The Enslaved at Locust Grove

Between 1792 and 1856, approximately 70 men, women, and children were enslaved by the Croghan family at either Locust Grove or Mammoth Cave.

Over the past several years, we have committed ourselves to uncovering the stories of these individuals, and sharing them with you. When we know their names, their presence comes into focus.

This is important work. It is necessary to tell the story of everyone who called Locust Grove home, even when it was not their choice.

At Locust Grove, we have been aware of the spaces and places occupied by the Croghans and their friends, neighbors, and guests whos names are familiar and famous to us now. And now, with the work of our researchers, the enslaved are becoming just as familiar.

We can envision the enslaved workers’ days from sunrise to sunset, ask questions about what they might have thought and felt about the activities of the house and farm, and assert the idea that htier condition as property did not remove their inherent humanity.

Heather Hiner, a volunteer since 2012, has been the central researcher for discovering details about Locust Grove’s enslaved population. It is thanks to her ingenuity and tenacity that we have expanded this list of names to the 70 we know right now.

Using family letters, newspapers, account books, and census records, Heather has discovered the life story of Alfred Croghan, the first enslaved owned by the Croghan family whose life can be traced from his childhood at Locust Grove to his death as a free man in Louisville.

We can see how the enslaved changed hands between Croghan family members, as is the case with Isaac, Malinda, and Sylvia. We see the skilled work of Criss, who tended the garden; Little Bob, who worked as a barber; Uncle Jim, who worked at the mill and may have assisted with running the distillery; and Blythe, Kitt, Isaac, Malinda, and Rose, who tended to the personal needs of George Croghan, George Rogers Clark, Dr. John Croghan, Emilia Clarke, and Ann Croghan Jesup’s children.

Heather’s most illuminating discovery was the 1856 Emancipation Lawsuit, which saw the enslaved individuals freed by Dr. John Croghan’s 1849 will suing for the right to remain in Kentucky after they were freed, a significant event in which the law sided with the enslaved.

Interns including Rebecca Wishnevski, Jill Dunagan, Kate Lamb, and Caroline Weikel have built upon Heather’s research by focusing on the material culture and daily lives of the enslaved. Using Locust Grove’s archaeological collection housed at the University of Louisville, Rebecca Wishnevski helped create an interpretation plan for our new enslaved dwelling, which will see the former woodshop transformed into a dedicated space to learn and reflect on the enslaved’s lives at Locust Grove. Jill Dunagan and Kate Lamb are similarly working to put this project into action, assisting Diane Statler, Alan Thompson, and Brian Cushing in taking inventory of the woodshop collection, moving it to storage, and beginning the process of outfitting this structure for its new interpretive use.

Other actors, interns, and performers have created original material based on research—reimagining the lives of the enslaved at Locust Grove. They include Lonnie Brown, Tiffany Caesar, Caisey Cole, Pattie Crawford, Sidney Edwards, Xavier Harris, and Tiera Thomas.

We look forward to sharing our progress with you—it’s all part of Locust Grove as a place of discovery.

Read about the Enslaved Community at Locust Grove here. 

For information about our Enslaved Interpretation Task Force, email Carol at ely@locustgrove.org.

Listen to conversations with two of our interpreters of the enslaved, Caisey Cole and Sidney Edwards here. 

To read more about our projects and our progress, visit these posts below:

Share, Listen, Challenge | The Enslaved Interpretation Task Force At Locust Grove

UnEarthing the Enslaved at Locust Grove

Untangling the Past – Alfred’s Story

Out of History’s Shadow: The Story of Alfred Croghan, Part 1

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