gfhgr.gif (25105 bytes)

Spring 2004
A Publication of the St. Louis Public Library

Vol. 4   No. 1

Ethnic Spotlight

German-Born Kentuckians

Thousands of Germans fleeing the failed revolution and uprisings of 1848-1849 settled in free states, but some settled in the Kentucky cities of Louisville, Covington, and Newport. Most of these so-called "Forty-Eighters" disliked slavery and tended to settle in cities with manufacturing capabilities or in agricultural settlements along Kentucky's borders with Ohio and Indiana.

German-born Kentuckians were divided evenly between the Protestant and Catholic faiths. Most German-born Kentucky Protestants belonged to the Lutheran, Evangelical, or Reformed churches. Many of the Germans who participated in the failed revolutions of 1848-1849 were atheists and abolitionists. Neither of these was a belief system likely to endear them to native-born Kentuckians. There was also some tension between "Forty-Eighters" and other German-born Kentuckians, since many of those persons were neither atheists nor abolitionists.

Prior to the mid-1850s, most German immigrants became members of the Democratic Party. The Democrats welcomed foreigners and opposed strict temperance and Sabbath laws, as did many German-born. The fact that many German and Irish-born Kentuckians were Catholics resulted in the creation of nativist sentiment in some circles and helped bring about various nativist political organizations like the Know-Nothing Party. Widespread anti-Catholic and anti-foreign sentiment in Kentucky sometimes resulted in violence like the Bloody Monday Election Riot of August 6, 1855, in Louisville. Some German-born Kentuckians, including most "Forty-Eighters," supported the 1860 Republican Party because of its opposition to the expansion of slavery into the territories, but the Republican Party was not on the ballot in the 1860 Kentucky election. Lincoln and the Republicans received less than one percent of votes cast in Kentucky.

logcabin.gif (6535 bytes)Twenty-seven thousand residents of Kentucky enumerated in the 1860 census were German-born, out of a total Kentucky population in of 1,150,000. Kentucky initially declared itself neutral when hostilities broke out in 1861 between the North and South. Many Kentuckians enlisting in the Union Army in June-September 1861 cross over to Indiana or Ohio to do so. Recruiting for Kentucky Union regiments began in October. The 6th Kentucky Infantry Regiment included many German-born Kentuckians from Louisville. Many of these men spoke only German, so commands were given in that language. The 4th Kentucky Cavalry Regiment includes three companies composed primarily of German-born Kentuckians. Bugle calls came into increasing use during the Civil War partly so that some commands could be issued ina language (music) that German or English speakers could understand. Kentucky Union regiments with large German-born contingents fought mainly in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia. Most Kentucky Confederates also fought in these states.

Table of Contents