From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)
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Paul L. Dunbar's Mother's Family

Paul L. Dunbar's parents were both from Kentucky. His father Joshua Dunbar was born in Garrard County and enslaved in Shelby County. His mother Matilda Jane Burton Murphy Dunbar was born in Fayette County and enslaved by David Glass in Shelby County.

Both Joshua and Matilda would leave Kentucky, taking very different paths in life before coming together in Dayton, OH: Matilda Burton Murphy and Joshua Dunbar were married in Dayton December 23, 1871 (Ancestry); their children Paul and Elizabeth were born there. Matilda had two older children, William T. Murphy and Robert S. Murphy. See the Matilda Dunbar entry in the NKAA Database for more information about her life and her children.

* Willis and Eliza Burton were the parents of Matilda Dunbar. No information has been found for Willis Burton at this time. Eliza Burton left Kentucky and lived in Dayton. She had been an enslaved woman; it is not known how she gained her freedom. She was listed on p. 67 in Williams' Dayton Directory for 1862-63  living at 47 Howard Street. As early as 1873, she was a widow living with Matilda Dunbar and her family at 311 Howard Street. She is last listed on p. 99 of Williams' Dayton City Directory for 1876-7. Eliza's and Willis's other children were Ann Burton Scott, Rebecca Burton Voss, Priscilla Burton Washington, Robert Burton, John Burton, and Alexander Burton. 

Source: Ancestry.

* Ann M. Burton Scott, 1830? - June 8, 1933, was born enslaved in Lexington. Ann was twice married before becoming a free woman. She is first listed in the 1870 US Census as Ann Burton, living in Lexington with her brother Alexander Burton, a shoemaker. In the 1880 U.S. Census, both Ann Scott and Matilda Burton were enumerated as living with their sister Priscilla and her family at 211 Corral Street, the same address listed for Ann Scott on p. 166 of Williams' Lexington City Directory for 1881-82.

In the 1900 U.S. Census, Ann Scott was said to be about 74 years old. Her sister Priscilla had died, and Ann was living as a servant in the home at 66 Corral Street with her brother-in-law George Washington (Priscilla's widower) and his family. In the 1920 U.S. Census, she was the homeowner at 368 Corral Street;  her niece Lula Washington Dunham and Lula's husband Henry Dunham and their three daughters were also living in the home. [Lula was Priscilla's daughter.]

Ann Scott died in 1933 at her home on Deweese Street; she was thought to be about 100 years old.  She is buried in African Cemetery #2. 

Sources: Ancestry; "Aged Colored citizen dies; was poet's aunt," Lexington Leader, 6/9/1933, p. 18.

* Alexander Burton, February 1839 - April 28, 1897, was born in Fayette County. He was a veteran of the U.S. Civil War, having served with the 12th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery Unit. He enlisted at Camp Nelson, KY. On his military record, Alexander Burton listed William Burton in Lincoln County, KY as his owner.

After the war, Alex Burton was a shoemaker in Lexington, according to p. 44 in Maydwell's Lexington City Directory for 1867. He had an account (#642) at the Lexington Freedman's Bank (Ancestry). On his bank application, he named his parents Willis and Eliza Burton and his siblings Robert, Ann, and Priscilla.

Alexander Burton lived with his sister at 211 Corral Street in Lexington, according to the 1870 U.S. Census. He was the husband of Mattie E. Burton; the couple had two children (John and Emma). The family was enumerated in the 1880 U.S. Census while living in Boyle County, KY.

In 1897, Alex Burton died of tuberculosis at 66 Corral Street in Lexington, according to his Lexington Certificate of Death (Ancestry), and is buried in African Cemetery #2. Mrs. Eliza Burton (wife of Fate Burton) was appointed the administrator of his estate. She purchased the home at 211 Corral Street. 

Sources: U.S. Descriptive Lists of Colored Volunteer Army Soldiers (Ancestry); Alexander Burton Military Record (Folder 3); Alexander Burton at Find A Grave; "In the Circuit Court ...," The Morning Herald, 7/23/1897, p. 5; and "Real estate transfers," The Morning Herald, 1/26/1898, p. 3.  

* Robert M. Burton, March 4, 1843 - January 8, 1914, was born in Lexington. He was a U.S. Civil War veteran who settled in Dayton, OH around 1866, according to his death notice in The Dayton Herald. In the 1870 U.S. Census, it was stated that he was employed as a hostler. In the 1880 census, he was listed as a whitewasher in the laundry business.

Robert was married to Annie Elizabeth Lucas Burton. The couple had one daughter, Dora Burton Rice. He  owned his home in 1900 and would later own his laundry business, according to the 1910 U.S. Census. A leading member of the Wesleyan Methodist Church of Dayton, he was one of the church incorporators in 1911 and served as a church trustee.

Robert M. Burton died suddenly of a heart ailment in 1914. He is buried in the Woodland Cemetery. 

Sources: "Obituary: Mr. Robert M. Burton ...," The Dayton Herald, 1/9/1914, p. 27; Ohio, U.S. Soldier Grave Registrations (Ancestry); "Church incorporates," The Dayton Herald, 5/15/1911, p. 6; Robert M. Burton at Find A Grave; and Ohio U.S. Death Records (Ancestry).

* Matilda Jane Burton Murphy Dunbar, October 5, 1845? - February 24, 1934. See her NKAA Database entry.

