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

Whitley County (KY) Enslaved, Free Blacks, and Free Mulattoes, 1850-1870

Whitley County, formed in 1818 from a portion of Knox County, is located in southeastern Kentucky, bordered by four counties and the Tennessee state line.

The county was named for William Whitley, a veteran of the Indian Wars and the War of 1812. In the late 1700s, he built the country's first circular race track at his home in Whitley County. Noted differences were that the course was made of clay and the horses raced in a counter-clockwise direction [info].

The seat of Whitley County, Williamsburg, was established in 1819 and also named for William Whitley.

The 1820 county population was 371 [heads of households], according to the U.S. Federal Census, increasing to 7,579 by 1860, excluding the enslaved. Below are the number of slave holders, enslaved, free Blacks, and free Mulattoes for 1850-1870.

1850 Slave Schedule

  •   46 slave owners
  • 135 Black slaves
  •   66 Mulatto slaves
  •     6 free Blacks
  •   18 free Mulattoes

1860 Slave Schedule

  •   46 slave owners
  • 115 Black slaves
  •   42 Mulatto slaves
  •     8 free Blacks [most with last name Berry, 1 Bradshaw, 1 Eaton]
  •   19 free Mulattoes 

1870 U.S. Federal Census

  • 94 Blacks
  • 51 Mulattoes
  • About 5 U.S. Colored Troops listed Whitley County, KY, as their birth location.

For more see the Whitley County entry in The Kentucky Encyclopedia, edited by J. E. Kleber; Roy M. Chappell in the chapter "No Sir, I Will Not Sign" in Hidden History of Kentucky Soldiers, by B. Craig; The Abolitionist Legacy, by J. M. McPherson for information on the first Black students in 1885 at the American Missionary Association (AMA) School in Williamsburg; and the "John G. Tye" entry in the History of Kentucky, v. 5, by W. E. Connelley and E. M. Coulter for information on the role of the Tye enslaved during the early pioneering days of developing Whitley County.

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Whitley County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Williamsburg, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Item Relations

Cited in this Entry

NKAA Source: The Kentucky encyclopedia
NKAA Source: Hidden history of Kentucky soldiers
NKAA Source: The Abolitionist legacy : from Reconstruction to the NAACP
NKAA Source: History of Kentucky

Related Entries Citing this Entry


Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Whitley County (KY) Enslaved, Free Blacks, and Free Mulattoes, 1850-1870,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed May 26, 2024,

Last modified: 2023-07-28 16:40:57