Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Questions about Kentucky Colonels

Both the public and Kentucky colonels alike have many questions about Kentucky colonels. Some of the more frequently asked questions and answers were considered so we have developed this FAQ Page to help answer some of those we have had over the past few years.

Kentucky State Seal
Seal of the Commonwealth of Kentucky

How do you become a Kentucky Colonel?

Anyone over the age of 18 can become a Kentucky colonel. Traditionally only another Kentucky colonel can nominate someone to become a Kentucky colonel or they can be recognized and selected by the Governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Today under the current governor anyone can make a recommendation, however you cannot recommend yourself. The best way to become a Kentucky Colonel is to know one who is willing to nominate or recommend you.

Can you apply to become a Kentucky Colonel?

No, a person cannot apply to become a Kentucky colonel. Kentucky colonelcy is based on being nominated to become recognized by the seated Governor of Kentucky or being recognized by the governor directly.

Do you have to be from Kentucky to become a Kentucky Colonel?

No, Kentucky colonels can be from anywhere in the world. Currently there are more than 150,000 Kentucky colonels living in more than 70 countries around the world.

The Governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky can recognize anyone living anywhere in the world based on their deeds, noteworthy actions, or their accomplishments. Generally the governor only recognizes those who demonstrate their deeds or actions in connection with the state, however as an honorary award the governor frequently has been known to recognize those who have the potential to serve the needs of the state through their recognition.

What does a Kentucky Colonel actually do?

The original duties of the "Kentucky Colonel" were to create order, establish government, enact laws, issue deeds, subdivide land, survey property, organize companies, maintain civil harmony and command militias. During the 15 years before Kentucky became a state in 1792, the colonel was the highest delegated authority in pioneer America under the common law of the colonies and provinces. It is an award that is reminiscent of its history.

Today, Kentucky colonels are officially the goodwill ambassadors of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, they are commissioned by the governor as civilian officers who are recognized as the governor's Aide-de-camp. Their unnamed and unspecified task is to promote the cultural and traditional values of the Commonwealth of Kentucky in their everyday lives.

Kentucky colonels receive 'letters patent' it is a traditional award of merit and an honorable title that is bestowed by the head-of-state under common law to recognize the individual to whom it is given based on their deeds, accomplishments, noteworthiness, or contributions to the community, state or nation in which they live.

Who was the first Kentucky colonel?

There is some debate as to who the first Kentucky colonel actually was. According to Wikipedia it was Charles Stewart Todd, who was commissioned unilaterally by Governor Isaac Shelby in 1815 as an aide-de-camp on the Governor's Staff with the rank and grade of colonel. Others say it was Richard M. Johnson who was commissioned by the Kentucky Legislature in 1813, almost 2 years earlier.

Prior to that when 'Kentucke' was still a territory prior to its statehood there was the great Daniel Boone who was commissioned in 1780 when the state was made up of three Virginia counties. There is also Col. John Boman who was commissioned officially days after the Kentucky County was designated by Governor Patrick Henry Jr. of the Colony of Virginia. So if someone asks who the first Kentucky colonel was, Col. Daniel Boone or Col. John Bowman are the best answers.

It should also be understood that the honorable title of the Kentucky Colonel did not emerge as a civilian award until 1895 under Governor William O'Connell Bradley. As we understand when he was very young when he tried to fight in the Civil War and was removed by his father (twice). Both times, his father removed him from the service because of his young age. Despite having only this few months of service to his credit, he was referred to as "Colonel Bradley" by many for the rest of his life. He used and carried as his moniker "Colonel" to become a page in the Kentucky House of Representatives and gained enough experience to get an honorary law degree from Kentucky University. By the time he became the governor, he knew many colonels (a title of respect in the South) as it was understood in the day that applying the title was a form of address to recognize distinguished and well-respected gentlemen. In his writings he uses it hundreds of times to confer respect to many of his friends and law colleagues.

We could not find any text based citations online of his commissions, they were probably done in person as a gesture of recognition. In 1890 a book was written about Kentucky colonels by Opie Read entitled, A Kentucky Colonel, a book that was very popular in its day. In 1920 a film was made based on the book.

How many organizations are there for Kentucky colonels?

There are a number of benevolent, civil, charitable, fraternal and membership associations or organizations that have been established around the world which base their membership on a person being recognized as a Kentucky Colonel.

