Year of Publication

2009

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

History

First Advisor

Dr. Ron Eller

Second Advisor

Dr. Joanne Pope Melish

Abstract

The true nineteenth-century story of the Underground Railroad begins in the South and is spread North by free blacks, escaping southern slaves, and displaced, white, anti-slavery Protestant evangelicals. This study examines the role of free blacks, escaping slaves, and white Protestant evangelicals influenced by tenants of Kentucky’s Second Great Awakening who were inspired, directly or indirectly, to aid in African American community building. The impact of Kentucky’s Great Revival resulted in creation and expansion of systems of escape commonly referred to as the “Underground Railroad” which led to self-emancipation among enslaved African Americans, the establishment of free black settlements in the South, North, within Kentucky borderlands, and the Mid- West, and resulting in the eventual outbreak of a Civil War.

An examination of slave narratives, escaping slave ads, the history of American religious societies, as well as examination of denominational doctrines, policies, public views, and actions regarding American slavery confirmed the impact of Kentucky’s 1797 Great Revival on freeing slaves, creating black church congregations, establishment of antislavery churches, and benevolent societies throughout Kentucky and the Mid-West. These newly formed churches and societies spread the gospel of black freedom beyond Kentucky into Western Territories particularly Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri. The spread of an evangelical religious message and the violent displacement of white and black antislavery advocates had the unintended consequence of aiding freedom seeking slaves in the formation of independent, black settlements and religious societies, not only in Kentucky but also in the North and West.

This work acknowledges the central role Kentucky played in providing two of the three acknowledged and well-documented national Underground Railroad escape corridors which successfully ran through eastern Kentucky’s Appalachian Mountains and within the core of the state’s Western and Central Bluegrass Regions.

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