Lucy Croghan: Motherhood in the 19th Century

Hello readers! My name is Kaitlyn Tisdale, and I am the Director of Education and Family Programs at Historic Locust Grove. When studying the history of the Croghan family I found myself very drawn to Lucy and her journey to Kentucky, her marriage to William Croghan, but mostly, her motherhood journey. As a new mother myself (to an already very active 9-month-old boy) I am astounded at Lucy’s strength and fortitude in having 9 children the late 18th & early 19th centuries… So, let’s talk a little bit about Lucy!

We often think of Lucy as many different things: the sister of General George Rogers Clark, the wife of Major William Croghan, the lady of the house. On a daily basis she would have instructed the enslaved workers in the house of their daily duties, coordinated fine dinners for prominent (sometimes Presidential) guests, taught her children school lessons, and even sometimes acted as her husband’s deputy in his surveying business. But, today let’s think of Lucy simply as a mother.

Lucy Clark Croghan, around the time of her marriage.

Lucy Clark married Major William Croghan the week of July 14, 1789. As was frequently the case, Lucy became pregnant almost immediately after the wedding. The couple’s first child, a son named John, was born on April 23, 1790, a respectable 40 weeks after his parent’s marriage.

Lucy experienced 8 more pregnancies over the course of the next 15 years, delivering her last child in 1805 when she was 39. During this time period for women to give birth to an average of 7-8 children during their lifetime was not unusual. Large families were often also desirable, as many hands could be used for the demanding work of farming or running a household.
During Lucy’s lifetime she had 9 children.

  1. John – 23 April 1790
  2.  George—15 November 1791
  3. William Jr—2 January 1794
  4. Charles—13 February 1796 (died in infancy)
  5. Ann—20 October 1797
  6. Eliza—9 April 1800
  7. Nicholas—19 June 1802 (Twin)
  8. Charles – 19 June 1802 (Twin)
  9. Edmund—12 September 1805

Assuming Lucy carried these pregnancies to term, she would have been pregnant for an astonishing ~81 MONTHS of her life. 8 rounds of dreaded morning sickness, countless nights of insomnia, endless days full of lower back pain and swelling, but each time producing a tiny bundle of joy. For Lucy, being pregnant and mothering seemed to be her life’s calling.
There were 15 YEARS between the birth of her first child and her last. (Think about that…that is 15 years that Lucy was actively having children insert big eye emoji here)

A look at childbirth in the late 18th and early 19th centuries:
Childbirth in colonial America was a difficult and often dangerous experience for a woman. (They call it labor for a reason, ladies). No epidurals, no birthing tubs, no sense of security in the rhythmic beating of a fetal heart monitor. The birth took place in the home, often with female relatives or neighbors close to the bedside to offer encouragement and assistance to the midwife, if one was on hand. By the late 18th century it was fashionable to invite male physicians to assist in the birthing, however this was not always possible.
This would most likely not have been possible for Lucy while at Locust Grove, as she lived a great distance from the male physicians of downtown Louisville. At any rate, there were not many medical interventions that could have even been offered to her.

Her labor could not be relieved by pain medicines, except for the occasional draught of beer or swigs of alcohol. Bloodletting was thought to be of some help, though hindsight is always 20:20, right? Forceps were developed in the early 18th century to assist tricky or ill-positioned babies in delivery but even they could be dangerous. Forceps improperly used caused damage to the baby’s bones and ligaments, as well as perineal lacerations and uterine trauma in the mother.

Assuming all went well in the delivery, women of the 18th & 19th centuries typically only spent between 3-4 weeks convalescing. During this time family would keep a close watch monitoring if anything was amiss. (But let’s be real, it takes much longer than 3-4 weeks of convalescing to recover from childbirth). With the amount of children Lucy had, she most likely spent ~40-50 months recovering from childbirth in her lifetime.
After the delivery, it was not unusual for mothers to be presented with a banquet full of their favorite foods. (What was your first meal after delivery, mom-readers? Mine was a hot ham and cheese sandwich, and French fries. Thanks Norton Women’s & Children’s Hospital 2AM Kitchen Staff!)
Also during her convalescence, Lucy would have been navigating the waters of making sure her other children were cared for and attempting to breastfeed her new child.