  • In Kentucky there are 4 organizations that coordinate local activities.

  • World-wide there are 12 or more organizations that are based on a person being recognized by the Governor of Kentucky.

The largest and most dominant of these organizations has been "The Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels" which is a charitable 501(c)(3) organization which was started in 1932 and was consolidated and privatized as a Kentucky corporation in 1957. It is dedicated to funding good works throughout the state of Kentucky and holds several fundraising events per year. They implicitly offer free symbolic membership to those who are commissioned and donate to their Good Works Fund each year. The organization is operated by a Board of Trustees which they call their Generals. The organization is community oriented and helps Kentucky colonels find volunteer opportunities locally.

The second largest organization the "Commonwealth Colonels", a fraternal membership and international civil society organization. Which is now under reformation and development which was started originally in 1998. The organization is decentralized online and developed to include all participants no matter where they live in the world. It is the same organization that dominated Facebook social groups and uses the social media to provoke activism internationally.

How can a Kentucky Colonel use their "Honorable" title?

In the formal sense of protocol, a Kentucky colonel is always addressed or referred to with the title "Honorable" before his or her name inside the state when it is known; outside the state they may use the full title "Kentucky Colonel" before his or her name. Most often among friends and colleagues this is shortened to serve as a moniker or nickname to just "Colonel".

Since the honorable title is a customary and traditional one it is often used to defer respect and honor, however it should not be used when presenting oneself or another Kentucky colonel as "Colonel" or "Col." to the United States Government, in another state or in another country because it could be confused with the proper official title of a military colonel. The title may be expressed in other places outside of the realm of Kentucky as "Goodwill Ambassador" or "Kentucky Colonel" as a formal title. The style can also be represented as a position in representation of the state as an aide-in-camp following a person's proper name as "Kentucky Colonel", as "Goodwill Ambassador", or most precisely "Ambassador of Goodwill for the Commonwealth of Kentucky".

Who was the first woman commissioned as a Kentucky Colonel?

Annie Poage, a newspaper editor from Ashland, Kentucky was commissioned in 1920. Read more.

What are the duties of a Kentucky Colonel?

As a meritory award and honorable title there are no dutiful obligations connected with being recognized as a Kentucky Colonel. Those who are recognized however are expected to be outstanding citizens and public figures, respectful of others, and law abiding.

Kentucky colonels are not paid a salary by the state, however many individuals and public figures including actors, athletes, musicians , professionals, and even diplomats who become Kentucky colonels have been known to present themselves as paid speakers promoting Kentucky history, values, traditions, and customs in public and private venues.

It is also a commission that can be rescinded or revoked based on a person's conduct in society or if it is gained by deception. There are few examples of this occurring, however is not very frequent, as most of those who are recognized truly deserve to be distinguished and carry the recognition with them throughout their lives. There is a story of how a news reporter once got a commission for a dog he named Waldo Wrecker, his commission was of course revoked when it was discovered he was not a person.

Was Colonel Sanders really a Colonel?

Yes, Harland David Sanders received the commission of the Kentucky Colonel in 1935. He is the most famous of all the Kentucky colonels, Sanders decided to use the title as his moniker (nickname) when he opened his first restaurant. The style he introduced of an all white suit was his own adaptation for the restaurant industry, fashioned after the ideal of the Southern gentleman with a ribbon tie introduced by Opie Read; the image of Col. Sanders has literally become famous because of his success.

Colonel Harland Sanders, was an entrepreneur who began selling fried chicken from his roadside restaurant in Corbin, Kentucky in 1937. Sanders identified the potential of the restaurant franchising concept, and the first "Kentucky Fried Chicken" franchise opened in Utah in 1952. His idea grew and his chicken was also available in other food establishments like Gino's which bought the franchise for over 300 locations in the early 60's. Col. Sanders invented a new way of cooking chicken using a pressurized cooking vessel which shortens cooking time and seals in natural meat juices. Since 1957, the Henny Penny Corporation began producing the pressure cookers and are now used by many restaurants.

How many Kentucky colonels are there?

There are currently over 150,000-250,000 Kentucky colonels, living in more than 70 countries around the world.

Other Questions

These are some of the most frequently asked questions that are posed by the public and by Kentucky colonels themselves about the Kentucky Colonel Commission. If you have other questions you are welcome to write to us and we will do our best answer them.