The Bullitt County History Museum

African American History of Bullitt County

by Daniel Buxton
edited by Lynn Eddington
February 9, 2009

Legend has it that the slab was used to auction off Slaves here in Bullitt County

Early Bullitt County and Slavery

Kentucky became a state on January 1, 1792. In 1793 Adam Shepherd came to what would become Bullitt County and laid out the town of Shepherdsville. During the early days of the county slaves were used at the salt furnaces and iron furnaces. There were many slave owners in Bullitt County, such as; Joseph Brooks, Jacob Bowman, Henry Crist, Wilford Lee, Archibald Magruder, Richard Simmons and many others.

John W. Beckwith VS Elemebek Swearingen

The following was taken form the Bullitt County History Museum web site on the History of Iron Manufacturing in Bullitt County.

In 1823 Beckwith sued Elemebek Swearingen to recover a fee he had paid for the services of a negro slave. At the time of the payment Swearingen had been sheriff of Bullitt County. The slave, named Isaac, had been in the custody of the court pending a decision concerning his freedom. The court had ordered that Isaac be hired out until a decision could be reached. Accordingly, Sheriff Swearingen had hired Isaac out to Beckwith. In the court case Beckwith claimed that Isaac had been too ill to work much of the time he was with Beckwith. Beckwith offered two depositions to substantiate his claim. In one, from George F. Pope, was stated "during the time Isaac was to have been with Beckwith and co. they were engaged in building mills & making a race and as hands were scarce & hard to be got this deponent is of the opinion that they suffered considerable loss & injury in consequence of his sickness and departure from the service before the expiration of the term for which he was hired."

In the other deposition from John J. Thomason, a doctor, is learned that Isaac was under the charge of Beckwith "from the 5th of March to the 11th of June 1819."

This Thomason deposition was in the form of Beckwith questions and Thomason answers. In one Beckwith question he stated, "... I sustained a considerable loss from the want of his services ... it being the only season of the year I could work at the race of my mill on Salt river which I was particularly engaged in that season." Isaac did receive his freedom. It is not clear if Beckwith won or lost his case. (Beckwith v. Swearingen," Bullitt Circuit Court 63 (1824))

As I study the African American History of Bullitt County I try to close my eyes and imagine what it must have been like to live as a slave in those times and I know that I can’t even begin to understand the pain or despair they must have felt. While reading “Slavery Days in Old Kentucky by Isaac Johnson, a former slave” I ran across a quote that I can’t imagine another human being uttering, let alone believing. Isaac Johnson was a slave who lived in Nelson County, Kentucky, for a short time. During his time in Nelson County one of his fellow slaves was executed by his master for disobedience. The following quote is from the master as the master preached the funeral. “You must understand there is no Lord or God who has anything to do with any of you, as I alone am your Master, your maker and your law giver, and when you do what I tell you to do you will get alone alright.” Can you imagine if you had been told that? I can’t, it gives me cold chills just to think about it. I am so thankful that we don’t live in a world like that today.

The Joyce Family Murders
December 18, 1856

In the years before the Civil War slaves were tiring of their plight and began to rise up against there masters. I believe following is an account of a group of slaves that wanted to be free and went too far in their attempt to do so.

On December 18, 1856, persons unknown murdered the family of William Joyce. Those who lost their life that night were Lydia Joyce, mother of William Joyce, William’s younger brother, Richard Joyce, William’s widowed sister, Louisa Welch, and her 2-year old son, John Welch.

The unknown persons killed the individuals in the house and then set the house on fire. At the time of the incident William Joyce was not at home. When he came home he found what was left of his home and found that his family was dead. After William buried his family, he and friends began to suspect slaves.

The next day a group of people went to the home of David Pendleton. There they found clothes, jewelry and watches that had been taken from Williams Joyce’s home in the slaves’ quarters of David’s slave, Bill. After his life was threatened, Bill confessed and also implicated 2 other slaves, Jack, a slave of Hiram Samuels and George, a slave of Lewis Samuels. Jack and George implicated another man, William, a slave of Daniel Brown.

The slaves were taken to Jefferson County, Kentucky, and held in jail there. On January 12, 1857, the slaves were indicted by the Jefferson Circuit Court grand jury for murder, arson, and robbery. On May 12, 1857, the slaves went on trial. The murder charges were dropped against Bill, the slave of David Pendleton, in exchange for his testimony against the other 3 slaves. Bill would go on trial later for robbery and arson charges. On May 13, 1857, in less than 15 minutes, the 3 slaves were acquitted by the jury.

