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

Polk, James Knox (former slave)

(born: 1845  -  died: 1918) 

This entry was submitted by Yvonne Giles, with additional research and sources provided by Brenda Jackson.

James Knox Polk, according to his obituary, was born into slavery January 21, 1845, on the Bosque Bonita farm, owned by Abraham Buford in Woodford County, KY. His mother, Margie Johnson, chose to name him for the newly elected President of the United States. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Abraham Buford joined the Confederacy, taking James Polk with him to serve as a hostler - handler of the horses. He remained throughout the war with Buford. Polk returned to Woodford County and married Mary Bohannon in 1868. They were parents of Reuben Buford, Ellen, James Henry, Lee Christy, John Knox and Dolly Polk. James K. Polk studied and became an ordained minister in 1871. He founded the Pilgrim Baptist Church at Midway, KY, on the second Sunday in January, 1872. He also became a pastor at the African Baptist Church of Christ in Mortonsville around 1873. The church's name was changed to Polk Memorial to honor the minister who served the congregation for 45 years. Polk was a member and served as moderator twice of the Kentucky General Association of Baptists and served as a delegate to the Colored People's Convention of 1898 at Lexington during the Separate Coach Protest. Comment in his obituary: "Reverend James K. Polk was faithful and devoted to his ministry, a good citizen, a man of integrity and force of character, of kindliness, humility and courtesy." Polk died January 27, 1918, and was buried in Woodford County.

Death Certificate #5945, Woodford County, KY.

Obituaries - Lexington Leader, January 29, 1918, p. 5, col. 3; Woodford Sun, January 31, 1918, plus photo.

Polk Memorial Baptist - Woodford Sun, October 30, 2003, p. A3.

Kentucky Historical Society Highway Marker Program, June 22, 2008, Marker #2239.

Brenda Jackson, researcher and family member

Brenda Jackson found an 1870 census record indicating a James Polk serving in the USCT, 25th Infantry in Texas. No mention of his service was made in his obituary.
1880 Woodford County Census Index, p. 408.
1900 Woodford County Census Index, p. 167A.
1910 Woodford County Census Index, p. 238B.

Additional Sources:
"The degree of D. D. was conferred on Rev. J. K. Polk...," Blue-Grass Clipper, 02/03/1903.

"Mrs Margie Johnson, colored, aged 76..." in the column "In and About Versailles.," Woodford Sun, 02/10/1898.

"Polk Memorial Church Celebrating 98th Year," Woodford Sun, 10/04/1951.

"Zebulah Baptist Church (Disbanded)" on p. 34 in Scott County Church Histories: a collection, edited by A. B. Bevins and J. R. Snyder.

More on Confederate General Abraham Buford in Marking Time in Woodford County, Kentucky, by D. C. Estridge and R. D. Bryant.

Dr. M. Myers, "General Abraham Buford: fearless cavalryman," Kentucky's Civil War, 1861-1865, 2011 Sesquicentennial Edition, pp. 32 & 36-38.

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Woodford County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Midway, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Mortonsville, Kentucky in Wikipedia.


Cited in this Entry

NKAA Entry: Giles, Yvonne Y.
NKAA Entry: Polk, John Knox
NKAA Source: Lexington leader (newspaper)
NKAA Source: Woodford sun (newspaper)
NKAA Source: The Blue-grass clipper (newspaper)
NKAA Source: Woodford sun (newspaper)
NKAA Source: Scott County church histories : a collection
NKAA Source: Marking time in Woodford County, Kentucky : stories the historical highway markers don't tell you
NKAA Source: Kentucky's Civil War, 1860-1865 : a comprehensive guide to major battles and historic sites (annual periodical)

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Polk, James Knox (former slave),” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed July 26, 2021,

Last modified: 2021-05-11 20:54:05