O My Dear Honeys, Heaven Is a Kentucky of a Place

Daniel Boone? Baptist Preacher? Methodist Preacher? Edward Stanly? Lewis Craig? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The U.S. state of Kentucky is well-known for its beautiful scenery. According to legend when the frontiersman Daniel Boone first encountered the land he compared it to paradise. Here are three versions of the saying:

  • Heaven must be a Kentucky kind of place.
  • Heaven is a real Kentuck sort of a place.
  • Heaven is a perfect Kaintuck of a place.

Would you please explore the provenance of this expression?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in an 1828 book by a travelling preacher named Isaac Reed who visited Paint Lick, Kentucky and wrote down his thoughts in a letter dated February 10, 1818. A resident told Reed about a memorable remark delivered during a sermon by a previous religious speaker. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

The preacher was descanting upon heaven, and the heavenly state. He wished his hearers to get a just idea of that place, and he attempted to give it by comparison: it was in the meeting-house, not half a mile from where I now write, where the preacher said to his hearers, “O my dear honeys, heaven is a Kentucky of a place.” I tell the tale as it was told to me, and leave it without comment.

QI has found no substantive evidence that Daniel Boone crafted this saying. The words were attributed to him in 1967 many decades after his death in 1820.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1827 a Maryland newspaper printed an extract from a letter written by a gentleman who was touring through Kentucky: 2

The country as I have said is extremely beautiful particularly about this place, and the Methodist preacher who described Heaven to his congregation, as a ‘Kentucky of a place,’ would not have very far missed it were the whole state like Fayette county, but I have seen some places to which a man might prefer a comfortable corner in Purgatory.

In 1834 a newspaper in North Carolina recounted the assertions of a preacher in Kentucky who described heaven as a paradise of shady walks and fragrant flowers. The occupations of the afterworld would be forever delightful: 3

But there still remained one metaphor to cap the climax; and that he now brought forth: “In a word,” said he, “my dear hearers, that you may have a full and perfect idea of heaven, I assure you IT IS A REAL KENTUCKY OF A PLACE.”

In 1850 congressman Edward Stanly, of North Carolina delivered a speech containing an instance of the saying: 4

Yes, sir, I have heard the anecdote from Mr. Clay, that a preacher in Kentucky, when speaking of the beauties of Paradise, when he desired to make his audience believe it was a place of bliss, said it was a Kentucky of a place. Sir, this preacher had never visited the western counties of North Carolina.

Also in 1850 “The Knickerbocker: Or, New-York Monthly Magazine” printed the following depiction of a religious orator: 5

At another time, an odd specimen of humanity was occupying the pulpit, and attempted to wind up a loud and not uninteresting sermon with a description of Heaven, its joys, ambrosial fruits, golden streets, and crystal streams; its freedom from man’s constant earthly attendants, pain, sorrow, and care; and when he seemed to have exhausted his imagination and his vocabulary, he added, as though a far more perfect idea might have been comprised in few words, ‘In short, my dear brethren, Heaven is a real Kentuck sort of a place!’ I need not add, that the speaker was a Kentuckian.

In 1869 W. L. Adams delivered a speech in Boston, Massachusetts that employed the variant name “Kaintuck”: 6

The hard shell Baptist brother, when trying to describe heaven to a Kentucky audience, after using all the adjectives he could think of, wound up by telling them it was “A perfect Kaintuck of a place.” (applause.)

In 1891 a biographical sketch of “Timothy Flint, Missionary, Geographer, Editor, Novelist, and Poet” included the following: 7

A prejudice prevailed against Yankees, but every Kentuckian was enthusiastically devoted to his own state. The supreme excellence of the grand old commonwealth was illustrated by a story of a Methodist preacher, who, endeavoring to picture to his hearers the perfections of the world to come, capped the climax by saying: “In short, my brethren, to say all in one word, heaven is a Kentuck of a place!”

In 1912 “An American Glossary: Being an Attempt To Illustrate Certain Americanisms Upon Historical Principles” by Richard H. Thornton included an entry for “Kentuck” with two citations: Edward Stanly’s speech in 1850 and “The Knickerbocker” article in 1850. The work presented the following definition 8

Kentuck. A familiar designation of Kentucky, which in early days was spelled Kentucke.

