“Heaven is a Kentucky Kind of Place” Quote Mystery

One of the most commonly used quotes regarding the state of Kentucky (my home state) is the one given above by our former governor: “Heaven must be a Kentucky kind of place!” Yet the governor is not the only one to cite this quote. He, like others from the state, references it often.

One need not search far to find products, images, and the rest with this quote on it. But where did it come from? Who is actually being quoted here? The options are endless and it has been a personal mystery to me.

Perhaps the most prominent solution to the speaker of this quote is Daniel Boone whose role in pioneer Kentucky is legendary.  Here are a few examples:

To their credit, few biographies of Daniel Boone credit the explorer with these words. In his book Daniel Book: The Life and Legacy of an American Pioneer, John Mack Faragher describes the above quote, and others like it, as being common at the time.

“What a Buzzel is amongst People about Kentuck,” wrote a Virginia minister during the early 1770s; “to hear people speak of it one Would think it was a new found Paradise.” The most sublime Edenic comparison came in the sermon of a frontier preacher who, wishing to convey to his congregation the glories of the afterlife, sang: “O my dear honeys, heaven is a Kentucky of a place.” (70-71)

Faragher fails to cite his sources and thus the origin of the above is difficult to track. Regardless, one can see that the tone of this quote was a common one. Kentucky was viewed by many Virginians as a “paradise,” or at least a place of escape.

Other candidates are credited with this iconic Bluegrass quote. Elijah Craig, the pioneer Kentucky pastor and entrepreneur, is credited by Richard Taylor in Elkhorn: Evolution of a Kentucky Landscape (page 21). Most fascinating is the source Taylor cites. The best etymology of this quote is from The Christian Travellor published in 1828. According to Taylor, Elijah Craig (my ancestor) is the originator.

Equally confusing is another candidate, Lewis Craig, the brother of Elijah Craig and also a Kentucky pioneer preacher. In A New History of Kentucky, the Christian Travellor is alluded to and Lewis is credited with the quote. The same is found in Ann Bolton Bevins book Georgetown and Scott County. This is the only time in the book Lewis is quoted since Elijah was the founder of the city.

Other candidates are raised, yet these are the most common ones. Given the close association between the Boone’s and the Craig’s it may be difficult to nail down the etymology of the quote. Peter Brackney summed it up well in Lost Lexington, Kentucky. There he affirms ambiguity writing, “Whether you attribute the old quote to an old Baptist preacher or to Daniel Boone himself does not matter, for the maxim is still true.”

In the book, Kentucky: A Guide to the Bluegrass State, the author suggests the origin of the quote comes from a Methodist minister as reported by Timothy Flint. John Ervin Kirkpatrick makes the same argument in Timothy Flint, Pioneer, Missionary, Author, Editor, 1780-1840. Kirkpatrick writes:

Mr. Flint found the people of Kentucky more enthusiastic and national than any other western people and looking with disdain upon the people of the younger states. He tells an anecdote, said to be familiar to every westerner, about a Methodist preacher from Kentucky preaching in a neighboring state. He was trying to describe heaven. Failing in adjectives and similes he said: “In short, my brethren to say all in in one word, Heaven is a Kentuck of a place.” (76)

So thus we are back to where we began. What we can tell is that the origin of the quote is likely a gospel minister. Most likely it is Elijah Craig given its relationship to Georgetown, KY. It is a common mistake for historians to confuse Lewis and Elijah Craig. My suspicion is that Daniel Boone is often cited due to his influence and popularity in the state. Kentucky moved Boone’s grave from Missouri where he died to the Kentucky capital of Frankfort (where I live) because Boone is considered as the first real explorer of Kentucky.

Regardless, below is the earliest reference to this often cited quote. Isaac Reed in The Christian Travellor in 1818 (Elijah died in 1808).

My dear C———–,

With the new year I began a preaching circuit. The first day, I rode to Paint Lick to preach the next Sabbath; here I put up with Mr. S. Reid, an aged and pious man. On Saturday evening the conversation turned upon preaching, and upon the kind of preaching of the Baptist order, which fills this and the neighbouring counties. Mr. R. then related what he had heard from one of them,now living in the neighbourhood, sometime before. The preacher was descanting upon heaven, and the heavenly state. He wished his hearers to get a just idea of that place, and he attempted to give it by comparison: it was in the meeting-house, not half a mile from where I now write, where the preacher said to his hearers, “O my dear honeys, heaven is a Kentucky of a place.” I tell the tale as it was told to me, and leave it without comment. There are near thirty of one description and another, who are called Baptist preachers, in this small county; but there is not, I suppose, a well educated man in the whole number. It has been the burden of their song in these parts, to cry down learning and a salary for a gospel minister, as an abomination not to be borne.

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