* Rebecca Borden Burton Voss, 1847? - November 19, 1935, was born in Lexington. She spent most of her adult life in Dayton. She was the wife of Moses Voss, a whitewasher from Tennessee, according to the 1880 U.S. Census. He was also a U.S. Civil War veteran. Rebecca was the mother of Anna Spencer and Ella Voss. She became a widow when Moses died in 1897.

In 1913, Rebecca Voss lived on 5th Street in Dayton. The street address was given in a Lexington Leader newspaper inquiry by J. F. Burton, who had not heard from his siblings in Dayton. In the 1900 U.S. Census, Rebecca was listed as being employed as a washerwoman. In the 1920 U.S. Census, she owned her home at 295 Willard Street in Dayton.

Rebecca Borden Burton Voss was said to be 89-years-old when she died at the Ohio State Mission Home in Dayton in 1935. She was buried in Woodland Cemetery. 

Sources: Ancestry; Rebecca Voss at Find A Grave; "J. F. Burton, colored, ...," Sunday Lexington Leader, 3/5/1913, p. 3; "Aunt of Dunbar poet is dead," The Dayton Daily News, 11/21/1935, p. 29.

* Priscilla Burton Washington, 1849?-1900?, was born in Lexington. She was one of the servants in the home of Hiram Shaw when she was enumerated in the 1870 U.S. Census. In 1872, she married George Washington, a carpenter. The couple lived at 211 Corral Street in Lexington. George Washington is listed on p. 108 in R. C. Hellrigle & Co.'s Lexington City Directory and Gazetteer, 1877-78, and on p. 196 in Williams' Lexington City Directory for 1881-82.

Priscilla and George Washington are enumerated in the 1880 U.S. Census. In the 1900 Census, George Washington is enumerated as a widow, and it is noted that George and Priscilla had been married for 28 years. Based on information in the census record, it is estimated that she died in 1900. Her husband George  and four children are enumerated in the 1900 U.S. Census. Also living in the home on Corral Street was George's son-in-law Thomas McGee and Priscilla's sister Ann M. Scott.

Source: Ancestry.

* John F. Burton, 1859? - May 8, 1922, was a tailor on South Mill Street in Lexington. He was a porter when listed on p. 42 of Williams' Lexington City Directory for 1881-82 as the husband of Maria Williams Burton. The couple lived at 720 Georgetown Street. They were the parents of Ella, Julia, and Edward, according to the 1900 U.S. Census.

John Burton was an active member of the African American community in Lexington, often serving as a court-appointed appraiser to evaluate the estates of African Americans who had died. In 1896, he was chosen as the tailoring instructor at the Colored Orphan Industrial Home in Lexington. In 1898, he  arranged for a Colored Oratorical Contest at the Lexington Colored Fair. A couple of months later, he was the business manager of the group of African American men who formed the Lexington Oratorical Contest; it sent the winner to compete at the state level.

Burton was also considered "the local manager of all things theatrical" in the African American Community. He organized programs, sold tickets, and oversaw various performances and entertainments. He was a baritone singer who also performed in local productions. And he was a member of the Afro-American Amusement Company.

In 1903, John Burton was a board member of the newly incorporated Lexington Midsummer Fair Carnival Association (with no affiliation to the Colored Agricultural Mechanical Association).

Mrs. Maria H. Burton, the wife of John F. Burton, died in December 1904. In 1913, John had a notice in the Sunday Morning Lexington Leader enquiring about his siblings in Dayton: Matilda Dunbar, Rebecca Voss, and Robert Burton. John had also written his son Edward Burton in Chicago to ask him to locate their relatives. John had given up his tailoring business in 1920 when he became the proprietor of the Douglass Park Cafe. Two years later, he became ill during the first days of May 1922. He died on May 8 and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery.   

Sources: Ancestry; "A good work ... Colored orphans," The Morning Herald, 1/8/1896, p. 5; John F. Burton "In Colored Notes," Lexington Leader, 9/10/1900, p. 7; "Big Production: was that of the Colored "Cinderella" last night," The Leader, 6/6/1895, p. 4; "J. F. Burton: arranging for a colored oratorical contest," The Morning Herald, 7/8/1898, p. 2; "Hard Fight: in the colored primary oratorical contest," The Morning Herald, 9/6/1898, p. 3; "Ader Concert Company," Lexington Leader, 9/16/1900, p. 2; Daisy Fitzhugh Ayres, "Dunbar's 'Clorinda'," Lexington Leader, 9/10/1901, p. 5; "Colored People: organize a new fair association and will compete with old one," Lexington Leader, 9/25/1903, front page; "Colored: Death of Mrs. J. F. Burton," Lexington Leader, 12/27/1904, p. 7; "J. F. Burton, colored, ..." Sunday Morning Lexington Leader, 4/6/1913, p. 3; "Colored Notes: John F. Burton," The Lexington Leader, 5/8/1922, p. 2; and "Douglas[s] Park Cafe," The Lexington Herald, 12/26/1920, Section 4-Jubliee Section, p. 6.

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Fayette County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Garrard County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Shelby County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Lincoln County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Lexington, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Outside Kentucky Place Name

Item Relations

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Paul L. Dunbar's Mother's Family,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed June 22, 2024,

Last modified: 2023-07-19 14:10:58