Looking Back: Granny Adkins worked for Kentucky’s first governor

Published 1:00 pm Thursday, June 3, 2021


Contributing writer

A Danville woman who claimed she was a waiting maid for Kentucky’s first governor was featured in an article in The Kentucky Advocate in March 1901.

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“Granny”Judith Adkins, a Black woman also claims to have “passed through the allotted three score years and ten,” making a total of being 116 years old. She said “she had lived in three different centuries, and yet survived thus far in good enough health to bid defiance to the whips and scores of time for some years to come.”

She said worked for Governor Isaac Shelby when he held the office in 1792 when she was 7 years old. She remembered much about her life when she was with the Shelby family. She apparently remembered more about that period of her life than in recent years.

Although she knows that she had descendants to the fourth generation, she did not know how numerous they were, much less remember their names.

However, she recalled with perfect ease the names of most Shelby’s children, and readily called them off: “Alfred, Thomas, Jimmy, Issac, and Evan, and four girls, Letitia, Susan, Sally and Nancy.”

Granny Atkins had 11 children, but her family tree had grown too extensive in the last half century for her to keep track of her descendants at her age.

She described accurately the stone house of the Shelby’s, which was occupied by some of the family in 1901, and remembered the Indians, who were then more numerous than desirable.

The friendly Indians, she said, used to pay occasional visits to Governor Shelby while on their expeditions through this section of Kentucky. He entertained Indians lavishly, and amused them by contests of marksmanship with bows and arrows, or whatever they had.

Treated well

Judith said the governor, during his lifetime, never allowed her to be whipped. She was his favorite, and when she married, she was allowed to dress in the wedding clothes of the wife of Alfred Shelby.

She still wore a shawl which once belonged to the governor’s wife and was passed on to her. The shawl was made of fine texture, and was so ancient as to defy conjecture as to its make except by an expert.

Takes care of business

“Granny was sharp enough to attend her money affairs, but has never learned to count money in the American system.”

She had to resort to the old English denominations of six pence, nine pence, and shillings, to get an idea of what money was worth — a practice that endured in the Western states until as late as the War of 1812.

Gets new teeth

She recently had a new set of false teeth made, and was able to walk several blocks to have the impression taken.

In appearance one would take her to be a very well preserved old woman of perhaps 85 or 90. Though very stooped, she got around about her room without difficulty, and a partial loss of hearing seems to be the only noticeable effect of her extremed old age.

She liked to talk, and was eager to impact all of the information she could, anticipating being ”written up” with a great deal of pleasure.

Almost her first words were an assertion that she was a 116 years old, and served as waiting maid for Governor Shelby, she seemed to take great pride in marvelous her success against the encroachments of “Father Time.”

Her chief occupation was in making fancy work quilts, and other sewing. She made her own clothes, and has never worn glasses, and threaded her needle with the greatest accuracy.

She was a regular communicant of the Methodist Church.

She lived with David Langford and his wife.

Granny’s husband was a soldier in the Federal Army, and she drew a pension which provided modest support.

“She was undoubtedly the oldest resident of this area of state.” She was born in 1785, according to The Advocate.