Indigenous people roamed this area long before it became known as the state of Kentucky. For many generations, the Woodland people lived here, and then later those who were known as the Fort Ancient people. These tribes built mounds in the land that can still be seen today. At about the time the Europeans started coming to the area, in the 1600s, Cherokee, Delaware, and Shawnee occupied the territory.

Because Kentucky was very difficult to reach due to the Appalachian Mountains, it was not settled right away. In fact, it wasn’t until 1750 that a pass, called the Cumberland Gap, was discovered by Dr. Thomas Walker when he was exploring the area.

The British had promised not to enter the local natives’ territory past the mountains, but they did anyway, and the first European settlement in the region, Harrodsburg, was built. The Shawnee took exception to this, and soon a war between the Europeans and the Natives broke out. The Shawnee were defeated at the Battle of Point Pleasant and the two warring parties settled in for a time of peace.

One of Kentucky’s most famous people was Daniel Boone. He guided settlers to the area and created the town of Boonesborough. He is also known for improving and widening the Cumberland Gap so that wagons could travel the pass. The trail was known as the Wilderness Road.

Kentucky became the 15th state to join the Union on June 1, 1792, after the Revolutionary War.

During the Civil War, Kentucky was torn between both sides because it was a slaveholding state as well as a border state, and therefore had a large population that sympathized with the abolitionist North. At first, the citizens did not declare a side. They refused to fight in the war until a Confederate Army invaded the state; at that juncture, Kentucky declared its loyalty to the North. Interestingly, Abraham Lincoln, leader of the Union, and Jefferson Davis, leader of the Confederacy, were both born in Kentucky.

Interesting Facts

  • More than half of Americans killed during the War of 1812 were from Kentucky.
  • The Hatfields of West Virginia and the McCoys of Kentucky continued a family feud that lasted for generations. It first started in late August of 1888 after nine Hatfield family members were found guilty of a raid on the McCoys, which ended with a son and daughter killed and the family’s home burned down. It wasn’t until 2003 that the families signed a formal truce.
  • The “Happy Birthday to You” melody was created in 1893 by Mildred and Patty Hill, Kentucky sisters who wanted a song teachers could sing to the children. It was called “Good Morning to All.” Robert Coleman, in 1924, changed the lyrics and published the tune.