Kentucky Colonel

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Kentucky Colonelcy Certificate
Commissioning Certificate awarded to Daniel S. Peña Sr.png
Kentucky Colonel Commission
Awarded forRecognition of good deed, contribution to state prosperity, community service, or noteworthy action performed by an individual.
Sponsored by Kentucky
Country United States
Presented byGovernor of Kentucky
Reward(s)Letters patent, Commission (document), recognition as part of the state's order of merit, and lifetime use of the honorary title Col. or Kentucky Colonel.
First awarded1895
Last awardedCurrently awarded
WebsiteKentucky Colonels

Kentucky Colonel is the highest title of honor bestowed by the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and is the most well-known of a number of honorary colonelcies conferred by United States governors.[1] A Kentucky Colonel Commission (the certificate) is awarded in the name of the Commonwealth by the Governor to individuals with "Honorable" titular style recognition preceding the names of civilians, for noteworthy accomplishments, contributions to civil society, remarkable deeds, or outstanding service to the community, state, or a nation.[2] The Governor of Kentucky bestows the honorable title with a colonelcy commission, by issuance of letters patent under Common Law upon nomination by another Kentucky colonel, or by being recognized with the "Honorable" title directly by the Governor upon the recommendation of another.

Many famous and noteworthy people have received commissions and been recognized as Kentucky colonels. The award is distributed indiscriminately to people from many walks of life based on their actions and deeds, it does not matter what race, religion, sex, or socioeconomic status of a person, anyone 18 years of age or older can be recommended to become a Kentucky colonel based on their deeds. It was widely understood in throughout the 20th century that, "if you could be recognized as a Kentucky colonel then you could do anything."[3] The same is true of today of honorary colonels, they can do anything they can do under Kentucky Common Law. A person that is recognized as a Kentucky Colonel or obliged to the idea of using the honorable title styling of 'Col.' is reciprocally acknowledged in being officially known by the state as the goodwill ambassador of Kentucky culture, folklore, traditions and values.[4]


Governor Isaac Shelby, the first Kentucky governor to bestow the title of colonel to an aide-de-camp, in 1793.

The history of colonels in Kentucky begins with the pioneer, Daniel Boone when he was commissioned by Col. Judge Richard Henderson of the Transylvania Company to blaze and establish the Wilderness Road with a company of men. In March 1775, Colonel Richard Henderson and Daniel Boone met with more than 1,200 indigenous Cherokee at Sycamore Shoals (present day Elizabethton in northeastern Tennessee). Prior to the signing of the Sycamore Shoals Treaty, Col. Henderson had hired Daniel Boone, an experienced hunter, to travel to the Cherokee towns and to inform them of the upcoming negotiations. Boone had been in southeast Kentucky long before the founding of any Kentucky settlements. Afterward, Boone was commissioned a colonel to blaze what became known as the Wilderness Road, which went from Virginia through the Cumberland Gap and into central Kentucky. Along with a party of about thirty men under his authority as a colonel for the Transylvania Company, Boone marked a path to the Kentucky River, where he established Boonesborough (in present-day Madison County, Kentucky), which was intended to be the capital of Transylvania Colony.

From the early 20th century, it was widely believed, since at least as the 1930s, "that when the Kentucky Militia was deactivated following the War of 1812, Governor Isaac Shelby commissioned Charles Stewart Todd as one of his officers in the campaign, made him an aide-de-camp on the governor's staff with the rank and grade of colonel in 1813".[2] The story was proven to be a myth based in state folklore from the "Derby Colonels" which was challenged in U.S. Federal Court in 2020, when it was shown that Chas. Stewart Todd was made a captain of U.S. Army infantry in 1813, there he was an aide to General William Henry Harrison in the Battle of the Thames. In 1815, Captain Todd became Inspector-General of the Michigan Territory under General Duncan McArthur who commissioned him with the retiring rank of colonel before returning to his home in Kentucky. There he met Governor Isaac Shelby's daughter Leticia, then the Governor after writing him a letter to ask for his daughter's hand.[5] Marrying the Governor's daughter garnered him enough influence to become the youngest Secretary of State several months later under Governor George Madison.

