walk of fame recipient Plaque 4
- Born a slave in 1700s; place, time, and parentage unknown.
- Stood five feet and five inches and weighed an imposing two hundred pounds as an adult.
- Arrived in Kentucky in the 1770s with his master Captain James Estill.
- Planted an apple orchard in Boonesborough in 1799.
- Produced with his wife while residing in Boonesborough the first African American child born at Boonesborough.
- Moved in 1780 with his master to Estill’s Station roughly three miles southeast of today’s Richmond, Kentucky.
- Produced gunpowder for the station.
- Seized by Wyandot’s on March 20, 1782, and persuaded his captors that the almost defenseless station was heavily armed and defended by forty men, convincing them to delay their attack.
- Accompanied Captain Estill and his men as they tracked the Wyandots, engaging them in the Battle of Little Mountain or Estill’s Defeat.
- Rescued James Berry, one of Estill’s men, carrying him twenty-five miles back to the station.
- Freed in 1782 by Captain Estill’s son, Wallace, in gratitude for Monk’s bravery at the Battle of Little Mountain, becoming the first freed slave in Kentucky.
- Became a Baptist minister and served in Shelbyville, Kentucky.
- Married three wives during the course of his life and sired thirty children.
- Died in Madison County, Kentucky, in 1835.
Monk Estill Biography
Monk Estill’s place and time of birth, as well as his mother and father is unknown. He was born a slave sometime in the later 1700s. Records of slaves were not typically kept during this time. By the time Monk reached adulthood he stood five feet and five inches and an imposing two hundred pounds. He was characterized as having a very stout frame, no doubt gained from years of hard labor.
Monk came to Kentucky in the 1770s with his master Captain James Estill. In 1779 he was given a bag of seed and placed in charge of planting an apple orchard in Boonesborough that the settlers hailed “a great benefit to the country.” Monk and his wife—also a slave of James Estill and whose name and origins are unrecorded—produced the first African American child born at Boonesborough. Monk named his child Jerry.
In 1780 James Estill established Estill Station roughly three miles southeast of today’s Richmond, Kentucky. Monk Estill moved with his master to this station, where he performed various tasks such as planting and tending crops, growing James Estill’s garden as well as his own, and tanning hides. One skill he used at the station that was valuable to the entire population was the production of gunpowder. There were few people that possessed this skill, making Monk a valuable resident of the fort. The inhabitants of every station in Kentucky were under constant threat of Indian attack, which made the production of gunpowder as essential to survival as growing food.
On March 19, 1782, Captain James Estill, nursing a badly broken arm that had been shattered by gunfire in an ambush at Harrods Town, and forty men rode out of Estill’s Station to thwart an attack on Strode’s Station by a war party of twenty-five Wyandot Indians. The women, children, and slaves of Estill’s Station were left to defend the settlement. That night a young thirteen- or fourteen-year-old girl named Jenny Gass had a dream of climbing up a ladder to heaven, which she shared with the residents of the station. The residents were pleased to hear of Jenny’s religious experience as they were all of the Christian faith and thought of the event as a blessing. The next day, March 20, 1782, as he was gathering firewood Monk Estill was abducted by a war party of Wyandot that had surrounded the station during the night. He managed to convince the Indians that the almost defenseless station was heavily armed and defended by forty men who knew of the Wyandot plan to attack. He was so convincing that the Indians postponed their attack, but before they left the station little Jenny Gass and her slave, unaware of the Indians surrounding the station, walked out to tap maple trees. Jenny’s mother at the ramparts spotted the Wyandot and yelled for Jenny to run. It was too late; Jenny was killed and the Wyandot left with their captive, Monk.
Captain Estill and his men tracked the Wyandot. When they reached the war party, a horrible battle took place that was later called the Battle of Little Mountain or Estill’s Defeat. In the fray of gunfire, Monk called to Captain Estill to reveal the number of Wyandot and to encourage the men. When Monk was able to get free he held the horses for the men while they were attempting retreat. The battle did not go well. Captain Estill and several of his men were killed in the fray. During the retreat Monk rescued James Berry, one of Estill’s men, carrying him twenty-five miles to the station. Captain Estill’s son, Wallace, gave Monk his freedom in 1782 in gratitude for his bravery at the Battle of Little Mountain. Monk is considered the first slave freed in Kentucky.
Monk later became a Baptist minister and lived for a time in Shelbyville before returning to Madison County to live out the rest of his life. Wallace Estill helped support Monk until he died. During the course of his life, Monk had three wives who gave birth to thirty children. Monk Estill died in Madison County in 1835.
Monk Estill Links
Monk Estill Suggested Reading
Kleber, John E., editor. The Kentucky Encyclopedia. 2d ed. University Press of Kentucky: Lexington, 1992.
Belue, Ted Franklin. The Hunters of Kentucky: A Narrative History of America’s First Far West, 1750-1792. Stackpole Books: Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, 2003.