Jane Manning has been immortalized in the lore of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. She was born African American in Connecticut in the early 1820’s. Her mother was enslaved, but was emancipated by the time Jane was born. Her father died when she was very young. She gave birth to her first son in 1839 but the identity of the father is not known as she refused to identify him.
In 1842 Jane heard an LDS missionary preach and she was baptized. Her family converted as well and less than a year later they had sold their property and were ready to head to Navuoo. They planned to take a ship with other converts. They made it through New York, but once they changed ships to head west across Lake Erie the Captain denied them passage, mostly likely because of their race. Jane set out to walk to Nauvoo, and her family followed her. They walked hundreds of miles.
Once she arrived she made fast friends with the Prophet Joseph and his wife, Emma. She lived in their home with them as a domestic servant.
After Joseph Smith was assassinated at Carthage Jail she moved to live with Brigham Young. She met her husband there, Isaac James. They married and joined the exodus out of Nauvoo to Salt Lake Valley when Jane was pregnant with her third child.
Jane, Isaac, their son, as well as Jane’s older son are listed in the 50 year anniversary book of 1847 pioneers. The 1847 pioneers were the first Mormons who came into the valley with the intention of settling it. In the printed version Jane and her family each have the word ‘colored’ listed after their names in parentheses. They weren’t the only African Americans to come to the valley in 1847, there were others who were enslaved by wealthy Mormons who had come to prepare the way for others coming afterward. But Jane and Isaac and their small family were the first free African Americans to enter the valley.
By 1870 Isaac and Jane divorced. They had had eight children, one of them stillborn.
Jane stayed very active in the Mormon Church, and campaigned tirelessly to be able to enter into the Temple and perform the Endowment Ceremony, which in the faith is required for eternal salvation. However at this time only whites were able to partake in this ceremony, something that caused Jane considerable heartache.
Only two of her children survived her. She died on April 16th 1908 of Bronchitis.
Newell, Quincy D. “Jane Elizabeth Manning James.” A Century of Black Mormons. Accessed January 20, 2020. https://exhibits.lib.utah.edu/s/century-of-black-mormons/page/james-jane-elizabeth-manning#?#_edn14&c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=0&xywh=-3814%2C-183%2C9688%2C3654
Coleman, Ronald G. “African Americans in Utah.” Utah History Encyclopedia. Accessed January 20, 2020. https://www.uen.org/utah_history_encyclopedia/a/African_Americans.shtml