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Reckoning, Inc. is 501(c)3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to examine the legacy of slavery in America, especially in Kentucky, 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, including this one.
While researching The Reckoning radio series, we learned that an unusual amount of information is available for Black men from Kentucky who served in the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT). The reason for this is that enslavers in Kentucky and other slave states that remained in the Union were promised $300 in compensation for each enslaved man they “lost” to the Union Army. A system of forms and ledger books were created to keep track of information about formerly enslaved soldiers so that their previous enslavers could file compensation claims.
What makes these documents 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 no where else: his first and last name, his birth year, his birth location, when and where he enlisted, and the name of his enslaver. These facts can unlock so many other previously hidden documents about enslaved people from Kentucky, providing their descendants with an unprecedented amount of information about their ancestors.
Our eventual goal is to use these documents to research every African American men who either enlisted in Kentucky, or was born in Kentucky but enlisted elsewhere. Our starting point, though, 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.
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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