In 2020, researchers involved in a legal dispute came to understand the formal tradition of bestowing the "honorable" title of "colonel" to a civilian went back to before Kentucky became a state under Virginia Colonial Law (Common Law),[6] it was also widely used informally as a courtesy title of respect to refer to older gentlemen with honored reputations, often related to military service in the American Revolution.[2] It was also found that Kentucky before it was a state, there were more than one-hundred colonels living in Kentucky as early as 1785 according to Virginia (Kentucky) land records, American Revolution colonels from everywhere were entitled to 6,667 acres or more in the Kentucky District through land bounties in the form of warrant deeds issued by the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The first colonels from pioneer settlers like Colonel Daniel Boone could be any of those from 1776-1793 or perhaps until 1895 when the title officially became honorary, there were different types of colonels in early Kentucky: there were colonels that were the heads of colonies; there were colonels in charge of companies; a colonel could be the head of a militia installation like a fort; a colonel in charge of an infantry command; retired Revolutionary War colonels; those with large land warrants; there were colonels everywhere. Calling someone colonel in early Kentucky was an honorable and respectful way to demonstrate their authority.[1] In 1802, the United States Military formally adopted the rank of colonel in a similar position to those in the British Army, the incorporation of colonelcy in the U.S. Army redefined and distinguished the colonel from the civilian head of a colony, company or militia apart to become the head of a column of soldiers (brigade) with one lieutenant and four majors.[7]

1st Kentucky County Militia Colonel[edit]

Today it is understood that the titular use of Colonel has its roots in Colonial Virginia, some say the use of the title, Colonel in Kentucky dates back to 1774 and 1775 with Transylvania and Harrod Town colonels.[4] Government records show that the first official "Kentucky" colonel was John Bowman, who was commissioned in the months after the territory was claimed and officially named by the Colony of Virginia in 1776 as one of its own counties. Col. Bowman's "head of colony" commission was issued by Governor Patrick Henry his mission was to "colonize" Kentucky county and form a civil government. His commission certificate reads:

You are therefore, carefully and diligently to discharge the duty of Colonel of the Militia, by doing and performing all Manner of Things thereunto belonging; and you are to pay a ready Obedience to all Orders and Instructions which from Time to Time you may receive from the Convention, Privy Council, or any of your Superior Officers, agreeable to the Rules & Regulations of the Convention, or General Assembly, and to require all Officers and Soldiers under your command to be obedient and to aid you in the Execution of this Commission according to the Intent & Purpose thereof. Given under my Hand & Seal, -Williamsburg this 21st day of December 1776, P. Henry, Jr.

With his official Commonwealth colonelcy in hand Col. Bowman formed a company of 100 men and travelled to Kentucky overland from Williamsburg. When he arrived in Boonesborough he bestowed the title of "Lieutenant Colonel" of Kentucky County to nearly any and all those who were already colonels in their own-right, and to many of his friends, delivering the news that the territory is part of Commonwealth of Virginia and that Transylvanians were all part of Kentucky, some moved south to Tennessee. Shortly thereafter Kentucky County became the Kentucky District with three counties; before it became a state it already had Louisville, Frankfort and Lexington and nine counties by 1791 all subdivided by its Kentucky colonels. To become a colonel was you had to be friendly with one to become one, as it was in Common Law.

Col. Bowman by nature was already a Transylvania lieutenant colonel, he was present as a delegate nineteen months earlier in the creation of the Transylvania Colony with colonels; Daniel Boone, Richard Henderson and eleven other heads of colony ("colonels"), he participated in the Transylvania Convention on May 23, 1775 in Boonesborough. The meeting brought together delegates from four Kentucky settlements, together these colonels wrote the instrumental "Kentucke Magna Charta" which served as a foundational document for Commonwealth of Kentucky (and other state constitutions), there is even an article about improving the breed of horses.[4]

Colonels founding a new Commonwealth[edit]

