Twenty-nine great historical dramas for 2016-17
Kentucky Chautauqua® has brought to life more than 70 people from Kentucky's past - both famous and unknown.
Our Chautauqua performers travel to schools and community organizations throughout the state delivering historically accurate dramatizations of Kentuckians who made valuable contributions.
The current Kentucky Chautauqua cast includes 29 figures from Kentucky's rich and colorful history. From John G. Fee's fight to abolish slavery and Mary Todd Lincoln's life as America's First Lady, to Alice Lloyd's struggle to bring education to Appalachia and the humorous stories of Harland "Colonel" Sanders, Kentucky Chautauqua offers something for every classroom and community group.
Kentucky Educational Television (KET) hosted a program about Kentucky Chautauqua as part of their Kentucky Muse series. Click here for a link to that program. http://www.ket.org/muse/chautauqua/about.htm
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For information on How to Book Kentucky Chautauqua Performances, click here.
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Below you will see brief bios of some of our Chautauqua characters.
Born November 2, 1734, Boone quickly demonstrated a preference for the outdoors and established himself as an accomplished hunter and explorer. In 1767, Boone first visited Kentucky and found this new territory as beautiful as it was dangerous, as it was hotly contested by both native populations and the ever-advancing British colonists.
Boone was an intrepid adventurer and natural leader whose exploits amply justify his larger-than-life reputation. In 1784, John Filson published The Discovery, Settlement And present State of Kentucke. This influential book chronicled in detail the adventures of Boone and established him not only as an important settler and explorer of Kentucky and the west, but as an American legend.
Jemima Boone, the fourth child of Daniel and Rebecca Bryan Boone, was born in North Carolina, on October 4, 1762. Destined to live a life beyond the boarders of civilization, she helped pioneer two American frontiers: Kentucky and Missouri.
Typical of pioneers in the era, Boone endured heartbreak and suffering almost unimaginable to modern Americans. One of the most well-known stories to come out of Kentucky's pioneer past involved 14-year-old Jemima. In July 1776, Boone was kidnapped by a group of Indians. Her father led a search party that caught up with the Indians and rescued the girls after three days in captivity.
In 1777, Boone married Flanders Callaway, a union that lasted nearly 50 years. Together with the other settlers at Boonesborough, they endured times of terrible suffering, facing starvation, cold, and the ever-present fear of attack.
Madeline McDowell Breckinridge — or Madge as she preferred — was both a state and national leader of the woman's suffrage movement, and was highly instrumental getting Kentucky to ratify the 19th Amendment, granting American women the right to vote. Born in Franklin County and raised in Lexington as the great-granddaughter of Henry Clay, Madge was expected to dedicate her life to public service — bus she surpassed every expectation. While her biggest triumph was the women's suffrage movement, Madge was also a progressive reformer who worked tirelessly to advance the living conditions of the poor, established educational programs, changed the outlook of child welfare and juvenile rehabilitation, and promoted the need for tuberculosis research. Unafraid and non-apologetically, Madge used every opportunity to reach anyone who would listen. She recited countless speeches and marched in many demonstrations, calling for "Votes for Women" — and proudly cast her ballot in the U.S. Presidential Election of 1920.
One of the pioneers of early country music, Clifford Carlisle teamed with his younger brother, Bill, to form the Carlisle Brothers in the 1930s. The duo performed on Louisville radio in the 1930s, in an early manifestation of the barn-dance format. In 1938, they signed with Decca Records and during a stint on a Knoxville radio station they became the stars of two barn-dance programs. After World war II, the Carlisle Brohters signed with the King label, based in Cincinnati. There they had a huge hit, "Rainbow at Midnight," in 1946.
Born in Wakefield, Kentucky, Clifford and Bill Carlisle ere among the pioneers of country music. Their songwriting, recordings, and instrumental abilities became a part of country music history. They remain a cherished link between old-time country music and today's modern sounds.
George Rogers Clark came to Kentucky as a surveyor, but it was as a military leader during the Revolutionary War that he made his mark. In 1777, Clark won approval from Virginia governor Patrick Henry for a secret mission to attack British posts north of the Ohio River. Clark's party set up camp on Corn Island near the falls of the Ohio River in May, 1778. The next month Clark launched a campaign into present-day Illinois and Indiana, defeating the British and their Indian allies and securing the Northwest Territory for the United States. Meanwhile, the settlers Clark had brought along moved from Corn Island to the Kentucky shore, founding the city of Louisville in late 1778. His war exploits marked the peak of Clark's career. Plagued by debts, drinking and poor health, he spent his later years living in Louisville. Overshadowed by his brother William, of Lewis and Clark fame, he never got the credit he thought he had earned.
