Joe Pelman, "The Prince of Ethiopia"
Nicholasville, Jessamine County, KY
Submitted by Nancy House Perry
My name is Nancy House Perry. I was a small child in Nicholasville, Jessamine County, Ky when I met a great story teller know as “old Joe”.
Joe Pellman called himself "The Prince of Ethiopia." Joe was a wiry small black man with a wild looking gray beard. Joe was barely five feet tall.
I was a 5 year old tom boy blonde when Joe used to do odd jobs for my great grandmother. I used to tag along behind him, trying to help but mostly in the way.
My great grandmother always gave Joe lunch when he worked for her. I wanted Joe to eat in the kitchen with the rest of us because he was so interesting. That just was not allowed. So rebel that I was, I would take my plate out back and eat on the porch too. I got to hear more stories about far away places and interesting people.
He told me that his people had been kidnapped in Ethiopia and sold into slavery. If he were still in Ethiopia he would be a prince. He looked so sad, his clothes were rags, his feet and legs were wrapped in burlap, and certainly not what you think a prince would wear.
I don’t have many things from my childhood, but I still have a small china doll with a broken leg that he gave me. I have kept that doll for over 52 years. I have thought about him often.
Small man that he was his chest and heavy shoulders pushed heavy loads of freight from the depot to stores downtown in his old wooden wheelbarrow. Later in his life the town bought him a new wheel barrow. With a cruel twist of fate, his death came when he was crushed between two trucks. He died 23 February, 1976. He was 85. He was born 24 Mar 1892.
Joe's sister, Vicie Henry, did ironing for folks until she was 96. Several years ago while researching my own genealogy, I visited the black cemetery, Locust Grove on 3rd Street in Nicholasville, Ky. I went there looking for Joe’s grave. I found a homemade flat stone made of poured concrete with his name and dates pressed into it. Beside it was a headstone with the name Laura Pellman, Mom 1876 – 1950. I have photos of the stones.
According to the 1910 Jessamine Co census (South Nicholasville), Laura was a 38-year-old widow, born 1872, had had only 2 children and both were alive at that time. Son Joe was born 1893, and Vicie born 1894 (Joe was 17 and Vicie was 16 in 1910). They were all identified as Mulatto.
I have looked for additional family but found none. I have never forgotten this small dark man with dreams and stories as large as stars. I learned from him so many things. The greatest gift he gave me was to look, really look inside a person and color never gets in the way. I have always wanted to honor him in some way. I left flowers on his small stone, I hope he remembers me too.
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