The Story of Captain Jack Hart

The Hart House

The Hart House is the newest addition to our guest houses. The restored guest house named after Jack Hart, who came to Kentucky in 1774 as an enslaved person and bodyguard of Captain Nathaniel Hart. He was often referred to as Captain Jack Hart, Big Jack, or Hart’s Jack.

He was present in 1775 at the signing of the Sycamore Shoals Treaty in Tennessee, which resulted in the purchase of “Kaintucke” from the Cherokees.

Early records show that Captain Jack Hart played a central role in Daniel Boone’s early exploration of the state during the mid-1770s serving as the pioneer’s guide or “pilot” and was likely was an integral part of selecting the site for Fort Boonesborough.

He was given a rifle by Nathaniel’s brother, David, and was known to be an excellent marksman. When help was needed to fight the revolutionary war battle at Blue Lick, Captain Jack Hart loaned his rifle to a settler while he stayed at Boonesborough to help protect the fort. The man returned, but the rifle did not.

When Nathaniel Hart was killed in 1782 and his daughter married Isaac Shelby, the first Kentucky governor, Captain Jack Hart moved to Lincoln County. He doubtlessly helped Shelby clear ground and build the living and slave quarters on his farm, Traveler’s Rest.

He purchased his freedom from Nathaniel Hart Jr. for the sum of $400 in July 1803. The emancipation paper is filed in the Lincoln County Courthouse with Isaac Shelby and Ephraim McDowell as witnesses.

A portrait was painted of Captain Jack Hart and for a while it was hung in Spring Hill, the Hart family home in Woodford County, until it was apparently destroyed by a fire. A woodgraving is all that remains of his image.

Quite a lot of documentation from the Hart family shows he was held in extremely high regard, not only by the Hart family, but by many of Kentucky’s early leaders.

Captain Jack Hart is buried at Traveler’s Rest cemetery in Lincoln County. He died sometime before 1850, having lived a long life.

Dr. Anne Butler is responsible for the providing the information to the Kentucky Legislature in 2007 so they could pass a resolution in honor of Captain Jack Hart and his service to the Commonwealth.

It is important to note that black settlers like Captain Jack Hart did not migrate to Kentucky by choice—they came as slaves with no rights and no promises of a bright future. Yet even against this backdrop, many Kentuckians of African descent overcame the circumstances of the era, as well as the difficulties to come, to make their impact felt in Kentucky and beyond.

Source information: Dr. Anne Butler, professor, Kentucky State University; Meade County News: Jack Hart, One of the First Settlers – The Beloved Companion of Captain Nathaniel Hart, December 16, 2020; A First of its Kind: Kentucky African American Encyclopedia Celebrates State’s History, by Whitney Hale, Mack McCormick, August 17, 2015

The photo above was taken from a deed book located in the Lincoln County Courthouse where Jack Hart bought his freedom from Nathaniel Hart for $400 in 1803.