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Kentucky's Governors

Kentucky's Governors

Edited by Lowell H. Harrison
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 2
Pages: 320
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130hr39
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    Kentucky's Governors
    Book Description:

    Compiled and edited by Lowell H. Harrison, the essays inKentucky's Governorsprofile every chief executive of the Bluegrass State from eighteenth-century governor Isaac Shelby to Ernie Fletcher.

    First published in 1985, this edition ofKentucky's Governorsis expanded and revised to include governors Wilkinson, Jones, Patton, and Fletcher, as well as new information on respected figures such as Louie B. Nunn.

    An introduction by Kentucky's historian laureate, Thomas D. Clark, provides key insights into successive governors' evolving constitutional powers and their changing roles in political debates and policy formation. Following Clark's overview, each chapter presents significant biographical information while detailing the campaign, election, achievements, strengths, and weaknesses of each governor.

    To aid in further research, each contributor lists several suggested sources, both primary and secondary, for additional investigation into the lives and careers of Kentucky's leaders. A thorough index is also included to facilitate reference within this updated and revised edition.

    The profiles inKentucky's Governorsgive insights into each leader's engagements with economic development, education, agriculture, and taxes, issues that have helped define two hundred years of history in the Bluegrass State.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5974-4
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-xii)
    LOWELL H. HARRISON
  4. The Kentucky Governorship: An Overview
    (pp. xiii-xxiv)
    THOMAS D. CLARK

    Historically the office of American state governor has been seen as a source of continuity in the local governing process. The governor has also served as the ceremonial head of state and has wielded widely varying amounts of political and administrative power. The states have taken different attitudes toward the amount of power they were willing to grant their chief executives in various areas of government, particularly in the legislative branches. In the rash of state-making that followed the Revolution, state constitutions were written that reflected eighteenth-century British influence, and in no area more clearly than in the governorships; governors’...

  5. ISAAC SHELBY (1792–1796, 1812–1816)
    (pp. 1-6)

    Isaac Shelby was born near Hagerstown, Maryland, on December 11, 1750, the second son of Evan and Letitia Cox Shelby. The Shelby family had come to America from Wales about 1735, living first in Pennsylvania and then in Maryland. They moved to western Virginia in 1772 and built a small store and fort near the present-day town of Bristol, Virginia–Tennessee.

    Isaac Shelby gained fame on the western frontier as a young lieutenant serving in his father’s regiment in Lord Dunmore’s War. In 1774 the only major conflict of the war was fought at Point Pleasant, where the Kanawha River...

  6. JAMES GARRARD (1796–1804)
    (pp. 7-11)
    H.E. EVERMAN

    James Garrard was born in Stafford County, Virginia, on January 14, 1749, the son of Col. William and Mary Naughty Garrard. He attended the common schools in Stafford County and studied at home, acquiring a lifelong love of books. As a young man, he worked his father’s farm, and in 1769 he married his childhood sweetheart, Elizabeth Mountjoy. He served in the Virginia militia during the American Revolution, rising to the rank of colonel. In 1783 he migrated to Kentucky, where he surveyed land, opened a grist mill, made whiskey, and farmed in what was to become Bourbon County. As...

  7. CHRISTOPHER GREENUP (1804–1808)
    (pp. 12-15)
    JAMES F. HOPKINS

    Christopher Greenup, owing to his knowledge of law and his varied experience in public affairs, was the best qualified of the early Kentucky governors. Born in Loudoun County, Virginia, about 1750, his parents are unknown. He acquired a good basic education, learned surveying, and read law. During the Revolution he served as first lieutenant in the Continental Line, 1777–1778, and later held the rank of colonel in the Virginia militia. In 1781 he settled in Lincoln County, one of the three divisions of trans-Appalachian Virginia, where he engaged in extensive surveying and land speculation. Commissioned as an attorney at...

  8. CHARLES SCOTT (1808–1812)
    (pp. 16-19)
    HARRY M. WARD

    Charles Scott was born in about April 1739 in what is now Powhatan County, Virginia. Orphaned in 1755 by the death of his father, Samuel, a farmer and a member of the House of Burgesses, Scott enlisted in Washington’s Virginia regiment in October 1755. During the French and Indian War, Scott was stationed at various frontier posts and won praise for his scouting missions, which were to form the basis of his reputation as a woodsman. He rose from private to captain when assigned to Col. William Byrd’s expedition against the Cherokees in 1760.

    In February 1762 Scott married Frances...

  9. GEORGE MADISON (1816)
    (pp. 20-21)
    JAMES F. HOPKINS

    George Madison, the first Kentucky governor to die in office, was born in Rockingham County, Virginia, in June 1763 to John and Agatha Strother Madison. He was a brother of James Madison, who later became president of the College of William and Mary and the Episcopal bishop of Virginia, and a second cousin of James Madison, future president of the United States. Little is known of his early life other than he began a long and honorable military career by joining the Virginia militia as a youth during the Revolutionary War. While still a young man, he migrated west. His...

