History of slavery in Colorado began centuries before Colorado achieved statehood when Spanish colonists of Santa Fe de Nuevo México (1598–1848) enslaved Native Americans, called Genízaros. Southern Colorado was part of the Spanish territory until 1848. Comanche and Utes raided villages of other indigenous people and enslaved them.
Colorado was partially delayed from becoming a state due to its requirement for suffrage for African Americans. African American pioneers came to the territory prior to the American Civil War, including James Beckwourth who was an explorer and mountain man beginning in 1822. Charlotte and Dick Green were brought to what is now Colorado by Charles and William Bent and worked at Bent's Fort beginning in 1833. Clara Brown came to the territory in search of her daughter and became a successful businesswoman, investor, and philanthropist. Barney Ford and Edward J. Sanderlin were successful business woman, William Jefferson Hardin was a legislator and mayor of Leadville.
There were some instances of slaves in early 19th century, such as the Green family of Bent's Fort. Former enslaved men and women settled in Colorado, establishing themselves as business people, legislators, and other professions.
In 1877, the state passed a law that made slavery and servitude illegal, except for convicted individuals. In 2018, an Amendment was passed to make slavery, or forced labor, of convicted people illegal.
Native Americans—Arapaho, Cheyenne, Utes, and other indigenous people—occupied what is now Colorado for centuries.
Utes and other Native Americans were captured and enslaved by the Spanish colonists of Santa Fe de Nuevo México (1598–1848).The Spanish initiated a "flourishing" slave trade of Native Americans, called Genízaros, who were sold to Hispanics in what is now the American Southwest. In the late 1700s, historians estimate that one-third of the 29,000 people living in New Mexico territory were slaves. Even after the region was acquired by the United States, there were Native American slaves who were held in bondage.
Apache, Jumanos, and Kiowa settlements were raided by Utes and Comanche natives on horseback. Children and adults were captured and sold in villages.
Before Colorado Territory was formed, previous territories were formed from the Louisiana Purchase (1803) and subsequent treaties that encompass land of the present-day state of Colorado.
James Beckwourth, born into slavery in 1805 in Virginia, escaped slavery. He came west, including to the Colorado area beginning in 1822. He was part of an expedition to lead mines, was an explorer of the Rocky Mountains, and was a fur trapper and mountain man. He was also a co-founder of El Pueblo.
Bent's Fort, established along the Santa Fe Trail in 1833 was visited by Native Americans, Spanish, Europeans, and French. Enslaved people sometimes accompanied the visitors.William Bent had three African American enslaved people, Charlotte and Dick Green and Andrew Green. The men handled maintenance and chores at the fort. Charlotte was the cook and provided entertainment, such as dances and parties. For instance, she held a party for General Stephen Kearny. Living as a free man and a well-respected mountain man, Beckwourth worked for Bent. The Greens were brought to the fort by William and Charles Bent from St. Louis. Charles Bent brought Dick Green with him to Santa Fe when he became governor of the New Mexico Territory. When Bent was assassinated, Green volunteered to assist the troops in tracking down the culprits. For his heroism, William Bent set the Greens free.
In 1848, the United States acquired land that would become Colorado after winning the Mexican–American War. At that time, there were few Anglo settlers in Colorado.The first permanent settlement of people of European heritage was established in the San Luis Valley in 1851.
After Utes raided El Pueblo (now known as Pueblo, Colorado in the Massacre of 1854, young Juan Isidro Sandoval was captured by the Utes and sold as a slave. He was enslaved for eight years and then freed in exchange for a Hawken rifle and $300 dollars (equivalent to $7,777in 2020) in silver.
Colorado Territory (1861–76) was established on February 28, 1861, in response to a large influx of fortune seekers and settlers during the Pike's Peak Gold Rush. Before the American Civil War, there was a clash between Democrats who were pro-slavery and anti-slavery Congressional Republicans, who were able to pass the Colorado Organic Act in mid-February 1861. On August 1, 1876, President Ulysses S. Grant admitted Colorado to the Union.
In the mid-19th century blacks came to Colorado with other fortune seekers during the Pike's Peak Gold Rush and lived in and around Denver, Boulder, Cripple Creek, and Central City, Colorado. A number of black members of the 9th and 10th United States Cavalry, the Buffalo Soldiers, settled in Colorado after they completed their military career.
