Farmington: Speed Family Home


Originally home to the Speed family of Louisville, Farmington was once a thriving hemp plantation of 550 acres.  The Federal-style house was built in 1815-16 using a labor force consisting largely of skilled enslaved African-Americans.  As many as sixty-four slaves were once owned by John Speed.


It was during an 1841 visit to Farmington that Abraham Lincoln witnessed firsthand slavery on a plantation.  Visiting his friend Joshua Speed, Lincoln stayed at Farmington for three weeks.  Upon leaving Kentucky, Lincoln witnessed a sight he would remember for years to come.  After boarding a steamboat at the Louisville waterfront, Lincoln saw slaves chained together where they were being sold down South.  In a letter to Joshua’s half sister Mary, Lincoln described the sight: “They were chained six and six together.  A small iron clevis was around the left wrist of each . . . So that the Negroes were strung together precisely like so many fish on a trot-line.”  This image stayed with Lincoln, and he again wrote of the incident in 1855.  In a letter to Joshua Speed, Lincoln wrote that the scene had continued to torment him. 


Lincoln remained close to the Speed family, with Joshua being described as his “most intimate friend.”  Although the two men held differing opinions on the issue of slavery, they remained friends throughout the Civil War.  Lincoln also became acquainted with Joshua’s older brother, James Speed, during his 1841 trip to Farmington.  Lincoln appointed him attorney general in 1864. 


John Rutherford's view of Farmington from the Anthony Philip Heinrich Scrapbook, 1820

Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Music Division