Piecing Together History: The Watson & Robinson Family Letters

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Please join the Kentucky Historical Society, the African-American Genealogy Group of Kentucky, and the Hopkinsville-Christian County Public Library for a community knowledge sharing event in Hopkinsville, Kentucky on July 20th!

  • When: Saturday, July 20, 2013: 10:00am-noon (knowledge sharing), 1:00-2:00pm (genealogy panel discussion), 3:00-5:00pm (knowledge sharing)

  • Where: Hopkinsville-Christian County Public Library, Hopkinsville, KY

  • What: Knowledge Sharing Event that will help connect the letters back to their community of origin, back to the families they touch, and forward to the generations wanting to learn more about their rich heritage.

  • Who Should Attend: People interested in the diverse heritage of Kentucky; People interested in learning more about their African  American roots and heritage from this region.

The KHS recently acquired a collection of 19th century letters that depict the lives of both free and enslaved Kentucky families, in Lexington and Hopkinsville. Referred to as the Watson and Robinson Families letters, these handwritten documents contain detailed family history information and offer a glimpse into the African-American communities in those two Kentucky cities.

The collection contains a total of 27 letters, with the earliest dated 1841. Locations mentioned in the letters include Hopkinsville; Lexington; Paducah; Mississippi City, Miss.; Brandon, Miss.; and Williamson County, Ill.

“These letters are really a treasure trove of family history information,” said Louise Jones, director of KHS Library and Special Collections. “They offer a rare glimpse into the lives of both free and enslaved African-Americans in Kentucky.”

The Watson family letters – penned mostly by Isabel Watson – originate in Mississippi and include news of a family’s health, activities, church and religion, births and deaths; and describe slavery in Hopkinsville. The Robinson letters – primarily written by Ferdinand Robinson - originate in Lexington and describe important family matters such as a wife’s death, the children’s health, a remarriage, the farm and freedom.

Now, historians, neighbors, genealogists and other community members are needed to help expand the knowledge base surrounding this collection, to better document the people, places and events represented in the Watson and Robinson Families Collection.

“We need the help of those who can identify the who, what, when, where and most importantly, the why. By gathering in one place and sharing our knowledge, one collection at a time, perhaps we can build greater connections and honor those who secured the foundations of our present communities,” said Cheri Daniels, KHS senior librarian and reference specialist.

The Watson and Robinson Families Letters collection was purchased by the Kentucky Historical Society Foundation, a private nonprofit organization that exists to support the mission of KHS. The letters have been cataloged and digitized and are now available for researchers. To view them, visit kyhistory.com and search for “Watson Robinson”. Specific questions about the Watson and Robinson Families Collection can be directed to the KHS Reference Desk at 502-564-1792, ext. 4460 or KHSrefdesk@ky.gov.