The Oddfellows

Milton Kennedy and Jeremy Burnside

Milton Kennedy and Jeremy Burnside
As a monument to the life’s work of these two “odd fellows,” their lives and this building will long inspire the people of Portsmouth, Ohio.

Jeremy M. Burnside (1978-2022)

Jeremy M. Burnside (1978-2022) will be remembered for his spirited and tireless efforts at revitalizing the City of Portsmouth, Ohio. It is thanks to the vision and work of Jeremy and his wife, Maddie, that Milton Kennedy’s historic three-story building (constructed, 1852) has been preserved and renovated for use by another generation of city residents.

Jeremy was a native of Cleveland, Ohio, and a graduate of Brooklyn High School (Class of 1996). He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Charleston (West Virginia) before becoming a legislative intern and analyst for the West Virginia Senate Committee on the Judiciary. While working in the Senate, Jeremy found a mentor in Sen. William R. Wooton, who went on to serve as a Justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. Sen. Wooton helped advise Jeremy on his decision to go into the practice of law.

In 2004, Jeremy graduated from the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Virginia. After practicing his new profession in Cleveland for five years, he made the decision to move to Portsmouth, Ohio. He soon established a successful law practice in the city and the larger tristate region. In 2012, Jeremy married Maddie Rutman, a Scioto County native. He went on to establish the Friends of Portsmouth, a civic organization that has played a key role in the city’s revitalization since the mid-2010s. Jeremy’s community-building efforts included rallying residents to set three Guiness World Records, helping raise civic pride and changing the news media’s negative narrative about the Portsmouth community.

In the Summer of 2020, Jeremy was instrumental in establishing the Portsmouth Unity Project, a civic group that has promoted racial unity and celebrated the city’s history of interracial cooperation in support of freedom and equality. At the time, Jeremy noted: “We are drawing inspiration from the rich and diverse history of the city while, at the same time, recognizing the need to break down today’s barriers. In our efforts at community revitalization, we need to build bridges within and across our community.”

Leading by example, Jeremy and Maddie purchased the building at 526 Second Street in 2019. Herein, the legacies of Milton Kennedy — the abolitionist, Underground Railroad conductor, and Portsmouth entrepreneur — and those of Jeremy Burnside — the underdog’s attorney, Portsmouth booster, and beloved friend and family man — are joined together. As a monument to the life’s work of these two “odd fellows,” their lives and this building will long inspire the people of Portsmouth, Ohio.

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.”