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Clara Brown, a freed slave, established a successful laundry business during the Colorado gold rush and helped former slaves get on their feet.
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While in her teens, Brown married another slave named Richard in 1818. Together they had four children: Richard, Margaret, Paulina Ann, and Eliza Jane. Tragedy struck Brown’s family when daughter Paulina Ann died. The death of their owner, Ambrose Smith, also brought more sadness to Brown and her family in 1835. After Smith’s death, Brown, her husband, and her surviving children were sold at an auction, breaking the family apart. She would spend much of her life searching for her loved ones.
Brown traveled west to look for them, working as a cook for a group of gold prospectors headed to Colorado. It is believed that she was the first African American woman to make to Colorado’s gold rush region. Once she reached Colorado, she moved from town to town, seeking economic opportunities. Settling in Central City, she made money by running a laundry business and became quite a success. Brown earned enough to buy property and invest in mines. She was known to help anyone in need. A pious Christian, Brown also hosted religious services in her home and was a strong supporter of the Methodist church.
By her eighties, Brown’s heath was failing and her funds were running low. Despite her hardships, this became a joyous time in her life. Brown received the news that her daughter Eliza Jane was alive and living in Iowa. The two were later reunited, close to 50 years after they were separated.
Brown died in 1885. Before her death, she was made a member of the Society of Colorado Pioneers for her role in the Colorado gold rush. Brown’s kindness touched so many people in the Denver area.
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