Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Questions and Answers about Kentucky Colonels

Both the public and Kentucky colonels alike have many questions about Kentucky colonels and about the Order of the Kentucky Colonel. Some questions are considered Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) so we have developed this FAQ Page to help answer some of them.

Kentucky State Seal
State Seal of the Commonwealth of Kentucky

How do you become a Kentucky Colonel?

Anyone over the age of 18 can become a Kentucky colonel. Traditionally only another Kentucky colonel can nominate someone to become a Kentucky colonel or they can be recognized and selected by the Governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The best way to become a Kentucky Colonel is to know one who is willing to nominate you.

Can you apply to become a Kentucky Colonel?

No, a person cannot apply to become a Kentucky colonel. Kentucky colonelcy is based on being nominated to become recognized by the seated Governor of Kentucky or being recognized by the governor directly.

Do you have to be from Kentucky to become a Kentucky Colonel?

No, Kentucky colonels can be from anywhere in the world. Currently there are more than 100,000 Kentucky colonels living in more than 70 countries around the world.

The Governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky can recognize anyone living anywhere in the world based on their deeds, noteworthy actions, or their accomplishments. Generally the governor only recognizes those who either have or who demonstrate their deeds or actions in connection with the state, however as an honorary award the governor frequently has been known to recognize those who have the potential to serve the needs of the state through their recognition.

What does a Kentucky Colonel actually do?

Kentucky colonels are officially the goodwill ambassadors of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, they are commissioned by the governor as civilian offers who are recognized as the governor's aide-in-camp. Their unnamed and unspecified task is to promote the cultural and traditional values of the Commonwealth of Kentucky in their everyday lives.

Although Kentucky colonels receive 'letters patent' it is a traditional award of merit and an honorable title that is bestowed by the head-of-state to recognize the individual to whom it is given based on their deeds, accomplishments, noteworthiness, or contributions to the community, state or nation in which they live.

Who was the first Kentucky colonel?

There is some debate as to who the first Kentucky colonel actually was. According to Wikipedia it was Charles Stewart Todd, who was commissioned unilaterally by Governor Isaac Shelby in 1815 as an aide-de-camp on the Governor's Staff with the rank and grade of colonel. Others say it was Richard M. Johnson who was commissioned by the Kentucky Legislature in 1813, almost 2 years earlier. Prior to that when 'Kentucke' was still a territory prior to its statehood there was the great Daniel Boone who was commissioned in 1780 when the state was made up of three Virginia counties. So if someone asks who the first Kentucky colonel was Col. Daniel Boone is the best answer.

It should also be understood that the honorable title of the Kentucky Colonel did not emerge as a civilian award until 1885 under Governor William O'Connell Bradley. As we understand when he was very young when he tried to fight in the Civil War and was removed by his father (twice). Both times, his father removed him from the service because of his young age. Despite having only this few months of service to his credit, he was referred to as "Colonel Bradley" by many for the rest of his life. He used and carried as his moniker "Colonel" to become a page in the Kentucky House of Representatives and gained enough experience to get an honorary law degree from Kentucky University. By the time he became the governor, he knew many colonels (a title of respect in the South)as it was understood in the day that applying the title was a form of address to recognize distinguished and well-respected gentlemen. In his writings he uses it hundreds of times to confer respect to many of his friends and law colleagues.

We could not find any text based citations online of his commissions, they were probably done in person as a gesture of recognition. In 1890 a book was written about Kentucky colonels by Opie Read entitled, A Kentucky Colonel, a book that was very popular in its day. In 1920 a film was made based on the book.

How many organizations are there for Kentucky colonels?

There are a number of benevolent, civil, charitable, fraternal and membership associations or organizations that have been established around the world which base their membership on a person being recognized as a Kentucky Colonel.

  • In Kentucky there are 5 organizations that coordinate local activities.
  • World-wide there are 12 or more organizations that are based on a person being recognized by the Governor of Kentucky.

The largest and most dominant of these organizations has been "The Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels" which is a charitable 501(c)(3) organization which was started in 1932 and was consolidated as a Kentucky corporation in 1957. It is dedicated to funding good works throughout the state of Kentucky and holds several fundraising events per year. They implicitly offer free honorary membership to those who are commissioned and donate to their Good Works Fund each year. The organization is operated by a Board of Trustees which they call their Generals. The organization is community oriented and helps Kentucky colonels find volunteer opportunities locally.

The second largest organization the "Kentucky Colonel Foundation" is a fraternal membership and international civil society organization. Which is now under reformation and development which was started originally in 1998. The organization is decentralized online and developed to include all participants no matter where they live in the world. It is the same organization that dominates Facebook and uses the social media to provoke activism.

How can a Kentucky Colonel use their "Honorable" title?

In the formal sense of protocol, a Kentucky colonel is always addressed or referred to with the title "Honorable" before his or her name inside the state when it is known; outside the state they may use the full title "Kentucky Colonel" before his or her name. Most often among friends and colleagues this is shortened to serve as a moniker or nickname to just "Colonel".

Since the honorable title is a customary and traditional one it is often used to defer respect and honor, however it should not be used when presenting oneself or another Kentucky colonel as "Colonel" or "Col." to the United States Government, in another state or in another country because it could be confused with the proper official title of a military colonel. The title may be expressed in other places outside of the realm of Kentucky as "Ambassador" or "Kentucky Colonel" as a formal title. The style can also be represented as a position in representation of the state as an aide-in-camp following a person's proper name as "Kentucky Colonel", as "Goodwill Ambassador", or most precisely "Ambassador of Goodwill for the Commonwealth of Kentucky".

What are the duties of a Kentucky Colonel?

As a meritory award and honorable title there are no dutiful obligations connected with being recognized as a Kentucky Colonel. Those who are recognized however are expected to be outstanding citizens and public figures, respectful of others, and law abiding.

Kentucky colonels are not paid a salary by the state, however many individuals and public figures including actors, athletes, musicians , professionals, and even diplomats who become Kentucky colonels have been known to present themselves as paid speakers promoting Kentucky history, values, traditions, and customs in public and private venues.

It is also a commission that can be rescinded or revoked based on a person's conduct in society or if it is gained by deception. There are few examples of this occurring, however is not very frequent, as most of those who are recognized truly deserve to be distinguished and carry the recognition with them throughout their lives. There is a story of how a news reporter once got a commission for a dog he named Waldo Wrecker, his commission was of course revoked when it was discovered he was not a person.

Was Colonel Saunders really a Kentucky Colonel?

Yes, Harland David Sanders received the commission of the Kentucky Colonel in 1935. He is also the most famous of all the Kentucky colonels and decided to use the title as his moniker (nickname) when he opened his restaurant chains. The style he introduced of an all white suit was his own, modeled after the ideal of the southern gentleman with a ribbon tie introduced by Opie Read.

How many Kentucky colonels are there?

There are currently over 100,000 Kentucky colonels, living in more than 70 countries around the world.

What is the difference between the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels and the Order of the Kentucky Colonel?

This can be best explained on our page on the topic called Order of the Kentucky Colonel, but essentially the "Order of the Kentucky Colonel" was established between 1885-1890 to recognize those awarded with the commission of the Kentucky Colonel, it led to civil societies and clubs being formed around the turn of the 19th century. The "Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels" is a charitable organization that was chartered by Governor Sampson in 1931 which continues to exist today.

Other Questions

These are some of the most frequently asked questions that are posed by the public and by Kentucky colonels themselves about the Kentucky Colonel Commission. If you have other questions you are welcome to write to us and we will do our best answer them.