About Milton Kennedy

About Milton Kennedy

Milton Kennedy (1811-1896)

Milton Kennedy (1811-1896) will be remembered as an abolitionist, Underground Railroad conductor, and longstanding champion of equal rights for African Americans in Portsmouth, Ohio.

Milton was a native of Washington County, Ohio, who spent his youth in New Richmond, an Ohio River town in Clermont County. He studied law with Perry Dunbam and briefly practiced in Clermont County before embarking on a business career as grain merchant. In the 1840s, he operated a steamboat on the Ohio and Mississippi, shipping corn to New Orleans.

Following the death of his first wife, Rosanna, Milton relocated to Portsmouth, Ohio, in 1848. His business prospered and before long he was said to be “the largest corn dealer in the State.” In 1850, Milton remarried, taking Josephine B. Hutchinson of Pittsburgh to be his wife; and, two years later, in 1852, he built the first three-story building on Second Street — where you stand today. The ground floor was home to his feed store, the second floor was set up as the “City Hall,” a concert, lecture, and event venue; and the third floor served as the lodge of the city’s Odd Fellows fraternity.

Milton was ahead of the times, an outspoken supporter of abolition in the 1840s and 1850s, and a clandestine conductor on the Underground Railroad. While operating a steamboat on the Big Sandy River, Milton would pick up Freedom Seekers and bring them to Portsmouth, where he then worked with Edward Weaver and other African American residents of Portsmouth to secure their safe passage on the Network to Freedom.

Milton helped establish the Republican Party in Scioto County, the state of Ohio, and nationally, serving as a delegate to the first state convention in 1855 and the first national convention in 1856, where he represented Scioto County. At the time, he belonged to Portsmouth’s “Radical Church,” an antislavery Methodist society, which met on Fifth Street. During the Civil War, Milton would serve in the Lincoln Administration as an Assistant US Treasurer in Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Afterwards, during the Reconstruction Era, Milton continued his support of civil rights, taking a leading role in the campaign to ratify the Fifteenth Amendment, which established the right to vote for African American men. As one of Portsmouth’s early entrepreneurs who helped build the Boneyfiddle District and one who dreamed of a more just and equal society, Milton Kennedy was undoubtedly one of Portsmouth’s greatest “odd fellows.”