Mother and Child, Thomas Sully, after 1827.

If Lucy breastfed her own children and did not utilize a wet nurse, it is estimated that she would have breastfed for a total of ~96 months of her life….Think about that for a moment. Keeping in mind that every baby is completely different, most babies eat every 2-3 hours from birth until about 3 months old, then every 3-4 hours from 3 months until their first birthday. That gives us an average of 17,520 times Lucy breastfed one of her children. (Could be much more, could be much less! But see the math below to give you an idea of how I came up with that number.)

The use of a wet nurse (which is simply defined as a woman who breastfeeds another’s child), was a very common practice before the introduction of bottle feeding and formula. Wet nursing began for reasons many mothers may be familiar with. Some women suffered with low (or no) milk production, some women struggled with mastitis or infection, and unfortunately, some women died in childbirth and the babies bellies still needed to be filled.

From the 17th through 19th centuries it was not uncommon for wives of prominent men to utilize a wet-nurse as it was often seen as more fashionable, but they were then free to help run their husband’s business. In Lucy’s case, as she was from a wealthy family and married to a prominent businessman, it is probable that she could have had an enslaved woman feed her children. If none were able at that time, research has shown that if necessary she could have “rented” an enslaved woman from a neighboring property as long as was necessary.
Enslaved women and enslaved teenage girls were often used as nursemaids and caregivers throughout the first (and arguably most formative) years of children’s lives. In all likelihood, Lucy probably changed very few diapers personally, rather opting to have one of the enslaved women to help feed, bath, change, and clothe her children. With the frequency in which she had children, from 1790-1807 there would have had been 2-3 children in diapers at once at Locust Grove… That’s a lot of nappys, folks.

Looking at her children’s birthdates, Lucy had her first 5 children in the span of 7.5 years.

She had 5 children under the age of 7.5 at one time…with no screen time, no “age appropriate toy blogs”, no Google to be her guide, no moms’ groups on Facebook to be her sounding board. She did this with the help of her female relatives and many of the enslaved women she considered her property.
Between 1790 and well into the 1820s Lucy’s life would have been centered around not only running a large house and farm, but also rearing 8 of her 9 children. Unfortunately, Charles, born in 1796, died in infancy.
For many years, by the time one child was weaned and walking another child was surely on the way. As her children grew, Lucy would have been responsible for guiding their development, morally, educationally, and with needed life skills, though she probably worked through many others such as tutors and teachers.

Lucy Clark Croghan, 1820.

As I wrap up this blog post, I realize that I set out writing this blog just to marvel at the numbers associated with Lucy’s motherhood journey. 81 months pregnant, 96 months breastfeeding, 9 births, 8 surviving children, 48 years of motherhood. Seeing Lucy as a creator of generations, and the matriarch of Locust Grove.

I realize I haven’t mentioned much about William Croghan… it is unlikely that he attended the actual births of his children, as that was considered the “woman’s sphere” but he would have had a large hand in raising his children. (But probably not changing those diapers.) While fathers were much more interested in their children’s education (particularly for his sons) and marriage (particularly for his daughters) he would have also been witness to their growth and their personalities and concerned with their moral character.

So, readers, tell us what you think. What would you think it would be like to be in Lucy’s shoes? Would you have wanted the tall task of mothering 8 children in the early 19th century? How is your motherhood journey like Lucy’s? How is it different? Share your stories and thoughts with us!



“Childbirth in Early America.” Digital History, University of Houston, 2019,

Potts, Gwynne Tuell. George Rogers Clark & Locust Grove: Military Leader in the Pioneer West. Historic Locust Grove, Inc., 2006.

Potts, Gwynne Tuell. George Rogers Clark and William Croghan: a Story of the Revolution, Settlement, and Early Life at Locust Grove. The University Press of Kentucky, 2020.

Stevens, Emily E, et al. “A History of infant Feeding.” The Journal of Perinatal Education, Lamaze International Inc., 2009,

West, E. and Knight, R. J. (2017) Mothers’ milk: slavery, wetnursing, and black and white women in the Antebellum South.  Journal of Southern History, 83 (1). pp. 37­68. ISSN 0022­ 4642 doi: Available at 



UnEarthing the Enslaved at Locust Grove

Today’s post comes from our Spring 2019 intern, Rebecca Wishnevski. As part of our ongoing efforts to interpret the lives of the enslaved at Locust Grove more fully, Rebecca’s intern project required her to research slave life, at Locust Grove and beyond, and develop a plan for re-interpreting an enslaved residence at Locust Grove. Within the scope of this project, Rebecca hoped to find ways to return dignity and agency to the men, women, and children who were enslaved at Locust Grove and to tell their stories. Here’s Rebecca with a reflection on her goals and her research.

rebecca wishnevski sits on stairs

Rebecca Wishnevski, Locust Grove Spring 2019 intern


When I first began my internship at Locust Grove, I had no idea that it would lead me to a warehouse full of boxes of artifacts in the bowels of the University of Louisville’s archaeology building. That’s where I was in early May with Mary Beth Williams our Curator of Education and Collections, and Hannah Zimmerman, our Marketing Coordinator. We were touring the University of Louisville’s new archaeology building in Portland.

As a graduate intern at Locust Grove, I am gaining experience as a docent and interpreter, but most importantly, I am conducting research. My specific research project focuses on the narrative of the enslaved; what their daily lives looked like, what the interior of an enslaved dwelling would look like, and how to approach the delicate subject of the institution of slavery here at Locust Grove. After all of the research, I created an updated interpretive plan of an enslaved dwelling for the space which is currently interpreted as the woodshop.

black and brick building with lettering reading "Anthropology"

The University of Louisville Anthropology building in the Portland neighborhood.

For months most of my internship consisted of sitting behind a desk sifting through dissertations, the Croghan’s inventory records, oral histories from the Waters family, and the records of the archaeological digs of the enslaved dwellings conducted in the summers of 1987, 1988, and 1989. The University of Louisville’s archaeological field team, under the supervision of Dr. Joseph Granger, conducted these excavations. Each summer focused on one of the three remaining enslaved dwelling sites labeled now as the South, Central, and North enslaved cabins. After looking through the writings and talking with archeologists such as Lori Stahlgren and Dr. Jay Stottman (who actually participated in one of the enslaved dwelling digs at Locust Grove), I gained a deeper understanding of how important the artifacts recovered during these digs would be in the updated interpretation of the enslaved dwelling.

Because the digs were conducted by the University of Louisville’s field team, and ocust Grove’s limited collection space, the artifacts from the digs are housed at the University of Louisville. As a graduate student at the University of Louisville, I asked individuals in the History department where one could access these artifacts. After talking with Dr. John Hale, a field archaeologist and professor at the University, I was introduced to Dr. Thomas Jennings, the director of the new archaeology center in Portland.
After aligning schedules, Mary Beth, Hannah, and I were finally seeing Locust Grove’s immense collection of artifacts. While the collection is vast, with the help of Dr. Jennings we were able to decipher which boxes were relevant to the 1987-1989 digs, searching specifically for items that would have been unique or significant to the Locust Grove enslaved community. Even though we looked through plenty of shattered glass, ceramics, and plate shards, we were also able to find items that historians and archaeologists alike believe to have been extremely significant to the enslaved. One of these items was an old Chinese coin with a square hole in the center of it. Coins of this nature could have been worn as charms or amulets, and because they were not United States tender, would not have been offensive to white masters or overseers. We also found a silver teaspoon clearly marked with an “X” on the base of its handle. Items such as spoons, stones, and coins marked with an “X” have been found on sites where enslaved individuals dwelled.

