Gordon’s origin story is a common one for free Blacks in Cincinnati. He began his life enslaved. His master, described as a Virginia coal merchant and a yachtsman, put Gordon in charge of the coal yard. He allowed the slave to have the “slack” – the coal dust that covered everything in the yard. Gordon managed to make the slack useful to industrial customers. He sold his product and saved. When he bargained with his master to buy his freedom in 1846, he set off for the free states.
Growth in Cincinnati
Gordon found his way to Cincinnati in about 1847. On November 1, 1848 he paid the considerable sum of $2000 for property on the Miami Canal at Eighth and Lock Streets, and established his residence and business office there. On September 1849, Gordon married Eliza Jane Cressup.
The 1850 census provides benchmark information on Robert Gordon’s presence in Cincinnati. The census form for the First Ward (which included the area on Eighth Street near the Canal) shows the household consisting of just Robert and Eliza. She was at that time 25 years old; her birthplace listed as Ohio, so she was free born.
At about the same time as his marriage in the fall of 1849, Gordon set himself up as a coal dealer.
For more on Robert Gordon, visit the Walnut Hills Historical Scoiety entry: https://walnuthillsstories.org/stories/robert-gordon/