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. 

Eliza Croghan and Cholera in Kentucky

A few weeks ago, Louisville suffered a major water main break, which meant that much of the city, including Locust Grove was under a 24-hour boil water advisory. In the midst of this event, I started thinking, as one does, about the connection between cholera and the Croghans. You see, Eliza Croghan Hancock died of cholera at Locust Grove on July 12, 1833, 182 years ago today, during a major cholera epidemic in Kentucky. Cholera, a waterbourne disease, was a common cause of death in cities, like Louisville, that were connected by river traffic. Clean drinking water through standardized sanitation practices was of especial importance to fighting the disease, but could be difficult to come by on the frontier of Kentucky. Eliza’s death from the disease occurred during  the major pandemic of 1832-1833. Lexington was hit especially hard during this period, as more than 500 people in a population of 7000 people died of cholera during the summer of 1833.

Elizabeth (Eliza) Croghan was born on April 9, 1800, the fifth child and second daughter of William and Lucy Croghan. She, along with her older sister Ann, was educated at home by her mother, father, and aunt Emilia Clarke. Eliza and Ann briefly attended Louisa Keats’ Domestic Academy in Springfield in 1810, but Eliza was so homesick they returned home to Locust Grove to finish their education. Eliza married George Hancock, a Virginia planter and the brother-in-law to her uncle William Clark on September 29, 1819. The Hancocks owned and lived at Locust Grove from 1828 to 1834.

Eliza Croghan Hancock

Eliza Croghan Hancock

As morbid as it seems, I have pulled the following letters from the Locust Grove manuscript collection between Eliza’s husband, George Hancock, and her brother-in-law, Thomas Jesup, detailing the cholera epidemic in Kentucky and Eliza’s death. As death from cholera is relatively quick, it is likely that Eliza was already suffering from another illness before her death, as indicated by Hancock’s earlier letters. Before she died, Eliza was a lively member of the Croghan family, so the first letter presented here was written by a ten-year-old Eliza to her older brother, William, Jr. I thought it might be nice to commemorate her life as well as her death.

Eliza C. Croghan to William Croghan Jr.:

[December 25, 1810]

Dear Brother

As Mr Walker is going up to Lexington Mama told me to Wright to you.  Sister Ann is just return from Cousin Eliza Gwathmy wedding and brought us some cake to dream on she says they wear very mery at the wedding and Cousin Betsy looked very pretty but what devirted me most was the blusxder Coock Robin made Aunt had a large cake made of brown sugar for the servoants and Coock Robin thru mistake toock one of Aunts best cakes and left her the one that was made of brown sugar.  The pretty Miss sally hughs is married to Mr Wade the dancing Master Mr and Mrs Hughs was very much against the match and sent Mr wade away but Miss sally said she loved him so well if he did not come back she would die so they sent for Mr wade back and they were married.  The very same day Mr wade toock his wife have behind him on his horse to Louisville home Miss Polly Prather I believe to Mr Newman.

I suppose you will be supprised to hear we are at home we went as far as Uncle Andersons but when we came to part some body began to cry recan you think it was me Mama got uneasy and said she could not part with us so here we are at home.  I am trying to learn what I can under the tuishion of Papa Mama and cousin Emilia I often think of the girls at the academy & Mama Keats, but we should have had to part some tim or other.  I think by this time I have tired you and if you will only excuse my bad writing bad spelling & bad diction I will forever be your affectionate sister.

Eliza C. Croghan

George Hancock to Genl. T.S. Jesup:

Locst Grove Octr 26th 1832

Dear Genļ

We reached home 5 days since, after a very fatigueing journey.  We found William quite ill, but…will be soon restored to health.  I was anxious that Eliza should have remained in Lexington…I could not prevail on her to do so.  She was indisposed on the road, and after arriving at home was quite ill, she is now however much better, …

Th Cholera is I think subsiding in Louisville.  Most of the cases are mild, and 4 in 5 cured – deaths about 5 to 8 per day.  The deaths almost entirely among the dissolute; the Better classes almost without an exception are cured of it.  In some instances it has been severe on farms.  Judge Speed lost 6 nigro men in 2 days.  I have had 2 cases on this place – but both cured – & I take some credit to myself for their recovery, (there being no physician at hand).  In town we have lost 2 … I intended to remove all mine, Charles yours & the Doctors to L.G. but Dr Tompkins persuaded me that if I crowd them with those here, that all will be in danger.  I therefore have left all in town.

…The farm has suffered awfully with Bilious fevers this fall, only one death however…but nearly all have been sick – some dangerously.  Chs McSorly was confined 3 weeks…my business of course much changed on the farm.  …

Yours truly

Geo: Hancock

Locust grove Nov. 1 1832

Dear Gen.

…Eliza is much recovered and in a few days will be well.  William has improved astonishingly and will be well in a week more I think.