As early as 1784, a year after Col. Isaac Shelby who was a Revolutionary War colonel from North Carolina settled in the Kentucky District, he and other colonels from the territory's counties began meeting in Danville regularly discussing secession from the Commonwealth of Virginia. In 1791, Colonel Shelby was unanimously selected by his peers to become the first governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The documents seeking statehood incorporated both the Kentucky Magna Charta and the principles of Commonwealth Law. In June of 1792 the Commonwealth of Kentucky was admitted to the United States (Union) as the 15th state with Col. Isaac Shelby its Governor.[8]

Governor Isaac Shelby was a most experienced statesman, head of colony, warranted land owner and equal rights advocate. He was involved in surveying for the Transylvania Company in August of 1775 working under Colonel Daniel Boone and Colonel James Harrod among other colonels, he was paid for his surveying work with a title to lands near Crab Orchard, Kentucky. After his experience surveying for the Transylvania Company and becoming 'unofficially' a lieutenant colonel under Boone, he went off to start his own county getting his own colonelcy for North Carolina's Sullivan County. As a colonel, Shelby was one of the Over the Mountain Men in the Battle of Kings Mountain and he was one of the founding secessionists for the extralegal Free Republic of Franklin which included Sullivan County. Instead of continuing to establish the State of Franklin, knowing what had happened with the Transylvania Company and unclaimed lands; instead in 1783, Shelby moved to Lincoln County in Virginia to claim his land warrants both as a surveyor for the Transylvania Colony and at least 6,667 acres more in bounty lands for his participation in the Battle of Kings Mountain.[9]

After becoming governor, most of the colonels in Kentucky that were involved in the founding of the Commonwealth in 1792 became legislators and government officers. The mission of the first Colonel John Bowman and his designates was completed, they formed a civil government and designated one of their own as the new governor. Under the new head-of-state it was Governor Shelby became responsible for designating who would serve with him in government and who would continue to be acknowledged or recognized as a colonel. State records indicate that his first colonelcy commission as a governor of the Commonwealth was granted to his adjutant general and military aide-de-camp, Col. Percival Pierce Butler in 1793. Colonel Butler served in the role until 1817 under Governor Gabriel Slaughter, Butler was the first civilian uniformed commander of the Kentucky State Militia, however he was not the only colonel in Kentucky, or the only Kentucky Colonel.[10]

In 1813 the Kentucky State Legislature commissioned Richard Mentor Johnson a colonel to form a mounted militia to support the campaign of the War of 1812, this was the state's first cavalry and first legislative colonelcy, this is well documented. This commission was independent of Governor Isaac Shelby during his second term as governor, who supported the War of 1812 with the Kentucky Volunteer Militia. Shelby commissioned Adjutant General Col. John Adair as his first aide-de-camp and Colonel John J. Crittenden as his second aide in 1813 before departing north to the Battle of Thames. Soon thereafter, Kentucky colonels went to assist Colonel Sam Houston defend Texas in the Mexican War.[4]

Civilian honorary officers[edit]

While some early colonels served military roles in the state, colonel in Kentucky was a well-known civilian honorific title belonging to attorneys, judges, county commissioners, large land owners and sheriffs well into 1860. Henry Clay of Fayette County and Cassius Clay of Madison County were both Kentucky colonels. In the latter part of the 19th century, Commonwealth colonelcy took on a more ceremonial function with governors. Colonels in uniform attended functions at the Governor's mansion and stood as symbolic guards at state events. By the late 19th century, the title had become more of an honorary one assigning colonelcy duties to the ceremonial guard and recognizing civilians for their promotion of the prosperity of the state by commuting the Honorable title as an honorary colonel. In 1895, Governor Col. William O'Connell Bradley commissioned the first honorary Kentucky colonels[11] as an award of merit bestowed upon citizens for their individual contributions to the state, good deeds, and noteworthy actions. The Governor could not resist officially designating the title, he had been called "colonel" since his youth himself, having adopted the moniker in his community of Somerset, Kentucky after unsuccessfully attempting to become a soldier in the Civil War for the Union twice in 1861.

