General James Taylor’s Belleview estate in Newport, Kentucky, about 1850.
Over the weekend I was looking for the original deed to a family farm in northern Kentucky. To do that you have to travel to the Campbell County Records Bureau in Alexandria, Kentucky, while only 15 minutes from downtown Cincinnati, is out in farm country. The records are very old – some dating back to the time when Kentucky had just become a state and money transferred was still being recorded in British pounds and shillings. Another thing you see, that you don’t encounter in Cincinnati early deed records, is bill of sales, emancipations, and inventories of bonded humans – slaves.
These records are laden with names and descriptions and monetary values. The wording is incredibly descriptive and sometimes harrowing. I found a bill of sale in 1813 for $785 for slaves Aggy and her child, and Betsie, bought by General William Lytle, after whom Lytle Park and One Lytle Place are named in Cincinnati, from the estate of Washington Berry. Aggy’s other child, James, was bought by Alfred Sanford for $197. I found another bill of sale in 1827 describing a 16 year old slave, Jacob, who is “club footed having been injured in his infancy by being burnt in the fire”, still valued at $250.
One good story that comes out of these slaves of Campbell County Kentucky is that of Lumpkins family, former slaves of General James Taylor. When he died in 1848, Taylor’s will stated that all his 60 slaves would be emancipated when they were age 30 and be given 25 acres of land each to own. Obtaining property from the Taylor was difficult to do before Emancipation. The former slaves would have had no representation. So six members of the Lumpkins family, who were former slaves of the Taylors, brought suit in 1889 and won their land by 1895.
Burrell Lumpkin, the head of the Lumpkin family, was born in Caroline County, Virginia, and had become a slave of General Taylor’s father, when Taylor Sr., bought his parents from a planter there named Lacy. When his father died, Burrell and his parents, became property of General Taylor in his will. General Taylor allowed Burrell Lumpkin to ‘marry’ another bonded human in his ownership, Susan, who had already had one child Nathan, by a white man, perhaps a member of the Taylor family. Burrell ‘adopted’ Nathan into his family as his own, and with Susan, had 9 children – 7 more sons and two daughters.
So before they got their promised land from the estate nearly 40 years later, I wondered what profession these now emancipated African-Americans would have had available. Most commonly they became general laborers, draymen (transporters of goods), railroad workers, and porters. Some lucky ones got jobs at steel factories in Newport, and even luckier ones became cooks.
One of Burrell’s sons, John Lumpkin, was listed as a cook at the prominent Day House in Covington, on the corner of Washington and Pike Streets, in the 1870s, just after the Civil War. He would have had a prior knowledge of cooking to get a job at such a prominent hotel. As a slave of the largest landowner in Northern Kentucky, who owned a huge mansion and entertained political and social elites of the area, he would have been a member of the large slave staff who would create these elegant dinners for guests. As a young boy at the time, he would have been much like Peter Fossett, a former slave of Jefferson’s at Monticello, who also came to Cincinnati after emancipation and started his own catering business, on the French methods of cookery he learned as a boy at Monticello. An 1847 article said the Taylor ‘Belleview’ Estate was “one of the most beautiful and costly in Kentucky, and has long been distinguished for excellent hospitality.”
The Day House, where John Lumpkin cooked, had formerly been known as Drover’s Hotel, owned by William Ashbrook since the 1830s. The property could accommodate up to 100 guests. It was the last stop for farmers from deeper in the Bluegrass who were droving their hogs, cattle, and sheep to markets in Northern Kentucky, particularly in Lewisburg neighborhood of Covington, where the slaughterhouses were. The farmers would come in to town, make their deals, and then spend one night ‘on the town,’ partying and enjoying the nightlife of Covington, and then return. They stayed and had their meals at the Drover’s Inn. John’s experience with cooking large dinners at General Taylor’s estate would have come in handy to feed large groups of travelers at the hotel.
Since the Lumpkins family already had a surname in bondage, we are gifted with the rare opportunity to connect a former slave cook, James Lumpkin, to his former employer’s estate. The Lumpkin name came from Burrell’s parents, who were probably owned by one of the Lumpkin planters in Caroline County, Virginia, and given that name at time of sale to distinguish them and their ‘increase’ from other family slaves from the next owner. Unfortunately, what we don’t have is a Lumpkin family cookbook that would give us dishes formulated and made at Belleview, which probably ascended from dishes created in Virginia. But the truth is that many of the best recipes and cooking in Northern Kentucky were formulated by hundreds of unnamed, former bonded humans, both men and women.