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

Penny, Joe [Pennytown, MO]

(start date: 1860  -  end date: 1943) 

Pennytown, located eight miles southeast of Marshall, MO, was established by Kentucky native and ex-enslaved Joe Penny (born around 1812). In 1850, Penny arrived in Missouri and in the 1860s purchased eight acres for $160. He settled on a portion of the land and further divided the remainder into lots he sold to other African American settlers.

Penny had come to Missouri enslaved by Jackson Bristol and later became a free man. He married Harriett Butler, born in 1815 in Virginia. In 1880, the Pennys were a family of seven that included Harriett's children and grandchildren. Joe was a farmer, according to the U.S. Federal Census.

The Pennytown community continued to grow as adjoining land was purchased by other African Americans. By 1900, 40 families lived in the 64-acre community with a total population of 200. It included two churches, lodges, a school, and a store.

The community ceased growing after a few decades, with families beginning to leave Pennytown for better jobs and educational opportunities in nearby cities. The last family left in 1943, and the older residents left behind eventually died.

Today, the one remaining building is the First Freewill Baptist Church. Every year a reunion of Pennytown descendants is held at the church, a tradition that began at the end of World War II.

The compiler of the community history collection was Josephine Jackson Lawrence (1929 - 1992); the collection is housed in the Western Historical Manuscripts Collection - Columbia at the University of Missouri.

For more, see the entry at the Kentucky African American Griots website;  Pennytown, by the Friends of Pennytown; Arrow Rock, by A. W. Phillips; and Pot Roast, Politics, and Ants in the Pantry, by C. Fisher and J. Fisher.

Outside Kentucky Place Name

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Cited in this Entry

NKAA Source: Pot roast, politics, and ants in the pantry : Missouri's cookbook heritage
NKAA Source: Arrow Rock : the story of a Missouri village

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Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Penny, Joe [Pennytown, MO],” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed July 20, 2024,

Last modified: 2022-07-18 16:38:55