For today’s adventure, I’ve chosen to post and write about a past trip out to Perryville Battlefield, upon which I discovered the abandoned remains of Sleettown, KY, which were purchased by the state and are now protected property. Please note that these photos were taken in February 2013 and are not current photos.
Aside from preserving an impressive and expansive battlefield that was the site of the very conflict that kept Kentucky under Union control and sent the Confederates retreating toward Tennessee never to return, this state historic site also preserves a rarity for the Civil War era: a town borne out of the freedom granted to slaves after the Civil War and populated entirely by free blacks. Step back with me to 1865 America in the post-Civil War south, won’t you?
Ready for the background story yet?
Sleettown was originally settled by the descendants of Warner and Olivia Sleet, who were slaves in Boyle County (KY) during the Civil War. In 1865, their sons, Henry, Preston, and George Sleet, bought the battlefield property from land owner Henry Bottom, who had endured the destruction of the Battle of Perryville and desperately needed the money (this purchase was not recorded until 1880). The Sleets began to purchase other parcels of land around their original purchase, and soon, along with the Pattersons, Swanns, and other families, Sleettown was born.
Sleettown reportedly had a general store, a restaurant, a cemetery, a church, a one-room schoolhouse, a taxi service, and several homes at its peak, but this is not what made Sleettown notable. Keep in mind that in post-Civil War America, racial segregation was the law of the land–and one that many people saw as too lenient at that. Yet according to the signs in the state park, the newly-freed black residents of Sleettown lived, worked, and spent their evenings with their neighbors, the white residents of nearby Perryville. The spirit of community and equality was so unique, I will quote directly from an interpretive sign that stands near the remains pictured above:
In the early 20th century, when most of Kentucky was racially segregated, the relationship with neighboring whites was open and friendly. A sincere spirit of fellowship existed, where neighbors worked side by side on the farm and in their homes. Often, blacks and whites would come together in the evenings to visit or play a game of cards, and their children played together.
It is incredible and inspiring to this writer that in an era that was defined by race and separation, these communities managed to overcome their cultural and racial differences and lived an example of equality. As the Sleettown families raised their children and those children left home to make their ways in the world, the population of Sleettown steadily declined until in 1931, the last resident of this remarkable community abandoned the settlement as the Great Depression settled in. Many of the descendants of Sleettown’s founders and residents now reside in nearby Perryville.
Links to more information:
http://www.perryvillebattlefield.org/Noe-battlefield.pdf (search document for “Sleettown”)
Photos of the interpretive signs referenced above: