Copyright by Brenda Joyce Jerome, CG
May not be copied without written consent
There were two ways a slave in Kentucky could be manumitted or set free from slavery - through a will or through the county court.
Mary Wilson Deacon Smith had inherited a number of slaves by the will of her late husband, James Deacon. In her own will in Will Book B, page 37, dated 21 December 1831, Mary Smith stated ... “it is my will that the aforesaid and each and every of them with all their future children shall after my death be set free and emancipated from every kind of slavery and servitude to all any every person.”
Francis W. Urey, in his will in Will Book B, page 234, dated 7 March 1849, also in Caldwell County, went one step farther and stated the following: “I positively direct that all my negroes at my wife’s death, young and old, be free and sent to Liberia and they shall be well clothed and a sufficient quantity of clothing in addition be given them to last them two years after they get there, and expenses required to send them to Liberia and clothing &c shall be paid out of my estate.”
The other way a slave owner could free his slaves was by making his wishes known to the county court. This is what James Johnson did when he appeared in open court on Monday, 1 October 1832. The entry in Livingston County Court Order Book H, page 95, states “James Johnson appeared in open Court and acknowledged the following deed of Emancipation: Know all men by these presents that I James Johnson of Livingston County do think proper and do by these presents forever Manumit, liberate and set free from hence forward, my certain negro man named Willis, about forth years of age, of Black Collour, to have his full and perfect freedom from me my heirs executors or administrators and all and every person or persons besides.
Whether a slave was manumitted by will or through the county court, the former slave owner had to post a bond, with security, guaranteeing that the former slave would not become a charge upon the county. Many former slaves, fearing capture and a return to slavery, traveled to Illinois and Indiana, where slavery was prohibited. Some freed slaves started their own communities, such as Lyles Station in Gibson County, Indiana.