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

Orphan Homes for Free Colored Children Prior to Emancipation (Not Kentucky)

The term "free colored orphans" refers to African American children who were not enslaved and were orphans prior to Emancipation in Kentucky in 1865. 

The number of free African American children under the age of 10 in Kentucky was 1,984 in 1840. It is not known how many of these children were orphans, but for those who were orphans, there were several options for their care. The children could be cared for by family members, such as the case of Daniel Alexander Payne. If there was no family, then the children may have been assigned a guardian by the courts. Or the courts had the children bonded out to white families. Or the children were placed in an orphanage, which may lease the children out to work. While the search is still ongoing, no orphan homes have been discovered in Kentucky for free African American children before the Emancipation in 1865.

With or without orphan homes, there was support provided to the free African American orphans in Kentucky. In 1835, the Union Benevolent Society of Colored People, No. 1 was established in Lexington, KY, to bury the dead, care for the sick, and give support to orphans and widows. The membership was not open to enslaved persons. This type of support was in no way related to the out-of-state and reluctant efforts of Kentucky statesmen Henry Clay. In 1846, Henry Clay gave a lecture at The Tabernacle in New York City for the benefit of the colored orphan asylum in New York City (not Kentucky). Clay, a slave owner, was hopeful the lecture would not injure his reputation back in Kentucky. Nothing has been found at this time to indicate that Henry Clay had an interest in colored orphans or was ever involved in plans for an orphanage in Kentucky.

The first African American orphan home in Kentucky was established in 1878 in Louisville. This was after Emancipation. Looking outside of Kentucky, the closest homes for free colored orphans were in Cincinnati, OH. The Colored Orphan Asylum was established there in 1844 by Lydia D. Mott. In 1851, there was a home for colored orphans managed by the German Protestants in Cincinnati. The children at this home were leased out to work as soon as possible. A few of the earlier homes in other states are listed below.

Charleston, South Carolina
The Minors' Moralist Society was established in Charleston, South Carolina in 1803 by Richard Holloway, James Mitchell, and Thomas Bonneau. The three men founded a school with the purpose of educating and caring for free colored orphans.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
In 1822, The Association for the Care of Colored Orphans was established in Philadelphia, PA. The facility was also referred to as "The Shelter" and was managed by women with the Friends Society.

Boston, Massachusetts
The Samaritan Asylum for Colored Orphans was established in Boston, MA, in 1834 by the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society. The home was later managed by the Massachusetts Female Emancipation Society. The goal of the home was to provide an education and enable the children to procure respectable maintenance. 

New York City, New York
The Colored Orphans Asylum in New York City was established in 1836 and remained in operation until 1946. The facility has been referred to as the first institution of its kind in the United States. Three Quaker women founded the home, Anna and Hanna Shotwell and Mary Murray.

New Orleans, Louisiana
In 1837, the Catholic Institution for Indigent Orphans was established for free colored children in New Orleans. The facility was established by Madame Marie Bernard Couvent, a free woman who was a widow. 

There was also the home managed by the Sisters of the Holy Family, they were the first African American sisterhood in the United States. They were founded in 1837 as the Congregation of the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Henriette DeLile. Their mission was to care for the free colored orphans and the aged. 

Cincinnati, Ohio 
The Colored Orphan Asylum in Cincinnati, OH, was started in 1844 and chartered in 1845. Three years later, in 1848, there were 15 children in the home. Lydia Mott from Philadelphia founded the home, she was a member of the Society of Friends.

In 1851, the Asylum for Colored Orphans on 9th Street in Cincinnati was owned by the German Protestant Church. There was room for 60-70 children at the home, though there were only 12-15 children living at the home at any one time because the others were leased out to work. 

Sources: "Essays on the public charities of Philadelphia," The United States Gazette, 01/16/1829, p.4; "Letter of the Mayor," The New York Herald, 03/17/1842, p.2; "To the friends of the poor colored orphans," Anti-Slavery Bugle, 01/07/1848, p.3; "Mr. Clay last evening...," Morning Courier and American Democrat, 01/21/1846, p.2; "Louisiana Legislature - extra session," The Daily Picayune, 12/07/1848, p.2; see "German Protestant Orphan Asylum," on p.51 in Sketches and statistics of Cincinnati in 1851 by Charles Cist; "Large requests of the Misses Jay," The Washington Union, 12/04/1856, p.3; "Charitable bequests," The Daily Dispatch, 12/04/1856, p.4; "The Negro Apprentice Law," St. Mary's Gazette, 11/09/1865, p.2; Robert E. Moran, "The Negro Dependent Child in Louisiana, 1800-1935," Social Service Review, v.45, no.1 (March 1971), pp.53-61; see Richard Holloway, Charleston, S. C. by Melissa Holloway, January 2, 1999; Association for the Care of Colored Orphans Records at Tri-College Libraries; see Colored Orphan Home at the Mapping the African American Past webpage; Freedom Seekers by Damian Pargas; see Marie Bernard Couvent at; see Brief History of the Sisters of the Holy Family a webpage by Sisters of the Holy Family, New Orleans, LA.

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Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Orphan Homes for Free Colored Children Prior to Emancipation (Not Kentucky),” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed June 16, 2024,

Last modified: 2023-11-08 05:09:28