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. 

Dressing Miss Ann Croghan

We are fortunate to have many, many dedicated individuals researching, writing, baking, sewing, and making so that we can tell the stories of Locust Grove’s community. Our guest blogger today is Amy Liebert, Theatrical Director and Women’s Costuming Director for our First Person Interpreters program. Amy recently draped and consulted on a new dress for Heather, who interprets the role of Ann Croghan in our cast. Here’s a look at her process, and how our interpreters at Locust Grove use historical sources to create historically accurate, and ideally, character-driven clothing, to educate museum visitors on the year 1816.


Dressing Miss Ann Croghan by Amy Liebert

Heather as Ann Croghan on the porch of Locust Grove

Heather as Ann Croghan on the porch of Locust Grove

Heather is 16 years old and she portrays Ann Croghan, daughter of William and Lucy Croghan who owned Locust Grove. Ann was born in 1797 and was 19 years old in 1816. Heather will hopefully portray Ann for some time to come.

Portrait of Ann Croghan Jesup

Portrait of Ann Croghan Jesup

This is a portrait which was painted of Ann after her 1822 marriage to Thomas Sidney Jesup. She is a brunette, wearing the color red.

We didn’t ask her to do this, but Heather actually started dying her hair, which is naturally dark blond, brown for this part. Talk about dedication! Her mother made her some false curls based on my post here, and modified this method of styling Heather’s hair.

I found the fabric for this dress on Fashion Fabrics Club, before Heather joined the cast. It reminded me of the fabric this dress from the DAR Fashionable Tyrant exhibit was made from. Since we ask that all fabric for this program be approved, I will often pick up approvable fabric when I find a good deal, and pass it on at cost to the ladies in the program.

Polka Dot printed dress, 1810-1815, from private collection

1810-1815 (Private Collection)

I draped the bodice for the dress on Heather and drew up instructions for the skirt. We chose a front opening dress so she would have an easier time getting dressed.

Heather as Ann Croghan wearing front opening dress

Heather’s grandmother Patsy actually did all of the construction on the garment with my instructions and consultation. She was a real champ about learning historic clothing construction techniques!

Heather wearing polka dot dress as seen from the back

Apparently, Patsy has come to really enjoy doing tucks.

Tucks at the hem of Heather's skirt

Here, you can see the tucks at the hem of Heather’s skirt.

Heather stuck with the red theme for her evening gown, which was made from some lovely red silk from 96 District Fabrics. I also draped the bodice for this on her, and helped fit all the tucks on the fashion fabric. Patsy handled all the major construction.

Bodice of red dress ins progress

Here she is in action with her ‘sister’, Eliza Croghan.

Heather as Ann Croghan and Emily as Eliza Croghan

Heather as Ann Croghan and Emily as Eliza Croghan

I may be biased, but I think they look pretty darn great!


You can read more of Amy’s work on her blog, Places in Time. Look for Ann Croghan’s dress in action during Christmastide, 1816 on Saturday, December 8 from 12:00 pm – 7:00 pm!

Remembering Lynn Renau

Here at Locust Grove, we focus a lot on the past, and the people who lived and worked here before Blankenbaker Lane even had a name. In the present, wonderful people help preserve the stories of the past and keep them alive for current and future generations. Recently, we lost one of these wonderful people–an historian, storyteller, docent, and volunteer known for her distinctive way of telling people about the past she loved. Lynn Renau passed away in late December, and our hearts are heavy with the loss of such a lively presence from Locust Grove. Lynn cared fiercely about history and firmly believed that learning about the past was crucial to living well in the present. Now, in order to live out her legacy, we’d like to share some memories of her, so we can always remember how important she was to our story.


Photo courtesy of Jason Hiner.

Nina Ayers:

“She first volunteered at Locust Grove in 1964, which made her one of our first. She volunteered from 1964-1968, then again in 1978-1979. She returned and started back on a regular basis in 2008.

“She drove me crazy, but we got along very well.  She had a wicked sense of humor. She also was very generous to Locust Grove […] When my Newfoundland dog died, she sent a very sweet condolences card from [her dog] Lord Barkley. It actually meant a lot to me. I still have it. We talked about our dogs a lot. He was so precious to her […] She was just a very unusual but fascinatingly interesting person. Her knowledge of early American, and especially Jefferson County, history was massive, but I remember recently a discussion of outhouses. She knew almost nothing about outhouses. A revelation.”

