George W. Hatton's Long Road


St. Paul United Methodist Church in Paris, Kentucky. Image via Google Earth.
After the 1872 presidential election, in which he'd been one of Horace Greeley's most prominent African American supporters, Hatton remained active in veterans affairs and as a speaker at reunions and gatherings. He was also rising in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Sometime in the 1870s he relocated with his family to Paris, Kentucky, where he led the St. Paul M. E. Church, a congregation that still exists. It is believed to be the oldest African American Methodist church in Kentucky, the building having been constructed sometime between 1870 and 1876. By the 1880 Census, George and Frances had a daughter Mary, age 11.

by Andy Hall

Though he was a long way from his old homes in Maryland and Washington, D.C., the old soldier remained a leader in his new community. When a local black man, William Giles, was charged with shooting and attempting to kill another man. The case was heard and dismissed by the local court, but soon after Giles found himself re-indicted and put on the docket to be tried by the circuit court. A group of black citizens, led by George Hatton, protested this move on the grounds that the indicting grand jury contained no black members, saying this violated the Civil Rights Act of 1871. The circuit judge overruled their objection, but allowed the case to be transferred to federal court, where Giles and his supporters believed he would get a fairer hearing. This event led to the formation of one of Kentucky's early civil rights organizations, the Bourbon County Protective Union of Color, with Reverend Hatton as its first president.

There is, however, evidence that late in the decade Rev. Hatton fell into a decline, possibly as a result of alcoholism. The Maysville, Kentucky Evening Bulletin noted in March 1892 that "Rev. G.W. Hatton, the colored preacher and politician who entertained Maysville Republicans several times during the campaign of 1888, is in custody at Louisville charged with grand larceny. He seems to have "fallen from grace." He was fined $20 not long since for trying to kiss an old white woman, and the Courier-Journal says he has been in court on several occasions of late charged with drunkenness." Hatton's fall continued, as mentioned in another Evening Bulletin notice two years later, in the fall of 1894:

George W. Hatton, the colored preacher and politician, attempted suicide at Winchester this week by taking morphine. His church had dismissed him and he was despondent. The Republicans of this district ought to have given him a job to help Judge Pugh out. They had him here a few years ago, making speeches for Major Burchett.

The outcome of these court cases is not known. But despite his personal struggles, Hatton continued to campaign for candidates and important legislation, and his skills as an orator remained intact. An 1892 article from the Indianapolis, Indiana Freeman, under the title, "The Negro Tariff Reformers," gives a glimpse of Hatton's stump speech style:

George W. Hatton made the speech of the evening. He is from Paris, Ky, and has a voice that had no trouble being heard. His talk was spiced with humorous anecdotes and stories which frequently raised his audience to frantic applause. He drew a comparison for the two parties as follows: "The Republican party, if it never does another thing for our race, pulled us out of the cabin and said, 'G'long up the road.' The Democratic party yelled: 'Stop that air, nigger,' and they've been yelling it ever since."

When he concluded the audience sang "John Brown's Body Lies a-Mouldering in the Grave," "Battle Cry of Freedom," and others until the speaking resumed.

From the mid-1890s forward, there are very few references for George Hatton. In a July 1892 listing of employees of the Treasury Department, Hatton is listed as being employed at the Lousiville Customs House as a janitor, with an $800 annual salary.

Presented by

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus


How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.


Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.


The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.


Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.


Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses


Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in National

From This Author

Just In