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The Main House at Locust Grove

Locust Grove

Site ID: 15Jf541

Plantation; Slave House
Kentucky Archaeological Survey
Unless specified, we cannot provide site location information.


In the 1960s and 1970s, archaeologists from the University of Louisville conducted research at Locust Grove, a historic site owned by Metro Louisville. Since then, Corn Island Archaeology has carried out additional work at the site.  ​ 

Locust Grove was established in 1790 by William Croghan, brother-in-law of Louisville’s founder George Rogers Clark, who briefly lived at the plantation.  Croghan became quite wealthy surveying land grants in Kentucky. As a result, he came to own a substantial amount of land around Louisville on which he developed a plantation.  

Archaeological research at Locust Grove revealed that a number of buildings supported the main house and the operation of the plantation. Several of these buildings served as quarters for over 40 people whom the Croghan family enslaved. ​

Archaeologists document a slave house foundation at Locust Grove.


​Archaeological remains examined at Locust Grove consisted of foundations and features associated with a kitchen, smoke house, icehouse, dairy, spring house, barn, ​workshop, surveyor’s office, and slave houses. The most significant archaeological investigations targeted three slave houses.  As with slave house investigations elsewhere, researchers documented a sub-floor storage pit/cellar at each house.   

Some of the artifacts from these cellars may have been symbolically meaningful to the enslaved at Locust Grove. Among these items were a silver coin, a spoon handle, and a clay marble.  Each had been marked with an “X.” Researchers think this symbol is a variant of a West African religious symbol​.  Other items, such as glass prisms, a blue glass bead, and Chinese coins, may have been used as charms by the enslaved at Locust Grove.  

Similar objects have been found at other plantation sites in Louisville, such as Farmington and Riverside, and at Antebellum sites elsewhere in Kentucky. This suggests that the enslaved people who lived at Locust Grove were part of a much broader underground enslaved community that developed within the restrictions slavery imposed.    ​

A marble incised with an “X” mark.

A silver spoon scratched with an “X” mark.

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​Diet of the Enslaved

The recovery of gun parts and fishhooks from sub-floor pits within the Locust Grove slave houses and the analysis of animal bones from these contexts suggested that the enslaved at Locust Grove supplemented the diet provided by their owners. In addition to consuming pig, chick​​en, beef, and mutton​, the enslaved at Locust Grove had opportunities to hunt or trap and fish to supplement their diet, as shown by the recovery of wild bird, turtle, and fish bones.

The recovery of both immature and adult chicken bones from the slave houses raised the possibility that the enslaved kept their own fowl.  Archaeologists also recovered the bones of young pigs not yet ready for slaughter.  This suggested that the enslaved at Locust Grove may have stolen livestock from the Croghan family.

Taken as a whole, archaeological evidence suggests that enslaved people performed such acts not only for their survival, but also as a way to take some control over their own lives within the restrictions of slavery.

A wood-lined cellar inside of a slave house.

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