slavery, the civil war, and post-war black history

Slaves were brought into the county as early as 1775, and the percentage of slaves in the total population increased substantially during the first half of the nineteenth century. Slaves, like land, were considered property, a source of labor, and a sign of wealth. By 1850 blacks constituted approximately 34% of the county's total population, with the largest numbers in Richmond and Kirksville. Few Madison County slaveowners before the Civil War followed the example of emancipationist Cassius M. Clay and freed their servants. Contrary to the sentiments of the majority of people in the county, the small community of Berea, led by the Rev. John G. Fee and John A.R. Rogers and his wife Elizabeth, strongly promoted antislavery activities.

Madison countians experienced the Civil War firsthand in 1862 when a contingent of the Confederate Army of Tennessee under the command of Maj. Gen. E. Kirby Smith invaded Kentucky in August. They met and defeated their first opposition in Madison County at Big Hill near Berea on August 23. Union Brig. Gen. M.D. Manson ordered his troops to repel the Confederate invaders, but this effort was met with defeat in the battle of Richmond on August 29 and 30, 1862. From Big Hill at the extreme south of the county to the Richmond Cemetery, buildings were damaged from artillery fire and heavy casualties were inflicted as Confederate forces drove Federal troops through Richmond, forcing them to retreat northward. The courthouse as well as many public and private buildings served as hospitals after the battle. For three months the fenced courthouse square became a stockade to contain almost 1,000 Northern prisoners of war until their release. Smith's Confederate army advanced westward to join Gen. Braxton Bragg. Their unified force met Union troops under Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell at the battle of Perryville on October 8, in what proved to be a strategically important Union victory.

The relative social status of blacks and whites in Madison County remained virtually unchanged after the abolition of slavery, although blacks were allowed to vote for the first time in 1866. After emancipation, Madison County blacks experienced the greatest opportunities for advancement in Berea. Because of segregation and restricted job opportunities, they tended to have a lower standard of living and a higher death rate than whites; consequently, many of them migrated out to the area during the latter part of the nineteenth century and the early decades of the twentieth century.

Influential black leaders in Madison County such as the Rev. Madison Campbell (1823- 1896), a former slave, the Rev. H. Dunson (1816-1893), and educator/poet Henry Allen Laine (1870-1955) used their powers of communication to ameliorate racial tensions and help the plight of their people. The rural and city churches and the Colored Chautauqua organized by Laine served as the major forms of social and cultural activities for blacks. Health and educational conditions have improved in recent years for blacks who now comprise approximately 6% of the total population.

^top of page