Throwback Thursday: Joseph Underwood, one of Kentucky’s most famous emancipationists and War of 1812 veteran
In Throwback Thursdays of the past, we’ve talked about the Underwood family and
its longtime influence in Bowling Green. One of the patriarchs during the mid 1800s
was Joseph Rogers Underwood. A War of 1812 veteran known for being a Unionist
and emancipationist from a state along the Confederate border, he became one of
the most famous U.S. senators of his era.
Born in Goochland County, Va., in 1791, his father was a veteran of the American
Revolution. He moved to Barren County in 1803 to live with his uncle, and attended
private schools, graduating from Transylvania University. He practiced law in
Glasgow before moving to Bowling Green in 1823. He got a taste of politics serving
in the Kentucky House of Representatives before seeking higher office.
One of the platforms that made Joseph Rogers Underwood a standout politician of
his day was his view of slavery. He was in support of the Whig party, which opposed
secession from the Union and opposed slavery. He spent much of his time in the
legislature opposing the likes of Andrew Jackson and other southern politicians
along the Kentucky border.
Underwood was an emancipationist and strong believer of the Union cause. He set
his family slaves free, and continued to do so when he inherited slaves from other
family members. Being a representative from a state bordering the Confederacy
would present challenges, especially when members of his own family had opposing
views. Two of Underwood’s sons would go on to support the Confederate cause.
During his years spent living in Bowling Green, he lived in what is now the
Ironwood farm house. The Ironwood home has been renovated several times and
passed through the hands of many prominent Bowling Green families. The Kentucky
Museum and Library’s Special Collections archive has many old photos of what the
Ironwood home looked like before it became the venue it is today.
Joseph Rogers Underwood passed away in 1876 and is buried in the family plot in
In Bowling Green, because local matters, Telia Butler, WNKY News 40.