Clock Tower

Out of the Clock Tower

Hello and welcome to the Greene County Archives' blog, "Out of the Clock Tower".  Please join us as we share information on archival issues, news, special events, and highlights from our collection.

Before the archives program began in Greene County in 1996, permanent records were stored in every conceivable space, in basements, garages, and closets. Usually they were in boxes of various shapes and sizes, although seldom adequately labeled, but occasionally they were just in loose piles of books and papers. Most notable were the old records stuffed into the clock tower of the County Courthouse, where they shared their home with pigeon droppings.

Now, there is a clean, environmentally controlled, well appointed location for the county archives, where our historical records are housed in standard sized boxes on steel shelves. We have taken note of their journey in the name for our blog.

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Jun 15

Early Yellow Springs Citizens: Henry and Mary Portman

Posted on June 15, 2018 at 1:58 PM by Melissa Dalton

Did you know that Greene County was known as an abolitionist community? Even though Ohio didn’t make it easy for freed blacks to settle, the people of Greene County were welcoming. Not only was the area known for its anti-slavery activism, but the land was great for farming and relatively inexpensive. Many slaves and freed blacks knew of this region, especially the Wilberforce/Yellow Springs area, and made their way here in hopes of starting a new life. We believe this is exactly what Henry and Mary Portman hoped for their family.

Henry Portman was born in Kentucky around 1832 and Mary Southerland (or Sutherland) was born in Kentucky as well, but almost 20 years later, around 1851; however, their exact dates of birth are unknown. Although we are not certain of the circumstances or early lives of Henry and Mary Portman, it would stand to reason that due to their place of birth, lack of knowledge of exact birth dates, and the inability to find them on prior census records, the couple were born into slavery and were most likely freed with the end of the Civil War. I haven’t had much luck finding either of Henry or Mary prior to the 1880 Census. At that time, the Portmans were living in Fairfield Township in Madison County, and had four of their children living with them (later census records indicate that they had a rather large family). On the census, Henry is identified as “M” for mulatto (archaic term for biracial), as are all their children, while Mary’s race is identified as “B” for black (Fig 1).

1880 U.S. Census with Portman family outlined in red (JPG)
Fig 1. 1880 Census showing the Portmans living in Madison County (

There is another gap in the records between 1880 and 1893 (most of the 1890 Census was destroyed in a fire in 1921). We know the Portmans moved to Greene County at some point during this time, and in 1893, Mary Portman purchased property in Yellow Springs from Eleanor C. Adams for $140 (Fig 2). We don’t have a lot number, but below is the general location of their one acre plot (Fig 3).

Deed Record 81 pg 407 for transfer of property to Mary Portman (JPG)Deed Record 81 pg 408 for transfer of property to Mary Portman (JPG)
Fig 2. Deed Record 81, pg. 407-408 (Greene County Archives)

1902 Map of Yellow Springs with location of property circled in red (JPG)
Fig 3. 1902 Map of Yellow Springs with approximate location of property circled in red (Greene County Archives)

We find the Portmans still living in Greene County in the 1900 Census, and their daughter, Viola, is living with them. Although their dates of birth are not listed, the census states that they have been married for 47 years, and that Mary and Henry had a total of sixteen children, with nine still living at the time (Fig 4).

1900 U.S. Census with the Portman family outlined in red (JPG)
Fig 3. 1900 Census with the Portman family outlined in red (

Two of their children, Charles and Mary, married in the following years. Charles married Zettie Newsome, a local girl born and raised in Yellow Springs, and Mary married Albert Jones of Hamilton County, formerly of Alabama (Figs 4 & 5). Sadly, in 1904, Mary Portman died of “dropsy” (swelling/edema) at the approximate age of 53 (Fig 6) and was buried in Glen Forest Cemetery.

Marriage Record for Charles Portman and Zettie Newsome (JPG)
Fig 4. Marriage Record of Charles Portman and Zettie Newsome (

Marriage Record for Mary Portman and Albert Jones (JPG)
Fig 5. Marriage Record of Mary Portman and Albert Jones (

Death Record for Mary Portman and Zetta Ann Portman (JPG)
Fig 6. Death Record of Mary Portman and Zetta Ann Portman (Greene County Archives)

After Mary’s death, Henry stayed in their home in Yellow Springs. The 1910 Census indicates that Charles was living with him, working odd jobs, with both Henry and Charles listed as widowed (Fig 7). If you look on the death record, you’ll see that Zetta Ann Portman is listed right above Mary. She died of consumption (tuberculosis) in July 1903.

1910 U.S. Census with Portman family outlined in red (JPG)
Fig 7. 1910 Census with Henry and Charles Portman outlined in red (

In January 1916, almost twelve years to the day, Henry died after a short battle with pneumonia. He was about 84 years old (Fig 8). The Yellow Springs News touted on January 28, 1916 that Henry was “one of the oldest citizens of the town.” Henry was survived by many of his children, and buried in Glen Forest Cemetery. It doesn’t appear he has a grave marker/stone, but I was able to find a grave number.

Death Certificate of Henry Portman (JPG)
Fig 8. Death Certificate of Henry H. Portman (

After Henry’s death, the family probated Mary Portman’s estate as the land and home were in her name. They sold the property, settled the debts, and the estate closed in 1919 (Fig 9).

Statement of Assets, Estate of Mary Portman (JPG)Application for Letters of Administration, Estate of Mary Portman (JPG)
Fig 9. Statement of Assets / Application for Letters of Administration for the Estate of Mary Portman (Greene County Archives)

Although we do not have a great deal of information about this couple, it’s one of those stories that should be told. This story is a great example of the hope and resolve for finding a better life for one’s family, and the lengths people go to find achieve those goals.

Until Next Time…

Greene County Archives


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