Above all, Henry Clay wanted to be president. Despite never quite making it, Clay played a large role in the history of his country, which he served as a senator, speaker of the house, and secretary of state.
Born and educated in Virginia, Clay moved to Kentucky and set up a law practice in Lexington in 1797. Elected to the state legislature in 1803, he took a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1810. For more than 40 years he was a major player on the national political scene. Slavery posed a great political and personal quandary for Clay. A slaveholder himself, he advocated gradual emancipation and colonization in Africa. He opposed extension of slavery into the new western states, but argued Congress had no right to interfere with slavery where it already existed. Attacking abolitionists in 1839, he said he would "rather be right than president." The speech cost him the 1840 Whig presidential nomination.
In 1918, Lilley Cornett was drafted to be ship out to the frontlines in France. He suffered an injury during basic training and never left the country. After spending a year recovering in Baltimore, Cornett returned to Letcher County. But in his absence, his home had been transformed. The coal mines were booming and Cornett went to work shoveling coal, and saving his wages to purchase land around his birthplace.
Local timber buyers were interested in Cornett's land. His 500 acres was lush with trees, many as large as six-feet in diameter. Cornett refused to sell his forest property to developers seeking to get rich from the timber.
When he died in 1958, Cornett owned the entire tract of land now known as the Lilley Cornett Woods. Bought on a miner's wage in the 1920s and 1930s, the Lilley Cornett Woods is the only place in Kentucky that looks as it did before the 18th European invasion.
Born near Fairview, Kentucky, in 1808, Jefferson Davis moved to Louisiana and Mississippi before returning to Kentucky to attend Transylvania University. Had Davis had not joined the secession movement and served as President of the Confederate States of America, he likely would be remembered as one of Kentucky's most respected native statesmen instead of one of our nation's most controversial renegades. Davis served the United States with distinction in two wars, and in both chambers of Congress. As Secretary of War he supported or promoted a number of improvements to strengthen the United States Army and the government's infrastructure.
For all of his contribution to the confidence and character of the United States, it was Davis's role in the creation of the Confederacy, a nation of defectors, that enshrines his legacy not as a man who loved his country, but as a man who left it.
Following the performance, the audience will have the opportunity to discuss the controversial emotional and political issues raised in the performance, and their relevance to today.
The daughter of George and Rachel Stanley, Charlotte Dupuy was born in Cambridge, Maryland, in 1787. Her parents were owned and enslaved by Daniel Parker. Eight short years later, Dupuy was sold to James Condon for $100 and was forced to leave her family.
In 1805, at the age of 18, Charlotte was brought to Kentucky by Mr. Condon and was registered as his slave. While in Kentucky she met Aaron Dupuy, who was enslaved by Henry Clay and his wife, Lucretia. Charlotte and Aaron were married in 1806 and Charlotte was sold to the Clay family.
In 1825, the Clay family moved to Washington, D.C. as Henry Clay served as Secretary of State. Charlotte found a lawyer who filed papers for her and her children, suing for their freedom. Her petition was denied and Charlotte was jailed for refusing to return to Kentucky with the Clays. She was later emancipated by Henry Clay in 1840.
As the son of a slave-holding father, John Gregg Fee witnessed firsthand the benefits of having slaves and the profits that could be made from their labor. When he graduated from college and enrolled in Lane Theological Seminary, Fee began to understand the inherent wrong and destructiveness of slavery. He was determined to become an abolitionist and work for the immediate end to slavery. He was determined to become and Abolitionist and work for the immediate end to slavery. Fee committed his life and work to ending slavery and discrimination at home in Kentucky.
Fee's dedication and passion for the abolishment of slavery gave him the strength to persevere through the wrath and disappointment of his father, financial hardship, and threats to his safety. His work led to the founding of Union Church of Christ, an anti-slavery, non-denominational church, which planted the seeds for what would become Berea College.
When Governor Isaac Shelby was tasked with raising troops for a war with the British and the Indians, Kentuckians responded with fervor. William Greathouse was one of more than 3,500 Kentuckians who answered Shelby's call to arms in 1813. Just a teenager, Greathouse joined the troops because he strongly opposed the British occupation and the Indian Confederacy. Greathouse mustered in on August 24, 1813, in Nelson County.
Greathouse took part in the Battle of Thames, considered the turning point of the war. In a battle that lasted less than an hour, the American troops, the majority of whom were from Kentucky, destroyed the Indian Confederacy and drove the British occupants out of Upper Canada.
