TUCKY labor, both white and Negro, has always been almost wholly native born. Its development has been essentially rural and ties in closely with lumbering and river transportation.
In early times, settlers from Virginia, the Carolinas, and Maryland dominated the Bluegrass and the Pennyrile. Many of their slaves were skilled craftsmen, who worked, when not employed at home, for people who paid their masters for their services. Thus they were a source of income to their owners, and as such were assured a degree of security against sale.
Coincidentally, the use of white labor was developing. Many early settlers, especially those from Pennsylvania and other Northern States, took up land in the mountains, where slavery was impracticable. Restricted by nature in its agricultural development, the mountain area soon had an excess of white labor that migrated to the lowlands and competed there with the labor of slaves, which was never sufficient to meet the demand. In earlier times white labor was largely engaged in logging in the great river valleys, and in clearing and farming the cutover lands. The two processes went hand in hand; and the disappearance of marketable timber left a surplus of white laborers who, when they did not settle down to farming, either "followed the timber" or migrated to other parts of the State. Such was the general situation after the War between the States, when coal mining, oil production, and other industries widened the field of labor and extended it throughout Kentucky.
Of great importance in the developing labor situation was the early rise and subsequent decline of industrial centers. Lexington, a thriving manufacturing center in the 1800's, was plagued with piled-up surpluses and a lack of outlets. The decline of the city's manufacturing, which began about 1825, is illustrative of a process then taking place throughout the State: small community industries were being relocated at places convenient for land-and-water transfer, and in such places a population was growing which was essentially urban in outlook.