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

Penny, Joe [Pennytown, MO]

(start date: 1860  -  end date: 1943) 

Pennytown, located eight miles southeast of Marshall, MO, was established by Kentucky native and ex-slave, Joe Penny (born around 1812). In 1850, Penny arrived in Missouri and in the 1860s purchased eight acres for $160. He settled on a portion of the land and further divided the remainder into lots he sold to other African American settlers.

Joe Penny had come to Missouri as the slave of Jackson Bristol, and later became a free man. He married Harriett Butler, born 1815 in Virginia. In 1880, the Pennys were a family of seven that included Harriett's children and grandchildren. Joe was a farmer, according to the U.S. Federal Census.

The Pennytown community continued to grow as adjoining land was purchased by other African Americans. By 1900, 40 families lived in the 64-acre community with a total population of 200. It included two churches, lodges, a school and a store.

The community ceased growing after a few decades, and families began to leave Pennytown for better jobs and educational opportunities in nearby cities. The last family left in 1943, and the older residents left behind eventually died.

Today, the one remaining building is the First Freewill Baptist Church. Every year a reunion of Pennytown descendants is held at the church, a tradition that began at the end of World War II.

The compiler of the community history collection was Josephine Jackson Lawrence (1929 - 1992); the collection is housed in the Western Historical Manuscripts Collection - Columbia at the University of Missouri. See the entry at the Kentucky African American Griots website. See also Pennytown, by the Friends of Pennytown; Arrow Rock by A. W. Phillips; and Pot Roast, Politics, and Ants in the Pantry by C. Fisher and J. Fisher.

Outside Kentucky Place Name


Cited in this Entry

NKAA Source: Arrow Rock : the story of a Missouri village
NKAA Source: Pot roast, politics, and ants in the pantry : Missouri's cookbook heritage

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Penny, Joe [Pennytown, MO],” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed July 26, 2021,

Last modified: 2021-07-16 17:02:29