Kentucky Colonel, An Honorable Title

A Kentucky Colonelcy is the greatest, most widely recognized and oldest honorary American civil officer commission in the world. To be recognized as a Kentucky Colonel, a civilian is granted letters patent under Kentucky Common Law and Customs, it is a license to conduct oneself as a colonel and invitation to adopt the honorable title as a prefix to their name. It was recently discovered based on research in 2021 that "colonels" were the most important figures in the Commonwealth's founding history dating back to 1775; the origins of colonelcy in America dates back to 1651, the Colonial Act, the adoption of English Common Law in 1776 and the founding of the United States. Most of the US states were founded or settled by early civilian, company and militia colonels, many from Kentucky.

Colonel is an Honorable Title

Kentucky Colonel is the highest and most prestigious civilian title of honor bestowed by the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Commissions for Kentucky colonels are given by the Governor and the Secretary of State to individuals in recognition of noteworthy accomplishments, personal achievements, individual deeds and outstanding service in a person's community, state, or nation.

The Governor of Kentucky bestows the "Honorable" title upon someone with an honorary colonelcy commission through the issuance of letters patent. The commission is a legal act of the Office of the Governor and lifetime appointment as an honorary officer of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The practice of naming civilians as Kentucky colonels began in 1895 with Governor "Colonel" William O'Connell Bradley who himself was known as a Kentucky Colonel since his adolescence, so perhaps the practice of making colonels has much deeper roots?

This is not where Kentucky Colonelcy began, long before Governor Bradley came to office Kentucky was full of colonels, in Colonial Virginia being a colonel meant a person was recognized as the "head of the colony"; the same common law colonelcy exists today as did in 1775. What does it mean to be the "head of a colony" today? Did you know that it was civilian and militia colonels in 1791 that unanimously selected under oath, one of their own to be the first governor of Kentucky?

Rare old photo of Governor Bradley and the Colonels
Governor "Colonel" W.O. Bradley, one of the first Kentucky colonels at age 15; with his ceremonial staff of Kentucky Colonels. Photo: 1898, Public Domain

Kentucky's Official Goodwill Ambassadors

Today there are more than 200,000 Kentucky colonels living in over 70 countries, many organizations have been formed since the turn of the 20th century to promote their activities, fraternity and social prosperity. While colonels today have no official responsibilities mandated, they are legally recognized as states's goodwill ambassadors due to their dedication to community service, contributions to the welfare of the state, and for improving the lives of others to make the world a better place for everyone.

The honorary title is warranted through letters patent which grants them the title "Colonel" recognizing them as "Honorable" through a commission as an officer on the governor's staff. Colonels optional duties are de facto and extra officio responsibilities of promoting tourism, economic development, participation in community service, fostering the general prosperity of the Commonwealth and projecting Kentucky's image abroad on behalf of the State and the Governor.

Colonels are in a great part responsible for more than 10 billion dollars per year to the Commonwealth's economy by boosting tourism and economic development. The Kentucky colonel began becoming recognized as the state's icon outside of Kentucky as early as 1875.

Illustration of the Kentucky Coat of Arms from 1876
"United We Stand, Divided We Fall"Historic representation of the Kentucky Coat of Arms (c. 1876). Image from Wikipedia

Before Kentucky Colonels, They Were Commonwealth Colonels!

Our Creative Commons initiative introduced the first website "Kentucky Colonels" in 1998 to give prominence to Kentucky Colonelcy as an honorary status (civilian award of merit) with diplomatic credence that is respected and understood internationally. All those who have received the honorable title from the Governor of the Commonwealth are recognized as a traditional 'aide-de-camp', this also designates them officially as a goodwill ambassador for the state with letters patent (a legal document) resulting in a lifetime officer's commission as an honorary colonel.

“We never surrender. We never hide from history. We make history.” -Senator John McCain, Kentucky Colonel

Few people know, but the Kentucky Colonel Commission (Kentucky Colonelcy) actually has its roots in the Commonwealth of Virginia, not in Kentucky, as many assume. Gov. Patrick Henry Jr. commissioned the first "colonel" to Kentucky County on December 21, 1776. It can also be said that the "first" Kentucky colonels were the pioneer statesmen who wrote the Kentucke Magna Charta, which included Colonel Daniel Boone, Colonel Richard Henderson, Colonel James Harrod and ten or more other colonels on May 23, 1775 at the end of the Wilderness Road in Boonesborough. We have identified many sources for Kentucky colonels since these early dates, this site is about where we believe it all began leading up to today. Traditionally, Common Law colonelcy was granted from one colonel to the next to establish forts, towns and villages to form colonial governments.

"In the Old Dominion statesmen should remember that Commonwealth Colonels are born, not made. " 1898

Our project here is dedicated to the historic origins of the "Kentucky Colonel" the first and original Kentucky pioneer and a great American cultural icon. Our website offers over 750 links to original references from American newspapers, literary works like encyclopedias, books, folklore, fiction and fact that illustrate the idea and how it became such a popular title. Kentucky colonels are responsible for most of the Commonwealth's firsts like thoroughbred horses 1775, whiskey in 1780, a university in 1780, 75 of its counties 1777-1851, first hemp crops in 1775-1784, horse racing in 1873, baseball in 1892 and a quartet in 1896. Ever since the book, A Kentucky Colonel by Opie Read in 1890, Kentucky colonels became popular across the United States. To truly understand how great Kentucky Colonelcy has become you must review our website.