This acquittal sent William Joyce and the crowd that had gathered for the trial in an uproar. A mob formed, went to the jail where the slaves were being held and demanded that the slaves be handed over to them for lynching. The guards at the jail decided to hand the slaves over to the crowd. The slave, Jack, took a razor, cut his own throat and committed suicide. The other 3 slaves were handed over to the crowd and hanged.

Four of the rioters were indicted for the murder of the slaves, but never came to trial.

This building located on the White Farm was once a slaves quarters.

The Civil War

At this time I am aware of two African Americans from Bullitt County that served in the Civil War, both in The Union Army. Grandison Kelley was a sergeant in the Union Army and served in F Company of the 122nd United States Colored Infantry. George E. Lee was a private and served in Company G of the 108th United States Colored Infantry.

From January 30, 1933 to March 24, 1934, The Pioneer News ran a series of articles written by John B. Cruise taken from an interview with Elizabeth Trunnell Pottingers. The following are some excerpts from these articles about her family’s slaves:

Part 3

Of course we owned a good number of slaves. We always kept enough negroes on the place to conveniently do work. Mammy Charlotte tended the ducks, geese, chickens, turkeys, guineas, and peafowls; did the milking and made the butter. There was Aunt Flora who weeded and made clothes for us all. America was the cook and general helper. Sarah, Liz, and Mary Ann were the house girls. Good old Ed served as our carriage driver and he did his work admirably. A stable boy looked after the stables and two or three others helped in the fields.

The rest of our slaves were hired out for a year at a time. They were allowed to come home at Christmas time. We often saw them coming along way down the road with their bedclothes rolled up in a rude way and tied on their shoulders. When they opened the pasture gate and saw the Old Trunnell Home they set up a loud chorus of singing. Down in their poor honest hearts they were glad. "Miss Mary, o tho Miss Mary we's comin' home" and "Mr. Trunnell get out de jug, we's comin' home." I would always cry a little for their simple singing was so deep and sad-like that it touched the heart. The jug was always ready for them. Each would take his turn and drink the sparkling fluid. ‘Ere long the old jug was much lighter. When it became quite empty it was less carefully handled. Loud laughter and song followed. Some strolled off to the cabins, while others lagged behind to talk with their master and mistress. When night came all the negroes were found in their cabin homes laughing, singing, dancing and having a good time in general.

Part 7

One day about 1862 when all was quiet and peaceful around the Trunnell house and the sky had began to show traces of the approaching twilight, a group of Federal soldiers came dashing up our high-planked avenue, carrying pointed guns and riding foaming steeds. The negro stable boy was riding my father's highly-prized stallion. The horse was a perfectly formed steed. His silky tail touched the ground, and his mane waved over his arched neck beautifully. My father had refused a large sum of money for him. It was the horse that the soldiers were after. The stable boy saw the soldiers coming and galloped the stallion at high speed past the cabins, hoping to reach the woodland gate just beyond. He had to open the gate and the officers caught up with him, as he lifted himself back into the saddle. They took the beautiful horse and the frightened negro boy and quickly rode away. The negro came back the next morning but we never saw the stallion again.

Legend has it that
this is the very stove
that some of the slaves
of the Trunnell’s used.

The following are the free and slave population of Bullitt County 1810 to 1860 according to the Federal Population Census.

African Americans

Whiskey Riot
August 4-5, 1874

On the ballot in Shepherdsville, Kentucky, on Election Day, Monday, August 3, 1874, was Judge Carpenter who was running against the incumbent, Judge Phelps. Friends of Judge Carpenter noticed a large group of African Americans that had come to town, probably to vote. They decided to try and get some votes for Judge Carpenter by giving this group of African Americans free bottles of whisky. Under normal circumstances the African Americans were friendly and got along well with the white folks in town. But, on this day things would turn out quite differently.

According to newspaper accounts, after the African Americans came under the influence of the alcohol, they began to get happy and loud. Then things took a turn for the worse. They began to fight among themselves and get out of control. Later a group of about 100 African Americans began parading around the streets with weapons and threatening to hurt everybody.

The African Americans started to throw rocks at people. One man, H.C. Quick, was hit on the thigh with a rock, but not seriously hurt. Another man, William Phelps, was knocked down by a rock, got back up, pulled a pistol and fired at an African American named Phil Griswold, but missed. Two other shots were fired, but the shooter was never identified. Nothing else happened that day.

