George B. Kinkead

Kinkead (1811-1877) was the prominent Lexington lawyer and former Kentucky Secretary of State (1846-1847) who argued the case of Henrietta Wood before the Fayette County Circuit Court in 1853 and 1854. He married Eliza Pearce in 1846.1

He graduated second in his class at Transylvania in 1830, and in November 1854, upon the reorganization of the Transylvania Law School, Kinkead joined the faculty as “Professor of the Practice of Law, including Pleading and Evidence and the Law of Contract.”2

Only a month before he got involved in Wood v. Ward, he was also involved in a lawsuit alongside Abraham Lincoln, whom Kinkead had served as a lawyer in the settlement of Robert Todd’s estate. See Lincoln’s letter to Kinkead, dated May 27, 1853; and a longer discussion of the case by William H. Townsend.

See biographical profile from 1878.

Wood v. Ward Case

On September 14, 1853, Kinkead wrote from Lexington to W. S. Bodley, Esq. (Louisville) about Wood’s case, which seemingly confirms that Charles Mynn Thruston was connected to Wood:

My Dear Judge, I recd your letter this morning. I think from the testimony of Thruston I will be able to get proof to sustain Henrietta’s claim to freedom.3

Subsequently, on February 4, 1854, Kinkead wrote again from Lexington to W. S. Bodley, Esq. (Louisville):

My Dear Judge, It has just occurred to me that it was possible that the Deed of Trust spoken of by Chs Thruston in the Deposition you cross examined for me some little time back might be recorded in your county court. Will you do me the favor to look[?] The Deed is within the last 8 or 10 years. It is made by [here there is a blank space where the first name should be] Cirode to Danl Cirode. It conveyed the negroes to Danl for the use of his wife & Thruston thought to her children after her death. This last clause don’t suit me. I want to show that the wife had the power to emancipate.4

I conducted my own search for some mention of this “Deed of Trust” in Jefferson County records at the Kentucky Department of Library and Archives, but didn’t find much. See Cirode Family for details.

I followed Kinkead’s correspondence in the Bodley papers from his marriage to Eliza Pearce in 1846 through 1855, as well as from 1869 to 1879, and found no further mention of the case.

The court case file at Chicago National Archives indicates that Kinkead also testified in the 1870s case, with an affidavit filed in December 1878.


Kinkead was a Whig (and later Democrat, after the party’s collapse). He chaired a meeting in support of Taylor’s election to president.5 But a February 7, 1849, letter to W. S. Bodley confessed that “my admiration for Mr. C[lay] has been diminishing for the last three years very rapidly and it seems to me his Biographer will find it a heavy work to make his history entertaining to an unselfish nation from the time he entered upon his year of three score & ten.”6

He was also a colonizationist. He delivered an address to the Kentucky Colonization Society in January 1850, in which he criticized British West Indian emancipation but claimed that “far higher considerations governed the minds of those who laid the foundations of our society. We propose to take the slave, already emancipated, not by the force of government, but by the liberality of his master—to remove him at our expense from amongst us—to establish him on a soil and in a climate congenial to his nature—away from the blighting influences of a superior race …”7 Kinkead praised Liberia for its successes, and lamented the “deplorable” condition of freedpeople in the United States (p. 8). Though he predicted that slavery would naturally die in Kentucky, Kinkead also noted that the Southern states were bound to his state by close ties: “The cotton plant has contributed to maker her rich as it has Mississippi” (p. 15). He concluded with a direct appeal to Kentuckians, in the name of “the common Father of the bond and the free” (p. 18).8

See also description of him by NPS, which identifies his brother as William B. Kinkead, who had been appointed as an attorney for Calvin Fairbank in the Lewis Hayden trial, and refers to GBK’s “unpopular” opinions on slavery.9

The speech benefitted the Colonization Society and, according to James Ann Pearce (a relative by marriage), sparked much conversation in town:

Mr. Kinkead came from Lexington day before yesterday. He left Eliza and the children well. Last night he delivered the address for the benefit of the Colonization Society. I could not go because it was sprinkling rain and I have a bad cold. But Mr. Pindell was there and came back delighted. To day everyone is speaking of “the finished and eloquent address that Mr. Kinkead delivered last night.” He spoke in the Hall of Representatives. The room was full and Mr. Pindell says that the audience listened with interest till the close though it took an hour and twenty minutes to deliver it.10

Apparently, William Stewart Bodley shared some criticism of the speech with Kinkead, who wrote to the Judge on May 27, 1850:

So far from taking any offence at your criticisms on the Colonization matter I was extremely gratified at receiving your letter on that subject, & received it as a handsome compliment to my taste & as a very agreeable evidence of your sincere friendship, the two making it among the most agreeable letters I have received. I laid it in my way that I might say this to you the first leisure, but I was in the court house for near six weeks, & then in the country & then half a dispeptic with scarcely energy enough to do anything till I felt the lash, and in this way I owe you an apology.11

In an 1853 letter that mentions Henrietta Wood’s case, Kinkead discusses a house on 7th Street in Louisville that he owned and was apparently being rented. Kinkead thought it best to go ahead and conclude a rent contract with a man named Morrison “for as long a time as he is willing.” Apparently there was also a black person living in the alley near the house, and Kinkead adds that “unless he has use for the alley I should think he might find on experiment, that the old free negro would not be in his way, so long as he lives, and he might be induced to take the house at a higher rent to be reduced to $400 if he found any disturbance from him.”12 The “old free man” who was apparently leasing part of the property also appears in a letter from Kinkead to Bodley on October 1, 1852.13

Other letters of interest at Filson in the Bodley Family correspondence collection (which I looked at from 1849, when Kinkead married into the family, to 1855, when Wood’s appeal was rejected). One letter from Eliza Kinkead to Mary Bullock, June 15, 1854, mentions Rhoda and other “servants” who would be happy to look after Mary’s children if she comes to Lexington to go on an excursion with Mr. Kinkead and others.14 Later letters concern the health of Eliza and George’s son, and George’s decision in summer of 1854 not to move to Louisville as W. S. Bodley apparently hoped he would.