In 1949 “Upon This Continent: A New Chronicle of America by Abel Plenn” printed a passage mentioning both Daniel Boone and the saying; however, the saying was not ascribed to Boone: 9

Many of them were frontiersmen. Like Daniel Boone, who was brought up by the Indians in the “western” country where the folk believed, from what they had heard the traveling preachers tell them, that “Heaven must be a Kaintuck’ of a place.”

In 1967 the Governor of Kentucky Edward T. Breathitt delivered a speech in which he credited the saying to Boone: 10

Daniel Boone long ago, when he first came through Cumberland Gap, said, “Heaven must be a Kaintuck of a place.” Today, more than ever before, Daniel Boone’s description fits the Bluegrass State.

In 2000 an Associated Press story attributed the saying to a religious leader named Lewis Craig: 11

One Baptist preacher, the Rev. Lewis Craig, told his Virginia flock, “Oh my honeys, heaven is a Kentucky of a place,” before moving them to the state.

In conclusion, the saying was in circulation by 1818. The first attribution was to an anonymous preacher. The preacher was a Methodist according to an 1827 citation and a Baptist according to an 1869 citation. The attribution to Daniel Boone is unsupported.

Image Notes: Kentucky landscape from 7rystan at Pixabay. Image has been cropped and resized.

(Great thanks to Jennifer Cramer whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1828, The Christian Traveller: In Five Parts by Isaac Reed, Letter XI, Date of letter: February 10, 1818, Letter sent to: My dear C____, Location of letter: Lancaster, Start Page 47, Quote Page 47 and 48, (Facsimile from University Microfilms, Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1973) Printed by J & J Harper, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1827 August 16, Maryland Gazette, Destructive Rain (From the New Jersey Eagle), Extract of a letter from a gentleman of this state, at present on a tour through Kentucky and Ohio, Date of letter: July 24, 1827, Location of letter: Lexington, Kentucky, Quote Page 3, Column 2, Annapolis, Maryland. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1834 October 11, The Farmers’ Reporter, Heaven described by a Kentucky Preacher, Quote Page 283 (Page 5), Column 2, Winston-Salem, North Carolina. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1850, Speech of Edward Stanly, of N. Carolina, Exposing the Causes of the Slavery Agitation, Delivered in the House of Representatives, March 6, 1850, Quote Page 6, Column 1, Printed by Gideon & Company, Washington D.C. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  5. 1850 April, The Knickerbocker: Or, New-York Monthly Magazine, Volume 35, Section: Editor’s Table, Quote Page 370, Samuel Hueston, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  6. 1869, Lecture on Oregon and the Pacific Coast by W. L. Adams, Delivered in Tremont Temple, Boston, October 14, 1869, Start Page 1, Quote Page 5, Isaac W. May, Boston, Massachusetts. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  7. 1891, Beginnings of Literary Culture in the Ohio Valley: Historical and Biographical Sketches by W. H. Venable, Chapter XI: Timothy Flint, Missionary, Geographer, Editor, Novelist, and Poet, Start Page 323, Quote Page 335, Robert Clarke & Company, Cincinnati, Ohio. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  8. 1912, An American Glossary: Being an Attempt To Illustrate Certain Americanisms Upon Historical Principles by Richard H. Thornton (Philadelphia Bar, Law Professor in the University of Oregon, 1884-1905), Volume 1: A to L, Entry: Kentuck, Start Page 510, Quote Page 511, Francis & Company, London. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  9. 1949 Copyright, Upon This Continent: A New Chronicle of America by Abel Plenn, Book 3, Chapter IX: Revolutionaries, Quote Page 109, Creative Age Press, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  10. 1984, The Public Papers of Governor Edward T. Breathitt, 1963-1967, Edited by Kenneth E. Harrell, Series: Public Papers of the Governors of Kentucky, Speech title: Industrial Appreciation Luncheon, Speech location: New York, New York, Speech date: September 22, 1967, Start Page 118, Quote Page 120, University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky. (Google Books Preview)
  11. 2000 August 20, The Courier-Journal, Park honors Cumberland Gap’s past by Kimberly Hefling (Associated Press), Quote Page B1, Column 4, Louisville, Kentucky. (Newspapers_com)