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Reckoning, Inc. is 501(c)3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to examine the legacy of slavery in America, and to create ways for communities to engage with this information through research projects, media productions, educational curricula, online content, and other means. Since the 2020 premier of our public radio and podcast series, The Reckoning, our organization’s activities have expanded to include several different initiatives.
While researching The Reckoning radio series, we found an extraordinary resource at the National Archives. It is a set of ledger books that were created to keep track of African American men who joined the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) from Kentucky. There are roughly 11,000 soldiers listed in these ledgers, 9,000 of whom had been enslaved.
What makes these books so valuable is that, for every man listed who was enslaved, it provides us with an array of facts about him that would otherwise be preserved in no other document: his first and last name, his birth year, his birth location, when and where he enlisted, and the name of his enslaver. We think of these ledgers as a kind of “Rosetta Stone” that unlocks so much previously hidden information about enslaved people from Kentucky
Our eventual goal is to research all 23,700 African American men who enlisted in Kentucky. But our starting point is to focus on approximately 750 soldiers from nine counties in Kentucky that surround Louisville. To do this, we are using a variety of archival documents, including slave schedules, church records, wills, estate inventories, pension documents, census data, and newspapers to create a database record for each soldier and his family with links to primary source documents as well as a family tree. The results of this research are published in a searchable database, with new information being added regularly.
You can explore the database in a variety of ways. You can browse through the soldiers’ records, either by county, or by regiment. You can also search for a particular name, either for a soldier, or a person who enslaved one or more of the soldiers. Another option is to use our Keyword Search page to see if you might have an ancestor who shows up in the family tree for one of the soldiers in our database. You can find an explanation for how to do this on our Search Instructions page.
Please read the Courier-Journal cover story below to learn more about this project. You can watch a video presentation about the project recorded at a virtual event for the Filson Historical Society in Louisville. And you can listen to a Kentucky Humanities podcast episode about the project.
If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation of any amount to support this project, please go to our donation page.
On this episode of the Think Humanities podcast, host Bill Goodman talks to Dan Gediman about the Kentucky U.S. Colored Troops Project, which uses historical documents to identify African American soldiers from Kentucky who fought in the Civil War.
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