From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)
Lightfoot, Carter(born: 1794 - died: 1845) This entry was researched, written, and submitted by
Nancy O’Malley (retired) Assistant Director
William S. Webb Museum of Anthropology and
Office of State Archeology
1020A Export Street
University of Kentucky
Lexington, Kentucky 40506
Carter Lightfoot was a free black man who lived in Paris, KY, where he made a living as a barber. Nothing is known of his early life or the circumstances of his freedom; however, he was free by 1830 when he is listed in the Bourbon County federal census as the head of a household of four, including himself (between 36 and 55 years of age), an adult female between 24 and 36 years of age, and a male and a female, both between 10 and 24 years. The older female may have been his wife Jane, although she was still technically enslaved in 1830. On April 4, 1831, Carter purchased Jane’s freedom from John Harvey (alternately spelled Hervie) of Frankfort, KY. The manumission record described him as 37 years old with yellow skin color (a common way to identify light-skinned people of color), 5’ 3 ½” in height "spare but of good size" and with a scar on his left nostril. The manumission record indicated that Carter signed with his mark.
Two white men, named Joseph (abbreviated as Jos.) and possibly Josiah (abbreviated as Jos’h) Lightfoot, living in separate households, are also listed in the 1830 census for Bourbon County and may have some connection to Carter. Only one of the men, Jos’h (Josiah), held enslaved people.
The other two younger household members are unidentified but probably were not his children. In late June of 1833, Carter Lightfoot had his will prepared, possibly in reaction to the cholera that was raging through Kentucky at the time and aware that he might be one of its victims. His will instructed his executor, John G. Martin, to pay all his debts and leave the rest of his property to his wife Jane. Of their children, he wrote, “If she [Jane] could in any way be instrumental with the property I have given her above in obtaining the freedom of my children by her I greatly desire it."
Carter may have also wished to secure his wife’s inheritance of the house and lot after his death. His will made reference to a house and lot that he owned in Paris. On March 29, 1831, Carter entered into a mortgage agreement with Aris Throckmorton, Joseph Biggs, and J. C. Smith in which they served as security for the purchase of the house and lot referred to in the will. Carter and the three men negotiated a promissory note for $550 that enabled the purchase of the property, giving Carter until October of 1831 to pay the note back. This he managed to do, and the deed was formally transferred to him on October 20, 1831. The property lay on the northwesterly side of Main Street and was part of inlot 2. Carter’s lot fronted 13 ½ ft. on Main Street, extending back 72 ft. It was sandwiched between an impressive three-story commission house belonging to Charles S. Brent and a building that occupied the corner of Main Street and present day 2nd Street. Its current address is 203 Main Street. The building on the lot today is a two-story brick commercial building with a heavy Italiante cornice both on the shopfront and at the roofline. Langsam and Johnson (1985) suggest that this building was built after 1877. If this is so, it replaced the earlier building purchased and occupied by Carter Lightfoot from approximately 1830 until 1845 when he died; his wife Jane may have lived here a few years longer, possibly till 1851, when a court appointed administrator sold it to Benedict B. Marsh.
Around the time Carter Lightfoot bought his Main Street property in Paris, he submitted an advertisement in the local Paris newspaper, The Western Citizen. The ad appeared in an 1831 issue but is dated October 30, 1830, so it must have run multiple times. It read:
BARBER, HAIR-DRESSER, &C
RESPECTFULLY informs his customers and the public generally that he has settled himself permanently in Paris and may be found at his shop, opposite Timberlake’s Hotel, where he will accommodate all those who may please to call on him. Those having demands against him, will present them for payment—and those indebted will please recollect that punctuality is the life of business.