How to be a Kentucky Colonel

All persons who wish to become a Kentucky colonel should read our website as if they are participating in a university level history/sociology course, treat our website like a Kentucky Colonel Course. Our upcoming book has all the resources you need to exemplify your honorary standing, start your own independent Kentucky colonels social group or an independent civil society organization in your own state or country. We also show colonels how to promote themselves better using their honorable title, while quaint, perhaps corny or even pomperous, is potentially impressive and serves well as an attention getter when it is used at the right moment. Read more in our Guide to Kentucky Colonelcy to make sure being a colonel is right for you. Also read what people are saying about the Kentucky Colonel Certificate at Indeed Certifications.

History of the Iconic Kentucky Colonel

Most Significant in Kentucky are its Colonels

Colonels hold a very significant role in the history of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. From 1776 when the governor of the Colony of Virginia issued the first county commission to John Bowman for Kentucky County on December 21, within 4 years the county was subdivided into 4 surveyed counties. Col. Bowman served under Governor Patrick Henry Jr. and General George Rogers Clark who was charged with the entire Western Territory during the American Revolution. Until Kentucky county became a state in 1792 there was no official higher than a colonel, by this date Kentucky County had been subdivided into nine Virginia counties and the region was referred to as Kentucky. Colonels were busy men responsible for the establishment of government, subdividing counties, designating authority to establish towns, issuing land deeds, setting up companies, founding schools, organizing militias, and assigning colonelcy to others to do the same under a strict code of honor under the Colony of Virginia common law.

In early years prior to becoming a state people began learning about "Kentucke" in the 13 original colonies based on stories they heard starting in 1769 from Daniel Boone who travelled back and forth to the territory from his home in North Carolina. Upon hearing the stories of Daniel Boone in 1774, Judge Richard Henderson sought a colonelship in North Carolina to form the Louisa Company which led to the establishment of the Great Grant Deed with the purchase of land rights from the Cherokee, America's 14th colony, and commissioning Daniel Boone a colonel to blaze the Wilderness Road to open what was then called Transylvania to settlement. On May 23, 1775, Col. Henderson held the Transylvania Convention with colonels and delegates from 4 settlements to meet in Boonesborough creating America's 14th Colony and established the Kentucky Magna Charta. First that, Election of delegates should be annual. Second, Perfect freedom of opinion in matters of religion. Third, That judges should be appointed by the proprietors, but answerable for malconduct to the people; and that the convention have the sole power of raising and appropriating all moneys and electing their treasurer. This epitome of substantial freedom and manly, rational government, was solemnly executed under the hands and seals of the three proprietors acting for the company, and Col. Thomas Slaughter acting for the colonists.

The purchase of Col. Henderson from the Cherokees was afterward annulled by act of the Virginia legislature in 1777, as being contrary to the chartered rights of the Transylvania Company. But, as some compensation for the services rendered in opening the wilderness, and preparing the way for civilization, the legislature granted to the proprietors a tract of land twelve miles square, on the Ohio, below the mouth of Green River." (Today's Henderson County)

A New Land of Wonder

John Filson, Colonial American author wrote a book and was in correspondence frequently with George Washington to whom he submitted his work, The Discovery, Settlement, and the present State of Kentucke; and An Essay towards the Topography and Natural History of that important Country in 1784, which was published by James Adams in Philadelphia and Wilmington. The book was very popular and accounts from the book were make into news and folklore featuring the Adventures of Colonel Daniel Boon. The book was endorsed by Col. Daniel Boone, Col. Levi Todd, and Col. James Harrod on whose collective accounts the work is based.

The first Governor of the Commonwealth was Col. Isaac Shelby formerly of North Carolina that returned to Kentucky after the American Revolution in 1783 to settle down near Boonesborough on land he acquired as a surveyor working with the Transylvania Company years earlier. In 1784 he became active in local community service, talked about separation of the Kentucky District from Virginia and in 1792 was selected by the other colonels and secessionists as the first Governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Colonel Shelby was elected unanimously to that post by the electors on May 17, 1791. He took office on June 4, 1792, the day the state was admitted to the Union. Though not actively partisan, he identified with the Democratic-Republicans. Much of his term was devoted to establishing basic laws, military divisions and a tax structure. Under the new constitution, the voters chose electors who then elected the governor and members of the Kentucky Senate.

In 1799 colonels began to lose their power under common law when the Second Constitution was adopted giving new powers to the governor. In addition to appointing judges, the governor was given the power to appoint a number of local offices including sheriffs, coroners, and justices of the peace.

For the many years that followed, colonels continued in their roles as county authorities they were involved in organizing voting places, establishing courts, serving in public office and remained the most prominent major landowners in the state. Now that Kentucky had a Legislature, Capitol, and a Governor (nearly all of whom were originally colonels) upon a new codified laws developing in the third Kentucky Constitution in 1850 the elected position of County Judge was created to replace the position of Justice of the Peace. The county judge presided over certain county courts, most notably the court of claims, the forerunner of the fiscal court.