With humor and pride in his home state, Private Greathouse's story tells of his personal contributions to American history, and explains Kentucky's vital role in America's "Second War for Independence."
Johnny Green was 19 when the Civil War broke out. He was one of the few soldiers in the Orphan Brigade alive when it ended. Orphan Brigade soldiers were unable to return to their home state of Kentucky until the war was over — lest they be tried for treason — because they chose to fight for the Confederacy. Though he had learned to love the Union, as his mother was from Boston, Massachusetts, Green felt passionately that states should have the right to govern themselves. And when President Abraham Lincoln called for men and arms, Green left his job in Florence, Alabama, to travel to Bowling Green, Kentucky, to join the Confederacy on the day before his 20th birthday. Green's story, as detailed in a journal he wrote for his daughters years later, provides extraordinary accounts of courage and bravery, and brings the story of the Orphan Brigade to life.
During his 33 years on the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice John Marshall Harlan dissented in some of the court's most important civil rights cases.
In one of the most famous dissents in history, Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld the constitutionality of segregation, Harlan wrote: "Our constitution is color-blind, and neither knows or tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law."
Though Harlan was born in Boyle County to a prominent slaveholding family, and was once a slaveholder himself, he fought for the Union during the Civil War after graduating from Centre College and earning his law degree at Transylvania.
He was often chastised for contradicting himself politically, but Harlan always maintained that the law afforded him the right to change his mind — and his support for equal rights after the Civil War never waned.
As the sister of Mary Todd Lincoln and the wife of Confederate Gen. Benjamin Hardin Helm, Emilie Todd Helm had a front row view of history during and after the Civil War. Benjamin Helm turned down a personal offer from Lincoln to become paymaster of the Union Army with the rank of major, choosing instead to join the Confederacy and become the president's "rebel brother-in-law." After Helm was killed at Chickamauga, President and Mrs. Lincoln invited Emilie to come to the White House. As a southern loyalist and widow of the commander of the famous Orphan Brigade, her presence in the White House aroused protests.
She weathered the ordeals of the war and reconstruction and landed in Elizabethtown. Three consecutive presidents appointed her postmistress. Helm attended many Confederate reunions, where she was hailed as the mother of the Orphan Brigade.
*This program is targeted at high school audiences and older.
Friends and law partners for 18 years, Billy Herndon felt he knew Abraham Lincoln better than Lincoln knew himself. Herndon was confident his biography of Lincoln would tell a story that was honest and true to Lincoln's character.
After Lincoln's assassination, Herndon dedicated his life to collecting materials for a definitive biography of the 16th president. When it was published 24 years later, critics labeled Herndon as an angry alcoholic who painted a negative portrait of Lincoln. In Herndon's eyes, however, he presented Lincoln unvarnished, a great man in all his humanity. Is Herndon's story the true story of Abraham Lincoln? You be the judge.
A native of Kentucky's Green County, Herndon presents an intimate portrait of Lincoln's political awakening and the development of his views on slavery in the years up to and through the Civil War.
When the Night Riders attacked the Hollowell farm in Caldwell County on the night of May 2, 1907, one of them boasted, "We Night Riders fear no judge or jury!" Young Price Hollowell made them eat those words in one of the most remarkable episodes of the Black Patch War, a western Kentucky conflict that featured mayhem and murder.
Low tobacco prices caused the Black Patch War. The American Tobacco Company was paying less for dark tobacco than it cost farmers to grow it. Farmers fought back by forming the Planters' Protective Association, whose members withheld tobacco from the market. When this strategy did not produce higher prices, the Night Riders resorted to violence against farmers who refused to honor the boycott. The Night Riders ran the Hollowells out of the state, but they returned, filed a federal lawsuit, and, thanks in large part to Price's testimony, won damages of $35,000.
Feisty, funny, and completely fearless, Aunt Molly Jackson lived for nearly 50 years in the coal camps of Southeastern Kentucky, where her father, brothers, husband, and sons were miners. In the camps, Aunt Molly delivered babies, nursed the sick, organized for the union, and wrote songs that described the miners' lives. Alan Lomax, who collected Aunt Molly's songs for the Library of Congress, said, "Her songs of protest can only be matched by those of Woody Guthrie, but they were more passionate than his, and they cut deeper." When Theodore Dreiser and his committee of writers visited Harlan and Bell counties in 1931 to investigate conditions in the coalfields, Aunt Molly impressed them with her eloquence and with her intimate knowledge of life in the camps. As a result, Dreiser urged her to come to New York, where her heartfelt songs and lively stories made her a popular spokesperson for the striking miners and their families.
