While researching The Reckoning radio series, we stumbled on a pretty extraordinary resource at the National Archives. It is a set of ledger books that were created to keep track of African American men who joined the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) from Kentucky.
There are roughly 11,000 soldiers listed in these ledgers, 9,000 of whom had been enslaved.
What makes these books so valuable is that, for every man listed who was enslaved, it provides us with an array of facts about him that would otherwise be preserved in no other document: his first and last name, his birth year, his birth location, when and where he enlisted, and it also lists the name of his enslaver, because President Lincoln had promised those loyal to the Union that they would be compensated $300 for any enslaved man who joined the Union Army. We think of these ledgers as a kind of “Rosetta Stone” that unlocks so much previously hidden information about enslaved people from Kentucky.
We are beginning this project by researching the lives of approximately 750 soldiers from nine counties in Kentucky that surround Louisville, going as far back in time as possible through slave schedules, church records, wills, and estate settlements, and as far forward in time as possible, through pension documents, census data, newspapers, and other resources, to create a database record for each soldier and and his family with links to primary source documents as well as a family tree. The results of all this research is published on our new website kyusct.org.
Currently, you can find records for approximately 200 soldiers who were born in Jefferson County, where Louisville is located. You can browse through the soldiers’ records, or you can search for a particular name, either for a soldier, or a person who enslaved one or more of the soldiers.
If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation of any amount to support this project, please go to our donation page.
To learn more about the project, please watch the video presentation below, recorded in December 2021 at a virtual event for the Filson Historical Society in Louisville.
We sincerely thank our funders
for their generous support!