Former Gov. Letcher was educated in Danville

Published 12:49 pm Friday, April 2, 2021


History columnist

Former Governor Robert P. Letcher is credited with helping build Kentucky’s first governor’s mansion in Frankfort. He was educated in Joshua Fry’s private academy near Danville, and was a politician in early Kentucky.

Robert P. Letcher

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“It is reputed to be the oldest official executive residence officially still in use in the United States, as the mansion is the official residence of the executive residence officially still in use in the United States, and is the resident of the lieutenant governor of Kentucky.”

Letcher served as the 15th governor of Kentucky, 4th and 5th District House of Representatives, and was a diplomat to Mexico.

Nicknamed “Black Bob”, Letcher was known as a witty and gregarious campaigner. He also was “known to distract audiences at his opponents’ campaign speeches by playing a fiddle.”

Letcher’s political career began in 1813 when he was elected to represent Garrard County in the state House of Representatives. He served two terms.

Ten years later, he was elected as a Democratic Republican of the 18th Congress in 1823. He served in the 4th district for 10 years when Garrard County became part of the 5th district.

In 1836, Letcher served as presidential elector on the Whig ticket. He returned to the Kentucky House later that year and was re-elected every year until 1838. He also served as speaker of the house.

Letcher was elected governor 1840, defeating his Democratic opponent, Judge Richard French. The Whig Party also won both houses in the state legislature.

On his final day in office, Letcher proclaimed the first Thanksgiving Day on Sept. 26, 1844. After leaving office, he returned to his law practice in Frankfort.

Letcher was appointed as the U.S. Envoy and Minister to Mexico in 1848 by President Zachary Taylor. He went to Mexico City in 1850 and returned home two years later. He remained active in Kentucky politics and was named to the 8th Kentucky Congressional seat.

Letcher lost his last race for public office to John C. Breckinridge in Congressional race in 1852 and resumed his law profession.

Virginia native

Born in Goochland County, Virginia, on Feb. 10, 1788, he was one of 12 children of Stephen Giles and Betsy Perkins Letcher. The family moved to Harrodsburg about 1800, and later settled in Garrard County.

He attended common schools, but was dismissed for being “unruly.’’ He also studied masonry in his father’s brickyard. He later attended Fry’s Academy and gained a sound education.

He returned to his father’s brickyard where traditions say he helped build the state’s first governor’s mansion alongside his friend and future governor Thomas Metcalfe.

After Letcher studied law under Humphrey Marshall, he was admitted to the bar and began practice in Lancaster.

In War of 1812

Letcher also served as judge advocate in the volunteer militia during the War of 1812.

Letcher was married twice, first to Susan Oden Epps and later to Charlotte Robertson. No children were born in either marriage, but he and Charlotte raised one of their nieces.

Susan died in 1816, and Charlotte died in 1879.

Letcher died Jan. 24, 1861, and is buried in Frankfort Cemetery.

(Research for this article was taken from