The Lightfoot Family (1879-1946)
The Lightfoot family were prominent African Americans in Culpeper who produced merchants, businessmen, civic leaders, churchmen, and fraternal organization leaders. Henry Clay Lightfoot was one of the family’s early patriarchs. After emancipation, Mr. Lightfoot was among the leaders of the newly organized Antioch Baptist Church in the Town of Culpeper, and he also became a successful businessman.
- Henry Clay Lightfoot was born December 25, 1844, in Culpeper County to John and Gillie Newby Lightfoot.
- During the Civil War, he witnessed fighting from the Confederate side as an enslaved body servant to Captain William Halcomb and later received a pension from the state of Virginia for his service. It is believed that Henry was a former slave of the Rixey estate in Culpeper.
It is not known how Henry came to be Halcomb’s servant.
- Henry married Mary Landonia Briggs Lightfoot on March 3, 1866, in Culpeper. They had seven children. Two sons and two daughters reached adulthood. They later adopted a son, Hobson.
- Henry established Lightfoot Grocery in the 1870’s on East Davis Street. In 1892, a fire destroyed the grocery store and other buildings. With determination, he reestablished his grocery store business. Upon Mr. Lightfoot’s retirement, his son “Jesse” became the owner/proprietor.
- Henry was the first Negro member of the town council and served during the 1880’s.
- Henry served as a juror on the United States Courts in Alexandria on several occasions.
- James Edward Russel “Jesse” Lightfoot also known as J.E.R., Henry’s son, followed in his father’s footsteps and expanded the family’s store. J.E.R. began excavating the lot at 254-258 East Davis Street in November 1921. Around June 1, 1922, the building was completed by Mr. Isaac Chauncey Abbott, a Brandy Station resident, and Culpeper County building contractor.
- The Lightfoot Store became a hub of activity for Culpeper’s African American community. When J.E.R. installed a soda fountain in the store, neighborhood women, many who were domestics, gathered there to share information and relax. The store also became a meeting place where differences were often mediated.
- Henry died at the age of 86 on April 4, 1931, at his residence in the Town of Culpeper. Funeral services were held at Antioch Baptist Church in Culpeper. Reverend Willis J. Madden officiated. He is buried in Fairview Cemetery alongside his wife.
- James Edward Russell was ill for three days after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage on February 28, 1946, while working in his grocery store. He died at his home on March 3, 1946. Dr. Elijah Barber was his attending physician.
- Harrison, J.E.R.’s son, was a Howard University graduate and lived and worked in New York. He returned to Culpeper in 1991 after retiring from New York Medical College. He died on April 19, 2017 and is buried alongside his parents at Fairview Cemetery.
- The Lightfoot family retained ownership of the building until sometime in the early 2000s.
The Lightfoot Building was located at 254 East Davis Street.