From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Slave Trade Between Kentucky and Southern States

Lexington was initially the slave trade center for Kentucky in the 1800s because of several factors, including the demand for slaves in southern states, the large number of slaves in Kentucky, the decreasing profits of slavery, the Kentucky anti-importation law of 1833, and attacks by abolitionists against the African slave trade and slavery in general.

As the economic demands for more slaves increased in southern states, the Kentucky and Virginia slave markets responded to the demand in the cotton belt, economically benefiting both states. In 1840, Robert Wickliffe, the largest slave owner in Fayette County, KY, boasted to the Kentucky Legislature that as many as 6,000 slaves per year were being sold to southern states from Kentucky, though the actual number was not known because there were no definitive accounting records for all sales.

Prior to the late 1840s, the sale of slaves was a personal business transaction not tracked or announced to the public other than through public auctions, as was the case with the sale of livestock.

In 1843, two of the more prominent slave trade firms in Kentucky were  Downing and Hughes and the much larger firm of Griffin and Pullum, both located in Lexington. In 1849, the Kentucky anti-importation law of 1833 was repealed, allowing slaves from other states to be brought into Kentucky and sold. That same year, the Kentucky Legislature adopted a resolution denouncing abolition.

Around 1849 two other major changes took place. First, Kentucky newspapers garnered a greater share of the slave trade economy and promoted the trade with an increased number of paid advertisements and handbills for the sale of slaves, for those looking to buy slaves, for the services of slave trade firms and brokers, and for the recapture of runaway and kidnapped slaves. Second, the slave trade in Louisville, KY became a major competitor to the trade in Lexington, and adjoining towns were developing their own slave trade businesses. In 1859, when there were discussions of re-establishing the African slave trade, loud voices of opposition were heard from Kentucky and Virginia.

For more see T. D. Clark, "The Slave trade between Kentucky and the Cotton Kingdom," The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, vol. 21, issue 3 (Dec., 1934), pp. 331-342; and Lexington's slave dealers and their Southern trade, by J. W. Coleman, Jr.;  Kentucky and slavery: the constitutional convention of 1792 (thesis) by M. Herrick; and "Slave Trading in Louisville" at ExploreKYHistory.

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Fayette County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Jefferson County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Lexington, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Louisville, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Outside Kentucky Place Name


Cited in this Entry

NKAA Source: The Mississippi Valley historical review (periodical)
NKAA Source: Lexington's slave dealers and their Southern trade
NKAA Source: Kentucky and slavery: the constitutional convention of 1792 (thesis)

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Slave Trade Between Kentucky and Southern States,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed May 26, 2022,

Last modified: 2021-02-22 16:10:25