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Birth Year : 1821
Death Year : 1857
Stephen Bishop was 17 years old in 1838 when both he and Mammoth Cave were purchased by Franklin Gorin, a Kentucky attorney. A year later, they were both sold to Dr. John Croghan. Bishop, the first African American cave explorer, was the first guide and explorer of Mammoth Cave, the world's longest cave system. He knew the cave system better than all others, which made him a responsible tour guide. He also made a published map of the cave. After receiving his freedom, Bishop had planned to take his wife Charlotte and their son to live in Liberia, Africa, but he died before he could do so. Stephen Bishop is buried in the cemetery near the entrance to Mammoth Cave. For more see Kentucky's Black Heritage, by the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights; In Remembrance (pdf); The Encyclopedia of Louisville, ed. by J. E. Kleber; and J. C. Schmitzer, "The sable guides of Mammoth Cave," Filson Club History Quarterly, 1993, vol. 67, issue 2, pp. 240-258.
Subjects: Explorers, Freedom, Liberia, Liberian Presidents & Diplomats, Parks
Geographic Region: Mammoth Cave National Park, Edmonson County, Kentucky
Birth Year : 1758
Death Year : 1836
Caesar, born into slavery, was a carpenter. In 1733, he was inherited by James Robertson. Caesar accompanied Robertson on his journey to the Natchez District and on to Fort Nelson (Louisville, KY). When Robertson died, Caesar became the property of Philip Barbour, who then sold him to John Campbell. When Campbell died, his heir, William Beard, brought Caesar to Lexington, KY, where he lived for the remainder of his life. For more see The Encyclopedia of Louisville, ed. by J. E. Kleber.
Subjects: Explorers, Inheritance, Carpenters
Geographic Region: Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky
Death Year : 1851
Rheubin, from Bowling Green, KY, was a slave owned by Samuel Murrell, one of the largest slaveholders in Warren County, KY. In 1849, Rheubin accompanied Murrell's son, George McKinley Murrell, to California in search of the gold that had been discovered in 1848. Rheubin was one of the earliest bondsmen from Kentucky to make the trek west in search of riches. He would remain a slave once he and Murrell reached their destination. After a year and a half of hard labor and no gold, Rheubin asked to return to his family in Kentucky. But young George Murrell was not ready to leave; instead, he hired Rheubin out as a cook. By 1851, Rheubin was dead. Murrell knew nothing about the circumstances surrounding his sudden death, but he surmised that Rheubin had succumbed to the cholera epidemic that was spreading in the nearby towns and camps where Rheubin had been sent to work. George Murrell returned to Kentucky in 1854; he did not strike it rich in California and, though he wrote his family about his good intentions, never recovered Rheubin's body. For more see A. S. Broussard, "Slavery in California revisited, the fate of a Kentucky slave in Gold Rush California," Pacific Historian, vol. 29, issue 1 (1985), pp. 17-21.
Subjects: Bakers, Cooks and Chefs, Explorers, Migration West
Geographic Region: Bowling Green, Warren County, Kentucky / California
York, a slave whom William Clark inherited from his father, was the first African American to cross North America. York came to Jefferson County, KY, with Clark to live on the family plantation, Mulberry Hill. In 1803 York accompanied Clark on the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1803-1806); he was known as Big Medicine to the Indians. A while after the expedition, York was freed; the date and place of his death is not known. For more see In Search of York by R. Betts; The Encyclopedia of Louisville, ed. by J. E. Kleber; and Buffalo Dance, the journey of York, by F. X. Walker.
Subjects: Explorers, Inheritance
Geographic Region: Jefferson County, Kentucky