Historians believe this “X” to be a sacred cosmogram related to the BaKongo religion of West Africa. The “X” markings use the cardinal directions to show the intersections of the living world (North), spirit world (South), birth (East), and death (West). Artifacts with the “X” markings have been found on other enslaved sites in the Louisville area and across the United States where slavery was prevalent. While we cannot prove definitively that the enslaved at Locust Grove were solely practicing the BaKongo religion from these artifacts, these items do show that the enslaved had something many of their white overseers and masters did not believe possible: individual agency.


One of my favorite things about this project is its implications about the enslaved at Locust Grove. While holding that silver teaspoon in the archaeology building in Portland, I was reminded of how amazing and remarkable the enslaved were here at Locust Grove. Even within the psychological and physical torment of the institution of slavery, the enslaved at Locust Grove were able to maintain their individuality, create life ways for themselves and their families. These community connections gave them resources that could not be broken, even in bondage, and may not have been understood by a white master or overseer.

I know it’s tough to tackle the issue of slavery, especially with the public. But it is a subject that desperately needs to be discussed, especially at historic sites like Locust Grove. While it can be easy to mentally disregard the enslaved individuals at Locust Grove as a product of the time or part of the backdrop of the historic home, Locust Grove would not have been what it was without their contributions through cooking, craftsmanship, childrearing and forced labor. This is an extremely exciting time for our historic house museum because another chapter of our history is currently being revealed! The narrative is changing, and the exciting part is that Locust Grove is committed to changing with it. In the words of Dr. Ibrahima Seck, Director of Research at The Whitney Plantation in Louisiana, “Shame about the past too often fills the space that should be held for knowledge. Knowledge of the past, must play its part in our liberation from the bonds of the past.” As for myself, I consider it an honor to have uncovered a few lines of the story of the enslaved through my internship here at Locust Grove. I hope to walk alongside you as we continue in our search for knowledge, and liberation from the past.


Rebecca presents her research to staff and volunteers at Locust Grove.

Rebecca, thank you for your time, tenacity, and commitment to researching the enslaved at Locust Grove and for suggesting new ways to share their stories. Some of the artifacts from the Locust Grove archaeological collection are currently on view in the museum gallery.

If you are interested in learning more about the lives of the enslaved in the United States and at Locust Grove, join us for the Slave Dwelling Project at Locust Grove on August 23 and August 24. Joe McGill, an educator and interpreter and founder of The Slave Dwelling Project, will conduct a campfire conversation and overnight on Friday, August 23 at 6:30 pm that will consider what can be learned from the lives of the enslaved, particularly when sleeping where slaves slept and standing where slaves stood. On Saturday, August 24, McGill will hold a public lecture discussing his work with the Slave Dwelling Project, the economy of slavery, and the ways in which individuals and historic sites can change the narrative.

For more information or to make a reservation for these programs, please call 502-897-9845.

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

Two actors portraying enslaved workers through a window

Alfred and Rose, portrayed by Sidney and Xavier, in the hearth kitchen at Historic Locust Grove in Louisville, Kentucky. – Photo by Heather R. Hiner/Fox and Rose Photography.

Today, volunteer and researcher Heather Hiner continues to share her research into the enslaved community at Locust Grove with the first in a series on the life of an enslaved man named Alfred Croghan. Her previous post tells the story of another enslaved man, also named Alfred who was most likely sold by the Croghan family of  Locust Grove as punishment for an unknown act. 