The next day, Tuesday, August 4, 1874, the African Americans came back to town to find out the results of the election. Judge Carpenter was a winner and a big reason for his win was the African American vote he was able to carry. To thank the African Americans for there votes he took them to a house near the Court House and treated them to all the whisky they could drink. That turned out to be a very bad idea. The African Americans began to get out of control again and the sheriff’s officers warned them to behave themselves, but that just made matters worse.

An African American man, Tom Maypole, took to the streets raising cane and causing a scene. Sheriff Smith and his deputies took off after him and were able to arrest him. Upon his arrest about 12 of his buddies tried to overtake the officers and free their buddy. The sheriff had his officers surround Maypole and they proceeded to move toward the jail. The African Americans continued to move in on the officers and one officer, Joseph Collier, pulled his pistol and warned them to stay back. The crowd of black men did not listen. Joseph Collier fired his gun and hit a African American named Bob Wilson in the check. It was not a life- threatening wound. After that the African American crowd panicked and left. But, later they came back and ran the streets and made threats up until 10:00 p.m. that night. The white folks were on guard with their guns close at hand and on watch all night.

Joseph Collier was arrested for shooting Bob Wilson and his bail was set at $300 and William Phelps was arrested for shooting at Phil Griswold. Joseph was tried on Friday, August 7, 1874. His attorney was F.P. Straus, the prosecutor was Judge Carpenter and Judge Phelps was the presiding judge. The defense had one good witness, Mr. McGinnis. He testified that he saw the whole thing and that Joseph Collier shot in self-defense. The prosecution had a host of African American witnesses. They did not see or hear anything and some said they didn’t know anything about what happened at all. After the witness testimony, both Mr. Straus and Judge Carpenter gave big final speeches. After hearing everything, Judge Phelps ordered Joseph Collier to be held over for another trial and set bail at $100. Tom Maypole was also to go to trial on Friday, August 7, 1874. I have no further information on these cases. This incident was reported in the Louisville Courier Journal as well as the New York Times.

African American Schools in Bullitt County

This African American School was located on Pine Tavern Road.

For African Americans education was almost nonexistent. There were a couple of African American Schools in Bullitt County. There was one located on Pine Tavern Road near Lebanon Junction. This school would later merge with another African American School known as the Bowman Valley School located on what is now known as Copper Run Road just off Highway 61 south of Shepherdsville. African Americans who were lucky enough to go to school could only go to the 8th grade. There were no high schools for blacks in Bullitt County. If they wanted a higher education and their families could afford it they could go to school at the Lincoln Institute in Shelby County, Kentucky. This meant that they would have to live in Shelby County because there was no transportation back and forth form school then.

Bowman Valley School as it stands now.

Eckstein Norton University

Eckstein Norton University opened on October 5, 1890 in Cane Springs, Bullitt County, Kentucky, founded by Rev. William J. Simmons and C.H. Parrish. When the University opened the enrollment was 24 students with 16 teachers. By 1911, the university had taught a total of 1.794 students and handed out 189 diplomas. The University merged with Lincoln Institute in Shelby County, Kentucky.

Colored Industrial School

In 1909 the Pioneer News reported that a Colored Industrial School was attempting to locate in Bullitt County. The founders of this school contacted William Thomas Lee, who, in 1897, donated 1 acre of land to be used as an African American Cemetery. They offered him $60,000 for his farm, but he declined the offer. The school did not locate in Bullitt County.

Mary Dent Murder Case 1904

On Tuesday afternoon June 14, 1904, Mary Thompson killed John Irvine. We know this is true by Mary’s own admission. After that, what really happened is not too clear. The story given by John Irvine’s family is that John got after Mary’s son (who, I believe, was Dee Thompson, although his name is not mentioned in the newspaper). The son went and told his mother and she came and attacked John and killed him. Mary’s story is that she was working in the field, that John confronted her about her son and the fact that she wasn’t working fast enough, that he attacked her and that she killed him in self-defense. On the same day Mary was arrested without incident and taken to a calaboose in Lebanon Junction. At 2:30 a.m. on June 15, 1904, a mob of about 150 men took Mary from the calaboose and hanged her. Mary weighted about 250 lbs and because of her weight the rope broke and she fell to the ground. She got up and started to run away when the mob fired multiple shots at her. She was hit by at least one shot. The mob thought she was dead and left her. The police arrived and found her alive and took her to the Shepherdsville City Jail. The police called a doctor and she was taken care of. On Saturday night June 18, 1904, a mob arrived at the jail to try to get Mary again, but they were unsuccessful. Mary was taken on June 20, 1904, to a jail in Louisville, Kentucky, to protect her from the mob. I believe that sometime after that she was taken back to Bullitt County to stand trial. The September 1, 1904, issue of the Pioneer News states that 350 jurors were called in order to try to find 12 that would give Mary a fair trial. The September 8, 1904, issue of the Pioneer News states that Mary was given 2 years in the penitentiary. It would be my guess that the jury thought she killed John in self-defense or they would have given her the death penalty. Sometime after she was released from prison, Mary and her family moved to Jefferson County, Kentucky. Mary died on August 18, 1934, in Jefferson County, Kentucky, and was buried in Greenwood Cemetery. John Irvine was buried in Nelson County, Kentucky in the Bard /Irvine Cemetery.