  10. GABRIEL SLAUGHTER (1816–1820)
    (pp. 22-25)
    JAMES F. HOPKINS

    Gabriel Slaughter, a Democratic Republican, was elected lieutenant governor in August 1816. He assumed the duties of chief executive following the death of George Madison and completed Madison’s term. Slaughter was never accorded, and probably did not expect, the title governor, and throughout his administration was called lieutenant governor or acting governor.

    He was born in Culpeper County, Virginia, to Robert and Susannah Harrison Slaughter, December 12, 1767. That he acquired at least a respectable education and more than a common store of knowledge is suggested by the language and content of his messages to the legislature. As a young...

  11. JOHN ADAIR (1820–1824)
    (pp. 26-28)
    CHARLES J. BUSSEY

    John Adair, a politician in the Jeffersonian Republican tradition, served as governor of Kentucky from June 1, 1820, to June 1, 1824. He was born to Baron William and Mary Moore Adair in the Chester District of South Carolina on January 9, 1757, and went to school in Charlotte, North Carolina. In 1784 he married Katherine Palmer; they had twelve children, including ten daughters. After serving in the American Revolution, Adair moved to Kentucky in 1787. He settled in Mercer County and quickly became active in state politics. He served in both the 1792 and 1799 Kentucky constitutional conventions and...

  12. JOSEPH DESHA (1824–1828)
    (pp. 29-32)
    CHARLES J. BUSSEY

    Joseph Desha was born on December 9, 1768, to Robert and Eleanor Wheeler Desha. When he was thirteen, he moved with his family from Monroe County, Pennsylvania, to Fayette County, Kentucky. Three years later the Desha family moved to Tennessee. Young Desha lived near Nashville until 1792, when he moved back to Kentucky with his wife of three years, Margaret Bledsoe. Desha settled in Mason County in the state he would call home for the last fifty years of his life.

    Desha’s military background included service under Gens. Anthony Wayne and William H. Harrison in the 1794 Indian war. Later,...

  13. THOMAS METCALFE (1828–1832)
    (pp. 33-37)
    FRANK F. MATHIAS

    Thomas Metcalfe, Kentucky’s tenth governor, was born in Fauquier County, Virginia, March 20, 1780, one of five children of Sarah Dent Chinn and John Metcalfe, a Revolutionary veteran. The family moved to Fayette County, Kentucky, about 1804, later settling permanently in Nicholas County. Following a skimpy education in the common schools, young Thomas became a skilled stonemason, picking up his lifelong nickname of “Stonehammer.” His marriage to Nancy Mason, a daughter of Burgess and Jane Lee Mason, in about 1806 produced four children.

    Metcalfe’s public life began with service in the lower house of the state legislature from 1812 to...

  14. JOHN BREATHITT (1832–1834)
    (pp. 38-42)
    FRANK F. MATHIAS

    John Breathitt was the only Jacksonian Democrat elected during the state’s Whig era, 1828–1850, and the second governor to die in office.

    Breathitt was born on September 9, 1786, near New London, Virginia, the eldest son of William and Elizabeth Whitsett Breathitt. William, who had earlier emigrated from Scotland, moved his family from Virginia to Kentucky early in the nineteenth century, settling at Russellville in Logan County. The few schools in this backwoods area afforded but the scantiest education, but young John taught himself surveying and soon acquired enough capital to sustain himself while reading law under Judge Caleb...

  15. JAMES TURNER MOREHEAD (1834–1836)
    (pp. 43-46)
    FRANK F. MATHIAS

    James Turner Morehead became governor following Gov. John Breathitt’s death in office on February 21, 1834. Morehead, a Whig, had served as lieutenant governor under Breathitt, a Democrat, since their election on a split ticket in August 1832. Morehead served until June 1836, the end of the gubernatorial term.

    James Turner Morehead was born on May 24, 1797, near Shepherdsville, Bullitt County, Kentucky, a son of Armistead and Lucy Latham Morehead. He became the state’s first native-born son to rise to the governorship. Armistead’s father, Charles Morehead II, of Fauquier County, Virginia, was the grandfather of both James Morehead and...

  16. JAMES CLARK (1836–1839)
    (pp. 47-50)
    VICTOR B. HOWARD

    James Clark, the son of Robert and Susannah Clark, was born in Bedford County, Virginia, near the Peaks of Otter on January 16, 1779. He was brought to Kentucky as a child by his parents, who settled in Clark County on a farm near the Kentucky River. He was educated under the tutorship of James Blythe, who afterward served as a professor at Transylvania University. Clark returned to Virginia and studied law under his brother Christopher Clark. After completing his studies, he made an extended trip into the West for the purpose of finding a suitable place to practice his...

  17. CHARLES ANDERSON WICKLIFFE (1839–1840)
    (pp. 51-54)
    HELEN BARTTER CROCKER

    Charles A. Wickliffe was the second of five successive Whigs to hold the governorship between 1836 and 1850. Though he dressed conservatively, Wickliffe was so politically independent that the partisan press often called him a “trimmer,” a nautical term meaning one who adjusts with the winds. In a day when political loyalty ranked close to godliness, Wickliffe nevertheless enjoyed a prominent place among his contemporaries.

