Kentucky State Study

KentuckyThis Kentucky State study includes the history or Kentucky, a printable map, fun facts about the state, and discussion questions.

Kentucky History

Kentucky, unlike most of the rest of the North American continent, was uninhabited by any tribes when white settlers began to explore and settle there.  The region was used as a hunting ground by several tribes including the Iroquois, the Shawnee, and the Cherokee.  It was during the American Revolution that settlement of the area began in earnest.  Though the tribes didn’t inhabit the region, they still saw the land as theirs and viewed the white settlers as invaders, thus they joined sides with the British during the war.  Several battles happened in the Kentucky area between white settlers and Indian tribes during the war, seriously depopulating the area.

Daniel Boone was the most famous of these early explorers and settlers. He blazed the trial of the Cumberland Gap and led many families and founded a few settlements.

This is a painting by George Caleb Bingham (1852) of Daniel Boone leading settlers through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky.

Soon after the area had recovered from the Revolutionary War, tobacco, corn and hemp became staple crops.  But with the crops and the Virginia settlers came slavery.  Though there were many anti-slavery settlers in the area who rejected slavery on moral religious grounds, others marginalized their view and claimed that slavery was not a moral, but a civil issue.  Kentucky became a county of Virginia, but over time this obviously was not working out because of distances, difficulty of travel, and different interests.  Kentucky separated into its’ own state in 1792.

This is a view over the Kentucky countryside from the Pine Mountain Overlook in Kentucky. Photo by J654567, CC license, Wikimedia.

Kentucky did not secede with the south during the Civil War in spite of being a slave state.  After the war it experienced great difficulties.  One of the most exciting periods was when the state nearly entered its’ own civil war in 1900.  There was corruption, vote fixing, and strong arming by the politicians in the capital.  Two opposing candidates for Governor, William Goebel and William S. Taylor, assembled armed forces and put the capital under siege.  Geobel was assassinated and eventually the issues was resolved when the United States Supreme Court finally decided the issue in favor of Goebel, whose running mate then took office.  Taylor was found guilty of conspiracy to murder and fled for his life to Indiana.

Teaching Tip: Asking Important Questions About History

History, whether the study of a state or the Ming Dynasty in China, is an opportunity for a teacher to delve into the great questions of humanity.  If some moral or political or philosophical question pops into your mind in connection with a historical event or personality, then indulge in asking the kids about it.  The teacher doesn’t necessarily have to answer; just force the kids to consider.

  • In this study of Kentucky, questions of slavery come up obviously.
  • Also, how can moral religious people who believe in Christianity, which clearly teaches against things such as slavery, still support slavery and still go to church every week with the blessing of their pastor or priest?
  • What makes it possible for peaceful transfers of power in government and why does it sometimes result in war?

These are all great questions you could bring up as you learn about Kentucky.  Without asking and examining these sorts of questions there really isn’t much point to history.  It’s the lessons that make it worthwhile.

This is a common sight in Kentucky: narrow country roads flanked by low stone walls and rows of trees. Image in the public domain.

Printable Map of Kentucky

Here is a Kentucky Map to color and label.  Use a student atlas and label the rivers, cities, mountains and so on.

Fun Facts about Kentucky

  • State Song: My Old Kentucky Home by Stephen Foster
  • State Nickname: Bluegrass state
  • Motto: United we stand, divided we fall.
  • Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln were both born in Kentucky within a year of each other.
  • Mammoth Cave in Kentucky is the world’s longest cave.
  • Fort Knox, Kentucky holds more gold than any other single place in the world (over $6 billion.  Maybe if the price of gold really takes off we could pay off the national debt?  Maybe not.)
  • Cheeseburgers were invented in Kentucky.
  • Upset beat the undefeated Man o’War in a Kentucky Derby race, and ever since then “an upset” has meant an unexpected defeat of a superior opponent.
  • United States Supreme Court Chief Justice Frederick Vinson was born in a Kentucky jail.

Additional Layers

  • Churches in antebellum Kentucky divided and created separate congregations over the charged issue of slavery.  Sometimes we think that slavery only became a topic of conversation near the middle of the 1800’s, but actually it was hotly opposed and just as hotly defended since colonial times.
  • The largest earthquake ever recorded in North America happened in Kentucky.  It was so big it changed the course of the Mississippi River in one day.
  • Learn more about the Kentucky Derby and its’ history.

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