Historical Society Collection Depicts Free and Enslaved Families

Jul 30, 2012

FRANKFORT — The Kentucky Historical Society recently acquired a collection of 19th century letters that depict the lives of both free and enslaved Kentucky families, in Lexington and Hopkinsville. Referred to as the Watson and Robinson letters, these handwritten documents contain detailed family history information and offer a glimpse into the African-American communities in those two Kentucky cities.

The collection contains a total of 27 letters, with the earliest dated 1841. Locations mentioned in the letters include Hopkinsville; Lexington; Paducah; Mississippi City, Miss.; Brandon, Miss.; and Williamson County, Ill.

“These letters are really a treasure trove of family history information,” Louise Jones, director of KHS Library and Special Collections, said in a news release from the historical society. “They offer a rare glimpse into the lives of both free and enslaved African-Americans in Kentucky.”

The Watson family letters – penned mostly by Isabel Watson – originate in Mississippi and include news of a family’s health, activities, church and religion, births and deaths; and describe slavery in Hopkinsville. The Robinson letters originate in Lexington and describe important family matters such as a wife’s death, the children’s health, a remarriage, the farm and freedom.

The Watson and Robinson Families Letters collection was purchased by the Kentucky Historical Society Foundation, a private nonprofit organization that exists to support the mission of KHS. The letters have been cataloged and digitized and are now available for researchers. To view them, visit www.history.ky.gov and click “Search our Collections.” Choose the KHS Collections Catalog and search for “Watson and Robinson.”