On January 6, 1828, Green Flake was born into slavery on the William Jordan Flake Plantation in North Carolina. Green was “gifted” to James, William’s son, as a wedding present in the 1840’s when Green was in his early teens. Shortly after marrying, James Flake moved to Mississippi in hopes of claiming land.
Green was taken with the Flake family to Mississippi, which is where the family encountered missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, colloquially known as Mormons. James and his wife Agnes, along with Green and a fellow enslaved person named Allen were baptized on April 7, 1844. Shortly afterwards, the Flakes moved to Nauvoo, where members of the church were gathering. While there, Green’s labor was given to the church as tithing for the Flake family. Joseph Smith, the leader of the church, died just a few months after the Flakes’ arrival. The Saints were pushed out of Nauvoo and moved to Winter Quarters, Nebraska, where Green Flake lived in what was known as the Seventh Ward.
Move to Utah
After becoming the next church leader, Brigham Young put together a party to go to the Great Basin. James Flake sent Green to go with Brigham and prepare a home for his family. Green was only nineteen years old when he crossed the United States as Brigham Young’s personal wagon driver.
The above image shows James Flake listed as one of the original pioneers that came to Utah. Below his name he wrote some of his experience during the trek.
“The first we met was the ponindines [Pawnee Indians] met us all in war like and demand Pay for Crossing the Country. After President Young councld [counseled] with them then by Paying them something they give us Permission to cross their country. Then we crossed the luck fork of the Plat [Platte River] then we traveled up the Pat [Platte] and I was in my wagon. Traveling I look to the left and saw a Calf laying. It never come to my mind being a bufflow [buffalo]. There was a man walking to my right with his gun on his shoulders. His name was Ira. I halted my team and spoke to Ira and told him there was a calf. Ira asking where looking astonished he sees a bufflow [buffalo] he stepped to the front of my team and shot at it and just grazed his withers. The calf sprang to it’s feet. [illegibile] I told him to take it.”
A few days before they reached the valley, Brigham fell sick. Green drove the first wagon down into the Salt Lake Valley in an advance party. Along with Green, the two other enslaved people in the party, Oscar Crosby Smith and Hark Lay Wales, arrived in the valley on July 22, 1847. When Brigham arrived two days later, the three men were already planting crops and starting to build homes for their enslavers’ families who would arrive the next year.
Brigham asked the Flake family to move to California and set up a colony in Rancho San Bernadino. James Madison Flake died in 1850, never able to make the move. His widow, Agnes, and her children did move to California. For unknown reasons, Green did not make the move to California with the Flakes. Agnes did not have a lot of money. She entreated Brigham Young to sell Green to raise funds for her family. It’s unclear if Green was actually sold—some speculate that Brigham bought Green and then freed him. Agnes died in California in 1854.
After being freed, Green married Martha Ann Morris in the early 1850’s—he would have been in his twenties at this point. They moved to Union, near the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon. Other African Americans moved to Union as well, following Green. There, Green had a farm and often participated in mining ventures with his neighbors. His prospecting was not successful, and he turned his attention to cattle.
Green and Martha had two children, Lucinda and Abraham. After being widowed, Green moved to Gray’s Lake, Idaho in 1896. Once he moved away from Union, it appears that the other African Americans who had settled there also moved. The 1900 census does not show anyone of African American descent in the town.
Green frequently made the trip back to Utah, especially for parades celebrating the pioneers. He was very proud of his status as a pioneer in the original party, and would give speeches commemorating the experience.
Green died on October 20, 1903. He was buried in Utah next to Martha, under the headstone he carved for her that read, “In my Father’s house are many mansions.”
Green Flake’s story has not been forgotten. Mauli Junior Bonner wrote and directed a movie titled “His Name is Green Flake” which was released in 2021. He also organized a benefit concert to raise funds to build the new Pioneers of 1847 Memorial, a monument to Utah’s Black Pioneers– some freed and some enslaved– Green Flake, Jane Manning, Hark Wales and Oscar Smith. In July of 2022, Governor Cox celebrated the dedication of the new monument at This Is The Place Heritage Park.
- Benson, Lee. “Green Flake: His life matters.” Deseret News, July 19, 2022. https://www.deseret.com/utah/2020/7/19/21327596/green-flake-mormon-pioneer-slave-movie.
- Kiser, Benjamin. “Flake, Green.” Century of Black Mormons. https://exhibits.lib.utah.edu/s/century-of-black-mormons/page/flake-green?fbclid=IwAR0CYcUoFxkGk-eI4Dp2H9tjAYbfLziPzoj6bUGB9fYjWoZGlLcpXg7ogpU#?c=&m=&s=&cv=&xywh=-204%2C373%2C1652%2C721.
- Madsen, Steven K. “Union’s Black Colony.” In A Union, Utah History. Union Fort Chapter, Sons of Utah Pioneers, 1981. https://collections.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s6839h87.
- Reiniche, Angela. “Green Flake, the Mormon Pioneer Trail.” Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail, National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/articles/000/green-flake-the-mormon-pioneer-trail.htm.
Stack, Peggy Fletcher. “View Photos of Monumental Day for Utah’s Black Pioneers as Their Story Is Celebrated in Stone.” The Salt Lake Tribune, July 22, 2022. https://www.sltrib.com/religion/2022/07/22/monumental-day-black-pioneers/.