Considering as well, the popularity of the idea of the Kentucky Colonel, in 1890, a book was published by Opie Read called 'A Kentucky Colonel' which evolved a new public perception of what a Kentucky colonel was, posing himself more as a refined, well-mannered southern gentleman, rather than a figure in the Kentucky militia. This view was further established by Zoe Anderson Norris with a series of twelve stories published in The Sun (New York) in 1905 describing scenes and incidents in a Kentucky Colonel's life in the South, adding to the allure of the somewhat mythical life of the most distinguished Kentucky colonels.[12][13]

There were so many Kentucky colonels in the Commonwealth, the Louisville Post published an article "Kentucky Colonels: How It Happens They are so Numerous In the Blue Grass State" in September 1889, the article was published by more than 80 regional city newspapers defining the Kentucky Colonel. While this may be one of the reasons Governor Bradley made it an official honorific form of address for civilians, it is not close to the end of the history of Kentucky colonelcy.[3]

At the beginning of the 20th century into early 1930s, Kentucky colonels began to come together to form sociopolitical, charitable, and fraternal organizations.[14] Newspaper archives found online show thousands of articles that contain the terms Kentucky Colonel(s) and more than 20 organizations had formed, some organizations had sub-groups.[3]

Talking about their known history in 1941 the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels stated, "A.O. Stanley, then Governor, commissioned 110 honorary colonels; Gov. E.P. Morrow added 243; Gov. W. Fields, 183; Gov. Flem Sampson, 677; Gov. Ruby Laffoon, 10,450; and Gov. A.B. Chandler, 85. In 1934, at a meeting of Kentucky Colonels a social organization of colonels was affected. Then on March 28, 1936, the Attorney General of Kentucky voided all of these commissions, but a month later they were revived by the Acting Governor, James. E. Wise."[15]

During this time Kentucky colonelcy gained considerable attention as a desirable honorific title that was even being awarded to women, until being harshly ridiculed and called a hollow title by Marsh Henry also known as Col. Henry Watterson, who had been a Kentucky Colonel for over 30 years already in 1920.[16] In 1931 in Las Vegas a well-read story about Kentucky colonels emerged, "Thousand New Kunnels, Suh, In 25 Years".[17] Prior to 1932, only about 1,000 people had received official "Honorable" commissions as Kentucky colonels from Kentucky's governors. Governor Ruby Laffoon, in office from 1931 to 1935, dramatically increased the number of colonels by issuing more than 10,000 commissions in 1933 and 1934; among his motives was officializing the Kentucky colonel to identify with the Commonwealth, taxing the title of colonel, and boosting his own political support. One of his most famous colonelships was granted to restaurateur Harland Sanders, who was commissioned by Laffoon in 1935. Ruby Laffoon was Kentucky's most flamboyant governor and public relations expert, he had to be, he took over the state during the Great Depression, with his aide Colonel Anna Bell Ward he selected some of the most well-known celebrities and well-connected movers and shakers from Kentucky society. He commissioned Shirley Temple, Mickey Mouse and Santa Clause as well. Governor Laffoon's influence on the Kentucky colonel and flair connecting the idea of the Kentucky Colonel to the state and the Kentucky Derby was very successful and brought great prominence to the Kentucky Derby inviting celebrities and heads of state to visit Kentucky each year for Derby Day.

When Governor Albert Benjamin Chandler (better known as Happy Chandler) took office in 1935, he took a much different view on the distinction of a Kentucky colonel commission. Governor Chandler issued only about a dozen new commissions annually, on Derby Day. Governor Keen Johnson followed Governor Chandler's lead during his time in office from 1939 to 1943, commissioning only those select individuals who were deemed to have exhibited exceptionally noteworthy accomplishments and outstanding service to a community, state or the nation.[18] The subsequent governors, however, have typically been much more liberal in issuing Kentucky colonel commissions. [19]

Colonel Harland Sanders, a restaurateur who adopted the honorary title of Colonel as a prominent part of his public persona. Sanders was commissioned by Governor Ruby Laffoon in 1935 and launched Kentucky Fried Chicken as a franchise chain in 1952.

Contemporary Kentucky colonelcy[edit]

Since commissioned Kentucky colonels are considered in Common Law as aide-de-camps to the governors and members of their staff, they are all are entitled to the style of "Honorable" as indicated on their colonelcy commission certificates.[20][21][22] This is rarely used, however; Kentucky colonels are usually just referred to and addressed as "Colonel" and use the abbreviation "Col." like auctioneers in the south and midwest. In writing, usage is Kentucky colonel when the term is not being used as a specific title for an individual. Most properly in writing "Col. First Name, Middle, Surname" should be followed by a comma then "Kentucky Colonel" especially in writing to members of Congress, the Executive and Judicial branches of U.S. Government.

