The Enslaved at Locust Grove
Locust Grove was the home and workplace of dozens of enslaved African Americans during the Croghans’ residency from 1790 to 1849. Some were born here, and others were purchased and brought here to do the work of building the house and outbuildings, planting and harvesting the crops, digging the gardens, preserving and cooking the meals, stitching the clothes, washing the laundry, watching the children, and other tasks. At the peak of the farm’s operations in 1820, more than 40 enslaved people labored here. All of them had little control over the conditions of their lives.
In 1849, the 22 enslaved individuals remaining at Locust Grove were emancipated by the will of Dr. John Croghan. Those who were freed were indentured for seven years to be trained in marketable skills, then finally released from bondage. We do not know where they went after leaving Locust Grove, though some probably remained nearby, while others left for free territory north of the Ohio. We have few details about how the enslaved were treated here, with no words left from them to tell the story. There is no record of any runaways; but we do know that at least three of the enslaved were sold “down river” in New Orleans by the Croghans. Slavery was a cruel institution and the people of early Kentucky struggled with the morality and daily realities of life under a slave system.