For the most part, the enslaved people who lived and labored at Locust Grove in Louisville, Kentucky are poorly documented. When I started this research project, Alfred Croghan was documented better than most. But “better than most” is a low bar. I knew his first name, the approximate year of his birth, and that he had spent part of his adult life at Mammoth Cave. After many, many hours of research and with the help of librarians, archivists, and others, I am excited to share that Alfred Croghan has gone from being poorly documented to being the first enslaved person owned by the Croghan family that we can trace from a child at Locust Grove to his death as a free man in Louisville.

Alfred’s first documented appearance may be in the 1820 Census. According to the census, half of the enslaved people living at Locust Grove were 14 or younger. I cannot be entirely sure that Alfred is one of the children listed in the census because the only person listed by name is the head of the household, Major William Croghan. Major Croghan’s family and the enslaved people he owned are not listed by name.

1820 census document

1820 Federal Census for William Croghan (highlighted in yellow). Alfred Croghan may have been one of the eight male enslaved children seen in the census (highlighted in orange).

I have not come across any records of births of enslaved children at Locust Grove. However, I am pretty confident that Alfred was born in 1820 based on some wonderful photographs I will share in a future post about Alfred. The census was taken in August of 1820, which means if Alfred was born before August, he is one of the eight enslaved male children living at Locust Grove who were recorded on the census.

Portrait of mid-19th century man

Portrait of William Croghan, Jr. by James Reid Lambdin

The only real glimpse of Alfred’s childhood that we have is a letter written by William Croghan, Jr. to his three-year-old son, William Croghan III in 1828. In fact, it is the best account of enslaved children in general that we have and is a treasure trove of information.

“Locust Grove, Fall, 1828

…If you were only here now to see the dear little calves, & the lambs & little pigs – You never saw so many pigs & only to think how you would find the ducks & your eggs. Little Abe & Al, find the most & Al comes in & says “here old mister here is egg, now give me cake” & then away he runs & then Abe he comes in with his – Little Tommy & Susan live at the river, but they come up here of a Sunday to see us all” –

Little Harvey wants to go with me to Pitts; he says he belong to you. Little Bob lives in town & is learning to be a barber. He lives with the black Barber than once cut your hair –”…

Excerpt, William Croghan Jr. to his three-year-old son, William Croghan III – Locust Grove Manuscripts

Portrait of mid-19th century woman

Portrait of Mary Croghan Schenley by James Reid Lambdin

Based on a birth year of 1820 and with no other records pointing to another man around the same age with the same name owned by the Croghans, it is a near certainty that “Al” is an eight-year-old Alfred Croghan. It’s an account that shows an exuberant boy who is bold enough to be a bit cheeky with William, Jr.

William Croghan, Jr. inherited Locust Grove from his father in 1822 and continued to live there until the death of his wife in October of 1827. Devastated by his loss, William and his children moved to Pittsburgh where he could manage his late wife’s estate. He wrote the above letter to his son in Pittsburgh one after the death of his wife while he was visiting Locust Grove.

Pittsburgh also became a part of Alfred’s story. John Abbott met Alfred during a visit to Mammoth Cave in 1854 and shared that “Alfred formerly belonged to Miss Mary Croghan [daughter of William Croghan, Jr.]… After she went to England, she gave Alfred to some of her relatives, and he belonged to Dr. Croghan at the time of his [Dr. Croghan’s] death…”

Being moved to Pittsburgh to serve William’s daughter, Mary, followed by being passed between other members of the Croghan family would have been an experience Alfred shared with other enslaved people owned by the Croghans. It was a common practice for the Croghans to loan, buy, or sell, enslaved people who belonged to their family amongst themselves.

Under the ownership of Dr. John Croghan, William, Jr.’s, oldest brother, Alfred would become one of the enslaved guides of Mammoth Cave. Working alongside the storied Stephen Bishop, Materson Bransford, and Nicholas Bransford, Alfred would leave his own marks at the cave and become a part of its history. And that’s a story for the next blog post, so stay tuned!

You can follow Heather’s continued research on her blog, The Past in Focus.