    The future governors parents, Charles and Lydia Hardin Wickliffe, came from Virginia four years before Charles was born in a log cabin some six miles from Springfield on June 8, 1788. Wickliffe’s father, “with small...

  18. ROBERT PERKINS LETCHER (1840–1844)
    (pp. 55-59)
    FRANK H. HECK

    Robert Perkins Letcher was a consummate politician, actively involved in the public affairs of his state and nation for nearly half a century. Born in Goochland County, Virginia, February 10,1788, he was seventh of the twelve children of Stephen Giles and Betsey Perkins Letcher. His parents brought their family to Kentucky about 1800 and soon settled in Garrard County. There the senior Letcher opened a brickyard. Young Robert worked without enthusiasm in the brickyard and took the initiative in gaining admission to the highly regarded school of Joshua Fry near Danville. He studied law and began practice in Garrard County....

  19. WILLIAM OWSLEY (1844–1848)
    (pp. 60-63)
    STUART SEELY SPRAGUE

    William Owsley was born in Virginia on March 24, 1782. The next year his parents, William and Catherine Bolin Owsley, trekked to Kentucky and settled near Crab Orchard in Lincoln County. Owsley grew to a tall six feet, two inches, and was of slender build. He became a schoolteacher, a deputy surveyor, and a deputy sheriff. One of his students, Elizabeth Gill, six years his junior, became his wife in 1803. Owsley was encouraged by Judge John Boyle to study law and in 1809 was elected to the lower house of the legislature.

    He was appointed to the Court of...

  20. JOHN JORDAN CRITTENDEN (1848–1850)
    (pp. 64-67)
    VICTOR B. HOWARD

    John Jordan Crittenden was born September 10, 1787, in Woodford County, Kentucky, a few miles from Versailles, one of four sons of John and Judith Harris Crittenden. Crittenden was of Welsh descent on his father’s side and of French Huguenot descent on his mother’s side. In 1803 John J. Crittenden was sent to Pisgah Academy, Woodford County, to prepare for college. He continued his education at Washington College (later Washington and Lee) and completed his studies at the College of William and Mary, where he graduated in 1807. Crittenden studied law in the office of George M. Bibb, a renowned...

  21. JOHN LARUE HELM (1850–1851)
    (pp. 68-70)
    TOM OWEN

    John Larue Helm served two brief terms as governor of Kentucky. Elected lieutenant governor in 1848, Helm became chief executive for a mere thirteen months in 1850 when Gov. John J. Crittenden resigned to serve in the cabinet of Pres. Millard Fillmore. Then seventeen years later (1867) Helm was elected governor but died just five days after assuming office.

    John L. Helm was born in Hardin County, Kentucky, near Elizabethtown, on July 4, 1802. Helm’s father, George, was a prominent local farmer and politician, and his mother, Rebecca Larue, was a member of the pioneer family for which neighboring Larue...

  22. LAZARUS WHITEHEAD POWELL (1851–1855)
    (pp. 71-74)
    JAMES A. RAMAGE

    Kentucky statesmen generally favored the public school system, but few leaders supported the schools with the enthusiasm and decisiveness of Lazarus Powell. Born on October 6, 1812, in Henderson County, Powell utilized education to rise from the tobacco patches of his father’s farm to the governor’s mansion. Lazarus and Ann McMahon Powell, his parents, had only rudimentary learning, but they encouraged their son by financing his early training at a local school and then under a tutor in Henderson. Ambitious and studious, Lazarus was an outstanding student at St. Joseph’s College in Bardstown. After graduation, he studied law with John...

  23. CHARLES SLAUGHTER MOREHEAD (1855–1859)
    (pp. 75-77)
    JAMES A. RAMAGE

    Charles Slaughter Morehead was born on July 7, 1802, in Nelson County, the son of Charles and Margaret Slaughter Morehead. After graduating from Transylvania University with baccalaureate and law degrees, he practiced law in Christian County and then in Franklin County. In 1823 Morehead married Amanda Leavy, daughter of William Leavy of Lexington, and after her death, he married her sister, Margaret, in 1831. Charles and Margaret appreciated fine music and theater, and they delighted in receptions, dances, and parties. When he was governor, Frankfort society was illuminated with unusual gaiety. He was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives...

  24. BERIAH MAGOFFIN (1859–1862)
    (pp. 78-81)
    LOWELL H. HARRISON

    Beriah Magoffin, Kentucky’s gubernatorial casualty of the Civil War, was born in Harrodsburg on April 18, 1815. His father, Beriah Magoffin Sr., had come to the United States from Ireland; his mother, Jane McAfee Magoffin, was from one of Kentucky’s pioneer families. After studying in local schools, Beriah graduated from Centre College in 1835 and from the Transylvania University law course in 1838. He began a legal practice in Jackson, Mississippi, but soon returned to Harrodsburg in 1839. On April 21, 1840, he married Anna Nelson Shelby, a granddaughter of Isaac Shelby. They had ten children who survived infancy.

    In...

  25. GEORGE W. JOHNSON (1861–1862)
    (pp. 82-84)
    LOWELL H. HARRISON

    George W. Johnson, the first governor of Confederate Kentucky, was born near Georgetown in Scott County on May 27, 1811. His parents, Maj. William Johnson and Betsy Payne Johnson, were of Virginia heritage, and his paternal grandparents were among Kentucky’s early pioneers. George was educated at local schools and at Transylvania University, where he received the A.B. degree in 1829, the LL.B. in 1832, and the M.A. in 1833. In 1833 he married Ann Viley, daughter of Capt. Willa Viley, a wealthy farmer and horse breeder. They had ten children, seven of whom lived to adulthood. After briefly practicing law...

  26. RICHARD HAWES (1862–1865)
    (pp. 85-88)
    LOWELL H. HARRISON

    When Gov. George Johnson died, the council of the Confederate Provisional Government elected Richard Hawes as his successor. The son of Richard and Clara Walker Hawes, Richard was born in Caroline County, Virginia, on February 6, 1797. The family moved to Kentucky in late 1810, but Richard may have attended the academic department at Transylvania University even earlier. The youth attended Samuel Wilson’s school in Jessamine County and may have taken some law courses at Transylvania, but he became an attorney in 1818 after reading law with Charles Humphreys and Robert Wickliffe. In that same year he married Hetty Morrison...

  27. JAMES F. ROBINSON (1862–1863)
    (pp. 89-92)
    JOHN DAVID SMITH

    Few Kentucky governors entered office under as delicate and precarious conditions as did James F. Robinson. By the summer of 1862, when he assumed the reins of government in Frankfort, Kentuckians already had cast their lot with the Union, not the Confederacy. But pro-Southern sentiment remained strong as swarms of Kentuckians headed southward to enlist in the Confederate army. Kentucky was a state under siege, externally and internally. It writhed in pain over the causes of the Brothers’ War. The right to own slaves, the superiority of the Caucasian over the Negro, a belief in state sovereignty—most white Kentuckians...

  28. THOMAS ELLIOTT BRAMLETTE (1863–1867)
    (pp. 93-97)
    ROSS A. WEBB

    Thomas Elliott Bramlette was born on January 3, 1817, in Cumberland (now Clinton) County, Kentucky, the son of Col. Ambrose S. and Sarah Bramlette. He received a common school education. Characterized as able, industrious, and honest, he began the study of law, was admitted to the bar in 1837, and soon developed a prosperous practice. In September 1837 he married Sallie Travis, by whom he had two children, Thomas and Corinne. Following his wife’s death in 1872, he married Mrs. Mary E. Graham Adams in 1874. Emulating his father, he was elected to the legislature in 1841, but after only...

  29. JOHN WHITE STEVENSON (1867–1871)
    (pp. 98-100)
    TOM OWEN

    John White Stevenson was born in Richmond, Virginia, on May 4, 1812, the only child of Andrew and Mary White Stevenson. Mary Stevenson died giving birth to John, while his father, Andrew, rose to prominence as a U.S. congressman during the son’s childhood. The elder Stevenson later served as minister to Great Britain under Martin Van Buren. John Stevenson was educated by private tutors in Richmond and Washington, D.C., and in 1832 was graduated from the University of Virginia. After reading law under a cousin, the young attorney moved to Vicksburg, Mississippi, and in 1841 to Covington, Kentucky. Two years...

  30. PRESTON HOPKINS LESLIE (1871–1875)
    (pp. 101-104)
    ROSS A. WEBB

    Preston Hopkins Leslie was born on March 8, 1819, in Clinton (then Wayne) County, Kentucky, the second son of Vachel and Sally Hopkins Leslie. Raised on a farm, the boy received a limited education. He worked at many occupations (stagecoach driver, laborer, ferryman, and store clerk) before studying law under Judge Rice Maxey. Admitted to the bar on October 10, 1840, Leslie became deputy clerk of Clinton County court. In 1841 he moved to Tompkinsville, the seat of Monroe County, where he practiced law and farmed. In 1842 he was elected county attorney. An ardent admirer of Henry Clay, he...

  31. JAMES B. McCREARY (1875–1879, 1911–1915)
    (pp. 105-110)
    NICHOLAS C. BURCKEL

    Two-term governor James Bennett McCreary was born on July 8, 1838, in Madison County, Kentucky, to Dr. E.R. and Sabrina Bennett McCreary. A Presbyterian, he received his bachelor’s degree at Centre College in Danville and LL.B. from Cumberland University in Tennessee in 1859. During the Civil War he served in the Confederate army as cavalry major and lieutenant colonel. At the conclusion of the war he reestablished his law practice and in 1867 married Kate Hughes of Lexington. McCreary, affable and handsome, was an active Democrat who served three successive terms, 1869–1875, representing Madison County in the state House...

  32. LUKE PRYOR BLACKBURN (1879–1883)
    (pp. 111-114)
    NANCY DISHER BAIRD

    Luke Pryor Blackburn, the father of prison reforms in Kentucky, is the only physician who served as governor of the commonwealth before 2003. Born in Woodford County on June 16, 1816, Blackburn was the son of Edward (Ned) and Lavinia Bell Blackburn. He received his medical degree from Transylvania University in March 1835 and a few months later married Ella Gist Boswell of Lexington. To them was born one son, Cary Bell. Shortly after his wife’s death in 1856, Blackburn married Julia Churchill of Louisville.