Louis Marshall Jones, better known as Grandpa, was the son of Henderson County sharecroppers. Jones, who had a repertoire of songs learned from his parents and the radio, won a talent contest that led to regular work on an Akron radio station. That launched a career that lasted more than 60 years. It was during tours with country music star Bradley Kincaid in the 1930s that Jones developed the Grandpa persona he used the rest of his life.
Jones wrote many of his most popular songs. Like many old-time musicians, he struggled during the rock-and-roll craze of the 1950s — he toured Canada and tried his hand at early television. Beginning in 1969, television brought Jones fame as a member of the original cast of "Hee Haw," which showcased his skills as a vaudeville comic. Grandpa Jones was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1978. He never retired, suffering a fatal stroke after a performance at the Grand Ole Opry in 1998.
Thinking he had killed a boy, Simon Kenton fled from Virginia at age By the time he was 20, Kenton had fetched up on the Kentucky shore of the Ohio River in what is now Mason County. He carved out a remarkable career as an explorer and frontiersman. A self-appointed welcomer-in-chief, he greeted early settlers as they arrived in what was then the far west.
His Life and Period: A crippled up old Simon reminisces, telling his life's story. Respected for his knowledge of the land and competence as a woodsman by pioneers and Indians alike, Kenton was a key figure in opening up and keeping the frontier safer for all of north and central Kentucky.
Kentucky Scout: The Indians knew Kenton as "the man whose gun is never empty" for his skill of running and reloading his faithful flintlock at the same time. He risked his life to save many future Kentuckians, not the least of whom was his lifelong friend Daniel Boone.
Lily May Ledford grew up in a musical family in eastern Kentucky's Red River Gorge, and wanted a fiddle so badly that she traded her most precious possession — a box of crayons — for a broken-down instrument that didn't have strings, tuning pegs or a bow. She would became more well known for banjo picking than fiddling, but that old fiddle helped launch a career that brought Lily May and her Kentucky mountain music a national audience.
In 1936, Ledford went to Chicago to perform on WLS Radio's National Barn Dance. The next year her manager assembled a string band featuring Ledford's distinctive banjo style. Called the Coon Creek Girls, it was the first all-female string band. In 1939, the group began an 18-year run on the Renfro Valley Barn Dance radio show. That same year they played at the White House for President and Mrs. Roosevelt and their guests, the King and Queen of England. The Coon Creek Girls disbanded in 1957.
Born on a farm in what is now Larue County, Kentucky, Abraham Lincoln spent his early years in the Commonwealth. His family moved to Indiana when he was 7, partly because of his father's opposition to slavery. But as his native brilliance and burning political ambition carried him to the presidency and greatness, Lincoln always had connections with his native state.
In his law office in Springfield, Illinois, he had a law partner from Green County, Kentucky, named William Herndon. His best friend in Springfield was Joshua Speed, a son of Louisville's prominent Speed family; and in Springfield he found a wife from Kentucky, Mary Todd, the daughter of a well-known Lexington family. Lincoln visited Kentucky to see the Speeds and his in-laws, and took the great Kentucky statesman Henry Clay as his political hero.
Mary Todd Lincoln lived a life of tremendous achievement and great tragedy. Born to a prominent Lexington family in 1818, she was uncommonly educated and politically-minded. She married lawyer and state legislator Abraham Lincoln in 1842.
Mary had high ambitions for her husband's political career, in which she was both influential and instrumental. He was inaugurated as the 16th President in 1861.
Mary's years in the White House were some of the most tumultuous; while her husband worked to unite a nation divided by the Civil War, Mary renovated the run-down presidential residence into a stately mansion — cementing her reputation as a force to be reckoned with.
While politically triumphant, the Lincolns' personal lives were filled with tragedy, but this did not deter them from their commitment to the Union.
Born in Athol, Massachusetts, in 1876, Alice Spencer Geddes Lloyd was educated at Chauncey Hall and Radcliffe College. She worked as a journalist in New England and in 1915, packed up her printing equipment and left her New England home for the mountains of Kentucky.
Despite the difficulties Alice faced connecting with and gaining acceptance of the people of eastern Kentucky, she remained in the area because she believed in the good that one person can do for others.
With the help of June Buchanan, Alice established Caney Junior College. She wanted to provide students with a free education and worked without salary and was forced to seek outside financial assistance to accomplish that goal.
Despite suffering from partial paralysis on her right side, Alice successfully directed the college for almost 40 years. Upon her death in 1962, the school was renamed Alice Lloyd College.
