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Historical Figures & Notable Natives

The History of Carlisle and Nicholas County:

A Look into Our Rich Past

Image by Erica Marsland Huynh

John Rankin & the Underground Railroad

  • Slaves breaking away from pre-Civil War bondage traveled what became known as "The Underground Railroad." The path to safety lay through Nicholas County, as well as other areas leading toward Ohio and north to freedom in Canada.

  • John Rankin, a native of eastern Tennessee, was from an early age strongly and deeply opposed to slavery. A minister by profession, he determined to move his wife and young famiy to Ohio, where slavery was not practiced. On the way, and short on funds, he stopped in Carlisle, Kentucky. The Concord Presbyterian Church needed a minister, and Rankin filled that role from 1817 to 1821, before moving on to Ripley, Ohio. There, he and his growing family worked with like-minded friends to welcome slaves escaping across the Ohio River and to send them on to other safe houses. In this manner slaves moved along a chain to freedom.

  • While Nicholas County's rugged landscape made it less profitable to work slaves, there were slaves in the county. One country home, the Hayden-Briarly farm on Somerset Road in the southern part of the county, had until recently shackles for slaves in its basement. But, tradition also holds that safe houses, such as the house at 105 West Chestnut Street in Carlisle, provided slaves with a place to rest, before they continued their journey.

  • Travelers interested in the subject may also want to visit the Underground Railroad in Maysville, Kentucky, as well as the National Underground Railroad in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the Rankin home in Ripley, Ohio.

Henry Clay, a friend of Nicholas County

  • Henry Clay (1777 - 1852) was one of the foremost national statesmen of his day, admired by, among many others, his fellow Kentuckian, Abraham Lincoln.

  • After establishing a law practice in Lexington, Clay served in the State Legislature and also taught at Transylvania University in Lexington. He was a senator from Kentucky during the turbulent 1830's and '40's, when the national struggled with issues which ultimately led to the Civil War.

  • Clay's friendships included several in Nicholas County. Visiting Thomas Metcalfe, tenth governor of Kentucky, at his home on what is now Highway 68, he exclaimed, "Tom, you have a veritable forest retreat here," and the name remains to this day. Another prominent Nicholas Countian, Thompson S. Parks, lived at Parks Hill on the Licking River and entertained Clay, as he went to and from Washington, D. C. One of Parks' descendents treasures a flo-blue dinner plate which, family history holds, was part of a set presented to Parks by Clay. Clay is also remembered for his gift of gingko trees for county friends. One still stands on property at the corner of Locust and North Street in Carlisle.

Historical Figures

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Notable Natives

Carlisle's Inventors & Authors

Nicholas County resident Leason T. Barlow is credited by some with having invented the Barlow knife, and R.C. King of Carlisle obtained a patent for a bluegrass seed stripper around 1870. The county has produced several authors, including Barbara Kingsolver, who wrote The Bean Trees (1988); Frank Mathias, who wrote G.1. Jive (1982); and Eslie Asbury, who wrote Horse Sense and Humor in Kentucky (1981). Walter Tevis, who wrote The Hustler (1959), taught for one year at Carlisle High School.

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