Note: The following lists are not complete only what I have be able to find through research at this time.

World War I, 1914 to 1918

The following are African Americans who served in World War I from Bullitt County:

John Lewis
Kentucky PFC Co. 8

Joe Sheckles
Luther Bowman
Andrew Miller
George Franklin Bowman
Fleet Jones

World War II, 1939 to 1945

The following are African Americans who served in World War II from Bullitt County:

Thomas F. Hoagland
Pvt. U.S. Army

Robert Taylor
Pvt. U.S. Army

Unknown African American family from Mt. Washington Area.

Notable African Americans from Bullitt County

Frank Jones – (1909) According to the Pioneer News William Mace had fallen into a well and, unknown to those trying to save him, the bottom of the well was full of toxic gases. Frank Jones volunteered to go down and try to save him. The gases almost overtook him and he almost died while trying to save William Mace, but Frank was pulled from the well before it was too late. For William Mace it was too late, he was overcome by the gases and died.
Susie Sheckles – (1917) Susie was the nanny for Carrie Simmons. On December 20, 1917, Carrie, Susie, and Carrie’s daughter were on the Accommodation train on their way back from a shopping trip in Louisville, Kentucky. When the wreck occurred that took so many lives Carrie was in the car that was struck first and was killed instantly. It is believed that Susie and Carrie’s daughter, Susan, survived because they were in another car. Legend has it that the Simmons family allowed her to be buried in the white section of the family to show their gratitude for protecting their daughter during the train wreck.
Edward Cunningham – (1859 to 1949) Edward was born on December 25, 1859 in Kentucky. Edward was a hard working railroad man. He made majors contributions through his hard work. Without men like Edward the railroad would not have been a success. He did the following jobs: He worked for the L &N Railroad carrying gauge and helping spike the rails, he also worked on the construction train, the boarding car, and as a track laborer, and then moved into the mechanical department. Edward died December 18, 1949 in Lebanon Junction, Kentucky.
Dennis and Emma Allen: (1846 – 1940) Dennis was born into slavery and was owned by the Joyce family. Emma was the daughter of Arthur and Fannie Gaither. Dennis lived on the Joyce farm most all his life. Dennis was a farmer and Emma a housekeeper. Dennis and Emma got along well with their white neighbors and were friendly with all. Their young white neighbors would come and visit and Emma would serve cake and wine and Dennis would play music on his fiddle for the guests. They were highly respected by their neighbors and honest as they returned any lost items they found to their rightful owners. Dennis became blind a few years prior to his death.
Mattie Taylor – (1929 – 2007) Mattie was a very active in the community. She was the President of the PTA at the Bowman Valley School before desegregation and involved in the PTA after. Mattie worked for a short time a Paramount Foods; she was a member of Mount Zion Baptist Church and a homemaker.
Bill Gaither – Arthur William Gaither was a blues guitarist and singer. He was born in Belmont, Bullitt County, Kentucky, on April 21, 1910. William recorded 100s of songs for labels such as Decca, Arhoolie, and OKeh. His most famous song was “Champ Joe Louis” recorded on June 23, 1938. William died on October 27, 1970, in Indianapolis, Indiana and is buried at New Crown Hill Cemetery.
Rev. George Hoagland – George Hoagland was born about 1863 in Shepherdsville, Bullitt County, Kentucky. George was born in slavery and was separated from his mother when his mother and uncle were sold for a mortgage of $1800. In 1888 he moved with his wife to Bloomington-Normal, Illinois. George went to college at Illinois State University. George started out as a janitor and while doing that invented Oil of Gladness in 1909. George built a company of 12 employees and his company made $100, 000 in 1911. George became the pastor of the 3rd Christian Church of Bloomington-Normal, Illinois. He and his wife had eight children. George died in Detroit, Michigan about 1935.