Under Governor Steve Beshear in 2008, so many commissions were being issued that state budget cuts led to a major change in the design of the commission certificate, as the governor was issuing as many as 16,500 colonelships per year.[23] The certificate was downsized from the 10-by-15-inch (25 by 38 cm) size to 8.5 by 14 inches (22 by 36 cm). The wording remained the same on the certificate; however, the traditional gold seal and ribbon were replaced with a state seal that is embossed. Reducing materials for the new certificates was expected to save $5,000 annually for the state; the substantial savings was for excluding the labor formerly needed to apply the gold seal and ribbon by hand. The Kentucky colonels objected to the changes in the certificates, and the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels offered to pay $5,000 a year to keep the traditional certificates. Yet the substantial savings in labor to produce the new certificates led the Secretary of State's office to proceed with the changes.[24]

Col. Russ Marlowe, a 70-year-old Bardstown resident, estimated that he had personally nominated about 500 recipients (mostly military veterans) and that none of his nominations had ever been turned down.[23] John Carbone, a man from Philadelphia who later became a humorist in Kentucky, said that shortly after moving to the state in 1995, he struck up a casual conversation with a stranger while standing in line at a muffin shop, and was soon surprised to receive a Kentucky colonel certificate in the mail, as the man he had spoken with had been a member of the governor's staff and had submitted his name for the award.[23] In a 2008 news article on the subject, a reporter wrote of preparing for writing it by asking some friends and family if they knew anyone who was a Kentucky colonel and being surprised to find that at least a dozen were colonels themselves, and then quipped to the reader, "You’re not a Kentucky Colonel? Actually, neither am I. But sometimes it seems like everybody else is. ...". Surprisingly, only a third of all Kentucky colonels nominated were Kentuckians in 2008.[23]

Recent controversy among colonels[edit]

In 2016, Governor Matt Bevin briefly suspended the program to conduct a review of the requirements for receiving the title and then changed the nomination process so that "only active members of the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels" were allowed to make recommendations for the honor.[25][26][27] Up to that point in time, the longstanding practice had been that recommendations could be submitted by anyone who already was a Kentucky colonel, without any requirement for donations or membership in any particular organization, and at least 85,000 people had received the title.[25]

In 2019, the unincorporated fraternal membership organization Kentucky Colonels International raised concerns and harsh criticism over the changes instituted by Governor Bevin, saying that the commission is a lifetime appointment as an honorary award and should not require colonels to donate annually to a particular organization in order to make nominations and retain their status or privileges.[28] Sherry Crose, executive director of the HOKC, confirmed that there was a donation component to the nomination process under Governor Bevin, but said the HOKC does not control the criteria for the nomination process, which is a matter under the discretion of the sitting governor. She said "The entire nomination process is handled by the governor. We have no say in how it's done."[29]

With the change in the state's government in 2019 the Kentucky Colonels International commissioner wrote to the Governor, published a website and a series of articles advocating the salvation of the honorable title to the standards used under the previous governors and criticizing the current standards.[28] The organization also attempted to develop a new membership program for Kentucky colonels, citing the lack of members voting rights in the Honorable Order. This placed the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels on the offensive and prompted them to file for trademark registration to protect their brand name ideas using the term "Kentucky Colonels ® _______" followed by the filing of a Federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky. The lawsuit alleged trademark infringement and unfair competition, but the matter was settled by the parties with an Agreed Permanent Injunction voluntarily entered into prior to answering all the questions it raised based on the organizations' past histories together and the history of the Kentucky colonel which was presented to the Court.[6]

The nomination process changed around the same time the lawsuit began in February 2020, under Governor Andy Beshear (who entered office in 2019 and is the son of the former Governor Steve Beshear who had issued more commissions than even Ruby Laffoon), the governor had the nomination process frozen from December 10, 2019. On February 19, 2020, Governor Andy Beshear not only removed the donation requirement, but also removed the requirement that the nominators be among those previously designated as Kentucky Colonels.[29] Beshear began allowing nominations to be submitted by anyone among the general public through a website form which requires that the person's qualifications are declared and well-elaborated prior to being considered for a Kentucky colonelcy.[29]

