The Enslaved Community

Materson Bransford

Mat was an enslaved cave guide at Mammoth Cave.

He became a guide at Mammoth Cave in 1838 and continued to serve as a guide after John Croghan purchased the cave in 1839. John did not purchase Mat but leased him for $100 a year. Being leased did not make him any less of a part of the enslaved community owned by the Croghans, and his labor greatly benefited John in his business enterprises at the cave.

Next to Stephen Bishop, Mat is probably the most well-known of the enslaved guides at Mammoth Cave. He was active in exploring the cave as well as giving tours to guests. He continued to work as a guide after he was emancipated at the end of the Civil War, and his great-great grandson, Jerry Bransford, gives tours of the cave today.

Mat was both courageous and intelligent. He also suffered from one of the most horrific aspects of slavery: the loss of his children. Parthena, Mat’s wife, was not owned by the same man who owned Mat. As was almost always the case, Parthena and Mat’s children belonged to whoever owned their enslaved mother. Parthena’s owner sold three of the four children she and Mat had together when the children were around seven to eight years old. Mat carried the double burden of losing his children and also watching his wife suffer extreme mental and emotional anguish when their children were sold. The Civil War ended, which prevented Mat and Parthena from being separated from their fourth child. One of their daughters also made her way home to them at the age of 14 or 15, along with her infant child.

Mat lived his life out near Mammoth Cave and is buried near the cave.