A History of Bullitt County, 1974, By Bullitt County Historical Commission
History of Iron Manufacturing in Bullitt County
Slavery Days in Old Kentucky by Isaac Johnson a former slave
The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, Summer 2004, Volume 102, Number 3, Pages 357 thru 382
Grandson Kelley Tombstone, Kelley family Cemetery
George C. Lee Tombstone, Bright African American Graveyard
The Pioneer News ran a series of articles taken from an interview with Elizabeth Trunnell Pottingers, January 30, 1933 to March 24, 1934
United States Federal Census, Bullitt County, Kentucky, 1810, 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860
Louisville, Courier Journal, August 8, 1874
New York Times, August 8, 1874
Railroad Town, 1997, by Steve Masden and Burlyn Pike
Evidences of Progress among Colored People, 1905, By G.F. Richings
Pioneer News Newspaper 1909
The June 17, 1904 issue of the Pioneer News
The June 24, 1904 issue of the Pioneer News
The September 1, 1904 issue of the Pioneer News
The September 8, 1904 issue of the Pioneer News
Mary Thompson Death Certificate
Ben Thompson Death Certificate
Mary and Ben Thompson Marriage License
Census Records 1900 to 1930
Nelson County Cemeteries Book
Pioneer News, May 3, 1918
John Lewis Tombstone, Hall African American Cemetery
Thomas F. Hoagland Tombstone, Lebanon Junction African American Cemetery
Robert Taylor Tombstone, Highlands Memory Gardens Cemetery
Train Wreck Shepherdsville, Kentucky December 20, 1917 Book 2, the people of the Wreck, 2008, by Charles Hartley
Pioneer New, January 5,1940
Out of the Shadows, 1994, By Betty Darnell and Carolyn Elmore French
George Hoagland Video that aired on WILL-TV on February 9, 1995, you can find the video at this link.


Bullitt County African American Cemeteries Information provided by Bullitt County Genealogical Society

  • 28 Cedar Grove African American Cemetery
  • 37 Clayton Cemetery A
  • 38 Clayton Cemetery B
  • 67B Ed Garr African American Cemetery
  • 78 Hall African American Cemetery
  • 81 Hardy Cruise African American Cemetery
  • 105 Joe James African American Graveyard
  • 114 Grandison Kelley Cemetery
  • 122 Lebanon Junction African American Cemetery
  • 129 Lincoln Memorial Gardens-Woodlawn Memorial Gardens
  • 132 Magruder Slave Cemetery
  • 190 Roberts Family-Curd Cemetery
  • 247 Bright African American Cemetery
  • 250 Unnamed Cemetery
  • 265 Weathers Cemetery

Possible Bullitt County African American Cemeteries Information provided by Bullitt County Genealogical Society

  • 7 Ball-Dunn-Thompson Slave Cemetery
  • 79A Black Bob Hall Cemetery
  • 154 Mooney Lane African American Cemetery
  • 154A Mooney Slave Cemetery
  • 162 Mystery Cemetery
  • 171 Pendleton Hill Slave Cemetery
  • 199 Samuels Slave Cemetery
  • 225 Possible Slave Burial at the Peter Smith Cemetery
  • 252 Unnamed Slave Cemetery on Hill Top Road
  • 254 Unnamed African American Cemetery on Geneva Jackson Property
  • 255 Unnamed African American Cemetery on David Hester Property
  • 255A Unnamed African American Cemetery on Winding Hollow Lane
  • 255B Unnamed African Cemetery on Cooper Run Road
  • 255C Unnamed African American Cemetery on James Hamilton Property

You can find out more information on this and all the other cemeteries at the Bullitt County History Museum and also at The Bullitt County History Museum Web Site by following this link.

The Bullitt County History Museum, a service of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is located in the county courthouse at 300 South Buckman Street (Highway 61) in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. The museum, along with its research room, is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Saturday appointments are available by calling 502-921-0161 during our regular weekday hours. Admission is free. The museum, as part of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization and is classified as a 509(a)2 public charity. Contributions and bequests are deductible under section 2055, 2106, or 2522 of the Internal Revenue Code. Page last modified: 13 Jan 2024 . Page URL: