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Researching African American Slavery in Kentucky: Social Security, Slave Cemeteries, Mexican Slaves

Using primary sources and documents to discovery more on the history of those enslaved in Kentucky


Thousands of formerly enslaved African Americans were still alive when the Social Security Act was passed in 1935.

The formerly enslaved applicants were NOT compensated for slave labor via social security benefits.

The completed application forms contained the names of the parents of the formerly enslaved African Americans and additional information.

Revealing the identities of Mexicans enslaved in Kentucky is an ongoing area of research.

The research is ongoing to locate the names of the enslaved men who accompanied the Kentucky Volunteer Militia in the Mexican-American War, 1846-1848.

The U.S. military compensated the slave owners for the services of their slaves during the Mexican-American War.


Social Security Applications and Claims Index

The Social Security Act was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on August 14, 1935. This federal program was designed as a social insurance that would pay retired workers age 65 or older a continuing income. There were thousands of formerly enslaved African Americans who were still alive in 1935, with some of the oldest applicants reporting birthdays in the late 1820s. Hundreds of the applicants were in and from Kentucky. The applicants' ages were many times guesswork because their actual birthdates had not been recorded. Also, the enslaved had not been paid for their work prior to gaining their freedom; the Social Security benefits were based on individual earned income. The completed social security applications include information about past employment and also provides the names of parents. For the formerly enslaved, one or both parents would have also been enslaved and their names may not have been recorded in other documents.


  • U. S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2017, and the U.S. Social Security Death Index, both in (costs) and Ancestry Library Edition. 
  • U.S. Social Security Death Index is also available at Family Search. You must register to use this free resource.
  • Social Security History at The webpage provides additional information about the early benefits.



Slave Graves and Cemeteries

Slave cemeteries are located on public and private properties. Contact private property owners to get permission to visit the cemeteries on their land. Most slave cemeteries will not have headstones. It was not uncommon for slave graves to be marked with a rock or field stone. Some of the stones were etched with a name. It was less common for slaves to be buried next to those who enslave them, but it did happen (see "Madison" in EXAMPLES below, and see Charles Hedder under the Archives and Newspapers tab above). 

A browser search will bring up the names of various slave cemeteries in Kentucky, along with a link to more information and the cemetery location. The graves of those who were formerly enslaved will be found in African American Cemeteries. Use the search terms "slave cemeteries in Kentucky" and "African American Cemeteries in Kentucky."


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Mexican Slaves in Kentucky

It is not known the number of Mexicans who were brought to Kentucky by the returning militia men who had fought in the Mexican-American War, 1846-1848. The one person known for sure is Peter White who was a child when he was brought to Kentucky and enslaved by Leslie Combs who gave the child the name Peter White. With the passing of the 13th Amendment, Peter White was granted his freedom along with others who had been enslaved. Peter White was a noted jockey who died February 25, 1917, and is buried in African Cemetery #2 in Lexington, KY. On his Kentucky Death Certificate, File #3931, Registered #190, Peter White's race is given as "Col" [for Colored]. Read more about Peter White in the Notable Kentucky African Americans Database. There were enslaved men who accompanied the Kentucky militia that fought in the Mexican-American War.  

NOTE: Mexicans enslaved in Kentucky were not noted as such in the U.S. Census records or Slave Schedules. In other records, they may have been noted as colored.


Image by agustinbg / 27 from Pixabay