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Kentucky State History

History | Symbols | Interesting Facts | Famous People


1750—Thomas Walker explores Kentucky through the Cumberland Gap

1775—Daniel Boone builds the Wilderness Trail and establishes Fort Boonesborough

1792—Kentucky becomes the 15th state

1861—Kentucky remains in the Union through the Civil War

1904-1909—The Black Patch War ends a tobacco-buying monopoly

1933—The Tennessee Valley Authority begin building dams in Kentucky

1936—A U.S. Gold Depository is established at Fort Knox

1966—The Kentucky Civil Rights Act is passed

1969—The Tennessee Valley Authority builds a steam-generating plant in Paradise

1990—The Kentucky Education Reform Act is passed

Several Native American groups lived in the Kentucky region when European explorers first arrived in the late 1600s.  Some of these groups included the Cherokee, Creek, and Shawnee tribes.

In 1750, Thomas Walker entered Kentucky through the Cumberland Gap.  Daniel Boone explored eastern Kentucky in 1767, but Indians prevented permanent settlement of the area until 1775.  Boone led a group through the Cumberland Gap to the Kentucky River, forging the famous Wilderness Trail.  There they established Boonesborough, one of the first permanent white settlements in Kentucky.

During the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), Indians that sided with Britain attacked Kentucky settlements.  For protection, Kentucky became part of Virginia in 1776.   In 1778, Virginians captured three British trading posts that were supplying weapons to the Indians.  This helped to end most of the attacks against Kentucky settlers.

Kentucky became the 15th state on June 1, 1792, with Frankfort as its capital.  As more areas of land were opened for farming, the population grew quickly.  Kentucky led the nation in tobacco production.  Many farmers grew crops such as corn and rye used in the manufacturing of alcoholic drinks.  Hemp, used for making rope, became a very successful crop.  By 1840, almost 780,000 people lived in the state.

During the Civil War (1861-1865), Kentucky wanted to remain a neutral state.  However when Confederate troops entered western Kentucky in 1861, Kentucky formed a militia to drive them out of the state.  The state of Kentucky remained loyal to the Union, but several Kentuckians fought for the Confederacy.

After the Civil War ended, slavery was made illegal.  Kentucky’s economy suffered a depression that hit most of the South.  Hemp production was the most effected as cotton production declined and traffic along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers decreased.  Kentucky continued to lead the nation in growing tobacco.  An interest in horse racing led many to raise thoroughbred horses.  Several new mines opened as railroad expansion increased the need for coal and oil.

During the early 1900s, a group of tobacco companies held a monopoly on tobacco buying in Kentucky.  A group of farmers began burning barns and fields of those who sold to these companies.  The Black Patch War (1904-1909) succeeded in breaking up the monopoly and tobacco auctions were adopted.

People in Kentucky lost work as the demand for coal decreased during the 1920s.  The Great Depression (1929-1939) also caused many to lose their jobs.  In 1933, the federal government created jobs through the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) program.  Dams were built along the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers and throughout the state.  Many worked on state highways and others conserving natural resources. 

World War II (1939-1945) also created jobs with the U.S. military and supplying weapons and food to U.S. soldiers.  During the 1960s, the coal industry grew rising to second place nationally.  The TVA began building recreational areas in western Kentucky and a steam-generating plant in Paradise.  And, Kentucky passed the Kentucky Civil Rights Act, requiring equal employment and housing for all races.

Recently, state leaders have strived to improve Kentucky.  Coal production was creating water and air pollution.  Laws were passed in 1978 to improve the environment.  In 1990, the Kentucky Education Reform Act provided money for better education.  Today, Kentucky is also trying to attract new businesses to the state while developing its traditional industries.