Kentucky historical overview
Esteban Rodriguez Miro is not a household name in Kentucky, but if that Spanish governor of New Orleans’s plans had succeeded, Kentucky might have seceded from the United States. Between 1787 and 1797 Rodriguez Miro and Lexington resident James Wilkinson, a general during the American Revolution, plotted with influential Kentuckians and with Spanish officials to detach Kentucky from the United States and to align it with Spain as a colony or a friendly independent nation. These plans resulted in little more than public scandal when Wilkinson exposed some of his fellow conspirators, but they do highlight the surprising fact that for four decades Kentucky bordered Latin America.
During the years between 1763 and 1800, when Spain controlled the Louisiana territories, Kentuckians looked to Spanish officials in New Orleans as possible allies, and they could enter Spanish territory by crossing the Mississippi River from western Kentucky into what is today the state of Missouri. Some Kentucky trappers traveled into Spanish territory as far west as the Rio Grande in New Mexico, causing considerable notice in Taos with their overpowering stench. There was also some concern that many Kentuckians would be tempted to emigrate into Spanish territory and even a rumor that soldier and frontiersman George Rogers Clark had fallen in love with the daughter of Fernando de Leyba, the governor of upper Louisiana.
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But that era when Kentucky was on the forefront of Anglo-Latino relations soon faded as the Louisiana territory was transferred to France and then sold to the United States in 1803. Instead of being on the frontier, Kentucky now found itself in the center of the nation and Latinos would not show any great interest in the state for more than a century. The only significant way in which Kentucky engaged Latin America in the rest of the nineteenth century was through the actions of national politicians from Kentucky such as Charles Todd, Richard Anderson, and Henry Clay who figured prominently in the decisions of the United States to recognize and support newly independent Latin American nations between 1822 and 1826.
In fact, during the nineteenth century, there may have been more migration from Kentucky to Latin America than from Latin America to Kentucky. In 1865 Confederate General William Preston of Kentucky helped to organize a group of despairing Confederate generals, governors, and soldiers who attempted to start a settlement in Mexico. Almost all of the would-be settlers, who included at least three Kentuckians, had returned to the United States by 1867. Some Kentuckians also emigrated to Brazil, and they seem to have been more successful in adapting to their new culture.
Throughout the nineteenth century few parts of the United States had a lower Latino population than Kentucky. It simply had few industrial or agricultural draws; and what it did have was easily equaled by states that were much more accessible. In fact, the Latino presence in Kentucky was so minimal until recent years (unless one counts the Malungeons, a dark-skinned Appalachian population supposed by some to have Portuguese origins) that, other than in reference to the eighteenth-century intrigues mentioned above, a self-styled newâ history of Kentucky published in 1997 makes only one mention of Latinos, and that to say that there were almost noneâ in the state.1 Unlike much of the rest of the country, which was absorbing millions of migrants in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Kentucky attracted few newcomers. Some German and Irish migrants arrived in northern Kentucky and Louisville, and a few others went to the Appalachian mining region, but the migration to the north of many blacks in search of industrial jobs meant that the state became more ethnically homogenous during this period.