Tim Ayers:

“The most time I had ever spent with her was the last Book Sale when she and I worked as cashiers at the table by the door. We worked out a deal […] that she would count the books into hard bound, paper backs, etc. She would give me a total and I would get the money and give the change […] It worked really well except when somebody didn’t buy enough books to suit her, and then she would tell them ‘Look, you need to go get two or three more books’ and she would tell them, ‘The rule around here is that these are such good prices that any books we don’t sell we have to take out back and burn, and if you buy just a couple more we can meet our quota. You don’t want to be a book burner do you?’ I wondered what the heck was she talking about, but 90% of them would go back out and get a couple more books. I liked that a lot.”

Frances Lussky, Tsh-Tae-Wahjun and Goh-Deeyee-Dohleth:

“I loved bringing my children to her Death at Locust Grove presentation around Halloween. She made it so fun and interesting. I also brought my friend to it. I also enjoyed knowing that I could see her at each event I attended at Locust Grove, say hello and talk a bit about what might be going on. I will miss visiting with her.”


Kenny Karem:

“Not only did I teach Lynn’s daughter, [I] have run into her numerous times because of our involvement with local history writing and causes and recently moved down the street from her, I have in the past year seen her numerous times walking her dog in the neighborhood as I have walked mine. I often misspoke her dog’s name as my dog, Chile, wanted to play with him. But as I greeted her dog, Lord Barkley, he would have none of it. Or, was is it …Sir Barkley? Lynn always corrected me in a most debonair manner on her dog’s ‘proper’ title. Obviously I still have problems remembering correct titles of dog nobility.”

Jason Hiner:

“[…] Lynn was one of the most active, passionate, and sometimes even combative tour guides at Locust Grove. I’ve never known anyone who felt as strongly about history as Lynn — and she loved to figure out what part of history you were most interested in and then engage you in a repartee about it.
“If you were lucky enough to get Lynn as your docent on a Locust Grove tour — and many were because she tirelessly volunteered so many hours every week — then you got a customized stroll through the past because she always started her tours by asking why you came and what you wanted to learn[…]”

(A longer memorial by Jason can be found here.)


Photo courtesy of Jeannie Vezeau.

Heather Hiner:
“A few years ago, I was talking to her during the week leading up to the Jane Austen festival. We were having a conversation about ways docents can make history more relatable to guests and I shared that I love to tell the story of Mary Schenley during Jane Austen Festival because it’s straight out of the pages of an Austen novel.
Lynn confided in me that she had recently realized she had never read any of Austen’s books and that she came to the conclusion that it was important for her to be more versed in them so she could better interact with festival attendees. So she had sat down the previous weekend to read Jane Austen. I asked her which book she had read and she replied, ‘All of them.’ Startled, I asked, ‘All of them in one weekend?!’ Her reply was something along the lines of, ‘I don’t know which ones they’ll want to talk about so I had to read all of them.’ Lynn never did anything halfway.”

Bonny Wise:

“[Lynn] told me a few years ago she didn’t think she liked Jane Austen… I said, that’s okay, not everyone does. And we left it at that. A few weeks later she approached me and said, ‘Bonny! I love Jane Austen!’ She became a lifetime member of the Jane Austen Society of North America!”

Sharron Hilbrecht :
“I can’t imagine LG without her. I will always remember whenever she’d engage me in a conversation about something I knew she thought I was well-versed in. She’d give me that knowing glance, like she was letting me in on something, just the two of us, and then she’d proceed to tell whatever it was, saying something like, ‘Well you know…’ as if I truly did know. I never, ever wanted to act like I didn’t! […]  She was truly one of the most amazing people I ever met.

“[Lynn’s death is] … like a library has burned to the ground. She was one of my favorite people. Knew something about every possible topic. What an incredible loss to us all.

“It took me a while to ‘get’ Lynn. She didn’t suffer fools lightly. But once I understood how genuinely kind she was and how much she loved Locust Grove, I could not have had a better friend.”


Photo courtesy of Jeannie Vezeau.

Lynn Boone:

“We at Locust Grove will need to work very hard to compensate for all she did for LG. Her tenacious search through incoming books found [that] what looked like trash was actually a valuable, as well as rare, source for genealogical KY research. Her quirky sense of humor took some by surprise as she delivered her statements with ‘deadpan’ sincerity but were really just her way of poking fun. Lynn was truly dedicated to history in all forms–books, reenactments, book sales which benefited the total Locust Grove experience. I will truly miss her and her dedication!!!!”

