From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Davis, Ellen

(born: 1842  -  died: Dec. 8, 1927) 

Ellen Davis was the daughter of John Davis, an Irishman. [John J. Cummins is listed as her father on her death certificate.] From Fayette County, KY, Davis had been held in enslavement by the mother of wealthy horseman John T. Hughes (1840-1924) of Fayette County.

When Davis was about 18-years old, she had a son by Hughes who never married. Their relationship was temporarily interrupted during the Civil War but resumed in 1872 when Davis became free and after Hughes' mother died. The relationship continued until 1924 when J. T. Hughes died. In his will, he left $30,000 to various persons, including  his faithful colored man, Alex Rankin, who received 96 1/2 acres of land. [Alex Rankin died in 1935, his wife Nannie in 1939; they are buried in African Cemetery No. 2 in Lexington, KY.]

Ellen Davis received the Elkton mansion, hundreds of acres of farmland, and all of the home belongings, farm equipment, and stock. Their son Robert Henry Hughes, who had spent most of his life in Buffalo, NY, received 160 acres. The remainder of the estate went to the Midway Orphan's Home.

The will was contested and the case went to the Kentucky Court of Appeals in December 1925. The will was allowed to stand as written, and Ellen Davis, in a situation very similar to that of Margaret Pryor, was thought to be the wealthiest Negro woman in Kentucky.

But unlike Pryor, 80-year old Davis sold the estate, which neighbored thoroughbred farms that belonged to wealthy men such as John E. Madden, Samuel D. Riddle, and Joseph E. Widener, the latter buying 587 acres. Payne Whitney, a relative of J. T. Hughes from New York, bought the Elkton mansion and 277 acres.

Ellen Davis died at the age of 84 in Fayette County on December 8, 1927. According to her death certificate, she is buried in the Greenwood Cemetery; see Cove Haven Cemetery.

For more see "Bayless v. Hughes' EX'Rs et al. (Court of Appeals of Kentucky. Dec. 15, 1925)," South Western Reporter, vol. 278, pp. 162-163; "Made richest Negress in South by court," New York Times, 12/17/1925, p. 13; and "New property cost breeders $326,000," New York Times, 3/1/1926, p. 14, The Rankins' death dates; Ellen Davis's grave record in the Find-a-Grave website; and cemetery information provided by Yvonne Giles - "The Cemetery Lady."

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Fayette County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Lexington, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Outside Kentucky Place Name

Item Relations

Cited in this Entry

NKAA Entry: African Cemetery No. 2 (Lexington, KY)
NKAA Entry: Pryor, Margaret
NKAA Source: The Southwestern reporter (periodical)
NKAA Source: The New York times (newspaper)
NKAA Entry: Giles, Yvonne Y.

Related Entries Citing this Entry

NKAA Entry: Hughes, Robert Henry
NKAA Entry: Greenwood Cemetery / Cove Haven Cemetery (Lexington, KY)

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Davis, Ellen,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed July 20, 2024,

Last modified: 2023-03-08 18:33:11