The ad is interesting for several reasons. It indicates that he had taken possession of his Main Street property by October of 1830, possibly renting it with the intent to purchase, and operated his barbering business there. He probably also lived there, a common practice of tradesmen of the time. He acknowledged having some personal debts which he was in a position to repay and was owed money that he wished to collect. Although he was apparently illiterate, the wording of the ad suggests a certain gentility and refinement in its use of the adage about punctuality in paying one’s debts. Finally, the postscript references the continuation of his services from an earlier time, perhaps on a more itinerant basis, in which he traveled to his customers rather than working out of a shop. With the acquisition of a shop on the main street of the county seat, however, he took his place as one of the town’s businessmen with a social status that greatly contrasted with the status of a enslaved man or even a free black laborer of lesser skills. It is also possible that he was the only barber in business in Paris in the 1830s and early 1840s. Five years after his death in 1845, only one black barber, George Morgan, was identified as such in the 1850 federal census and, like Carter Lightfoot, he owned real estate—probably in Paris and possibly next to a hotel operated by Charles Talbott.
Barbering was an occupation with some intriguing social implications between the barber and his customers. By the 19th century, the occupation of barber had become closely associated with African-Americans, largely due to the common practice of the white elite to have their hair cut and beards shaved by the enslaved. This association led to a decline in status of barbers among whites and a decline in white competition. Free blacks benefited as a result even though their clientele was, by necessity, exclusively white, a practice that tended to encourage segregation of barbering services and placed black barbers in the position of being dependent on white clients for their livelihood. Given the very personal nature of cutting and dressing hair and its relationship to personal image and appearance, barbers had to be very careful in performing their services. Complaints about barber shop hygiene were common and barbers were cautioned to disinfect their tools at an early date. Many customers brought their own brushes, razors and towels when they visited a barber to avoid infection.
Carter Lightfoot’s household was again censused in 1840. Only three people were listed: a man and a woman who were between 36 and 54 years of age (Carter and Jane) and a male between 10 and 23. Two of the persons in the household were employed in manufacture and trade. One of these was undoubtedly Carter, whose barbering business would have been considered a trade. It’s probable that their children were still held in enslavement.
Carter died in 1845, and his wife appears to have followed him in death by 1851 when their house and lot were sold by a court-appointed agent to Benedict B. Marsh to settle their estate. None of the probate documents associated with the Lightfoot estate mentioned any children and their whereabouts; even their names are unknown. Marsh sold the house and lot in 1855 to another free man of color, Jefferson Porter. Eleven years later, Porter sold the property and the adjoining corner lot to Robert P. Dow and John Hickey. Robert Dow established a prominent commercial presence on this corner as a grocer.
Carter Lightfoot was one of only a few men of color who owned property in Paris prior to the Civil War. His profession as a barber was a higher status one for men of color that required more specialized skills and catered to an exclusively white clientele. In many parts of the south, a black barber had either white or black clients but not generally both. It is likely that Lightfoot sought white clients since he went to the trouble of advertising his establishment of a barber shop in Paris in the local newspaper. Had his clients been men of color, he would not have had to advertise in the local paper since many free black men could not read or write. While he did not speculate in urban lots or acquire any other city or county property other than his house/barbershop on Main Street, he must, for a time, have been a well-known fixture around town.
The fate of other Lightfoot family members is unknown. Neither Carter nor his wife Jane succeeded in procuring the freedom of their children before the Civil War abolished enslavement. Their children may have lived in Franklin County, KY, where Jane’s former enslaver John Hervie lived in 1830. With the demise of Carter and Jane Lightfoot within a few years of each other and no evidence that any of their heirs came forward to claim the estate, the proceeds of the sale of their property on Main Street might have been used to settle their debts and/or added to the city’s coffers as unclaimed assets.
- Bourbon County deeds
- Federal census returns for 1830, 1840, and 1850
- 1831 Western Citizen on file, The Bourbon Citizen/Citizen Advertiser office, Paris, Ky.
- Julie Ann Hurst (2005), "Barbershops in Harrisburg’s Old Eighth, 1890-1905,"Vol. 72, no. 4, pp. 443-453, Pennsylvania History.
- Walter E. Langsam and William Gus Johnson (1985), Historic Architecture of Bourbon County, Kentucky. Historic Paris-Bourbon County, Inc., Paris, and Kentucky Heritage Council, Frankfort.