    Most of Blackburn’s early professional life was spent in Versailles, but in 1846 he and...

  33. J. PROCTOR KNOTT (1883–1887)
    (pp. 115-118)
    ROBERT M. IRELAND

    Born on August 29, 1830, in Marion County, Kentucky, the son of Joseph Percy and Maria Irvine Knott, James Proctor Knott received his education there before moving to Missouri in 1850. Admitted to the bar in 1851, he practiced law in Scotland County, Missouri, and served in the circuit and county clerk’s offices, as well as in the Missouri legislature. In 1852 he married Mary E. Forman, who died in childbirth the next year. In 1858 Knott married a cousin, Sarah R. McElroy of Bowling Green, Kentucky. In 1858 he was appointed to fill the unexpired term of the attorney...

  34. SIMON BOLIVAR BUCKNER (1887–1891)
    (pp. 119-122)
    LOWELL H. HARRISON

    Simon Bolivar Buckner was born on April 1, 1823, at Glen Lily, the family estate nine miles east of Munfordville in Hart County, Kentucky. His parents, Aylett Hartswell and Elizabeth Ann Morehead Buckner, were both of Virginia ancestry. Aylett Buckner was moderately successful in farming and the iron business before moving to Arkansas. Young Bolivar remained in Kentucky and attended schools in Greenville and Hopkinsville before entering West Point on July 1, 1840. The handsome cadet, six feet tall with a powerful physique, made steady progress and in 1844 graduated eleventh in a class of twenty-five. Mathematics, history, and drawing...

  35. JOHN YOUNG BROWN (1891–1995)
    (pp. 123-126)
    ROBERT M. IRELAND

    John Young Brown was born in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, on June 28, 1835. His father, Thomas Dudley Brown, attained some prominence as a local politician, serving in the legislature and the state constitutional convention of 1849–1850. He influenced his son to pursue an active political career. John’s mother was Elizabeth Young Brown. After graduating from Centre College in 1855, Brown commenced the study and practice of law in Elizabethtown. In 1857 he married Lucie Barbee, who died the next year; in September 1860 Brown married Rebecca Hart Dixon. In 1859 he was elected to Congress as a Democrat despite his...

  36. WILLIAM O’CONNELL BRADLEY (1895–1899)
    (pp. 127-130)
    JAMES C. KLOTTER

    Born March 18, 1847, near Lancaster in Garrard County, Kentucky, William O’Connell Bradley was the youngest child and only son of Robert McAfee Bradley, a noted land lawyer, and Nancy Ellen Totten. The family later moved to Somerset, where W.O. Bradley received schooling through age fourteen. Filled with military ardor in 1861, the youngster unsuccessfully sought to fight for the Union. He did serve as a page in the Kentucky House that year. Devoting those wartime days to self-education, Bradley was given permission by special act of the 1865 legislature to be examined for the bar, even though he was...

  37. WILLIAM SYLVESTER TAYLOR (1899–1900)
    (pp. 131-133)
    JAMES C. KLOTTER

    William S. Taylor was born October 10, 1853, in a log house near Morgantown in Butler County, Kentucky. When his parents married on July 28, 1853, his father, Sylvester, was a middle-class farmer, forty-one years of age, and his mother, Mary G. Moore, was seventeen. Their first child worked on the farm early in life and did not begin formal schooling until age fifteen. He then excelled, however, and won local fame as an orator. In 1874 William began teaching school, a profession he would follow until 1882. He later received training in the law and became an attorney, but...

  38. WILLIAM GOEBEL (1900)
    (pp. 134-136)
    JAMES C. KLOTTER

    William Goebel was born on January 4, 1856, in Sullivan County, Pennsylvania. His German-born parents, William and Augusta Greenclay Goebel, had immigrated in the 1850s, married on April 19, 1855 (according to a note in the family papers), and made their home in a log cabin. The first of their four children, William grew up in a German-speaking environment, reportedly not using English until his fifth year. The family was relatively poor, a fact Goebel would use to advantage in later years. His father held several jobs, including cabinetmaker, store worker, and general laborer, before his death in 1877. The...

  39. J.C.W. BECKHAM (1900–1907)
    (pp. 137-140)
    NICHOLAS C. BURCKEL

    John Crepps Wickliffe Beckham, son of William Netherton and Julia Tevis Wickliffe Beckham, was born into a Presbyterian family on August 5, 1869, in Bardstown, Kentucky. He was also born into a political family; his maternal grandfather, Charles A. Wickliffe, had been governor and postmaster general, and his uncle had been governor of Louisiana. He attended Roseland Academy in Bardstown and Central University (later Eastern Kentucky University) in Richmond before returning to Bardstown to serve as principal of the public schools from 1888 to 1893. During that same period he studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1889,...

