Clara Brown

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Clara Brown (1800-1885) was a pioneer. She began life as a slave, first in Virginia and later in Kentucky. She got married and had four children, but her family was separated because they were sold to different plantations. At the age of 56, she was freed and she immediately left Kentucky. Her primary goal from the moment she left Kentucky was to find her family. She got a job working for a St. Louis merchant family that was heading to Kansas, and after that, she got a job on a wagon train to cook for 28 men who were heading west to Denver in the Colorado Gold Rush. She was the first African American woman to be in the Colorado Gold Rush. She ended up in Central City, Colorado, where she worked as a cook, launderer, and midwife. She founded the Union Sunday School and held Methodist church services in her home. She operated a very profitable laundry business to serve the miners who were flooding into the area and heading into the mountains in search of gold. She invested her earnings in land and mine properties, eventually owning 23 properties in Colorado. She amassed a small fortune and was very generous with her money, supporting her community generously and helping anyone in need. Known as Aunt Clara, she opened her home to everyone, and allowed it to be used as a hospital, church, and home for the poor. She paid to enable former slaves to get a college education. When the Civil War ended and she could freely travel, she returned to Kentucky to look for her daughter Eliza. (Her husband and other children had all died.) Although she didn’t immediately find Eliza, she funded numerous other former slaves to move to Colorado. Then, at the age of 79, she went to Kansas to help former slaves build a community and get farms started. By the time she was 80, her money was running low due to her generosity and because she had been cheated in some real estate deals. She moved in with a friend in Denver, and kept writing letters to try to find Eliza. She heard that someone with a story similar to Eliza’s was in Iowa, so—at the age of 82—she set out to find her. Finally, only 3 years before she died, she was reunited with Eliza and met her granddaughter. She was inducted into the Society of Colorado Pioneers before her death in 1885 for her role in the Colorado Gold Rush, her generosity and commitment to community, and her fearless pioneer spirit. Her statue now sits in the new National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC (pictured).

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