Stop 2: Dr. Thomas Trundle


Dr. Thomas Trundle was born in Bourbon County and moved to Boone County in the 1820s. He purchased land in the Big Bone and Mudlick areas. Trundle frequently bartered with patients for his medical services, and provided loans through mortgage for many local landowners. As a result, conflict arose between Trundle and the many people who owed him money. He married Martha (Utz) Black in 1852. Martha had been a battered wife previously and was a neighbor of Trundle. Trundle was arrested in 1853 for “enticement of slaves”. Fearing for his life, he asked for and received a change of venue to Kenton County, where he died of mysterious causes on the morning of his trial. Conflicting news reports claimed Trundle was either an abolitionist or slave stealer who sold slaves south for financial gain.


Dr. Thomas J. Trundle first appears in Boone County records with a land purchase in 1828 in the Big Bone/ Mudlick area.  He was born ca. 1805 in Bourbon County, and attended medical school at Transylvania College (now Transylvania University.)  He appears in the student roster for Transylvania in 1823, but it’s unclear if he finished medical training.  Trundle was practicing medicine in Boone County, and records support the fact that many of the local slaveholders in the area bartered with him for medical care for the enslaved people nearby.

Trundle was a slaveholder, and at the peak of his success, owned about 700-1000 acres.  The number of enslaved people appearing on his tax lists swings back and forth, between 4-13 people, varying from year to year, which is quite unusual.  Many of the slaves Trundle owned were very young children and there was at least one disabled person.  He may have acquired some of these enslaved people during the course of his work, in trade for debt, rescuing them, in a sense.

Trundle married his neighbor Martha (Utz) Black in 1852.  Martha was estranged from a husband who had abused her, and she may have developed a relationship with the Doctor upon seeking treatment.  Trundle was accused of “stealing slaves” in 1853, with the motive of helping them along the Underground Railroad to freedom.  Fearing retribution, Trundle asked for a change of venue to Kenton County, which he received.  His bail was set at an unheard of $17,500.

The news accounts of the arrest of the doctor changed rapidly in tone after the initial arrest reports.  Multiple stories were run stating that Trundle was “tricking” the freedom seekers into thinking he was helping, then kidnapping them and selling them south for profit. This story would have successfully vilified him to slaveholders and abolitionists alike.  This tactic was a commonly used device by slaveholders to foster a distrust of strangers with their enslaved people. Slaves were cautioned that those claiming to be abolitionists were out to do them harm, and that staying put would be safer than taking the risk of being sold south.  Other well-known abolitionists and agents were similarly slandered in news accounts in the mid-nineteenth century.

Dr. Trundle was often involved in civil litigation to recoup debt from neighbors and even family members, which also may have provided a motive to accuse him of wrongdoing. Dr. Trundle’s trial was set for June 1854, but he died mysteriously in the Kenton County jail, his body discovered the day of his trial.  His widow and her family quickly left town.

Story Outcomes:

Dr. TJ Trundle’s wife: After Dr. Trundle’s death in jail, Martha Ann (Utz) Trundle settled his estate and quickly moved out of Boone County, along with her two sisters.  Martha was remarried (husband 3) to a man from Boone County named John Snow.  The wedding took place Carroll County, then the couple moved to Livingston County. Martha suffered the loss of her new husband and two children and one of her sisters in just a few years.   She next married a widower named Bayliss Kennedy in 1862, and they had 3 children together, two of whom survived them.  In 1912, Martha and her husband died within a few months of one another, after 50 years of marriage.