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

White, Peter

(born: 1840  -  died: 1917) 

The following information about Peter White comes from several sources, including the newspaper article  "Peter White says that he is aged 103: Native Mexican was brought to United States by Gen. Leslie Combs and was once a famous jockey. Was sold as a slave for $450," Leader, 4/19/1916, p. 8, column 1. A copy of the article was provided by Yvonne Giles. The introduction to Peter White's life-story came from researcher Charlene Fletcher-Brown. Other sources include the U.S. Federal Census; the 1850 and 1860 Slave Schedules; The Kentucky Encyclopedia, edited by J. E. Kleber; and other sources as noted.

Peter White was born near Vera Cruz, Mexico. The name he was given at birth is not known; his actual birth year was between 1830 and 1840, making him about 77 years old when he died in 1917.

Peter White was brought to the United States by Leslie Combs at the close of the Mexican-American War [Encyclopaedia Britannica]. Combs (1793-1881) was a lawyer who served as President of the Lexington Danville Railroad in 1855. He was also a racehorse man and served as President of the Kentucky Association Track in Lexington. A member of the Kentucky House of Representatives, he was elected 1827-1829, re-elected in 1833, served again 1845-1847, and again 1857-1859. He was also a veteran of the U.S. Civil War and a member of the Kentucky Militia.

Combs received word from Stephen Austin calling for help in fighting against Mexico in 1836; Combs was made a colonel and formed a regiment of Kentucky volunteers. U.S. President Andrew Jackson, however,  disbanded the regiment and the group never saw any action. When the Mexican-American War began, Leslie Combs was made a general and formed another militia. While in Mexico, Combs took possession of a Mexican boy who was given the name Peter White who was to be Combs' body servant. But once they were in Kentucky, Peter White learned he was Combs' slave. It is not known how many Mexicans came to Kentucky as the slaves of returning militia men who fought in the Mexican-American War, 1846-1848.

Peter White is not listed in the U.S. Census prior to 1870; slaves were listed in the Slave Schedules. White was not Combs' first slave nor his only slave. According to the 1850 Slave Schedule, Leslie Combs owned eight  slaves between 3 months and 70 years old: four males and four females--three of the males were children less than seven years old.

In the 1860 Slave Schedule, Combs owned two slaves:  a 55 year old female and a 25 year old male. All of Combs's slaves are listed with a "b" [for Black] in the Slave Schedules [slaves were listed by race, gender, and age in the Slave Schedules, not by name].

According to the Leader newspaper, during the 1850s  Peter White was a jockey who rode Combs's horses. Sometime after the 1850s, White was sold as a slave for $450 to John L. Barkley. In the newspaper article, White said that during his riding days, he had ridden on the race course located on Georgetown Pike [now Georgetown Street] in Lexington, KY. He said he rode the thoroughbreds named "Boston" and "Lexington,"  both trained by Jim Shy. White also said he was riding the horse "Lady Wagoner" when it stumbled and threw White to the ground, leaving him with a fractured skull and a crushed right hip. The injuries ended Peter White's career as a jockey, and he had to wear a steel belt around his hip for the rest of his life. Peter White was NOT a Negrito [NKAA entry].

Classified as a slave, Peter White received his freedom along with other slaves after the American Civil War. Prior to his freedom, he had married a Negro slave woman owned by the Payne Family; his second wife was also a Negro. In 1867, Peter White was listed as "cld" [for Colored] in the city directory, and his address is given as "w s n Upper b Mechanic and Third [source: p. 142 in Maydwell's Lexington City Directory for 1867]. By the mid-1870s, Peter White lived at 115 W. Short Street and his home was opposite the Baptist Church [sources: p. 240 in Prather's Lexington City Directory for 1875 and 1876; and p. 200 in Wiliams' Lexington City Directory for 1881-82]. His last address was 313 Wilson Street [source: p. 627 in Lexington City Directory 1904-1905, Volume II].  His name was last listed on p. 596 in R. L. Polk & Co.'s Lexington City Directory 1916-1917. Within the city directories, Peter White's name would continue to be noted with an * or the word col'd [for Colored]. 

White earned his living as a coachman, and he also cared for horses, as noted in the census records and as written in the Leader newspaper article. The article also states that he had 15 children, but this was perhaps a misprint: only 6 children are listed in the census records.

In the 1870 Census, White is listed as a Mulatto born in Mexico. His wife Manny [Jamima] White is listed as Black, and their three children (James, Kate, and Peter Jr.) are listed as Mulattoes. In the 1880 Census, Jemima White is again listed as Peter's wife along with three additional children, all listed as Mulattos: George, Mary, and Lilla. In the 1900 U.S. Census, Peter White is married to Eliza White and there are no children in the home. Given that Peter White and Jamima White were of different races, it was an interracial marriage, but the anti-miscegenation laws of Kentucky did not apply because neither was considered white. Peter's marriage to Eliza White was also outside the anti-miscegenation laws because neither was considered white, and Mulatto was considered another form of Black.

[On a January morning in 1891, Peter White's daughter, Lilla White, laced the breakfast coffee with arsenic and killed her step-uncle Dan Frazier and his wife, but Lilla's father Peter and her step-mother Eliza recovered. Source: "Poisoned" in the Leader, 1/19/1891, p. 1, col. 3-4.]

The Leader article on Peter White ends with a propaganda statement that was supposedly the words and thoughts of Peter White: "He laments the present trouble of the United States with Mexico and expresses the belief that it would have been best for his native country if it had been annexed to the United States at the close of the Mexican war of 1846-48."  Peter White was never able to reconnect with his family in Mexico or gather information about his identity there. He died February 25, 1917 and is buried in African Cemetery #2 in Lexington, KY. On his Kentucky Death Certificate, File #3931, Registered #190, Peter White's race is given as "Col" [for Colored].

*See also the NKAA entry Born in Mexico, Lived in Kentucky, 1850-1920.

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Cite This NKAA Entry:

“White, Peter,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed March 2, 2024, https://nkaa.uky.edu/nkaa/index.php/items/show/3137.

Last modified: 2023-01-21 18:35:33