“We Were Here”: Sleettown
In February of 1864, the United States Colored Troops began enlisting free and enslaved African Americans, despite opposition from some Kentucky military officials and politicians. Brothers Henry and Preston Sleet, both enslaved in Boyle County, enlisted that same year- risking their lives for freedom. Henry became a member of the Fifth United States Colored Heavy Artillery in Vicksburg, Mississippi in August, and Preston joined Company G, 123rd United States Colored Troops at Camp Nelson in Jessamine County, Kentucky.
After the conclusion of the war, the brothers purchased property that had been used as a staging ground for the Confederate Army during the infamous Battle of Perryville, where they began to sharecrop the land. Both were now married with children, and other members of the Sleet family began to move onto the property. Then came other families: the Swans, Pattersons, Leonards, Peters, Clarks, Browns, Popes and Randolphs.
The town became a self-reliant community, complete with a store, restaurant, church and school. The sense of fellowship was strong in the town- neighbors worked on the land together, their children played together, they cooked together and they cleaned together.
For nearly 70 years, the community thrived. Until slowly, as better employment opportunities became available in the surrounding towns, citizens of Sleettown left one by one. By 1931, the last Sleets moved out and joined the Perryville community.
The legacy of Sleettown lives on, with its history preserved by the Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site. Preston Sleet’s home still stands, along with the “witness tree,” which was there during the thriving past of Sleettown.