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

Porter, Jefferson

(born: 1820  -  died: 1885) 

Jefferson Porter, described as a Mulatto in the U.S. Federal Census, had been enslaved. He was born about 1820 in Kentucky and died in Bourbon County, KY, before October 12, 1885.

Jefferson Porter was freed in Bourbon County by Lucy Porter's will in 1846. The will specified that he  was to get a shop and a bakehouse and the ground on which they stood, located between her house and the house of Mrs. Sidney Shannon. He also received a lot adjoining Abram Spears' property, two carriages, a wagon, horses and gear, a harness and other equipage, and all provender and grain. In return, Jefferson Porter was to pay all of Lucy Porter’s funeral expenses and help support her daughter Polly Cook and Polly's children until they were old enough to support themselves.

Not much is known about Lucy Porter; she could not be found as head of household in any previous U.S. Federal Census Records for Bourbon County. Looking at the early census and tax records, it is hard to determine exactly to whom Lucy Porter was married: the records only listed the head of household. No marriage record for Lucy Porter was found in the Bourbon County Courthouse. What is known is that she freed Jefferson Porter, and he operated a business, owned property, and built a house in a predominately white neighborhood. This was quite an accomplishment for an African American in the pre-Civil War era when the majority of African Americans in Bourbon County  were enslaved.

According to the 1850 Slave Schedule of Bourbon County, there were approximately 245 free African Americans compared to 7,071 African American enslaved. In the 1860 Census of Bourbon County, Jefferson Porter was listed as a confectioner who had $4000 in real estate and $3000 in personal estate. The value of Jefferson Porter's real and personal property is quite high compared to that of other free African Americans in Bourbon County. Charles S. Brent, a banker, and Abram Spears, a railroad agent, were neighbors of Jefferson Porter, both listed as white in the 1880 Census. Spears and Brent lived near Main Street in downtown Paris. It is likely that at this time Jefferson Porter lived in the bakehouse or shop left to him in Lucy Porter’s will.

On April 13, 1865, Jefferson Porter purchased a one and a half acre lot from James and Bridget Fee. No house is mentioned in the deed; therefore, it is assumed that Jefferson Porter built the house at 317 West Seventh Street after the purchase of the property. A house is mentioned in later deeds. According to the 1870 Census of Bourbon County, the Jefferson Porter family was living in the 1st Ward of Paris. West Seventh Street was located in the 1st Ward, and the Porter family was probably living in the West Seventh Street house. No wife is listed in this census, and no marriage record for Jefferson Porter has been found for this time. In various census records a woman named Cynthia Harrison is living with Jefferson Porter. Cynthia Harrison's age varies so much in these records, however, that it is hard to determine if she could have been his wife or the mother of his children. In the 1850 Census of Bourbon County she is listed as 40 years old; by 1860 she is listed as being 35 years old. She does not appear in the 1870 Census, but in the 1880 census she is in the household with Jefferson Porter and listed as being 90 years old.

It is believed that some of his children were living with Jefferson Porter in the 1870 Census, even though relationships are not given. Jefferson Porter is listed as a grocer living in the same household as Jacob Porter, a 23-year-old male; Beverly Porter, a 28-year-old male; Anna Porter, a 28-year-old female; and Lucy Porter, a 25-year-old female. The exact relationship of Cynthia Harrison to the Porter family cannot be determined at this time because she does not consistently appear with them in the records.

The family was fairly well off; by 1870 Jefferson Porter had increased his real estate to $4000 and his personal estate to $5000. The 1877 Beers Atlas of Paris, Kentucky shows Jefferson Porter's house on West Seventh Street. In the 1880 Census, Jefferson Porter and Cynthia Harrison are listed as boarders in the household of Sallie Jones, a Mulatto, who was a widowed seamstress with two children. It cannot be determined if Jefferson Porter and the others are living at the West Seventh Street house.

Jefferson Porter did not leave a will in Bourbon County; however, it was court ordered that his estate be settled on October 12, 1885 in Bourbon County (KY) Court Order Book W, p. 139. The Jefferson Porter family included heirs Beverly and Susie Porter, Jacob M. and Josie Porter, William and Eva Porter, Jefferson Jr., Georgia Porter, Adam and Lucy Smoot, Anna Scott, and Sallie Porter. The heirs sold the house and lot to J. M. and Annie E. Thomas and W. R. and Carrie Thomas for $1,660 on September 22, 1886. In the November 24, 2010 edition of the Bourbon County Citizen newspaper, the house of Jefferson Porter was described as a 3,000 square foot brick home with a grand staircase and six fireplaces. The house was on the St. Mary's School's Holiday Tour of Homes on December 5, 2010. The house is still standing today and is currently owned by Martin Marderosian.

SOURCES: Will of Lucy Porter, Bourbon County (KY), Will Book M: p. 430, 1850, 1860, at the courthouse in Bourbon County. The 1870 U.S. Federal Census of Bourbon County; 1850 Slave Schedule of Bourbon County. The Bourbon County  Court Order Book W, p. 139; Bourbon County,  Deed Book 69, p. 276; and Bourbon County Deed Book 53, p. 223; all at the courthouse in Bourbon County. The Bourbon County Citizen, Wednesday, November 24, 2010 edition. The 1877 Beers Atlas of Paris, Kentucky. Personal interview with Martin Marderosian, current owner of the home Jefferson Porter built at 317 West Seventh Street in Paris. Jefferson Porter is mentioned in Black Property Owners in the South, 1790-1915, by Loren Schweninger.

This entry was submitted by Kellie Scott, Paris Bourbon County Public Library.

See 2nd and updated entry Jefferson Porter and Jefferson Porter (Chain of Title for 317 W. 7th Street), both NKAA Database entries.

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Bourbon County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Paris, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Item Relations

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Porter, Jefferson,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed July 12, 2024,

Last modified: 2022-10-05 17:24:18