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John G. Turner

Latter-day Saint elder and Utah pioneer, was born in northern Maryland to Andrew Abel and Delila Williams. Abel left the area as a young man. Little is known of his early life; it is unclear whether he was born enslaved or free. One later census identified Abel as a “quadroon,” but others listed him as “Black” or “Mulatto.”

In 1832, Abel was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and soon gathered with the Mormons in Kirtland, Ohio. In 1836, he was ordained to the church's Melchizedek or higher priesthood, making him one of a very small number of African American men to “hold the priesthood” during the church's early years. An expectation for all righteous adult male members of the church, priesthood meant the possibility of leadership positions and the authority to perform ordinances. In December 1836 Abel had become a ...

Article

Maria Elena Raymond

former slave, western pioneer, church founder, businesswoman, and philanthropist, was born in Gallatin, Tennessee—some sources offer a birth date of 1800—and at the age of three was sold with her mother to a planter in Virginia. There, at the age of eighteen, she married a slave named Richard and had several children. When her owner, Ambrose Smith, died in 1835Clara and her children were auctioned off to different slaveholders. Her daughter Margaret was sold to a slaveholder in Kentucky and reportedly died a few years later. Clara lost contact with her son Richard, who was sold repeatedly. Another daughter, Eliza Jane, was sold to a James Covington, also in Kentucky.Clara was sold again at auction, this time to a Kentucky slaveholder named George Brown a merchant and for the next two decades served the Brown family as a house slave During this ...

Article

Kenneth Wiggins Porter

William Owen Bush was born in Clay County, Missouri, on July 4, 1832. He was the oldest son of George Washington Bush and Isabella James, born in Tennessee of German ancestry. The Bush family left Missouri in 1844 for the Oregon Territory. In 1845 the family settled in what became known as Bush Prairie, a few miles south of present-day Olympia, Washington. George Bush won esteem there as a progressive, innovative, and generous farmer. William Bush married Mandana Smith Kimsey on May 26, 1859, in Marion County, Oregon. Mandana was the daughter of Dr. J. Smith and Nancy Scott Wisdom Smith, and the widow (1858) of Duff Kimsey, who had been born in Howard County, Missouri, on June 1, 1826. She had crossed to Oregon with her husband and parents in 1847 William and Mandana had three children George O ...

Article

Mary Fields was born a slave in Tennessee, but little else is known of her early life. Some historical accounts have placed her on the Mississippi River in the early 1870s, and at least one researcher claims that she was a passenger on the Robert E. Lee when it raced the steamer Natchez in June 1870. By 1884 Fields was living in Toledo, Ohio, where she worked as a handywoman for an order of Ursuline nuns. She became attached to the mother superior of the convent, Mother Amadeus, who is variously reported as a close friend or as the master in a master-servant relationship. Shortly after Fields arrived at the convent, Mother Amadeus left for Montana to open a school for Blackfeet Native American girls. When Mother Amadeus fell ill in Helena, Fields came to her aid and decided to stay in Montana.

Fields assisted the Catholic mission ...

Article

Kelli Cardenas Walsh

The story of Mary Fields is one of race, gender, and age. She was the antithesis of the nineteenth-century Victorian image of womanhood. In an age of domesticity, Fields lived a frontier life dependent upon no one and uninhibited by Jim Crow.

A former slave, in freedom Fields became an independent, gunslinging, liquor-drinking woman in the untamed frontier of Montana. She stood six feet tall and was stout. Details about the early life of Mary Fields are sparse, other than that she was born into slavery in 1832. Judge Dunn in Hickman County, Tennessee, owned Fields and presumably owned her family. She was befriended by her master’s daughter, Dolly, and remained with the family after Emancipation.

Once she left the Dunn family Fields spent an unspecified time in Ohio and along the Mississippi River During this time Dolly joined a convent of Ursuline nuns taking the name of ...

Article

John G. Turner

Latter-day Saint and Utah pioneer, was born to former slaves in Wilton, Connecticut. Beginning as a young girl, she worked for a wealthy white family. “[W]hen about fourteen years old I joined the Presbyterian [Congregationalist] Church,” she wrote many decades later. “Yet I did not feel satisfied it seemed to me there was something more that I was looking for” (Newell, p. 263).

Around 1842 still living in Connecticut Manning was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints commonly known as Mormonism Several weeks later she experienced the gift of speaking in tongues a practice common in Mormonism during the early years Obedient to the church s principle of gathering she left her home to travel with her family and a group of Latter day Saints to Nauvoo Illinois Upon reaching Buffalo New York the black members of the church were refused further ...

Article

Margaret Blair Young

was born a slave in Mississippi and became a successful homesteader in Idaho after the Civil War. Records of Leggroan's birth year differ, some listing it as 1840 and others as 1856. His wife, Susan Leggroan, claimed that he was about twenty-five years old when they married, just after the Civil War ended. Given this information, his birth year was most likely 1840. In addition Leggroan's grave lists his date of death as 1 February 1926.

The couple came west with Ned's sister, Amanda Leggroan Chambers, and her husband Samuel. After arriving in Salt Lake City, the Leggroans were baptized into the Latter-day Saints religion. They began farming in Salt Lake and subsequently moved to Milo, Idaho, where they settled on a homestead ranch.

They were among a handful of blacks in that area which is why Leggroan is significant Only a few blacks ventured to the ...

Article

Lynn Hudson

Mary Ellen Pleasant arrived in San Francisco during the Gold Rush, probably sometime in 1852. For the next fifty years, she worked as cook, accountant, abolitionist, and entrepreneur in the bustling town on the bay. Histories of the West describe her as madam, voodoo queen, and prostitute. Pleasant herself requested that the words “she was a friend of John Brown’s” be printed on her gravestone, indicating her own desire to be remembered as an abolitionist. She was the target of what one historian has called an “avid conspiracy” that sought to silence her, and it was said that she harbored the skeletons of San Francisco’s elite in her closet.

The folklore about Pleasant reveals conflicting stories of her background (some say she was from Georgia, others Virginia), but Pleasant herself claimed she was born in Philadelphia She described her mother as a free colored woman and her ...

Article

One of San Francisco's most colorful and controversial characters in the late nineteenth century was Mary Ellen Pleasant, a former slave who moved to the city in 1849. She began managing a boarding house whose reputation for cards, liquor, and beautiful women—it is likely her services included procuring prostitutes—earned it a devoted following.

No mere businesswoman, Pleasant involved herself in both local and national politics. In 1858, she personally presented abolitionist John Brown with a $30,000 U.S. Treasury Bond, after which she traveled south to promote his upcoming revolt. When Brown was captured at Harpers Ferry, Pleasant returned to California under an assumed name, where she raised money for the Union cause in the Civil War, and continued her work for civil rights.

Throughout her life Pleasant helped escaped and former slaves find work in San Francisco mostly as domestic servants Some historians speculate that Pleasant ...

Article

Darrell M. Milner

George Washington was born near Winchester in Frederick County, Virginia, the son of a mixed-race African American slave father named Washington and a white mother whose name is unrecorded. The nature of his parentage violated social conventions; his father was immediately sold, never to be involved in his life again, and his mother allowed baby George to be adopted by James C. Cochran and his wife, a white family. At age four George moved west with the Cochrans, settling first near Delaware City, Ohio; when he was nine, the family moved farther west, eventually to Bloomington on the Missouri frontier. As a black youth in the slave state of Missouri, Washington was denied a formal education, but he taught himself the rudiments of reading, writing, and mathematics. He also acquired the skills in woodcraft and marksmanship for which he would later become renowned.

By 1841 Washington and a partner ...