Porter, Jefferson (2nd entry)(born: 1817 - died: 1885)
This entry was researched, written and submitted by
Nancy O’Malley, Assistant Director
William S. Webb Museum of Anthropology and
Office of State Archeology
1020A Export Street
University of Kentucky
Lexington, Kentucky 40506
Jefferson Porter, (b.1817-20?-1885), was probably born in Paris or Bourbon County. He was a slave who was manumitted by Lucy Allentharpe Porter's will in 1846. [Researcher Rogers Barde found Lucy A. Porter's marriage record, she was married to James Porter in 1801. She was widowed by 1840 and there is a federal census record for her as head of household.] In addition to his freedom, Jefferson Porter received the bake house and shop that stood on the outskirts of Paris where the entrance to the present country club is located. Lucy Porter died between January 20 and April 7, 1846. Her bequest was unusually generous and even more so considering she was giving property to a man of color.
From these beginnings, Jeff Porter became an entrepreneurial businessman who amassed a very respectable estate by the time he died in 1885 and his heirs sold off his assets. Jefferson Porter was a successful confectioner and grocer in Paris,KY, he was one of the founding members of Cedar Heights Cemetery in Paris. Land transfers in the Bourbon County Clerk’s office document the real estate that Jeff Porter bought and sold during his lifetime. He sold the lot Lucy Porter left him in 1847 to Margaret Barnett whose husband was a tailor. Although the 1850 census lists him as owning real estate valued at $600, his next land purchase was not filed until 1855 when he bought a house and lot on Main Street that had once been owned by another African American businessman, Carter Lightfoot.
He continued to buy and sell property in Paris for the remainder of his life, ultimately owning at least ten lots, virtually all with existing buildings that could be rented out. He had bought another house and lot on the southeast side of the Maysville Turnpike and the east side of Stoner Creek in 1856 and sold it to another man of color, William Brand, in 1859, making a profit of $150 in the resale. In 1860, a few months after he was censused, he purchased a lot on the corner of Main and Walnut Streets from three Masonic Lodges that was probably adjacent to his lot since the deed also conveyed title to an additional three feet where a wall of Porter’s building encroached. All of these properties were in east Paris in an area known as “Cottontown” for the cotton mills located there.
However, Porter pursued other commercial land opportunities on Main and High Streets and entered into agreements and leases with prominent white businessmen. In 1865, he made a significant purchase on Old Georgetown Road (now 7th Street) where he built a large, two story brick house that still stands. The next year, he invested in half of a lot in McGinty’s Addition that he subdivided, selling half of the lot to Gabriel Arnold, an African American blacksmith. All of these and other land transactions and business deals were profitable ventures for Jefferson Porter, allowing him to reinvest the proceeds into his house and other improvements.
Census takers were required to identify skin color as part of their duties. According to the 1870 directions, census marshals and their assistants were to be “particularly careful reporting the class Mulatto,” as “the word is here generic, and includes quadroons, octaroons, and all persons having any perceptible trace of African blood.” Jeff Porter was consistently identified as mulatto in the census, indicating that his skin color was light. His manumission certificate provided additional information about Jefferson Porter’s appearance. He was a tall man, six feet in height, and had a large scar about the size of a dollar below his left knee. All of the family members except for Katy Harrison were also identified as mulatto; Katy’s skin color was listed as black.
Jefferson Porter was working as a grocer in 1870 with $4000 in real estate and $5000 in personal estate. The Porter household also included a 25 year old black farm laborer, William Harlan, and a 30 year old (male) mulatto school teacher, Kelly Thompson. It’s not clear if Jeff Porter was still living in the house on W. 7th Street in 1880. He may have moved so that one of his children could live there. Or he may have allowed Sallie Jones to live there in return for taking care of the household. Jefferson Porter died in 1885 and his heirs sold all of his property and moved elsewhere. A list of his personal property taken after his death reflected his status as a grocer and confectioner, listing such items as show cases, a soda fount and stand, counter scales, candy jars and other household furnishings, valued at $353.62.
He owned three lots, including his house, in Paris at the time of his death which his heirs sold. Jefferson Porter was not only a successful confectioner and grocer but he also purchased real estate for resale at a profit. Although he never learned to read or write, he was obviously astute enough to make a comfortable living and amass assets at a time when prosperity eluded many African Americans. The bequest he received from Lucy Porter was instrumental in providing him with resources that helped him to establish his business but his business acumen was key to his continued success and steadily increasing prosperity.
References: Bourbon Manumission Book, Bourbon County Clerk’s Office. Bourbon County Deed Book 54, p. 21 (his house on West 7th Street) and other deeds including the property he owned in Claysville.
See earlier entry Jefferson Porter and Jefferson Porter (Chain of Title for 317 W. 7th Street), both are NKAA Database entries.