On Christmas Day 1809, 1,000 miles away from the nearest hospital and 35 years before the discovery of anesthesia, Dr. Ephraim McDowell removed a 22-pound ovarian tumor from the abdomen of a 46-year-old woman. It was the world's first ovariotomy, and it eventually brought McDowell worldwide acclaim as the father of abdominal surgery. The patient, Jane Todd Crawford, had ridden three days on horseback to reach McDowell's home in Danville, Kentucky, to have the operation. The medical authorities of the day were convinced that opening the abdomen meant certain death, so McDowell was far from sure that the surgery would succeed. He told Crawford he would proceed only if she "thought herself prepared to die." She said she was ready, but they needn't have worried. Mrs. Crawford came through with flying colors and in less than a month was on the way home to Green County.
Harold Henry Reese got his famous nickname Pee Wee from a marble he used when he was a boy. The name fit because he turned out to be a man of modest stature, but by every measure you could apply to an athlete — teamwork, leadership, determination, winning, grace under pressure — Pee Wee Reese was a giant. Born in Meade County, Kentucky, Reese grew up in Louisville. At 19, he quit his job at the telephone company to play professional baseball for the Louisville Colonels. By 1940, he was playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers. As captain, shortstop, and lead-off man, he led the Dodgers to seven pennants and, in 1955, a World Series win. Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984, his plaque there also records the powerful example he set when Jackie Robinson joined the Dodgers in 1947 as the major leagues' first black player. Reese's acceptance and support of Robinson were instrumental in breaking down baseball's color barrier.
During the 42 years he coached the University of Kentucky men's basketball team, Adolph Rupp raised the game to near-religious status in the Commonwealth. Rupp's teams won 880 games, four national championships, and one Olympic gold medal. There was a flip side to all this success — the team was suspended for the 1952-53 season after a point-shaving scandal, and Rupp was heavily criticized for taking too long to integrate the Kentucky basketball program.
Adolph Rupp grew up in Kansas, the son of immigrant farmers. He played three years of varsity basketball at the University of Kansas, but never scored a point. He began his coaching career in Kansas, but soon moved on to high schools in Iowa and Illinois. The University of Kentucky hired him in 1930. Rupp's genius for public relations and his team's winning ways combined to make Kentucky basketball a statewide phenomenon, a point of pride around which Kentuckians of all stripes still rally.
Although he is most well-known for the 11 herbs and spices that made Kentucky Fried Chicken famous world-wide, Harland "Colonel" Sanders' life was about much more than fried chicken. The man whose face became synonymous with "finger-lickin' good" chicken used hard work and perseverance to become recognized as Kentucky's most famous citizen.
Sanders delved into the restaurant business in Corbin, opening a lunchroom behind a service station. His restaurant grew rapidly , and his customers made fried chicken the most popular item on the menu. He might have worked in that cafe forever if it weren't for the building of interstate 75, forcing him to sell his place at auction.
In his mid-60s, Sanders decided to travel the country showing restaurants how to make Colonel Sanders' Kentucky Fried Chicken. By 1963, there were more than 600 outlets selling his chicken.
When the first Shakers arrived in Kentucky, they built their village at Pleasant Hill on the western frontier, where they lived a privileged, communal life as educated artisans with their "hands to work and their hearts to God." The Shakers empowered women, freed slaves and served as an army of peacemakers during the Civil War.
Within months of her arrival at Pleasant Hill, Mary Settles worked together with her Shaker sisters and brothers to provide the 'simple gifts" of food and medical care to the armies of both North and South. The last Shaker to live at Pleasant Hill, Mary Settles served as an eldress, deaconess, and teacher of women, maintaining the highest educational standards for the public school at Pleasant Hill. The story of these revolutionary Kentuckians is affirming of our nation's courageous history of passive resistance in the fight for civil rights and offers a vision of social justice for our future.
Mark Twain, born Samuel Clemens, was a powerful observer of human nature. Born November 30, 1835, Twain penned several novels including two major classics of American literature, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He was also a riverboat pilot, humorist, lecturer, journalist, publisher, and inventor. His mother, Jane Lampton, was born in Adair County, Kentucky, where she met Clemens' father. They married and lived two years in Columbia before moving to Tennessee and then on to Missouri.
Through his characters and stories, Twain single-handedly put American literature on the map. Ernest Hemingway was quoted as saying, Mark Twain lived many lifetimes in one, traveled much and entertained multitudes with his particular sense of humor. But that humor was borne on the back of great sorrow and many personal tragedies. He was irreverent, irascible, and had a razor-sharp wit. He is an American icon.