Modern role as a goodwill ambassador[edit]

Although there are no specific duties required of those to whom the title is granted, the Kentucky colonel has served the Commonwealth of Kentucky as a cultural icon since it began. Legally the current job description for a Kentucky Colonel is to serve as an ambassador of goodwill for the state's culture, customs, and traditions, colonels are implicitly obliged with the honorable title of being recognized today as the promoters of economic development and tourism as well. In Common Law colonels had more rights and authority based on their own and everyone else's understanding during the colonial times, these common law customs continue today; although they are not as easily applied under the rule of the government created by the Kentucky colonels of yesterday.


The honor has been given to a broad variety of notable people – including various celebrities, artists, writers, athletes, performers, business people, US and foreign politicians, and members of foreign royal families – some of whom have no obvious connection to Kentucky.[30] It has also been bestowed upon various people who are not generally considered especially notable – they have been people from "all walks of life".[2]


Under the current process established by Governor Andy Beshear, nominations and recommendations for the honor can be submitted by both Kentucky colonels and members of the general public, the nomination form solicits information about "any active or previous service in a charitable organization or community service and/or any military service", and stating the "noteworthy deed" why the person deserves to be recognized as "Honorable" without requiring an affiliation with (or donation) to any particular organization.[31]

Kentucky colonel organizations[edit]

Today there are a number of charitable, fraternal, and social organizations around the world that are either dedicated to, show deference to, or provide fellowship to Kentucky colonels. The social formation of these organizations created by those who have received the title has been facilitated by the use of social media allowing new fellowships and chapters to be created. There are currently organized fellowships (civil societies) located in the United Kingdom,[32] Philadelphia,[33] Switzerland,[34] Spain, New York, Toronto, Germany, and several other places.[14][35] Such groups have sometimes teamed together to support humanitarian causes like tornado disaster relief in Kentucky in 2012 and in Oklahoma in 2013. This has resulted in individuals spreading social media messages using Facebook diplomacy to generate goodwill towards the state of Kentucky and further recognition of the honorary title.[36] There are two large Facebook groups online as well one is called the Kentucky Colonel Community and the other is Kentucky Colonel Social Media Club, both are popular places to find other colonels.

Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels[edit]

The Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels (HOKC) is the largest and most well-known organization of Kentucky colonels, so well-known that their name, trademarks and service marks, "Kentucky Colonels ®" have become synonymous with their identity. Kentucky Colonels was first established during the depression in 1933 by Governor Ruby Laffoon to raise tax-revenues and attract attention to the state, it was founded based on the recommendation of Governor Flem Sampson in 1931. Governor Laffoon awarded over 10,000 commissions between 1932-1935, he established the organization originally as a state order of merit with an office at the capital. After being criticized politically and challenged legally by the Attorney General of the Commonwealth, Beverly Vincent who cancelled 17,0000 colonel commissions in 1936; the practice was reinstated by James Wise serving as the acting governor under Governor Happy Chandler exactly one month later. Since 1936 "Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels" has been dependent on each of Kentucky's governors to make new colonels. In 1957 they incorporated the organization as a nonprofit dedicated to building playgrounds, curating history, awarding scholarships and providing relief to Kentuckians in need.[6]

After a person receives a commission from the governor they automatically become an honorary lifetime member of organization. Recipients of Kentucky colonel commissions are invited to donate and participate in the HOKC's charitable efforts throughout the state to be considered an active member.[2][37] The Governor of Kentucky serves symbolically as the "Commander-in-Chief" of the Honorable Order, and its board of trustees recognized as its 'Generals' who serve on a volunteer basis.[2] The mission of the organization is to aid and promote the Commonwealth of Kentucky and its citizens.[38] The organization raises money to support Kentucky charities, educational organizations, and to conduct other good works that will help the citizens of Kentucky. The organization's charitable efforts have also sometimes extended past the borders of the Commonwealth, such as contributing to natural disaster relief in neighboring states. By 1979, annual donations exceeded $500,000, and by 1992, they exceeded $1 million.[19] In 2020 the organization made grants to 265 organizations in the state in excess of 2.9 million dollars.[39]