Clara Brown was born into slavery and had four children with her husband. The family members were separated and after she was freed, Brown headed west in search of one of her daughters. She worked as a cook for a wagon train. She was the first African-American women to settle in Colorado. She was a successful businesswoman, investor, and philanthropist. After searching for her family for years, and separated from her family for 47 years, she met up with her daughter Eliza, who moved to Denver to live with her.Elijah Wentworth, whose nickname was "Lige", was born into slavery without any knowledge of his family or his early life in Virginia. He was also a cook for a wagon train that was headed for Denver. Wentworth was a singer of verses and a town crier, known for his presence at Union Station.
Barney Ford was an enslaved man from Virginia who ran away using the Underground Railroad, he lived in several places in the United States an in Central America before he settled in Denver. He was a civil rights activist and a successful businessman. He helped freed slaves attain an education.
Samuel and Nancy Lancaster obtained the money to purchase their freedom, called a "liberty free". A pastor in Kansas provided $600 to pay for Nancy's freedom. Samuel worked in mining camps as a barber. He earned $1,200 (equivalent to $25,223in 2020) to purchase his freedom. The couple lived in a cabin in Denver. Edward J. Sanderlin was born into slavery, became a successful businessman in Denver. John Taylor, born a slave in Kentucky, served during the Civil War and afterwords to fight Native Americans. After he was discharged, he joined a band of Utes and settled in the San Juan Valley.
Henry O. Wagoner, an Underground Railroad conductor before moving to Colorado, promoted civil rights. He paid legal fees for fugitive slaves. William Jefferson Hardin, born free in Kentucky, came to Colorado in 1863. He was the mayor of Leadville, fought for civil rights, and was the first African American elected to the Wyoming Territory Legislative Assembly.
The Emancipation Proclamation was enacted on January 1, 1863 during the American Civil War, but it was not until June 19, 1865 that all enslaved people throughout the country, both Northern and Southern States were emancipated.Although the end of the Civil War did not likely change the perceptions of blacks about themselves or among Southern white people, it gave free blacks the opportunity to settle outside of the south. The "Wild West" was likely not free of racial prejudice, but there did not seem to be the same fear of blacks that existed in the south. This may have been because a lot of the white people in Colorado were foreign-born and there was not a major influx of white Southerners who moved to Colorado after the Civil War. The census of 1860 recorded 46 blacks and ten years later, there were 456 blacks. There was greater fear among whites of Asian Americans and Native Americans. In Colorado, where the number of blacks were relatively small. It was desirable to hire a black person than Asian, Native American, and Italian people. One historian said, "black life in the West varied from other parts of the U.S. in that relatively large Asian and Latino and indigenous populations served as something of a lightening rod deflecting bigotry that traditionally was received in full force by African Americans."
Julia Greeley, born enslaved in Missouri, she lost an eye and was disfigured by a whipping. She came to Colorado after she was emancipated. She worked for Julia Dickerson and William Gilpin for at least three years, until their divorce, and she was domestic servant of various types thereafter. Although she did not have much money herself, she provided food and clothing for the poor, tended to children and spread the Catholic faith. An icon of Julia—with a child, mountains of Colorado, Sacred Heart, Franciscan coat of arms, and other relevant images—was commissioned by the Archdiocese.
On November 15, 1865, the Zion Baptist Church was founded. Its members, who "played sterling roles" throughout the city and beyond, included former enslaved people, activists, teachers, doctors, preachers, politicians and more.
Colorado Territory was seeking statehood during the American Civil War, one of the key issues was suffrage for African Americans. In 1867, President Andrew Johnson rejected the bill for statehood that gave blacks the right to vote.In 1877, Colorado officially banned servitude and slavery, except as a punishment for convicted criminals. In 2018, Colorado Amendment A was passed which abolished slavery entirely. It made it illegal to make convicted criminals subject to forced labor. The wording for the bill is based upon the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The state constitution now reads, "There shall never be in this state either slavery or involuntary servitude." The law now prevents people who were former enslaved people from being arrested and forced into "involuntary servitude", also known as "convict leasing".
Juneteenth, which began to be celebrated in Denver in the 1950s, commemorates emancipation of African Americans and focuses on education and achievement. By the 1980s, it was one of the country's largest Juneteenth celebrations. In 2012, Juneteenth Music Festival LLC was organized to reinvigorate the festival which had been in decline since the early 1990s. It supports "redevelopment and elimination of financial blight in Denver, Colorado’s Historic Five Points Neighborhood."
