The sun shines bright on my old Kentucky home, 'Tis summer, the people are gay; the corn top's ripe and the meadow's in bloom, while the birds make music all the day. Lyrics and music from "My Old Kentucky Home," by Stephen Foster.In the mid-1700's, the French, Spanish, and English began exploring this land of green hills, mountains, valleys, and mighty rivers, and their collective journals indicate that there were no permanent Native American settlements in the region.
Scattered groups of Cherokee and Shawnee tribes did hunt the area, but as early scouts crossed this land, there were few initial problems with Indians. However, as the British and French fought for control of North America, the resulting French and Indian Wars (1754-63) temporally curtailed additional exploration.
Daniel Boone, an early frontiersman, began exploring the Kentucky area in 1767, and tales of his journeys and subsequent legend inspired many settlers to move in. As those pioneers crossed through the Cumberland Plateau, Indians began to resist as they were now losing their ancestral hunting grounds to uninvited visitors.
In 1772, George Rogers Clark left his family home in Virginia to work as a surveyor for the Ohio Company. Clark's journey took him along the Ohio River, and on into the Kentucky territory. Over the next four years he was a guide for settlers, and with family and friends established communities such as Leesburg, now a part of Frankfort.
In 1776, Kentucky was made a county of Virginia. Its scattered population needed protection, and with the American Revolutionary War in its early stages Virginia could not adequately provide it. Isolated settlers and hunters became the target of Indian attacks, and many moved out leaving only a handful of hardy souls behind.
Near the end of the Revolutionary War a fort was constructed at Lexington to defend against the English and their Native American allies. As it turned out, Kentucky's "Battle of Blue Licks" was one of the last major battles of the Revolution.
At war's end Kentucky wanted statehood, and a series of conventions were held (1784–91). Disagreements were commonplace as some attendees proposed secession from Virginia, and even (if needed) from the United States.
A constitution was finally agreed to, and on June 1, 1792, the United States Congress accepted the Kentucky Constitution and admitted it as the 15th state; Isaac Shelby was elected governor, and Frankfort was chosen as the capital.
Settlers returned in great numbers and farms sprang up across the state. With rich soil providing the base, successful corn, tobacco and wheat crops put Kentucky into economic overdrive. By the turn of the century bourbon distilleries were in operation, and the City of Bardstown would become the de facto capital of Kentucky's (world famous) signature drink.
In late 1811 and early 1812, southwestern Kentucky was struck by a series of powerful earthquakes, the largest recorded earthquake series (ever) in the contiguous United States. Among other damage, the earthquakes caused the Mississippi River to change course, thus creating the Kentucky Bend.
Across America, the plight of black slaves in the southern states was an on-going controversial issue. In the small farms across Kentucky slaves were not initially needed, nor used, and in fact, beginning in 1833, the importation of slaves into the state was forbidden. That attitude latter changed, and by 1850, Kentucky was an active slave state and a significant slave market for the southern states.
Slavery and States' Rights long fueled the desire for independence across the south and those issues were the primary catalyst for America's bloody Civil War (1861–1865); the deadliest war in American history. It caused 620,000 soldier deaths and an undetermined number of civilian casualties..
Ironically, Kentucky was the birthplace of the Union president, Abraham Lincoln, and the Confederate president, Jefferson Davis. Regardless, strong feelings on both sides of the slavery issue, and their conflicting loyalties would tear the state apart.
As that war began Kentucky openly stated its neutrality, and asked (warned) the Union and the Confederacy not to invade. Undaunted, Confederate forces invaded and Frankfort was the only Union capital occupied by Confederate troops. With the Union Blue in hot pursuit, Kentucky witnessed several bloody engagements, including a battle near Perryville in 1862 where 1,600 died and 5,400 were wounded.
The war's Reconstruction Period was the most contentious chapter in the history of Kentucky. During an 1865 election, the state rejected the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution (all in part) officially abolishing and prohibiting slavery, and promoting civil rights for all citizens. Shortly thereafter, the Ku Klux Klan surfaced in the state and violence against blacks continued.
In the years that followed, positive efforts favoring equal citizenship for blacks and women's suffrage surfaced in Kentucky, and across the deep south. Years later Kentucky passed the Kentucky Civil Rights Act, requiring equal employment and housing for all races.
On the economic front, the coal mining industry literally exploded into prominence in the eastern part of the state, and tobacco production increased dramatically. Though coal was in high demand during World War I, production declined dramatically after the war, and when the Great Depression (1929-1939) wreaked havoc across America, Kentuckians lost jobs by the thousands.
Similarly to Tennessee, the Great Depression of the 1930's also proved a turning point for Kentucky. Jobs were desperately needed, and during that Depression, the federal government created the TVA, or Tennessee Valley Authority. Its stated goal was to produce electricity for the rural areas, and subsequently dams were built along the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers in Kentucky. In that effort, much-needed highways were built throughout the state and new jobs were readily available.
During World War II (1939-1945), Kentucky businesses produced weapons for the war effort and supplied food products for the soldiers. By mid-century coal mines reached record production levels, and the TVA continued its efforts across the state. Eventually, the mining of vast coal deposits, oil and gas production, tobacco, and the state's natural tourism attributes put Kentucky back on the economic map to stay.
The Bluegrass State of Kentucky is home to a wide variety of beautiful state parks, unique festivals throughout the year, and many interesting historic sites. In addition, Kentucky is the world's undisputed center of thoroughbred horse breeding, and the home of the Kentucky Derby. It's also famous for its numerous championship college basketball teams, and of course, Kentucky Bourbon.