  40. AUGUSTUS EVERETT WILLSON (1907–1911)
    (pp. 141-144)
    THOMAS H. APPLETON JR.

    Unlike some twentieth-century chief executives in Kentucky, Augustus Everett Willson could not boast of forebears who had long been prominent in state politics and society. His parents, Ann Colvin Ennis and Hiram Willson, both of New England, migrated in the early 1840s from Allegany County, New York, to Maysville, Kentucky, where the future governor was born on October 13, 1846. Within the year Hiram Willson, a lumberman and mill operator, moved his family to nearby Covington. In 1852, before he had reached his sixth birthday, young Gus and his parents left Kentucky for New Albany, Indiana.

    Orphaned at the age...

  41. AUGUSTUS OWSLEY STANLEY (1915–1919)
    (pp. 145-148)
    THOMAS H. APPLETON JR.

    Augustus Owsley Stanley was born on May 21, 1867, in Shelbyville, Kentucky, the son of William Stanley, a Disciples of Christ minister, and his wife, Amanda Owsley, a niece of former governor William Owsley. Having attended Gordon Academy in Nicholasville, young Stanley enrolled first at the Kentucky Agricultural and Mechanical College in Lexington and later at Centre College in Danville, where he received a baccalaureate degree in 1889. After teaching in several Kentucky towns, Stanley read law in the Flemingsburg office of Gilbert Cassiday. Admitted to the bar in 1894, Stanley suffered one of his few political defeats three years...

  42. JAMES DIXON BLACK (1919)
    (pp. 149-151)
    MELBA PORTER HAY

    James Dixon Black was born September 24, 1849, nine miles from Barbourville on Big Richland Creek in Knox County, the son of John C. and Clarissa Jones Black. He attended rural and subscription schools in and near Barbourville and in 1872 received his bachelor’s degree from Tusculum College near Greeneville, Tennessee. In 1911 his alma mater conferred on him an honorary LL.D. degree. After finishing college, Black returned to Rnox County, where he spent two years as a public schoolteacher. In the meantime he studied law and in 1874 was admitted to the bar. On December 2, 1875, he married...

  43. EDWIN PORCH MORROW (1919–1923)
    (pp. 152-155)
    MELBA PORTER HAY

    Edwin Porch Morrow was born November 28, 1877, at Somerset, Kentucky, the son of Thomas Zanzinger and Catherine Virginia Bradley Morrow. His father had been one of the founders of the Republican Party in Kentucky and the party’s unsuccessful candidate for governor in 1883. His mother’s brother, William O. Bradley, was Kentucky’s first Republican governor.

    Morrow was educated in the public schools of Pulaski County until 1891, when he entered St. Mary’s College near Lebanon. Two years later he entered Cumberland College in Williamsburg, Kentucky, where he distinguished himself in the debating society. In 1895 he took an active part...

  44. WILLIAM JASON FIELDS (1923–1927)
    (pp. 156-159)
    WILLIAM E. ELLIS

    William Jason Fields was born in Willard, Kentucky, on December 29, 1874, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Christopher C. Fields. He married Dora McDaniel in 1893. A graduate of the University of Kentucky, Fields entered politics after working for several years as a drummer for an Ashland grocery company. In 1910 he made a bid for the Ninth District congressional seat. Using the slogan “Honest Bill from Olive Hill,” he barely won the contest and became the first Democrat elected in that district in two decades. His constituents returned him to Congress for seven consecutive terms, and he eventually...

  45. FLEM D. SAMPSON (1927–1931)
    (pp. 160-163)
    ROBERT F. SEXTON

    Flem D. Sampson was born on January 25, 1875, near London, Kentucky, the son of Joseph, a farmer and trader in lumber, and Emoline Kellum Sampson. The ninth of ten children, as a candidate Sampson would later boast his humble origins and that he had “trapped skunks in the piney woods of Laurel County” to buy his schoolbooks. He attended school in Laurel County and by sixteen was a teacher in the local Indian Creek School. He attended Union College in Barbourville and then Valparaiso University, where he received his law degree (LL.D.) in 1894. In 1897 he was married...

  46. RUBY LAFFOON (1931–1935)
    (pp. 164-167)
    WILLIAM E. ELLIS

    Ruby Laffoon was born in Madisonville on January 15, 1869, the son of John Bledsoe and Martha Earle Laffoon. He attended public schools in Madisonville and a private school in Hopkins County. In 1890 he received his law degree from Washington and Lee University and established a practice in Madisonville. On January 31, 1894, he married Mary Nisfet. Laffoon soon became involved in state politics as a Democrat. He failed to win races for state treasurer in 1907 and state auditor in 1911, but he won appointment as chairman of the first Insurance Rating Board in 1912. He was elected...

  47. ALBERT BENJAMIN CHANDLER (1935–1939, 1955–1959)
    (pp. 168-176)
    CHARLES P. ROLAND

    Albert Benjamin Chandler, twice governor of Kentucky, is the state’s real-life Horatio Alger hero. Like the boys of Alger’s novels, Chandler rose from poverty to dazzling success. He was born July 14, 1898, the son of Joseph Sephus and Callie Saunders Chandler, on a tiny farm near Corydon in western Kentucky. Rejected and abandoned at age four by his mother, he was reared by relatives and by his father. The young Chandler worked almost from infancy; by the time he was seven or eight he was virtually supporting himself by selling newspapers and doing other chores in Corydon. A lifelong...