Bob Boone:

“I got to know Lynn well during the last five years when I became active as a Locust Grove docent and part of the weekend staff. As a writer and historian, she was always interested in discovering new books on Kentucky & American history of the Locust Grove period. We traded books and provided each other with titles of interesting writers and subjects. We had running discussions of various historical topics – some a little odd and obscure […]

“She was always good for an interesting story or anecdote on anything under the sun. She seemed to know or have known just about everybody in Louisville. She knew all about our local scandals – both past and present.

“She was fascinated about long hidden facts about the area. She was thrilled when an LG volunteer found an on-line obituary for John Collins – William Croghan’s 100 year-old business manager. A few months ago she met a tour guest who was a direct descendant of Henry Hamilton – the infamous British “Hair Buyer” of the Revolutionary period and an adversary of George Rogers Clark. She had planned to correspond with this fellow and glean some information about Hamilton’s American roots.

“Lynn had a dry and unpredictable sense of humor which I am not sure everyone understood – it may have gotten her into trouble some times but I thought she was great fun.

“Seeing her numerous times at Locust Grove interacting with staff and guests, I also saw her do some very kind things for a number of people – this should not be forgotten.

“She was my friend and I will miss her.”

Jamie Eiler:
“Lynn made better historians of all of us. It’s good to remember her humor could be just as sharp as her mind […] I never knew anyone who marshaled facts like Lynn. You might disagree with her on a rare occasion, but you’d better be able to quote chapter and verse. She always did so with authority. I worked with Lynn on the old Liberty Bank commercial with the coffin pumper now at the Vintage Fire Museum. It wouldn’t roll back onto the truck – until Lynn casually kicked the chock out from under the wheel.”

Tricia Langley:
“I could always call Lynn to go to an auction or antiquing with me. She was kind, thoughtful, intelligent to the max and I will always miss her. She was one of my best friends. And such a loss to Locust Grove and most of all to her dear family.

“I will miss Lynn so much. She was so special to me. She knitted my first grandchild the most beautiful sweater and about a month ago she came into Locust Grove carrying a brand new bag of cat food she had bought she thought my little cat would like […] Lynn was always so thoughtful. I could tell her anything. Not so many people I can do that with. She always understood and knew where I was coming from.”


Photo courtesy of Jeannie Vezeau.

Kristie Slack Shockley:
Lynn got excited when my daughter Heather told her that she was doing her National History Day project on Susan Look Avery. She did a little clap. She proceeded to tell Heather a lot of information that helped her with her research […] And when she found out that we owned Air Devil’s Inn Lynn had information that we did not have. The roof of ADI was in a James Bond movie! She also said ‘as you know….’ to us. We didn’t always know. But it was fun to be in on her ‘secret’.”

Cheryl Kinberger:
“I worked with Lynn these last few years at LG during book sales, book sorts and mailings. We usually sat at the same table during LG volunteer events. I always enjoyed her conversations. Lynn attended many lectures and was always reminding me how much she loved lemon bars and, with that smile of hers, hinted that I should make them more often.”

John Vezeau:

“Lynn was an interesting conversationalist. I enjoyed my times chatting with her in the Locust Grove volunteers’ library and elsewhere. She was an ardent researcher … not just in books and dusty documents. She would take to the field eagerly, like the time I helped her discover the Herr Family Cemetery, tucked back in a half-hidden location in Graymoor-Devondale.

“She possessed a great memory … and her mental library was chock-full of interesting tidbits and long-scoped stories. She could – and did – discuss many topics with enthusiasm, and then just as quickly another subject matter would claim her attention.

“Lynn spiced her conversations with witticisms and irony. Yes, there were straight-forward facts … but weren’t these dealt with so much more enjoyably with a sprinkling of off-beat humor?

“I’ll miss those chats … and the many spinning pinwheels of her stories.”

Lynn strides through Market Fair in October 2016, using her "18th century app" to promote the Book Sale.

Lynn strides through Market Fair in October 2016, using her “18th century app” to promote the Book Sale.

Lynn’s life will be remembered at Locust Grove on February 5 at 2pm. Please join us to share more stories and celebrate the woman who gave so much to the place we all love so well.