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KHS Resources on Immigrants & Refugees

With the current talk about immigrants and refugees in the news, it is useful to understand that questions related to immigration and refugees are not new.  The KHS resources below document stories of immigration and show how Kentuckians across the centuries dealt with these questions.

Civil War Governors of Kentucky

  • The Caroline Chronicles. An African American war refugee is accused of murder in 1863 Louisville. A podcast, blog series, and classroom activity reveals the debate over her future between citizens, leaders, and faith groups.
  • Translation: William Brockman.” Two German immigrants get in a deadly altercation in the suburbs of Louisville. Read about how CWGK used their story to map 1860s social networks.
  • William DeB. Morrill, August 8, 1865. A war widow and refugee from Rockcastle Co. flees after guerrilla fighters burned her farm, killed her livestock, and wounded one of her children.
  • C. F. Hagedorn to James F. Robinson, April 9, 1863. A Bavarian diplomat asks the Governor of Kentucky “about womens rights in your Commonweath” on behalf of potential immigrants to Kentucky.
  • Thomas E. Bramlette, Annual Message, December 1865. At the end of the Civil War, the Governor of Kentucky lays out the danger of state immigration laws directed at recently emancipated African Americans—while still arguing to limit the civil rights African Americans were afforded in Kentucky and elsewhere in the United States.  “[S]ome State, in order to force the freedmen from its limits, and prevent others from immigrating thereto, would adopt laws so hostile as to amount to worse than enslavement; others would, in self-defense, pursue similar and more stringent enactments;… and thus this unfortunate race would be driven by persecuting laws, with no place of refuge and no means of defense, until the voice of the civilized world would be raised against the iniquity of our proceedings.”


Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

  • Nancy D. Baird, ed., “Josie Underwood’s Civil War Diary, Part Two,” vol. 112, no. 3 (Summer 2014). A wealthy Bowling Green native and Civil War refugee flees the destruction of her home town, goes on a diplomatic tour of Europe, and resettles in San Francisco.
  • Lee Shai Weissbach, “Kentucky Jewry During the Civil War,” vol. 110, no. 2 (Spring 2012). By the 1860s, Louisville had a flourishing Jewish community that supported two synagogues, catering to German and Polish immigrant communities.


Historical Markers

  • Marker #955: Ottenheim (Lincoln County) Kentucky created the State Commission of Immigration in 1880 to encourage European immigration to the commonwealth. Jacob Ottenheimer bought land in Lincoln County, established Ottenheim, and settled German, Swiss, and Austrian immigrants in the Kentucky.
  • Marker #1965: Camp Nelson Refugee Camp (Jessamine County) Established in 1863, Camp Nelson was home to African American war refugees who fled slavery even before Kentucky African American men could muster into the United States Colored Troops (USCT). Camp Nelson was the largest recruiting and training center for the USCT in Kentucky. It was also the chief center for issuing emancipation papers to former slaves.
  • Marker #2129 St. Andrew’s Catholic Church (Jefferson County) Established in 1851, St. Andrews was built on land donated by Prussian immigrant John Jacob Wiser. Original church featured Stations of the Cross in English, German, and French.
  • Marker #2205 “Bloody Monday” and American (Know-Nothing) Party (Jefferson County) August 6, 1855 attacks on German and Irish immigrants in Louisville by Know-Nothing mobs. At least 22 people died in the riots. The Know-Nothings were an anti-immigrant, nativist political party, which feared Catholic immigrants and accused them of threatening democracy and Protestantism. By 1854, the Know-Nothings controlled the Jefferson County government. The party divided over slavery and ceased to exist, in that form, after the Civil War.


Kentucky Oral History Commission Collections



  • Our New Kentucky Home: Immigrant Experiences Exhibition This exhibition shares the stories of immigrants who have come to Kentucky to create a better life for themselves and their families. From early settlement in the 1770s to the present day, immigrants experience hardships, challenges, successes, and joys as they make Kentucky their home.






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