Kentucky Colonel

Privacy Level: Open (White)
Date: Before 1793
Location: Frankfort, Franklin, Kentucky, United Statesmap
Surnames/tags: Kentucky Colonelcy Commission
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For a grouping of persons who have received this honor see: Category: Kentucky Colonels


Kentucky Colonel

Kentucky Colonel[1] is the highest honorary title granted by the Commonwealth of Kentucky. A Kentucky Colonel Commission (the certificate) is awarded in the name of the Commonwealth by the Governor to individuals with "Honorable" titular style recognition preceding the names of civilians, for noteworthy accomplishments, contributions to civil society, remarkable deeds, or outstanding service to the community, state, or a nation. The Governor of Kentucky bestows the honorable title with a colonelcy commission, by issuance of letters patent under Common Law upon nomination by another Kentucky colonel, or by being recognized with the "Honorable" title directly by the Governor upon the recommendation of another.[2]

Since Before it was Kentucky

Originally it was believed that the tradition of the Kentucky Colonel began in 1813 during the second term of Governor Isaac Shelby after he returned from the War of 1812, after leading the Kentucky Militia on a highly successful campaign. He named one of his officers, Charles Todd, as an aide-de-camp on the Governor's staff with the rank and grade of Colonel.[3] However in 2020 based on a federal lawsuit in the US courts it was discovered that Kentucky colonelcy has a much more extensive history and dates back to 1775 in Boonesborough when the Kentucke Magna Charta was written.

First Kentucky Colonels

The history of colonels in Kentucky begins with the pioneer, Daniel Boone when he was commissioned by Col. Judge Richard Henderson of the Transylvania Company to blaze and establish the Wilderness Road with a company of men. In March 1775, Colonel Richard Henderson and Daniel Boone met with more than 1,200 indigenous Cherokee at Sycamore Shoals (present day Elizabethton in northeastern Tennessee).

Prior to the signing of the Sycamore Shoals Treaty, Col. Henderson had hired Daniel Boone, an experienced hunter, to travel to the Cherokee towns and to inform them of the upcoming negotiations. Boone had been in southeast Kentucky long before the founding of any Kentucky settlements. Afterward, Boone was commissioned a colonel to blaze what became known as the Wilderness Road, which went from Virginia through the Cumberland Gap and into central Kentucky. Along with a party of about thirty men under his authority as a colonel for the Transylvania Company, Boone marked a path to the Kentucky River, where he established Boonesborough (in present-day Madison County, Kentucky), which was intended to be the capital of Transylvania Colony.

Today it is understood that the titular use of Colonel has its roots in Colonial Virginia, some say the use of the title, Colonel in Kentucky dates back to 1774 and 1775 with Transylvania and Harrod Town colonels. Government records show that the first official "Kentucky" colonel was John Bowman, who was commissioned in the months after the territory was claimed and officially named by the Colony of Virginia in 1776 as one of its own counties. Col. Bowman's "head of colony" commission was issued by Governor Patrick Henry his mission was to "colonize" Kentucky county and form a civil government. His commission certificate reads:

"You are therefore, carefully and diligently to discharge the duty of Colonel of the Militia, by doing and performing all Manner of Things thereunto belonging; and you are to pay a ready Obedience to all Orders and Instructions which from Time to Time you may receive from the Convention, Privy Council, or any of your Superior Officers, agreeable to the Rules & Regulations of the Convention, or General Assembly, and to require all Officers and Soldiers under your command to be obedient and to aid you in the Execution of this Commission according to the Intent & Purpose thereof. Given under my Hand & Seal, -Williamsburg this 21st day of December 1776, P. Henry, Jr."

Kentucky Colonelcy: A Civil Award

Under Governor Colonel William O'Connell Bradley the Kentucky Colonel became an award of merit bestowed upon citizens for their individual contributions to the state, good deeds, and noteworthy actions. The Governor could not resist officially designating the title, he had been called "colonel" since his youth himself, having adopted the moniker in his community of Somerset, Kentucky after unsuccessfully attempting to become a soldier in the Civil War for the Union twice in 1861.

Since Governor Bradley made Kentucky colonelcy an honorific award of merit there have been approximately 250,000 awards made. The Kentucky colonel has made a significant impact on Kentucky culture, society and history dating back to before the state was founded. Most of Kentucky's counties are named after famous colonels from the state's early history, there have been hotels, drinks, stores, restaurants, baseball and basketball teams all named after the Kentucky colonel.

In the early 20th century a number of organizations were established in the form of social and fraternal clubs. One of them, established in 1933, the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels remains today and is dedicated to charitable efforts in the state.[4]

Literally hundreds of distinguished and famous people have been named as Kentucky colonels [5] such as:

  1. Kentucky Colonelcy (historical website)
  2. English Wikipedia Article
  3. HOKC History
  4. Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels
  5. Famous Kentucky Colonels

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Categories: Kentucky Colonels