A letter from Jimmie Pindell to her sister, Mary Bullock, reports on Kinkead’s practice:

I have not seen Eliza for several days, but I know that all are well at her house. Mr. Kinkead & John Breckinridge are doing a very good business for Lexington. Mr. Kinkead’s practice was worth last $1800 and this year will be worth $2000. So I think he is wise in determining to stay where he is.15

During the Civil War, Kinkead wrote to William Stewart Bodley with opinions about emancipation:

The political skies look to me gloomy as midnight. My information from the South is that in some neighbourhoods [sic] the negroes have broke loose and are with savage ferocity claiming their freedom. And it is very manifest that the repulse of the Federal arms only tends to inflame more & more the passions of the administration, which they will gratify by inciting the slaves to insurrection. They seem inclined to make up for their shortcomings in whipping the army of the South in emancipating the slaves and imprisoning non-combatants. Between the Conspirators of the South and the Abolitionists of the South [sic] the land is to be utterly desolated. For months my only hopes for the salvation of the Country has been in the North West. The people there will see their true interest before another year and that the Union can only be restored by the annihilation utter & entire of the abolition party. And they will tell Puritanical N. England if she can’t stay with slavery to go out by herself. We are still annoyed here by the soldiers enticing our slaves and that too manifestly without the condemnation of the officers notwithstanding Genl Granger’s last letter.16

There was another George Blackburn Kinkead born in 1849 who also became a prominent Lexington figure. His papers are at the University of Kentucky. Educated at Princeton, this other George B. Kinkead also wrote a memoir of his experiences as a lawyer, published in 1928. Difficult to tell which one was involved in the establishment of Kinkeadtown near the Kinkead House.

  1. A genealogist’s note in Bodley Family Papers, Folder 207, says that Eliza was born in 1824 and died in 1904 at 206 Walnut Street in Lexington, Kentucky. The Secretary of State appointment by Gov. Owlsley was apparently controversial, as it involved firing the existing Secretary Ben Hardin, prompting a series of lengthy legislative hearings. See pamphlet that I photographed at the Kentucky Historical Society. B. Mills Crenshaw also delivered a speech (not photographed) in support of Kinkead’s nomination.

  2. See biographical profile for class rank; “Transylvania Law School,” Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, D.C.), September 23, 1854, Francis K. Hunt, later a respondent in Wood v. Ward, was listed at the same time as “Professor of the Elementary Principles of the Common Law, Criminal, Commercial, and National Law.” Also see 1855 advertisement in Lexington Observer and Reporter.

  3. Letter by G. B. Kinkead, September 14, 1853, Bodley Family Papers, Mss. A/B668e, Folder 55, Filson Club Historical Society.

  4. Letter by G. B. Kinkead to W. S. Bodley, February 4, 1854, Bodley Family Papers, Mss. A/B668e, Folder 57, Filson Club Historical Society.

  5. See pamphlet at Kentucky Historical Society that I photographed.

  6. Bodley Family Papers, Filson Club Historical Society, Mss. A B668e, Folder 43.

  7. George B. Kinkead, Address delivered before the Kentucky Colonization Society: in the Representatives’ Hall, January 10, 1850 (Frankfort, KY: A. G. Hodges, 1850), 4.

  8. Interestingly, a George W. Williams is listed as a member of the Kentucky Colonization Society as well—perhaps the “Williams” from Florence who came to Wood’s rescue? A contemporary article about the Kentucky Colonization Society notes that the finances of the society were not good at the time of Kinkead’s address, which was designed partly to appeal for donations and subscriptions. See “Kentucky Colonization Society,” New York Commercial Advertiser, January 22, 1850, AHN.

  9. On William Kinkead and Fairbank, runyon1996, p. 49.

  10. James Ann Pearce to her sister Molly, January 11, 1850, Bodley Family Papers, Filson Club Historical Society, Mss. A B668e 47.

  11. Bodley Family Papers, Mss. A/B668e, Folder 47, Filson Club Historical Society.

  12. Letter by G. B. Kinkead, September 14, 1853, Bodley Family Papers, Mss. A/B668e, Folder 55, Filson Club Historical Society. Another letter to the Judge, dated October 3, 1853, in Folder 56, also mentions the house and says “Mr. Breden has not written to me.” A later letter, in Folder 57, mentions his hope that the renter will buy it.

  13. Bodley Family Papers, Mss. A/B668e, Folder 53, Filson Club Historical Society.

  14. See Bodley Family Papers, Mss. A/B668e, Folder 57, Filson Club Historical Society.

  15. Jimmie Pindell, Lexington, to Mary Bullock, February 4, 1851, Bodley Family Papers, Mss. A/B668e, Folder 50, Filson Club Historical Society.

  16. George B. Kinkead, Lexington, to W. S. Bodley, Louisville, December 18, 1862, Bodley Family Papers, Mss. A/B668e, Folder 69, Filson Club Historical Society.