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

Mordecai, Harry

(born: 1784  -  died: 1853) 

Harry Mordecai, a plasterer, was one of the early freemen in Frankfort, KY, and he was a prominent member of the small community of Colored free men in the city. He was born in Virginia according to the 1850 U.S. Census. He was the father of Samuel Mordecai, one of the wealthiest African Americans in St. Louis, MO. It is not known at this time if Harry Mordecai was always a freeman or if he was a slave who received his freedom. As early as 1815, he was free and he was enumerated in the 1820 U.S. Census. He is also listed in the 1830 Free Negro Owners of Slaves. In 1830, he had 4 slaves and there were 8 "Free Colored Persons" in his household; in the following census, 1840, all 13 members of Harry Mordecai's household were free. There were both children and adults. Harry Mordecai also had a business link to the St. John A. M. E. Church in Frankfort. The church was established in 1839 and a building was later constructed on the Lewis Street property. Mrs. Triplett, who was white, had given the land to her servants Benjamin Dunmore and Benjamin Hunley. The land was later deeded in trust to George Harlan and Harry Mordecai [source: p.263 in The History of Franklin County, Ky. by L. F. Johnson]. It is not known if Harry Mordecai did work in or on the church building. He did, however, do quite a bit of work for the state government of Kentucky. In 1815 he was mentioned in the Journal of the House of Representatives on p.228 for a payment of $61.42, "Ditto paid Harry Mordecai, in full for plastering Secretary's Office."  In 1824, he is mentioned on p.203 in the Acts Passed at the First Session of the Thirty-Third General Assembly, "To Harry Mordecai, for sundry repairs, plastering, &c. done to the Senate chamber, forty dollars, as per account rendered." In that same source, he is also mentioned on p.205, "To Richard Taylor and Harry Mordecai, for hauling gravel to the Capitol lot, as per account rendered twenty-four dollars." In 1828 he was due $30 and was listed on p.34 in the Journal of the Senate for work he completed in the rebuilding of the State House. He was also mentioned on p.608 in the 1836 Acts Passed at the First Session of the Forty-Fourth General Assembly, "To Harry Mordecai, as per bill rendered, No.1., the sum of thirty-five dollars." For several decades, Harry Mordecai did various types of work for the state, which was in addition to his plastering business and the work he did with the help of his sons. His oldest son, Samuel Mordecai, was born around 1821 and more about his birth and his mother can be found in The Clamorgans: one family's history of race in America by Julie Winch. Years after Samuel's birth, Harry Mordecai married his first wife, Patsey, and the couple had at least five children, according to the family trees in and Ancestry Library Edition. Rachel Lewis was Harry Mordecai's second wife; she is listed in the 1830 U.S. Census as a single woman who was free. By 1850, Harry and Rachel were married and they are listed in the census along with four of Harry's children and a 13 year old who was born in Mississippi. Everyone's race is noted as Mulatto. Harry Mordecai is also listed in the 1850 Slave Schedule as the owner of five adult male slaves. He is not listed in the 1860 U.S. Census, Harry Mordecai died sometime between 1853, when he made out his will, and 1860 when the census was completed [see "Harry Mordecai" in Kentucky Wills and Probate Records in and Ancestry Library Edition]. 

*Update from researcher and great-great-great granddauther of Harry Mordecai, Jacqueline Ridley, "He [Harry] bought his own freedom and that of his wife (Patsey) and children (5).  (Manumission deed of Patsey Mordecai dated July 30, 1833).  Harry, presumably upon the death of Patsey, married Rachel Lewis in 1842." ~ by email 02/01/2018

Kentucky County & Region

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Read about Frankfort, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

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Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Mordecai, Harry,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed May 22, 2024,

Last modified: 2023-04-29 11:37:07