Henderson County, Kentucky Biography


Sunday Gleaner and Journal, February 26, 1933

Henderson Has Claim of Oldest Citizen In State

        Henderson probably has one of the oldest citizens in the state.  She is Mary Jane FOLDER, colored, whose age is claimed to be 115 years.

        In Henderson or Henderson County no other living soul, so far as it is known, has reached the age of 100.  Those who have lived three score and ten, the Biblical limit of man's life, are looked upon by the venerable Mary Jane as mere children for she has grandchildren that are that old.

        Fifteen miles north of Henderson, in the rich and fertile plot of ground that lies in the augle formed by the confluence of the Ohio and Green rivers, Lazarus POWELL, father of Lazarus W. POWELL, once governor of Kentucky, owned and lived in the mansion house of a great plantation and, in the Negro quarters of that plantation, the little slave girl, Mary Jane POWELL, was born in 1818.

Was Slave 45 Years

        For forty-five years she was a slave, a record for the term of bondage of former slaves who are living now.  There are many living, now, who, in their early youth, were slaves for 10 or 15 years and then were freed by President LINCOLN'S proclamation of 1863.

        When the slaves of Gov. Lazarus W. POWELL, along with all the others, were freed in 1863, it made no change in the life and occupation of Mary Jane for many years.  Lazarus W. POWELL lived and died as her "old Mahster."

        Far back in the time of one hundred years ago, there lived on a plantation adjoining the Powell's a wealthy and aristocratic family named FOLDENSam FOLDEN was their slave and in 1838 he and the neighbor girl, Mary Jane POWELL, were married.  Fourteen children were born to them; some are dead, and the others scattered to the four (corners) but Sam, the youngest son, (who was) born out of slavery, is cus(todian) of Henderson's Central Park.  _____ _____ _____ the old woman makes _____ _____ _____ Alvasia street between _____ _____ and First streets.

"Folder" Once "Folden"

        A hundred years ago the colored folks were wholly uneducated.  Their spelling and pronunciation were of the crudest kind and soon after freedom the name of FOLDEN, for the colored people, gradually became FOLDER and thus they are called today.  Of all the rich and powerful FOLDEN clan not one remains, the name has become extinct.

        When this writer went a few days ago to see Mary Jane FOLDER, he found this very old woman, copper colored as if she had Indian blood, emaciated, weighing less than 80 pounds, very deaf and almost blind.  Her diet consists largely of milk and cereals.  She takes very little medicine and sleeps about 16 hours a day.

        I wanted to ask her only about old times and _____ was well that stories of old times was wanted for, as is usually the case with the very old, she knows nothing of current events but the many happenings of 75 or 100 years ago were fresh in her memory.

Went to the "Palace"

        In the interview that was had with her, she was emphatic in having it known that she belonged to the POWELLS.  She said "When my mahster, Lazarus W. POWELL, was 'lected governor of Kentucky, I wuz with the family and we went to the Palace in '51.  He run against Mr. DIXON and he wuz 'lected.  Everybody knowed he would be and when we all heerd the news, old Aunt Jane jump up and holler, 'De hocks got the chicken and gone.'"

        The old governor's mansion at Frankfort, now a ramshackle building, fronted by the penitentiary, flanked on one side by a livery stable and on the other side by a coal yard, was, in the eyes of Mary Jane, a palace and history shows that her "mahster," Lazarus W. POWELL, was elected governor in 1851.

        She told of another trip.  When she was a young woman she went with her mistress from Red Banks on the Ohio to Yellow Banks on the Ohio, traveling by boat to pay a social visit of three weeks.  In those days, Henderson was known as Red Banks and Owensboro as Yellow Banks and thus they are known to her to this day.  They were a day and a night on the boat.  Today it's a leisurely journey of two hours.

Feared Yankee Soldiers

        She has vivid memories of the Civil War and the doings of her people.  The little village of Scuffletown that stands on stilts on the banks of the Ohio river, built on stilts to avoid the annual overflow, was the same then as now.

        According to Mary Jane, she and the other slaves were dreadfully afraid of the Yankee soldiers.  "One day," she said, "Bowleg Efe 'at belonged to us and "at married Savannah mahster bought from Mr. GRIGSBY, come runnin' from towards Scuffletown hollering 'at the Yankees wuz comin'.  About ten of us gathered some things together and started runnin' to Green river to hide in a old tobacco barn in amongst the willows.  "Fore we could get to the river them Yankees caught up with us.  They wuz on horses.  They stopped us and said the war done ceased and that we wuz all free.  But we all went back home same as we always done.  We hadn't no other wheres to go and didn't want to go nohow."

"Bowleg" Efe Champion

        She had many stories to tell of the war and of the selling and trading of slaves before the war and she used many old time expressions that are never heard now.

        "Bowleg" Efe, who warned them of the approach of the Yankees, was, according to Mary Jane, the best corn shucker on either side of the Green river.  Efe was, evidently, a very valuable slave.  He belonged to the Powells and wanted to marry Savannah, who belonged to a neighbor, Mr. GRIGSBYGovernor POWELL, to satisfy the champion corn shucker, traded to Mr. Grigsby for Savannah, a team of mules and two yellow boys, twins, fourteen years old, with blue eyes and straight hair and "her and Efe got married up."  "De yella boys," said Mary Jane, "was twins and they didn't have no father and no mother and they wuz orphants.  A Yankee captain took 'um with him after freedom to his home in the North and I never heerd of 'um no more.  Old mahster had name one of 'um Jinuary and the other one Thursday because they wuz born on a Thursday in Jinuary.  They pa was a man 'at lived in Newburgh in Indiana, across the river fum Scuffletown and they wuz as much lak him as ef he had hocked and spit 'em."

        When Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote his poem, "The Last Leaf"

"The mossy marbles rest

On lips that she has pressed

In their bloom

And the names she loved to hear

Have been carved for many a year

On the tomb."

        He might well have been describing Mary Jane FOLDER and her burden of 115 years.



1870 HENDERSON COUNTY CENSUS, PAGE 295, HOUSE NO. 85, Samuel Folden age 50; Mary age 40; Barnet age 17; Malinda age 15; Ambrose age 10; Betsy age 7; James age 5; George age 2; Samuel age 1; Henry Churchill age 25; John Stewart age 16.

1880 HENDERSON COUNTY CENSUS, PAGE 388, HOUSE NO. 81, Sam Folden age 60; Jane age 50; Henry age 18; George age 16; Sam age 14; Susan age 12; Matilda age 8; Sophia age 4.

1890 HENDERSON COUNTY TAX LIST, Sam Folden, Spottsville Precinct, #76 - one male over 21 years; #77 - one legal voter.


Mary Jane (Powell) Folder, b)1817, d)08 Aug 1933, bur) Jordan Cemetery

Kitty Folden, b)1873, d)28 Nov 1918, bur) McClain Cemetery

Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS

Copyright 2002 HCH&GS