African Americans at Riverside
Gabriel Farnsley, the builder of the historic house at Riverside, owned slaves.
Court documents filed in the settlement of Farnsley’s estate (Farnsley died in 1849), reveal the harsh reality of the lives of enslaved African Americans. On February 25, 1850, thirteen slaves formerly owned by Gabriel Farnsley were sold at public auction on the steps of the courthouse in Louisville along with all of Farnsley’s other “property.” The Decree of Sale names each slave and lists the age: “Tom about 55, Peter 19, Henry 13, Jim 7, Anna 40, Eliza 21, Emily 17, Milly 10, Mary Ann 8, Martha [illegible] years old, Josephine 18 and Mary Ann (child of Emily) about 8 months old.” The Record of Sale lists the sale price of each individual. These thirteen individuals, likely representing a couple of families, were sold to eight different new masters.
Like Farnsley, the Moremen family owned slaves.
Records from the year 1860 show the family owned 23 slaves, a very significant number for Kentucky. For comparison, the largest slaveholder in Jefferson County, Kentucky in that same year owned 56 slaves.
Slaves in Kentucky were not freed until the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified in 1865.
At present, almost nothing is known about what happened to the slaves owned by the Moremen family after the Civil War. Bits and pieces of evidence, including oral history tradition, suggest that some African Americans continued to live and work on the Riverside property following the abolition of slavery–some may have been former slaves.
Archaeological research begun in 2000 on a former slave house promise to be one of the richest sources of additional information regarding the lives of the African Americans who lived and worked at Riverside before 1865. The continuation of this research is a priority for Riverside.