Since my last we have had one case of Cholera – cured – and as the disease is said to be abating in Louisville, I hope we will soon have nothing to fear in the country – on yesterday a man belonging to Charles [Croghan] died very suddenly (Harry) only sick two or three hours.

…Doctr Tompkins stays constantly with us, and this of course [illegible] us somewhat to our being here.  …


Geo: Hancock

Locust Grove June 20th 1833

Dear Sir:

It has been a long time since we have heard from our friends in Washington, and I think the uneasiness on their account, felt by my wife, tends very much to retard her recovery from a violent Bilious (sic) attack.

Some days since we thought her nearly well, but within the last two days she has relapsed; and is now quite ill – Doctr Tompkins (who is with us) think her better since morning however; … the Cholera, and sickness of the neighborhood prevents my leaving home for Va.  …

–The cholera has made dreadful havoc in the country around us, on Mr Browns farm 12 men died in 36 hours.  Wm Bullitts, Wm Thompsons &c. have all suffered.  We have no case on the farm yet.  I keep us strict [illegible] and hope we may excape.

This morning it is reported that some Farmer (probably Judge Speed) has discovered an infallible remedy for it, in any Stages; having cured every case & having 40 cases.  – it is Cayenne Pepper mixed with Castor oil, and a warm Bath.  …

Geo: Hancock

Locust Grove June 24th 1833

Dr Sir

…Eliza is better today.  Mrs Pearce is with her, the Doctr thinks her convalescent.  The cholera is with us; we have 5 cases today – it yields readily to medicine and I hope none will prove fatal.  You can conceive nothing to equal the gloom spread over the country here.  No one leaves home.  Crops of wheat standing uncut, corn fields abandoned to winds. – and what makes all worse is it is incessantly raining; as yet there are few cases in Louisville.  … I hope Mrs Jesup & the children are well, and that they will come out with Mrs Croghan & see us again.

Yours truly

Geo: Hancock

Locust grove June 30th  1833

Dear Genļ

Since my last to you the Cholera has increased to an alarming extent.  We have not well ones enough to attend the sick – and it is difficult to get a Physician.  Dr. Tompkins is with us now and has promised not to leave us until Eliza is better.  I fear her situation is very critical.  My mother was taken with Cholera (I fear) tonight.  If Dr Croghan is with you for Gods sake send him on to us.


Geo: Hancock

     William Croghan, Jr.  to Charles W. Thruston:

Pittsburgh Sepr 8, 1833

Dear Charles

From my summer excursion, …I have in a great measure attained…my health, which is much improved.  The trip to Quebec, I did not make; learning when in New York of the decease of my poor dear Sister, my plans were all immediately changed, & forthwith, I hastened to Washington City, feeling a dub anxiety on the occasion for my aged Mother.  The safe return of the Dr about that time after a protracted voyage & in fine health, had a happy influence & I left her, doing quite well, & resigned to this heavy affliction.  …The Cholera here the past season, has offered to many … a pretext for not paying me my Rents, …

W. Croghan

While it was a trying 24 hours under the boil water advisory, 1833 was an even more difficult year for Louisville. I for one am certainly thankful for the Louisville Water Company, and the Lexington health ordinance that prevented pigs from roaming free in the streets.

With best regards for your continued good health,


Nancy Cow and the Secrets of the Locust Grove Dairy


Nancy the Cow, the Official Sponsor of the Locust Grove Dairy

Hello delightful people! As I mentioned recently, the dairy is up and running! And by up and running, I mean that it is now furnished as an 18th century dairy should be. Huzzah! Today, I thought we’d take a look at  how the dairy functioned as part of the farm operations during the Croghan residence at Locust Grove, as well as some of the “stuff” that’s now on display. 102_4866 The dairy is generally referred to as an outbuilding, but could also be called a dependency, or a building designed to be separate from the main house while also serving the needs of the family. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the production of dairy products like cheese and butter was relatively low in the South, so the fact that the Croghans had a dairy signifies the wealth of their farm.  The sale of cheese and butter served an economic purpose with the surplus product sold to supplement household funds, recoup funds spend to invest in cattle,  and purchase other commodities. Therefore, having a dairy meant that the family would not only be able to enjoy delicious cheeses and butter but also benefit from the extra income. While dairying was a time consuming process, the household dairy industry itself was also somewhat flexible and could fit the existing schedule of household tasks without overshadowing the other demands on a woman’s time.

The dairy  at Locust Grove is near the well, which is handy for cleaning.

The dairy at Locust Grove is near the well, which is handy for cleaning.

