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Los Angeles Times: California's Forgotten (Mormon) Slave History


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Not a feather in the Church's cap, to be sure.  This article graced the editorial section of Sunday's LA Times:
 

Op-Ed: California’s forgotten slave history

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Slaveholders occupied the upper echelons of the Mormon hierarchy in San Bernardino. According to U.S. census data and the records of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the colony’s co-founder and its bishop owned slaves. One of San Bernardino’s high counselors, Robert Mays Smith, did too. In fact, Smith claimed 14 enslaved women and children, making him the largest slaveholder in the continent’s Far West.

Although most Mormons hailed from free states, the leadership of the LDS Church welcomed slaveholding converts in the 1840s and ’50s. Slaveholders were among the first settlers in what would become the territory of Utah, which was organized in 1850. In 1852, the Mormon-dominated territorial legislature passed a law innocuously called “An Act in Relation to Service.” With the measure, Utah became the first Far Western territory to legalize African American slavery.

 

Edited by cinepro
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3 hours ago, cinepro said:

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Slaveholders occupied the upper echelons of the Mormon hierarchy in San Bernardino ..........................

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San Bernardino was initially part of the larger state of Deseret, which was indeed a slave-state or territory.  As you know, Apostle Orson Pratt railed against the legislation and considered the whole racist thing a betrayal of the doctrine taught by Joseph Smith.

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And the Church did not put up with typical slaveholder behavior either: there are records showing a slave owner member being excommunicated when his slave gave birth to a half-white child.

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3 hours ago, rpn said:

And the Church did not put up with typical slaveholder behavior either: there are records showing a slave owner member being excommunicated when his slave gave birth to a half-white child.

This does not strike me as much of a defense in favor of the Church. The excommunication was likely more because of miscegenation than anything else and the church still tolerated members owning slaves. 

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 Brigham Young declared slaveholding to be a practice ordained by God, but was not in favor of creating a slave-based economy in Utah. In 1851 Apostle Orson Hyde said the LDS Church would not interfere in relations between master and slave.

https://www.utahhumanities.org/stories/items/show/201

 

I don't think that slavery was wide spread in the Utah Territory.  

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15 hours ago, Scott Lloyd said:

This article lacks context as is often the case when outsiders presume to recount our history. 
 

The matter must be viewed against the background of the Compromise of 1850 whereby California was admitted to the Union as a free state but only if there was a guarantee of no federal interference with the rights of slave holders in adjacent territories such as Utah. In short, the provisional legislature passed a law allowing slavery so Congress would admit it as a territory. I don’t believe slavery ever was a substantial or significant element in Utah’s economy or society. Not long thereafter, slavery would be ended nationwide. 
 

You can read about the compromise here:

https://www.ushistory.org/us/30d.asp

I don’t like it that Utah ever allowed slavery or that any of our forebears were slaveholders. But then, as a U.S. citizen, I don’t like it that slavery was a part of our nation’s history. Reality is what it is, and given the tenor of the times, Utah was obliged to follow a political expedient in order for the territory to be admitted into the Union and in order for the society of our forebears to begin to thrive and for it to be established as a headquarters and launching point to fulfill its mission to carry the kingdom of God throughout the earth. 

I haven't studied this deeply,  so correct me if I'm wrong.  But,  my understanding is the compromise of 1850 allowed for popular sovereignty for the New Mexico and Utah territories in regards to the slavery issue.  In short,  it was up to the territories to decide without federal interference.  So,  I'm unclear why it was expedient for Utah to legalize slavery in 1852 in order to be admitted as a territory in 1850.  Am i missing something? 