Many like to connect the title to an event which occurred in 1813 where the Kentucky Legislature designating the U.S. Army Colonel Richard Mentor Johnson, a state legislator with the title of "Kentucky Colonel" to form the "Kentucky Mounted Militia" in support the War of 1812 to defend the area against Tecumseh. Others claim the first honorarily appointed position by the Governor of Kentucky in 1813 or 1815 to Charles S. Todd as his civilian "Aide-de-Camp" with the rank of "Colonel" is when the tradition started, however there is no evidence that Charles Todd was ever commissioned by Gov. Shelby, as it appears Charles Todd became a colonel when he was made an inspector general for the US Army in the Michigan Territory. Nonetheless, we believe both accounts are exaggerating because Kentucky was founded and established by colonels much like the United States, colonels during these years were most essentially the highest designated colonial officers and key figures during the times of the colonists. Texas and other Western States were founded by colonels like Kentucky, but it was in Kentucky where the Colony of Virginia tradition became so prominent.

Most of Kentucky's counties were named after famous colonels from the American Revolution and its first residents, a great many of its original settlers and pioneers shared the title during the course of their lives.

It could be said that since Kentucky was founded, chartered and organized by its colonels who dutifully served the people directly. Colonels eventually eliminated themselves from their official capacities once their jobs were accomplished. History tells us since they started the official role of those honorarily recognized as colonels became less and less significant until 1920 when there were no longer any official duties for these honorary officers.

HOBGI Kentucky Colonel Model Initiation Group
Personnel of the Kentucky Colonel Initiation Team of the Honorable Order of Blue Goose International in Cincinnati, Ohio c.1939. The HOBGI was established in Green Lake, Wisconsin in 1906 and today has chapters called Ponds and Puddles. The Kentucky Colonel Model Initiation Team was started in Chicago in 1914 by Col. Frank G. Snyder the initial members of that team were: James E. Crittenden, Roy Hunt, Milton C. Miller, Claude F. Snyder, Sr., George R. Snyder, Robert W. Snyder, H. H. Crittenden, and M. B. Russell.

Kentucky Colonelcy []

Our website is a Creative Commons cultural, educational and historical reference work inspiring Kentucky's colonels to become the modern day pioneers of change, culture, customs, history and traditional values for a more prosperous Commonwealth. If you are a Kentucky Colonel and you have material to submit for our website, you may. If it is not included on our website it may be included in the book about Kentucky colonels and colonelcy, or used to create a microblog post on Facebook.

Kentucky Colonelcy refers to the actual state of being of a Kentucky Colonel, the use of the "Honorable" title, their duties, their charge, the responsibility of discharging his/her office and what types of actions that can be performed. Colonelcy from the Commonwealth is the equivalent of a goodwill ambassadorship to the world, the status and standing of a Kentucky Colonel has many potential benefits and privileges.

Kentucky Colonel Nominations

In deed, the award is the highest form of recognition bestowed to individuals by the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Kentucky colonelcy can only be granted by the Governor and the Secretary of State based upon being nominated by another colonel, being recommended by a third party, or being individually recognized by the state's governor for a noteworthy act that commands the governor's attention. Historically there have been cases where the governor has recognized noteworthy individuals as Kentucky colonels based on formal written suggestions by citizens and other officials of the Commonwealth. Nominations for the title of Kentucky Colonel must be made by an independent third party, it is not recommended that family members living at the same address make nominations because they may be rejected.

Recommendations can be made on the Governor's Website.

Great Seal of the Commonwealth
Many believe the seal depicts Col. Daniel Boone and a Kentucky statesman.


Fellowship with our non-governmental network formation as the American Colonels Network is on a volunteer basis, it is not just for Kentucky colonels, the network is open to all colonels around the world that have duly earned the distinguished honor to become part. Those who subscribe to the network will gain access to more information about American colonelcy.

A communications platform [] is under development now that empowers colonels using a virtual private network (VPN), Identity-as-a-Service (IDaaS), and smartphone application; the program will be released in 2022 to compliment our book. Volunteers in our network are encouraged to provide information relative to their status, engagement in local associations and participate in programs to further their abilities and prominence as honorable ladies and gentlemen serving as the state's goodwill ambassadors. The network will support the ideals of transparency, goodwill, hospitality, integrity, respect, honor, and tradition among its users.

Disclaimer: The American Colonels Network and the Commonwealth Colonels Research Project on Kentucky Colonelcy is not associated or affiliated with, endorsed or sponsored by the Commonwealth of Kentucky except directly through its own colonels and future colonels. Our project is based on providing objective politically neutral, nondiscriminatory, and nonreligious information available for educational, bibliographical, historical and sociological purposes about Kentucky Colonels since Colonial America in 1775. Our WebSite is a Creative Commons endeavor based in the Public Domain all the information presented is for reference by Kentucky colonels, Creative Commons Attribution Policies do apply, all copyrights are reserved by this website's authors.