Kentucky Colonels are “Aides-de-Camp” to the Governor of Kentucky. That was the title given to Charles Todd in 1813 when he became an aide to Governor Isaac Shelby and thus became the first Kentucky Colonel. Through that late 1800s uniformed Kentucky Colonels were the Governor’s honor guard.
The phrase Aide-de-Camp originated in the 1600s as a personal assistant to a general officer in the French army. It is used in many countries around the world including Russia, Australia and Great Britain. The Charles James Military Dictionary of 1810 noted “the King may appoint for himself as many as he pleases, which appointment gives the rank of colonel in the army.” That is apparently the reason Colonel Todd became, well, Colonel Todd. Governor Shelby was following the tradition of Colonial Governors who appointed Aides-de-Camp.
The Aide-de-Camp insignia used in the United States came into being in 1902. According to the Encyclopedia of United States Army Insignia and Uniforms by William K. Emerson, the pin was designed by Howard Chandler Christy, a prominent artist throughout the first half of the last century. He did several works for the Kentucky Colonels and was a major supporter of the Kentucky Colonels until his death in 1952. The Kentucky Colonels’ insignia of today is virtually unchanged from Christy’s original creation. It remains a gilt eagle holding a shield bearing the colors of the American Flag.