The Underground Railroad was a network of secret routes and safe houses established in the United States during the early to mid-19th century. It was used by enslaved African Americans primarily to escape into free states and Canada. The scheme was assisted by abolitionists and others sympathetic to the cause of the escapees. The enslaved who risked escape and those who aided them are also collectively referred to as the "Underground Railroad". Various other routes led to Mexico, where slavery had been abolished, and to islands in the Caribbean that were not part of the slave trade. An earlier escape route running south toward Florida, then a Spanish possession, existed from the late 17th century until approximately 1790. However, the network now generally known as the Underground Railroad was formed in the late 18th century. It ran north and grew steadily until the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln. One estimate suggests that, by 1850, 100,000 enslaved people had escaped via the network.
Juneteenth – also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day, and Emancipation Day – is a holiday celebrating the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the United States. Originating in Galveston, Texas, it is now celebrated annually on June 19 throughout the United States, with varying official recognition. It is commemorated on the anniversary date of the June 19, 1865 announcement of General Order No. 3 by Union Army general Gordon Granger, proclaiming freedom from slavery in Texas.
Slavery in the colonial history of the United States, from 1526 to 1776, developed from complex factors, and researchers have proposed several theories to explain the development of the institution of slavery and of the slave trade. Slavery strongly correlated with the European colonies' demand for labor, especially for the labor-intensive plantation economies of the sugar colonies in the Caribbean and South America, operated by Great Britain, France, Spain, Portugal and the Dutch Republic.
Slavery in the United States was the legal institution of human chattel slavery, comprising the enslavement primarily of Africans and African Americans, that existed in the United States of America from its founding in 1776 until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865. Slavery was established throughout European colonization in the Americas. From early colonial days, it was practiced in Britain's colonies, including the Thirteen Colonies which formed the United States. Under the law, an enslaved person was treated as property and could be bought, sold, or given away. Slavery lasted in about half of U.S. states until 1865. As an economic system, slavery was largely replaced by sharecropping and convict leasing.
James Pierson Beckwourth, was an American mountain man, fur trader, and explorer. Beckwourth was known as "Bloody Arm" because of his skill as a fighter. He was mixed-race and born into slavery in Virginia. He was freed by his white father and apprenticed to a blacksmith so that he could learn a trade.
Slavery in the Spanish American colonies was an economic and social institution which existed throughout the Spanish Empire including Spain itself. In its American territories, Spain displayed an early abolitionist stance towards indigenous people although Native American slavery continued to be practiced, particularly until the New Laws of 1543. The Spanish empire, however was involved in the enslavement people of African origin. Although the Spanish themselves played a very minor role in the Atlantic slave trade compared to other European empires, in absolute terms, the Spanish Empire was a major recipient of African slaves, with around 22% of the Africans delivered to American shores ending up in the Spanish Empire.
Samuel Forster Tappan was an American journalist, military officer, abolitionist and a Native American rights activist. Appointed as a member of the Indian Peace Commission in 1867 to reach peace with the Plains Indians, he advocated self-determination for native tribes. He proposed the federal government replace military jurisdiction over tribal matters with a form of civil law on reservations, applied by the tribes themselves.
The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe is one of three federally recognized tribes of the Ute Nation, and are mostly descendants of the historic Weeminuche Band who moved to the Southern Ute reservation in 1897. Their reservation is headquartered at Towaoc, Colorado on the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Reservation in southwestern Colorado, northwestern New Mexico and small sections of Utah.
Genízaros were detribalized Native Americans who, through war or payment of ransom, were taken into Hispano villages as indentured servants, shepherds, general laborers, etc., in New Mexico and southern Colorado. The prohibition on indigenous slavery in the Spanish Empire, implemented from 1543 onwards, excluded those Indians captured in the context of war. They were often convicted and required to work as indentured servants or slaves for varying periods of time. Genízaros were more typically indentured servants who had been enslaved by other Indian tribes and earned freedom through a period of servitude.
