Robert Gordon (????-1884)
- Born an enslaved man in Richmond, Va., Robert Gordon served a rich yachtsman who owned a coal yard. Gordon maintained the yard so faithfully, his master eventually gave him full control over the handling and selling of the coal.
- He sold the coal to local manufacturers and blacksmiths, accumulating thousands of dollars in the course of just a few years.
- With his wealth, Gordon was finally able to buy his freedom in 1846.
- In 1847, he moved to Cincinnati and invested $15,000 in a coal yard there. He employed bookkeepers, built his own docks on the river and purchased coal by the boatload.
- White coal dealers weren’t too fond of Gordon, however, and attempted to price him out of the market — a market the freedman had already dominated.
- Gordon outsmarted his critics, hiring mulattoes to purchase the dirt cheap coal sold by whites and then selling it a higher price once the white dealers had limited coal left in their reserves. Even larger profits came rolling in.
- The entrepreneur retired from the coal business in 1865, later investing his money in U.S. bonds.
- When the bonds were called in, Gordon invested in real estate in Walnut Hills, Cincinnati.
- The famed businessman died in 1884.
- At the time of his death, his estate was worth $200,000 (about $5,000,000 by today’s standards)
Robert Gordon is part of our Black Success series for Black History Month.
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