Kentucky Historical Society
Rare 19th Century Portraits, Documents of African American Kentuckians in KHS Spotlight
Frankfort, KY - Two handsome portraits of a stately 19th-century couple hang side-by-side on permanent exhibit in the Kentucky Journey gallery at the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History in Frankfort.
Though portraits of prominent 19th-century couples are not unusual, the Doram portraits are unusual. This affluent couple was African American, living free and apparently prosperously in the antebellum South.
They bear little resemblance to the dim, stained canvases found in a barn a few years ago. Acquired in 2000, and conserved with extreme care by the Kentucky Historical Society, these Patrick Henry Davenport portraits of Dennis and Diademia Doram were a significant addition to the Kentucky Historical Society collection.
The Doram portraits are the subject of February’s Kentucky Historical Society Brown Bag Lunch on February 7 at the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History. From noon to 1 pm, visitors can hear Tom Stephens discuss the Dorams and their connection to Kentucky history. Admission is free and open to the public.
Dennis Doram was among the most respected businessmen in Danville, Kentucky. He was involved with several establishments, including the Caldwell School for Women, a rope factory, and a hemp business. By the 1840s, the Dorams had several thousand dollars in the bank and owned hundreds of acres. Dennis died on October 18, 1869.
In 2005, one of the Dorams’ descendents, Mrs. Viola Gross, donated 65 original documents pertaining to the Doram-Rowe family. Many of the original documents provided are evidence for the family’s acquisition of land in Danville and Boyle County along the Dix River, thus establishing the Dorams as Danville’s most affluent African American family. The collection also includes depositions, indentures, receipts, court records, and original poetry.
One of the documents confirms that on April 11, 1814, Gibson [Taylor], a free man of color, paid Moses O. Bledsoe, of St. Louis, $700 for the freedom of his wife Cloe and her children. This emancipation document for “Diademia one of the children of said Cloe” was then recorded in Mercer County, Kentucky, on December 30, 1835, and certified on March 7, 1836.
“We are deeply indebted to Mrs. Gross for donating this rare and significant collection,” notes Kent Whitworth, executive director of the Kentucky Historical Society. “It provides amazing connections, perspective, and inspiration as we try to present, protect, and preserve the history of Kentuckians.”
For more information about the Brown Bag Lunch, contact Annette Parde, (502) 564-1792, ext. 4461. For more information on this and all events during Black History Month, or for access to African American resources available from the Kentucky Historical Society, visit our Web site at www.history.ky.gov.
An agency of the Kentucky Commerce Cabinet, the Kentucky Historical Society, since 1836, has provided connections to the past, perspective on the present, and inspiration for the future. KHS operates the Old State Capitol, the Kentucky Military History Museum, and its headquarters, the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History. Since 1999, the thirty-million- dollar Center has welcomed more than one million visitors. For more information about the Kentucky Historical Society and its programs, visit our Web site at www.history.ky.gov.