First Kentucky Colonels

The First Kentucky Colonel

This is a subject of debate and may depend on your actual perception and interpretation of the historical record.

Col. Daniel Boone

We tend to believe "the very first colonel" was Daniel Boone who was commissioned by the Governor of Virginia. Boone perhaps the most famous Kentuckian, is known as the first settler of Kentucky. He became a Lieutenant Colonel of the Fayette County Militia in 1780, when Kentucky was a named territory made up of three Virginia counties.

Previously Daniel Boone was given the title of "Colonel" by Col. Judge Richard Henderson when he blazed the Wilderness Road and founded the first territorial settlement of Boonesborough which was part of the Transylvania Colony which lasted until the Commonwealth of Virginia exerted its rights over the area in 1778.

John Filson's "The Adventures of Colonel Daniel Boon", part of his book The Discovery, Settlement and Present State of Kentucke. Was first published in 1784, Filson's book was primarily intended to popularize Kentucky to immigrants. This in our opinion had much to do with the founding and establishment of the Commonwealth, following its publication immigrants went to Kentucky making it the great state that it has become today.

Other Perspectives

The popular account of the Commonwealth and the HOKC credits Governor Isaac Shelby with making the first Kentucky Colonel commission in 1813 to Charles Stewart Todd as his personal Aide-de-camp, after the state's militia was dissolved. According to our research the actual date was in March of 1815, not in 1813, which contradicts the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels documentation and claims, as well as that of the Commonwealth which has given them their consensus for many years. Their accounts also fail to mention that Col. Charles Todd went on to marry the Governor Shelby's daughter and have 12 children with her. Whether the documentation leading to the popular interpretation was an error or a purposeful miscount will probably remain a mystery.

Despite this the state's militia was reformed during the Civil War to protect itself and the uniform that the Kentucky Colonels Command in Toronto recreated and use today for ceremonies was actually worn through the 1880's.

Many debate that the modern tradition of the Kentucky colonel did not truly emerge until in the 1880's when the state governor began naming Kentucky citizens as colonels as an honorary and meritory recognition (award) for their civilian deeds. Governor William O'Connell Bradley commissioned the first honorary Kentucky colonels as a meritory award bestowed upon citizens for their individual contributions to the state, good deeds, and noteworthy actions; those he named were also his Aide-de-camp and had the duty of standing uniformed at events.

The First (Official) Kentucky Colonel

According to Miles Smith, PhD, in a brilliant doctoral research work in 2006, The Kentucky Colonel: Richard M. Johnson and the Rise of Western Democracy, the first Kentucky Colonel that was designated by the state emerged two years prior to Col. Charles Stewart Todd's commission in 1815.

In May of 1813, the Kentucky State Legislature commissioned Richard M. Johnson who had a "disregard for legalism at the state and federal level, and his reliance on political will emerged in his recruiting drive he answered their call, quickly raising 600 men. Of these, 140 made their homes in Scott County." His paper also refers to Governor Isaac Shelby as Col. Richard M. Johnson's ostensible commander-in-chief, as Governor Shelby did not condone Col. Johnson's commission. This may explain for the miscounting of the state's historical record?

Later Col. Richard Mentor Johnson became the ninth vice president of the United States from 1837 to 1841. He is the only vice president elected by the United States Senate under the provisions of the Twelfth Amendment. Johnson also represented Kentucky in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate; he began and ended his political career in the Kentucky House of Representatives.