The Arizona Organic Act was an organic act passed in the United States federal law introduced as H.R. 357 in the second session of the 37th U.S. Congress on March 12, 1862, by Rep. James M. Ashley of Ohio. The Act provided for the creation of the Arizona Territory by the division of the New Mexico Territory into two territories along the current boundary between New Mexico and Arizona. On February 24, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the bill once it had been approved by Congress. The bill established a provisional government for the new territory. It abolished slavery in the new Arizona Territory, but did not abolish it in the portion that remained the New Mexico Territory. During the 1850s, Congress had resisted a demand for Arizona statehood because of a well-grounded fear that it would become a slave state.
Slavery in colonial California began with the systematic enslavement of indigenous Californians. The arrival of the Spanish colonists introduced chattel slavery and involuntary servitude to the area. White colonists from the Southern and Eastern United States brought their systems of organized slavery to California.
The history of slavery in Texas, as a colonial territory, then part of Mexico, later Republic in 1836, and U.S. state in 1845, began slowly. The use of slavery expanded in the mid-nineteenth century as White American settlers, primarily from the Southeastern United States, crossed the Sabine River and brought slaves with them. Slavery was present in Spanish America and Mexico prior to the arrival of American settlers, but it was not highly developed, and the Spanish did not rely on it for labor during their years in Spanish Texas.
The 1842 Slave Revolt in the Cherokee Nation was the largest escape of a group of slaves to occur in the Cherokee Nation, in what was then Indian Territory. The slave revolt started on November 15, 1842, when a group of 20 African-American slaves owned by the Cherokee escaped and tried to reach Mexico, where slavery had been abolished in 1829. Along their way south, they were joined by 15 slaves escaping from the Creek Nation in Indian Territory.
Slavery among the indigenous peoples of North and South America took many forms. After first European settlers arrived, five Native American tribes enslaved Black people, just like the Europeans.
Slavery in Virginia began with the enslavement of Native Americans, during the early days of the English Colony of Virginia and through the late eighteenth century. They primarily worked in tobacco fields. Africans were first brought to Colonial Virginia in 1619, when 20 Africans from present-day Angola arrived in Virginia on the ship The White Lion. About that time, Native Americans were also captured and enslaved.
Slavery in New Mexico had varying legality and levels of enforcement until 1867, when the U.S. Congress banned slavery in the territories. Spain had introduced slavery to the area, Mexico tried to restrict it, as a U.S. territory it was made fully legal again until the Peonage Act of 1867 would officially abolish slavery in the U.S. Territory of New Mexico. During these years, however, black slavery was rare in New Mexico with most slaves being Native Americans. Today, it has been argued that slavery exists in the form of human trafficking.
This article treats the topic of slavery as it occurred in the borders of what is now the state of Utah. Under Spanish and Mexican rule, Utah was a major source of illegal slave raids by Mexican, Ute and Navajo slave traders, particularly on Paiute tribes. When Mormon pioneers entered Utah, they introduced African slavery and provided a local market for Indian slavery. After the Mexican–American War, Utah became part of the United States and slavery was officially legalized in Utah Territory on February 4, 1852 with the passing of the Act in Relation to Service. It was repealed on June 19, 1862 when Congress prohibited slavery in all US territories.
Africans were enslaved by Native Americans from the colonial period until the United States' Civil War. The interactions between Native American and Africans in the antebellum United States is complex. Maintaining institutions of slavery for profit relied largely on Africans enslaved by white American settlers and Native Americans both before and after the United States gained independence via the American Revolutionary War.
Amache Ochinee Prowers, also known as Walking Woman (1846–1905), was a Native American activist, advocate, cattle rancher, and operator of a store on the Santa Fe Trail. Her father was a Cheyenne peace chief who was killed during the Sand Creek massacre on November 29, 1864, after which she became a mediator between Colorado territorial settlers, Mexicans, and Native Americans during the 1860s and 1870s. She was inducted into the Colorado Women's Hall of Fame in 2018.
Charlotte and Dick Green were enslaved African Americans who worked at Bent's Fort along the Santa Fe Trail in the southwestern frontier, in what is now Colorado. The couple and Dick's brother Andrew came to the fort with Charles and William Bent in the early 1800s and became key figures in the history of the trading post. Charlotte, also called "Black Charlotte", was known for her tasty food and fandango dancing. Dick Green was particularly well-known for his role as a soldier, avenging the assassination of then Governor Charles Bent during the Taos Revolt. For his bravery, the Greens were freed and returned to Missouri.