 

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https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/history/topics/slavery-and-abolition?lang=eng

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By the time the Saints migrated to Utah, there were both free and enslaved black members of the Church. Green Flake, Hark Lay, and Oscar Crosby, members of the vanguard 1847 pioneer company, were enslaved to Mormon families at the time of their pioneer journey. In 1852, Church leaders serving in Utah’s legislature debated what to do about black slavery in Utah Territory. Brigham Young and Orson Spencer spoke in favor of legalizing and regulating slavery, allowing enslaved men and women to be brought to the territory but prohibiting the enslavement of their descendants and requiring their consent before any move. This approach would guarantee the eventual end of slavery in the territory. Apostle Orson Pratt gave an impassioned speech against any compromise with the practice of slavery: “[To] bind the African because he is different from us in color,” he said, “[is] enough to cause the angels in heaven to blush.”7 Young and Spencer’s position prevailed, and the legislature authorized a form of black slavery that demanded humane treatment and required access to education.8

During the 1850s, there were about 100 black slaves in Utah.9In 1861, the Civil War broke out in the United States over the question of slavery, as Joseph Smith had prophesied. On June 19, 1862, the United States Congress ended slavery in U.S. territories, including Utah. The next year, U.S. president Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that the U.S. government no longer recognized slavery in the rebelling Southern States. After the war, a constitutional amendment prohibited slavery throughout the United States.

https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4p2951.html

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According to the compromise, Texas would relinquish the land in dispute but, in compensation, be given 10 million dollars -- money it would use to pay off its debt to Mexico. Also, the territories of New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah would be organized without mention of slavery. (The decision would be made by the territories' inhabitants later, when they applied for statehood.) Regarding Washington, the slave trade would be abolished in the District of Columbia, although slavery would still be permitted. Finally, California would be admitted as a free state. To pacify slave-state politicians, who would have objected to the imbalance created by adding another free state, the Fugitive Slave Act was passed.

https://www.politico.com/story/2015/09/this-day-in-politics-sept-9-1850-213308

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A key provision of the laws that organized both the Utah and New Mexico territories called for slavery to be either permitted or barred as a local option. In adopting so-called popular sovereignty as a guiding principle, Congress, in a vain effort to avert a then looming civil war, repudiated the idea of banning slavery in any territory that had been acquired from Mexico.

Same with this:  https://www.utahhumanities.org/stories/items/show/196

Not seeing anything that suggests Congress put pressure on Utah to be a slave holding territory.

Edited by Calm
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46 minutes ago, Calm said:

That is my understanding.  From what I've read,  it appears that Bernheisal (representing Utah in the compromise debates) purposefully withheld information regarding the the practice of slavery in Utah at the time.  He felt that northern politicians would not vote for the compromise if they knew that slavery was already being practiced in Utah. He relayed this concern to Brigham Young who oversaw the 1850 census which counted only 26 slaves (along with a note that all of them were on their way to California).  It's speculated that the compromise would not have passed if Utah's slavery was known by those voting. 

 

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15 hours ago, Robert F. Smith said:

San Bernardino was initially part of the larger state of Deseret, which was indeed a slave-state or territory.  As you know, Apostle Orson Pratt railed against the legislation and considered the whole racist thing a betrayal of the doctrine taught by Joseph Smith.

Who was he rallying against?

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36 minutes ago, Meadowchik said:

Who was he rallying against?

From above:

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BrighamYoung and Orson Spencer spoke in favor of legalizing and regulating slavery, allowing enslaved men and women to be brought to the territory but prohibiting the enslavement of their descendants and requiring their consent before any move. This approach would guarantee the eventual end of slavery in the territory. Apostle Orson Pratt gave an impassioned speech against any compromise with the practice of slavery: “[To] bind the African because he is different from us in color,” he said, “[is] enough to cause the angels in heaven to blush.”7 Young and Spencer’s position prevailed, and the legislature authorized a form of black slavery that demanded humane treatment and required access to education.8

 

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5 hours ago, Meadowchik said:

Who was he rallying against?

As Calm points out above, Pratt was railing (not rallying) against legislation backed by Brigham Young and Orson Spencer.  As usual, taking the long view, Pratt was right.  Today, in multiple instances, it is Pratt whose theological understanding prevails.

For this and other disagreements with Brigham, Pratt's seniority was taken away, thus preventing him from becoming the next President of the Church after the death of Brigham.  Another punishment for not going along quietly with Brigham, was to be sent on a long mission to Europe.  I love men who choose the right and let the consequence follow.

