashington County.Another quarter ofthis early Catholic community would purchase slaves in due time.All statistics cited in this article were compiled by the author from the sources noted. Benedict Webb, The Centenary of Catholicity in Kentucky (Louisville, 1884). Early Catholic pioneers and their slaves also were terrorized by some white vagabonds, as was illustrated with the case of Joseph O'Daniel. Victor F. O'Daniel, The Father of the Church in Tennessee, or the Life, Times, and Character ofthe Right Reverend Richard Pius Miles, O.P., the First Bishop ofNashville (Washington D.C, 1926), p. 39. 2SLx Catholics appeared on the 1785 Nelson County tithable lists, though none owned slaves at that time. Seven of twenty-nine and six of forty-seven...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-0708
Print ISSN
0008-8080
Pages
pp. 42-62
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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