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

South Union, KY - Shakers, Slaves, and Freemen

South Union, located in Auburn, KY, was the southernmost Shaker Community during the War of 1812. It was founded in 1807 and closed in 1922. The community was known as Gasper River until 1813 when it was renamed South Union. According to the thesis of Ryan L. Fletcher, in 1812, Willie Jones, from Halifax, NC, wanted to bring 107 of his slaves to South Union to receive the gospel. There were already slaves at South Union who belonged to Shaker Believers. It had not been easy to convert the slaves into Believers. They were referred to as the Black Family and were segregated from the remaining members. The thought of adding Willie Jones' slaves was not immediately embraced. It was decided that Jones' slaves would either willingly convert to Shakers and move to South Union, or they would remain slaves in North Carolina. Either way, they would still be slaves. Four of the slaves converted and the remainder were sold with none of the profits going to the South Union Shakers; they refused to have anything to do with the money. Willie Jones and his four slaves joined South Union, until Jones was accused of being a backslider and he left, taking his four slaves with him. Jones' downfall was attributed to slavery and the inequality that came with it. Shaker Believers supposedly followed a doctrine of egalitarianism, and slavery was causing disunion in South Union. In 1817, there was a protest referred to as a Shaker slave revolt. The revolt was nonviolent, it was led by African American Elder Neptune. The slaves wanted their freedom and equality, as was professed in the Shaker gospel. They began leaving South Union and re-establishing themselves in Bowling Green, KY. Elder Neptune soon joined them. Owners attempted to regain their slaves without legal or violent means, it was the Shaker way. Elder Neptune returned to South Union and in 1819, the ministry advised slave owners to emancipate their slaves. By the 1830s, all slaves at South Union had been emancipated. Many of the former slaves, including Elder Neptune, left the community and were captured and sold back into slavery; their emancipation in South Union was not recognized beyond the community. For more see "Does God See This?" Shakers, Slavery and the South by R. L. Fletcher (thesis); By Their Fruits by J. Neal; Shaker Papers, Shakers 1769-1893; and visit Shaker Museum at South Union.


Cited in this Entry

NKAA Source: "Does God see this?" : Shakers, slavery and the south (thesis)
NKAA Source: By their fruits; the story of Shakerism in South Union, Kentucky
NKAA Source: Shaker papers

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“South Union, KY - Shakers, Slaves, and Freemen,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed May 21, 2022,

Last modified: 2017-07-19 17:51:22