The most important thing to keep in mind in dairy maintenance was cleanliness. Dairies would usually be found near wells and spring houses, because water was needed for cleaning purposes. Because of the nature of work in the dairy, it was necessary to create a sterile environment for cheese and butter.The dairy was thoroughly cleaned at the beginning of spring, when cheese-making would generally begin, and then be cleaned out again in the fall. Charles Millington, the author of The Housekeeper’s Domestic Library; or New Universal Family Instructor, writes about cleaning dairy utensils and equipment: “‘They should be well-washed every day in warm water, and afterwards rinced in cold, and must be entirely cool before they are used. If, however, any kind of metal vessels are improperly retained in the dairy, they must be scalded every day, and well-scrubbed and scoured.’”Milk pans could be covered with cheesecloth to prevent bugs and dirt from dropping into the milk. Mr. Millington may know a lot about cleaning a dairy, but dairying was primarily woman’s work. In fact, the word “dairy” descends from the Middle English word “deierie”, meaning a place of female work. Due to sanitary concerns, milk was usually stored separately from wherever milking occurred. At the time when the Croghans were settling in Kentucky, milk would have been taken from the barns after milking to the springhouse or dairy to cool. Milk buckets are wider on the bottom so it’s harder to overturn them.


Mrs. O’Leary’s cow may be a myth, but let’s take precaution to prevent spilled milk just the same!

John Croghan’s 1849 probate inventory lists 12 cows, all of which would generally be milked twice a day. That’s a lot of milk, so dairy production, particularly in the summer, was likely very high. Because of the size of the Croghan family, as well as the size of their slave population, the dairy at Locust Grove probably was an operation on the medium size, producing cheese and butter for approximately 50 people plus any guests. Just as milk these days  has to be pasteurized and homogenized and a bunch of other things before it makes its way to our cereal bowls, milk in the 18th and 19th centuries had to be processed before it was used. And that’s where this beautiful pancheon comes in. 102_4853   Pancheons, or setting dishes, were used to cool milk and set cream. The steps for processing milk looked something like this:

  1. Milk cows!
  2. Strain the fresh milk in order to remove chunks and detritus like hairs and insects.
  3. Pour into milk pans—leave for cream to rise, about 12-24 hours.
  4. Skim off the cream and store milk in salt-glaze or earthenware pots.
  5. Use milk for butter, drinking or cooking!

If you’ve ever read Little House on the Prairie, you probably recognize this contraption. 102_4862 That’s right, the good, old-fashioned butter churn. Butter would  be made from cream in a plunge churn like the ones found in the Locust Grove dairy. Churning took place in the early morning or evening. Butter would be rinsed with water and worked by hand or with butter paddles until all of the water, or buttermilk, was removed from the butter. finally, butter was salted for preservation and could last for two to three months when stored in the springhouse.

The Locust Grove springhouse

The Locust Grove springhouse

The rest of the milk would be used in cooking or in making the best food of all time: cheese! Cheese comes in all sorts of scrumptious varieties, but can basically be broken into the categories of soft, hard, aged, and fresh semi-soft. Soft cheeses are made and eaten in shorter amounts of time than hard cheeses, but the initial process remains the same:

  1. Rennet (from the lining of a calf’s stomach) added to milk. Let stand for twelve hours.
  2. Cut into squares with knife or cheese knife. Whey leaks out through the cut lines. Cubes put through cheese press or whey strainer get rid of extra water–the whey.
  3. The curds are then put into cheese cloth and hung over a bucket from a tree, clothesline or cheese ladder to set.
  4. To make hard cheese, put the curds into a cheese hoop and press, turn and age for several months.

We have a whey strainer, but no cheese hoops or cheese press yet! (Dear Santa, the dairy has been very good this year…) 102_4851 All the various crocks and casks around the dairy would have been used to store butter and milk over time in either the dairy or the springhouse. 102_4858 I like to think that Lucy Croghan and the dairy staff at Locust Grove would be very pleased at how the dairy has turned out! In the future, we’ll talk more about cheesemaking, but for now, let’s just admire all the work that our Croghan predecessors put into their farm!

Cheesily yours,


(How do you get a mouse to smile? Say cheese!)

P.S. For more information on colonial dairy practices, look no further than these great sources!

Michael Olmert, Kitchens, Smokehouses, and Privies: Outbuildings and the Architecture of Daily Life in the Eighteenth Century Mid-Atlantic. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009.

Michael Olmert, “Cool, Calm, and Clean.” CW Journal, Winter 2005-2006.

Sandra Louise Oliver, Food in Colonial and Federal America. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005.

Rachel Kennedy and William Macintire, “Agricultural and Domestic Outbuildings in Central and Western Kentucky, 1800-1865.” The Kentucky Heritage Council, 1999.

Monticello, “Dairying at Monticello.”

A blog post detailing a cheese making workshop at Old Sturbridge Village led by foodways interpreter Ryan Beckman provides a complete outline of 19th century cheese making practices and can be found here.