Young, Betty(died: 1833)
The free black population in Kentucky was, prior to the Civil War, a small percentage of the total number of African Americans living in the state. Their legal status was often challenged, their personal freedoms and civil rights tenuous. Their accomplishments are all the more notable because so many factors worked against them.
Betty Young was a free black woman who lived in Lexington, KY, in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. She and her husband, Thomas Young, had been slaves belonging to Nathaniel Wilson, but Thomas purchased his own and his wife's freedom sometime prior to 1806.
Dr. Basil Duke, then a practicing physician in Lexington, administered the estate of Nathaniel Wilson and filed the manumissions. In 1826, Nathaniel Wilson's widow, Margaret, took oath that the Youngs had been free for many years and had paid her husband for their freedom in full. The proof of their freedom was formally recorded with the Fayette County (KY) Court in 1828, prompted by Betty Young's purchase of her son Jim's freedom from the estate of John Springle; Betty formally emancipated her son later that year.
Betty Young was listed as the head of her household in Lexington in the 1810 and the 1820 censuses; her husband had probably died by 1810 since he was not listed as head of household. She was one of only 208 free African American citizens in Fayette County in 1810 (compared to 7,664 slaves in the county in the same year). The free African American population in Fayette County increased to only 248 persons by 1820; Betty Young was one of them. Betty managed to buy a house on High Street in 1829, a time when it was rare for free people of color to own property.
Beside her son Jim, Betty had a daughter, Margaret Bogus, who may have lived with her. Margaret's freedom was not formally recorded until 1833, but the manumission record indicated that her mother had purchased her daughter's freedom at an earlier date.
Betty Young succumbed to cholera in the summer of 1833; she was described as “Betty Young, free” in the list of cholera deaths published in the Kentucky Gazette on June 23. Betty Young's efforts to free her children meant freedom from servitude for them and freedom for any children that her daughter bore after she was emancipated, extending her gift of freedom into future generations.
For more information, see Fayette County Deed Books, 5:421, 3:387, 3:388, and 4:258 [available at the Fayette County Clerk's Office]; Lexington city tax records; Kentucky Gazette, June 23, 1833; and U.S. Census returns (1810, 1820, and 1830).
This entry was researched, written, and submitted by
Nancy O’Malley, Assistant Director
William S. Webb Museum of Anthropology and
Office of State Archaeology
1020A Export Street
University of Kentucky
Lexington, Kentucky 40506