An early example of the charitable activities organized by the Honorable Order was relief efforts for the Ohio River flood of 1937, which had a devastating effect on northern Kentucky and other states along the Ohio River. Colonels Fred Astaire, Eddie Cantor, and Irving Mills were especially instrumental in fund-raising for this project.[40] In addition to its direct charity work known as its Good Works Program, the HOKC organizes special events such as a Homecoming Weekend and events celebrating the Kentucky Derby, and sells Kentucky colonel-themed commemorative merchandise such as apparel and drinkware bearing its Kentucky Colonel Shield logo and the Great Seal of the HOKC.[41] HOKC special events often celebrate features of Kentucky culture, such as bourbon whiskey, horse farms, horse racing, and the local museums, restaurants and tourism attractions, as well as promoting the Good Works Program.[42]

In 2008, a spokesman for the HOKC said the organization currently had 103,700 members that it considered "active" in their organization, and that they included people from every state and 62 foreign countries, with 40–45% of them being women and only one third of them being within Kentucky. Colonels are not required to officially join the HOKC, and he further said "We don't have a clue as to how many Colonels are out there."[23]

Commonwealth Colonels[edit]

Another organization for Kentucky colonels was the Kentucky Colonels International[43][44] which was a part of Globcal International[45] until February 25, 2020 when the trade name was abandoned as a result of being withdrawn as an assumed corporation name with the Secretary of State's office because of the filing of a trademark and trade name infringement lawsuit by the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels (HOKC). Several months later after a Preliminary Injunction was imposed the organization re-emerged as an unincorporated Creative Commons authorship called the Commonwealth Colonels, launching new Creative Commons website spin-offs, "American Colonelcy" and "Kentucky Colonelcy" and mounting an incredible defense case.[46] The lawsuit was settled and dismissed with prejudice, under an Agreed Permanent Injunction and an Agreed Dismissal Order entered by the parties on February 23, 2021.[47][6]

The membership organization that was originally formed in 1998 and was active online until 2001.[48] In 2009, the members reappeared on Facebook to function as a non-state decentralized civil society organization which lists, networks, promotes and connects various organizations, international chapter development, and online groups that have been developed and identified in the sphere of the Internet and the social media.[28] According to their original blog, the organization's existence and formation was challenged by the HOKC in 2001, 2016 and in 2019.[49] In 2020 a lawsuit was filed, in 2021 to settle the case they agreed not to start an organization for colonels, but write a book and publish the history instead. Anyone donating or contributing to the content of Commonwealth Colonels or the American Colonels Network needs to understand that they are not the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels.

In the Settlement Conference between the HOKC and the primary website author, Col. David J. Wright representing other Kentucky colonels, it was politically agreed, negotiated and understood that HOKC would not interfere with the Kentucky Colonelcy website team or collaborating researchers efforts to publish books about the title, operate social media sites or influence human lives, persons or people that is/are Kentucky colonel(s) using Creative Commons materials or websites that are operated by authorship groups like Commonwealth Colonels or Transylvania Colonels or any other name that is similar or can be confused with their trademarks, if the endeavors were for cultural, educational, historical, informational, or literary purposes; or likewise, not to interfere with HOKC use of its registered "Kentucky Colonels ®" trademarks or service marks or violate the Agreed Permanent Injunction.[6][50]

Kentucky Colonel toast[edit]

In 1936, New York advertising agency owner Colonel Arthur Kudner wrote a toast to Kentucky colonels. The toast was quickly adopted by the HOKC, and it was widely promoted and published for use by colonels. The toast has since been ceremoniously presented at each of the Kentucky Colonels' Derby Eve Banquets:

I give you a man dedicated to the good things of life, to the gentle, the heartfelt things, to good living, and to the kindly rites with which it is surrounded. In all the clash of a plangent world he holds firm to his ideal – a gracious existence in that country of content "where slower clocks strike happier hours". He stands in spirit on a tall-columned veranda, a hospitable glass in his hand, and he looks over the good and fertile earth, over ripening fields, over meadows of rippling bluegrass. The rounded note of a horn floats through the fragrant stillness. Afar, the sleek and shining flanks of a thoroughbred catch the bright sun. The broad door, open wide with welcome ... the slow, soft-spoken word ... the familiar step of friendship ... all of this is his life and it is good. He brings fair judgment to sterner things. He is proud in the traditions of his country, in ways that are settled and true. In a trying world darkened by hate and misunderstanding, he is a symbol of those virtues in which men find gallant faith and of the good men might distill from life. Here he stands, then. In the finest sense, an epicure ... a patriot ... a man. Gentlemen, I give you, the Kentucky Colonel.[51][52]

Cultural influence[edit]

Those who have received the commission of the Kentucky Colonel have often used the title, nickname or the image of the ideas of Kentucky colonelcy to promote their business or ideals while simultaneously promoting the state's customs and traditions, resulting in the honor being a well-recognized trademark of Kentucky's culture. There have been quite a few musical groups (bands) that used the name or incorporated the ideas of the Kentucky colonel in their performance. Starting around 1889 culture began incorporating the idea of the Kentucky Colonel(s) as the name or part of the name of bars, beer, bourbon, barbecue, burgoo, hotels, food, liquor stores, plants, restaurants, social clubs, sports teams, tobacco products and more. The Kentucky Colonel has always been most notorious for drinking bourbon, making moonshine liquor, storytelling and duelling over their honor starting in the 19th century. Likewise colonels have been portrayed in a number of films, cartoons, movies, books and featured in newspapers since the 1850s.[3]


The title of the founder and symbolic icon of the fast-food restaurant chain KFC, Colonel Harland Sanders, comes from his status as a Kentucky colonel. He became so well known that he was sometimes referred to simply as "The Colonel".

Another example of use of the Kentucky colonel title in business marketing is seen in the ongoing historic association between Kentucky and bourbon whiskey production. As of 2013, approximately 95 percent of all bourbon was produced in Kentucky, and the state had 4.9 million barrels of bourbon in the process of aging.[53][54] The historic distiller James B. Beam is referred to as "Colonel James B. Beam" for the marketing of the Jim Beam brand (the largest-selling brand of bourbon).[55] The Sazerac Company similarly refers to the distiller Albert Blanton as "Colonel Blanton" for their marketing of the Blanton's brand. In both cases, the "Colonel" title refers to being a Kentucky colonel. A brand of Kentucky bourbon called Kentucky Colonel was produced in the 1980s,[56] and at least two current brands of Kentucky bourbon have the word "Colonel" in their name, the Colonel E. H. Taylor and Colonel Lee bourbon brands.


A number of sports teams in Kentucky, especially in Louisville, its largest city, have been known as the Kentucky Colonels or the Louisville Colonels. These include the Kentucky Colonels professional basketball team of 1967–1976, the Kentucky Colonels professional basketball team of 2004, and the Eastern Kentucky Colonels athletic teams of Eastern Kentucky University. The athletic teams from Centre College in Danville are also known as the Colonels.


A popular bluegrass band of the 1960s was also called the Kentucky Colonels. It included Clarence White, who was later with The Byrds and who also worked extensively as a session musician with various highly prominent performers. There are a great number of other musicians that have used the idea or image of the Kentucky Colonel in their act.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "American Colonel's Network". American Colonel's Network. Retrieved October 30, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e f SOS Office Staff (February 23, 2021). "Kentucky Colonels". Kentucky Secretary of State. Commonwealth of Kentucky. Archived from the original on March 5, 2021. Retrieved February 25, 2021.
  3. ^ a b c d Wright, David (February 25, 2021). "American Newspapers". Kentucky Colonelcy. American Colonels Network. Retrieved February 25, 2021.
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  • Carl Edwin Lindgren. Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels (February/March 2001). Il Mondo del Cavaliere, Vol. I, No. 1, p. 14. ISSN 1592-1425.

External links[edit]

Commonwealth of Kentucky
Kentucky Colonels ® Membership
Kentucky Colonelcy Creative Commons