Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Document Type

Master's Thesis


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Joanne P. Melish


Over the course of the nineteenth century, Southerners of color flocked to northern free soil by the droves. Seeking refuge from a slaveholding society intent on subordinating those of African descent, many established new homes in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and places north. Many others, however, carved their own lands of freedom within the slaveholding South. This study explores the free Southerners of color who maintained communities in Kentucky’s borderland, occupying a purgatorial position between freedom and slavery. Maneuvering the anti-black laws and sentiments of their society, the individuals in this study remained rooted in a slaveholding society, despite relative proximity to northern free soil, and made their own freedom in an unfree region. The freedom that they made for themselves was in fact freer than anything the North had to offer. They conscientiously determined that the freedom provided by their own local community and social capital was more valuable than any freedom law could provide elsewhere. In effect, free Kentuckians of color in the Ohio River Valley forged their own free soil from the very land of their bondage.