Aunt Clara Brown: Colorado Pioneer

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Clara Brown

Clara Brown was born enslaved in 1800 in Virginia. One of her earliest childhood memories was being sold on an auction block.  Clara and her mother were sold to a tobacco plantation in Virginia. At the age of 18 she married a man named Richard and had four children. Clara’s family was sold again, this time they were all separated in the sale. Clara was brought by plantation owner George Brown and moved to Kentucky. She also made a vow to herself to find her daughter Eliza Jane before she died.

In 1856 George Brown Clara’s master died giving her freedom from slavery. Her mind was set on finding her daughter so she left Kentucky to do so. Upon her journey she started working as a cook for a family traveling to the Leavenworth Kansas Territory. In 1859 she worked for Colonel Benjamin Wadsworth cooking for the Colonel and his crew. Her time with Colonel Wadsworth led her to Colorado making her one of the first African-American women involved in the Colorado Gold Rush. Clara never stopped looking for her daughter Eliza, despite her various successful pursuits.

Clara eventually settled in Aurora, Colorado and became a founding member of the nondenominational Union Sunday school. She would later create her own laundry business in Central City, Colorado, serving the miners and local town’s people. In addition to her laundry business she was a maid, cook and mid-wife. Clara Brown was becoming a very successful entrepreneur as an African-American woman during slavery. Clara was also savvy enough to invest her money into mine claims and land; this earned her $10,000, ownership of 16 different properties in Denver, 7 houses in Central City, as well as property and mines in Boulder, Georgetown, and Idaho Springs.

Clara was given the name “Aunt Clara” because of her generous nature. She was well known for giving to those who were in need. She even used her own home as a hospital and refuge for the needy. Clara personally helped to fund the building of the Catholic Church and the first Protestant Church located in the Rocky Mountains. In 1865 Clara resumed her search for her daughter and her family. She used her savings to help her travel back to Kentucky and Kansas. In 1879 Clara was a part of the building of a community and farm land by former slaves in Kansas.

At the age of 80 Clara’s funds were dwindling but not her spirit; she was still determined to find her daughter. Two years later Clara was told that her daughter Eliza lived in Iowa, she packed up and traveled to Iowa to see her daughter. She eventually did find her daughter and had the pleasure of meeting her granddaughter. Eliza and Clara kept in close contact until Clara’s death in 1885. Clara was later voted into was voted into the Society of Colorado Pioneers. She is the first woman inducted into the Society of Colorado Pioneers. Clara Brown overcame inhumane obstacles, and was able to reach her goals and reunite her family. Mrs. Clara Brown, we proudly stand on your shoulders.

J.A. Ward.

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References:

http://www.blackpast.org/aaw/brown-clara-1803-1885

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clara_Brown

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