From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)
Marriage license of.pdf

Hardin, William Jefferson

(born: 1831  -  died: September 13, 1889) 

Born a free person in Russellville, KY, William Jefferson Hardin was a politician, speaker, and barber. He won two elections to the Wyoming Territory Legislative Assembly (1879-1884), the first African American to do so. Hardin was a Republican legislator. He was listed as a mulatto barber in the 1875 Cheyenne, Wyoming Census (Ancestry). He later served as mayor of Park City, Utah (1884), and Leadville, Colorado. 

William J. Hardin was enumerated in the 1866 Tax Assessment List for Colorado (Ancestry). That same year, he announced his candidacy for mayor of Denver, Colorado. Hardin had left Kentucky and arrived in Colorado in 1863 when all men over the age of 21 had the right to vote. The voting law was amended in 1864 and the change took the vote away from African American men. William J. Hardin (and others) fought for the voting rights to be reinstated. The ratification of the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1870 gave all men the right to vote regardless of race.

Along with his fight for African American voting rights, William J. Hardin took it upon himself to become a spokesperson for the African American race in Denver for the sake of uplifting the race. One of his methods was to publicly scold the people for lack of manners, which was not appreciated, and Hardin was put to a distance by some of the African American leaders in Denver. Hardin used the newspapers to promote his race and political ideas. He was a newspaper agent for the New National Era that was based in Washington, D.C. Sources: "Colorado," New National Era, 10/12/1871, p.2; "Agents for the National Era," New National Era, 12/07/1871, p.4.

Hardin was in Denver, Colorado when it was learned that he had two wives. The first wife was Caroline C. Butcher, they had married in Kentucky. The marriage license was issued June 15, 1850 in Warren County, KY (see copy of license attached to this entry). The couple had a daughter, Mary Elizabeth Hardin. His second wife was Nellie Davidson, they had married in 1873 in Colorado. The news of Hardin having two wives was publicly announced in newspapers, including the article in the Leavenworth Daily Commercial, 09/19/1873, p.4. "Lit out: a man and brother runs away from two wives." One of Hardin's wives was considered an African American and one was white, described in the newspapers as "plain." Due to his having married two women, Hardin was relieved of his duties at the Denver Mint. He and Nellie moved to the Wyoming Territory. Source: "Facts and fancies," Public Ledger (Memphis, TN), 09/11/1873, p.4. 

William J. Hardin stayed with his wife Nellie and they fled to Cheyenne for fear that Caroline would carry through on her threats of legal action. She wanted her husband back. Meanwhile, William J. Hardin opened a business and was listed as a mulatto barber in the 1875 Cheyenne, Wyoming Census (Ancestry). Hardin claimed that his marriage to Caroline occurred when he was a minor and she was a slave, which to his way of thinking meant that the marriage was not legal. William J. Hardin seemed to have forgotten that Reson Hardin was named as a witness on the marriage license. In 1873, Reson Hardin was a porter in Louisville, KY. William J. Hardin was not charged with bigamy, though he still had two wives, and Caroline C. Butcher Hardin returned to Canada.

Their daughter, Mary Elizabeth Hardin, was born April 22, 1858 in Wisconsin, and she died June 21, 1906 in London, Ontario, Canada. She was married to Thornton Morris and they had a son. Sources: Ontario, Canada Marriages, and Ontario, Canada Deaths (Ancestry).

In 1884, the second wife, Nellie Davidson Hardin, was summonsed to appear in Salt Lake City, Utah Territory court for the termination of her marriage to William Jefferson Hardin. The "Legal Notice," was posted in several newspapers, including the Salt Lake Herald, 10/09/1887, p.4. The couple appeared in court the following year. Source: "In the Third District, William J. Hardin vs Nellie Hardin: in divorce: decree of divorce on account of desertion, etc.,"  The Salt Lake Herald, 04/22/1888, front page. Nellie Davidson Hardin had left her husband and eloped with another man.

William J. Hardin was a literate man who was educated by the Shakers in Kentucky, and he had been a teacher for free Colored children in Bowling Green, KY. After moving out west, Hardin gained notoriety and wealth, he was said to have had assets worth $20,000. He was living in Park City, Utah when he took his life in September of 1889. 

For more see the William Jefferson Hardin Wikipedia page; see Dictionary of American Negro Biography, by R. W. Logan & M. R. Winston; William Jefferson Hardin at the website; "Honorable W. J. Hardin...," Weekly Louisianian, 02/04/1882, p.2; "Wm J. Hardin, a negro barber...," Daily Union Vedette, 04/02/1866, p.3; William Jefferson Hardin: Wyoming's first black legislator @; Brown, Larry K. "Wyoming's first black legislator," Casper Star-Tribune, 02/08/1998, p.29; and Berwanger, Eugene H. "William J. Hardin: Colorado spokesman for racial justice, 1863-1873," Colorado Magazine, v.52, no.1, Winter 1975, pp.52-65 (online).

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Logan County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Wayne County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Russellville, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Bowling Green, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Item Relations

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Hardin, William Jefferson,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed June 15, 2024,

Last modified: 2021-08-10 02:33:33