  48. KEEN JOHNSON (1939–1943)
    (pp. 177-180)
    FREDERIC D. OGDEN

    Keen Johnson, one of four children of Robert Johnson, a circuit-riding Methodist minister, and Mattie Holloway Johnson, was born on January 12, 1896, at Brandon’s Chapel, Lyon County. He was named for John S. Keen, a native of Adair County and a family friend. Johnson married Eunice Nichols of Higbee, Missouri, on June 23, 1917.

    After receiving his elementary education in the public schools, Johnson graduated in 1914 from Vanderbilt Training School, a Methodist preparatory school in Elkton. He entered Central College, Fayette, Missouri, where he studied until 1917, when he enlisted in the army. Johnson began military service at...

  49. SIMEON WILLIS (1943–1947)
    (pp. 181-184)
    JAMES C. KLOTTER

    Born December 1, 1879, in Lawrence County, Ohio, Simeon Willis was the youngest of nine children of John H. and Abigail Slavens Willis. While the son for convenience later used anSas a middle initial, he never officially adopted that designation. His father, a Union army veteran and iron industry contractor, moved the family to Greenup County, Kentucky, when Simmie was about ten years old. After education in the public schools of both states, Willis took courses in a private normal school, passed the teacher's exam, and became an instructor in 1898 in the county system. He was principal...

  50. EARLE CHESTER CLEMENTS (1947–1950)
    (pp. 185-190)
    THOMAS H. SYVERTSEN

    Earle Chester Clements was born October 22, 1896, in Morganfield, in staunchly Democratic Union County. His father, Aaron Waller Clements, was a successful farmer and cattle producer who was active in local politics. His mother, Sallie Anna Tuley Clements, also a native of Union County, had been raised on a nearby farm. The couple had six children, four boys and two girls, the youngest of whom was Earle.

    Although his father had served as a popular county judge and sheriff, Earle at first shunned a political career. He majored in agriculture and played varsity football at the University of Kentucky,...

  51. LAWRENCE W. WETHERBY (1950–1955)
    (pp. 191-195)
    JOHN E. KLEBER

    It is an irony of Kentucky politics that the only governor native to the state’s most populous county was Lawrence Winchester Wetherby. Born at Middletown in eastern Jefferson County on January 2, 1908, he was the son of Samuel David, a physician, and Fanny Yenowine Wetherby.

    As a youth, Wetherby worked on his father’s farms during school and in the summers. After graduating from Anchorage High School, he entered the University of Louisville’s School of Law, where he received his LL.B. degree in 1929, just four months before the stock market crash. Fortunately he was hired immediately by Judge Henry...

  52. BERT T. COMBS (1959–1963)
    (pp. 196-199)
    GEORGE W. ROBINSON

    Bert T. Combs’s personality, background, and innate progressivism matched admirably the time in which he served. Deeply sincere and honest, and ruggedly tough beneath a mild-mannered exterior, Combs was proud of Kentucky and confident about the state’s future. He recognized that the commonwealth had lagged economically behind most of the nation, and he believed improvements were long overdue. Fortunately the America of the early 1960s was a period of optimism and comparative prosperity, which made it possible to achieve the outcomes implicit in such attitudes. It mattered little that Combs did not know precisely how to accomplish all of his...

  53. EDWARD THOMPSON BREATHITT JR. (1963–1967)
    (pp. 200-205)
    KENNETH E. HARRELL

    Edward Thompson Breathitt Jr. was born in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, November 26, 1924, the only child of Edward Thompson and Mary Wallace Breathitt. The Breathitt family had a long tradition of service to Kentucky. A distant ancestor, John Breathitt, was elected governor in 1832; James Breathitt Sr., Governor Breathitt’s grandfather, served as attorney general from 1907 to 1911; and an uncle, James Breathitt Jr., was lieutenant governor from 1927 to 1931.

    Breathitt was educated in the public schools of Hopkinsville. After graduation from high school in 1942, he enlisted in the army air force and served three years. Following the war,...

  54. LOUIE B. NUNN (1967–1971)
    (pp. 206-210)
    ROBERT F. SEXTON and AL CROSS

    Louie B. Nunn was born in the town of Park in Barren County, Kentucky, on March 8, 1924, the fourth son of Waller H. and Mary Roberts Nunn. His father was a farmer and a merchant. In 1950 Nunn was married to Beula Cornelius Aspley, and they became the parents of two children, Jennie Lou and Stephen Roberts. They divorced in 1995.

    Nunn graduated from the Hiseville High School and later attended Bowling Green Business University. He left college to serve in the infantry from 1943 to 1945 and was discharged with the rank of corporal. He attended the University...

  55. WENDELL HAMPTON FORD (1971–1974)
    (pp. 211-216)
    LANDIS JONES

    Wendell Hampton Ford was born in Daviess County, Kentucky, the son of state senator Ernest M. Ford and Irene Schenk Ford, on September 8, 1924. He grew up on a farm near Thruston and often claimed during his election campaigns to be “just a country boy from Yellow Creek.” He graduated from Daviess County High School and attended the University of Kentucky, but he left college for service in the U.S. Army during World War II. In 1943 he married Jean Neel; they had two children. After his discharge as a sergeant in 1946, Ford attended the Maryland School of...

  56. JULIAN MORTON CARROLL (1974–1979)
    (pp. 217-217)
    STUART SEELY SPRAGUE and AL CROSS

    Julian M. Carroll was born in McCracken County, Kentucky, on April 16, 1931, the son of Elvie B. and Eva Heady Carroll. Elvie “Buster” Carroll was a tenant farmer, a tractor-implements salesman, and a garage owner. Julian graduated from Heath High School, where he was student body president, and in 1951 married Charlann Harting. They had four children, the last of whom, Ellynn “Elly” Carroll, born in June 1975, was the first child born to a sitting Kentucky governor since 1905. Julian received an associate of arts degree from Paducah Junior College in 1952, a bachelor of arts in political...

  57. JOHN Y. BROWN JR. (1979–1983)
    (pp. 218-228)
    MARY K. BONSTEEL TACHAU and BRUCE L. McCLURE

    John Young Brown Jr. flew into Louisville on March 27, 1979, and declared that he was a candidate for governor of the commonwealth. His announcement surprised many people in the Democratic Party, including the six other candidates for the Democratic nomination. The primary was only ten weeks away, and all six of them had been pursuing the nomination in conventional ways with varying amounts of money, energy, and political sophistication—some of them for years. Brown was not a conventional candidate, and his was not a conventional campaign. He took time out for a honeymoon with his new wife, a...

  58. MARTHA LAYNE COLLINS (1983–1987)
    (pp. 229-236)
    ED RYAN and ELIZABETH DUFFY FRAAS

    Martha Layne Collins was born Martha Layne Hall on December 7, 1936, in the small Shelby County community of Bagdad, the only child of Everett and Mary Taylor Hall. Her father had been a schoolteacher when he met Mary Taylor, one of ten children raised on a Spencer County tenant farm.

    Everett Hall later went into the funeral home business and dabbled in local county politics; his daughter was drawn to Baptist Church activities, schoolwork, and beauty contests. When she was in the sixth grade, the family moved to Shelbyville, where they started the Hall-Taylor Funeral Home. Mary Hall, a...

  59. WALLACE GLENN WILKINSON (1987–1991)
    (pp. 237-243)
    ROGER C. ADAMS

    Wallace Glenn Wilkinson was born in Casey County, Kentucky, on December 12, 1941, to Herschel and Cleo (Lay) Wilkinson. Herschel Wilkinson ran a grocery store in the county seat of Liberty, where the family moved when Wallace was a child; his family included two brothers and one sister.

    From a very early age, Wallace was keenly aware of politics. Herschel believed that their family’s financial problems were due largely to Herbert Hoover’s administration, and he made Wallace promise that he would never be a registered Republican. Herschel’s political views and the largely rural conservatism of Casey County shaped Wallace’s political...

  60. BRERETON C. JONES (1991–1995)
    (pp. 244-250)
    PENNY M. MILLER

    Brereton Chandler Jones was born June 27, 1939, and grew up on a prosperous dairy farm in the small West Virginia river community of Point Pleasant. One of six children of Nedra Wilhelm Jones and E. Bartow Jones II (a two-term state senator), Jones learned the rural values of community and family and developed the strong Christian beliefs which lay on or near the surface of his public voice.

    A football star and valedictorian in Point Pleasant’s public school system, Jones went on to play offensive and defensive end at the University of Virginia. Although for a time he considered...

  61. PAUL EDWARD PATTON (1995–2003)
    (pp. 251-263)
    PAUL BLANCHARD

    Paul E. Patton was elected Kentucky’s governor in 1995 and reelected in 1999. While one other governor, James Garrard, also served two consecutive terms (1796–1804), Patton was the first Kentucky governor ever elected to two consecutive four-year terms. As H.E. Everman has noted in his chapter on Kentucky’s second governor, Garrard’s initial selection in 1796 was by “electors” from various districts, and he was elected to a second term in 1800 after a new Kentucky constitution provided for the popular election of governors.

    Paul Patton was born on May 26, 1937, the only son of Irene and Ward Patton....

  62. ERNEST LEE FLETCHER (2003–)
    (pp. 264-268)
    AL CROSS

    The fifty-eighth governor of Kentucky brought to the office one of the most varied resumes of any American governor. Ernie Fletcher was a high school musician and in college trained to be an engineer; he entered the air force and became a fighter pilot, switched careers and established a family medical practice, moonlighted as minister of his church, served a term in the state House, and was elected three times to Congress before deciding to run for governor. He was spectacularly successful, winning the general election by a record margin for a governor of his party, but he faced major...

  63. Contributors
    (pp. 269-274)
  64. Index
    (pp. 275-296)