From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Polk, James Knox (former enslaved man)

(born: 1845  -  died: 1918) 

This entry was submitted by Yvonne Giles. Additional research and sources were provided by Brenda Jackson.

According to his obituary, James Knox Polk was born into slavery January 21, 1845 on the Bosque Bonita farm, owned by Abraham Buford in Woodford County, KY. His mother Margie Johnson chose to name him for the newly-elected President of the United States.

At the outbreak of the Civil War Abraham Buford joined the Confederacy, taking James Polk with him to serve as a hostler (handler of horses). He remained with Buford throughout the war.

Polk returned to Woodford County and married Mary Bohannon in 1868. They were parents of Reuben Buford, Ellen, James Henry, Lee Christy, John Knox and Dolly Polk.

James Polk studied to become an ordained minister in 1871. He founded the Pilgrim Baptist Church at Midway, KY on the second Sunday in January, 1872. He also became a pastor at the African Baptist Church of Christ in Mortonsville, KY around 1873. That church's name was changed to Polk Memorial to honor the minister who served the congregation for 45 years.

Polk was a member and served as moderator twice of the Kentucky General Association of Baptists and also served as a delegate to the Colored People's Convention of 1898 at Lexington, KY during the Separate Coach Protest.

Polk died January 27, 1918 and was buried in Woodford County. Comments in his obituary: "Reverend James K. Polk was faithful and devoted to his ministry, a good citizen, a man of integrity and force of character, of kindliness, humility and courtesy." 

Death Certificate #5945, Woodford County, KY.

Obituaries - Lexington Leader, January 29, 1918, p. 5, col. 3; Woodford Sun, January 31, 1918 (includes photograph).

Polk Memorial Baptist - Woodford Sun, October 30, 2003, p. A3.

Kentucky Historical Society Highway Marker Program, June 22, 2008, Marker #2239.

Brenda Jackson, researcher and family member

Brenda Jackson found an 1870 census record referring to a James Polk serving in the USCT, 25th Infantry in Texas. No mention of his service was made in his obituary.
1880 Woodford County Census Index, p. 408.
1900 Woodford County Census Index, p. 167A.
1910 Woodford County Census Index, p. 238B.

Additional Sources:
"The degree of D. D. was conferred on Rev. J. K. Polk...," Blue-Grass Clipper, 2/3/1903.

"Mrs Margie Johnson, colored, aged 76..." in the column "In and About Versailles," Woodford Sun, 2/10/1898.

"Polk Memorial Church Celebrating 98th Year," Woodford Sun, 10/4/1951.

"Zebulah Baptist Church (Disbanded)" on p. 34 in Scott County Church Histories: a collection, edited by A. B. Bevins and J. R. Snyder.

More on Confederate General Abraham Buford in Marking Time in Woodford County, Kentucky, by D. C. Estridge and R. D. Bryant.

Dr. M. Myers, "General Abraham Buford: fearless cavalryman," Kentucky's Civil War, 1861-1865, 2011 Sesquicentennial Edition, pp. 32 & 36-38.

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Woodford County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Midway, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Mortonsville, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Item Relations

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Polk, James Knox (former enslaved man),” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed April 16, 2024,

Last modified: 2023-09-06 16:50:13