Dennis Doram was born into slavery in 1796 at Indian Queen Tavern, the estate of Thomas Barbee in Danville, Kentucky. His mother Lidia was a slave, and the daughter of Barbee and one of his slave women. It is believed that his Dennis's father was an Indian.
Barbee's 1797 will freed Doram's mother and made accommodations for the freedom of all six of Lidia's children when they reached adulthood. The will also specified that Dennis and his brothers would be provided with an education in reading, writing, and arithmetic. Dennis received his freedom in the 1820s. Dennis's freedom and chance at an education provided him with the opportunity to succeed. He founded several businesses including a rope and hemp factory and proved to be civic minded, as he helped establish the Caldwell School for Women.
Dennis married Diademia Taylor in 1830. Diademia was born in 1810. Her father was a free black man who had purchased her and her mother Chole's freedom for $700 in 1814, and had brought them from St. Louis to Kentucky. The Dorams had at least two sons. One, Joshua, was a Union soldier with Co. F, 114th USCT who fought in Petersburg campaign, and the other was a
a Buffalo Soldier in the Indian Wars after the Civil War.
By the 1840's the Dorams had prospered like very few other African Americans in the slave states. They had accumulated several thousands of dollars in the bank and possessed hundreds of acres of land. The portraits show above illustrate the unique social position the Dorams had attained. Images such as these for African Americans in the antebellum period are very rare.
In March of 1866 Dennis served on the finance committee for the First Convention of Colored Men of Kentucky. He and the committee drafted a very strong and intelligent statement of intentions and a number of proclamations at this meeting. The following is a short excerpt of one such statement:
"We are native and to the manner born; we are part and parcel of the Great American body politic; we love our country and her institutions; we are proud of her greatness and glory in her might; we are intensely American, allied to the free institutions of our country by sacrifices, the deaths and the slumbering ashes of our sons and our fathers, whose patriotism, whose daring and devotion, led them to pledge their lives, the property and their sacred honor, to the maintenance of her freedom, and the majesty of her laws. Here we are intended to remain, and while we seek to cultivate all of those virtues that shall distinguish us as good and useful citizens, our destiny shall be that of earnest and faithful Americans, and we recognize no principle, we allow no doctrine that would make our destiny, other, than the destiny of our native land and fellow countrymen."
The portraits were acquired by the Kentucky Historical Society in 2000, and after careful cleaning and conservation they can now be seen in the Kentucky History Center's permanent exhibit, A Kentucky Journey. In 2005 Mrs. Viola Gross donated a large number of documents related to the Doram family including the 1814 manumission papers for Diademia. If you get to Frankfort stop in and see the Dorams portraits and all the other wonderful collections at the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History.