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9 hours ago, cacheman said:

I haven't studied this deeply,  so correct me if I'm wrong.  But,  my understanding is the compromise of 1850 allowed for popular sovereignty for the New Mexico and Utah territories in regards to the slavery issue.  In short,  it was up to the territories to decide without federal interference.  So,  I'm unclear why it was expedient for Utah to legalize slavery in 1852 in order to be admitted as a territory in 1850.  Am i missing something? 

 

It had been my understanding, but I can’t find any documentation on it now, so perhaps I’m wrong. 
 

I do find it interesting though — something that I had not known prior to this discussion — that the law enacted in Utah Territory —though it permitted immigrants to bring with them their slaves did not allow the continuation of slavery to succeeding generations. Thus, it in effect put a single-generation time limit on slavery.  

Of course, that became moot, as slavery was ended nationwide in just over a decade. 

This is important because it reflects not so much an endorsement of slavery but an accommodation with existing conditions. 
 

Edited by Scott Lloyd
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10 hours ago, ERMD said:

Presentism.

Look up Amy and Isaac Post, and The North Star of Frederick Douglass.

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On 1/19/2020 at 3:26 PM, Scott Lloyd said:

This article lacks context as is often the case when outsiders presume to recount our history. 
 

The matter must be viewed against the background of the Compromise of 1850 whereby California was admitted to the Union as a free state but only if there was a guarantee of no federal interference with the rights of slave holders in adjacent territories such as Utah. In short, the provisional legislature passed a law allowing slavery so Congress would admit it as a territory. I don’t believe slavery ever was a substantial or significant element in Utah’s economy or society. Not long thereafter, slavery would be ended nationwide. 
 

You can read about the compromise here:

https://www.ushistory.org/us/30d.asp

I don’t like it that Utah ever allowed slavery or that any of our forebears were slaveholders. But then, as a U.S. citizen, I don’t like it that slavery was a part of our nation’s history. Reality is what it is, and given the tenor of the times, Utah was obliged to follow a political expedient in order for the territory to be admitted into the Union and in order for the society of our forebears to begin to thrive and for it to be established as a headquarters and launching point to fulfill its mission to carry the kingdom of God throughout the earth. 

I studied this a long time ago and my memory is not the most reliable of things; however, it was my understanding that the slave laws of Utah included that the slave could declare themselves free if they were mistreated in any way. It my memory poor, wishful, or something else?

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32 minutes ago, Storm Rider said:

slave could declare themselves free

That seems unlikely given their legal status.  Could a prisoner declare himself free if he believe he had served enough.  Someone else with legal authority could do so if the slave or another reported mistreatment.

Maybe you mean they would be given the choice by someone in authority, like a child given the choice of which parent to live with in a divorce?

Edited by Calm
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https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/primary-documents-african-american-history/utah-slave-code-1852/

Limits placed:

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That no contract shall bind the heirs of the servant or servants to service for a longer period than will satisfy the debt due his, her, or their master or masters.

 

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 the master or mistress, or his, her, or their heirs shall be entitled to the services of the said servant or servants unless forfeited as herein provided, if it shall appear that such servant or servants came into the Territory of their own free will and choice.

 

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That if any master or mistress shall have sexual or carnal intercourse with his or her servant or servants of the African race, he or she shall forfeit all claim to said servant or servants to the commonwealth...

 

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if he shall be guilty of cruelty or abuse, or neglect to feed, clothe, or shelter his servants in a proper manner, the Probate Court may declare the contract between master and servant or servants void, according to the provisions of the fourth section of this act.

 

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 no transfer shall be made without the consent of the servant given to the Probate Judge in the absence of his master or mistress.

 

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Any person transferring a servant or servants contrary to the provisions of this act, or taking one out of the Territory contrary to his, or her will, except by decree of Court in case of a fugitive from labor, shall be on conviction thereof, subject to a fine, not exceeding five thousand dollars, and imprisonment not exceeding five years, or both, at the discretion of the Court, and shall forfeit all claims to the services of such servant or servants, as provided in the fourth section of this act.

 

Edited by Calm
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On 1/19/2020 at 1:26 PM, Scott Lloyd said:

I don’t like it that Utah ever allowed slavery or that any of our forebears were slaveholders. But then, as a U.S. citizen, I don’t like it that slavery was a part of our nation’s history. Reality is what it is, and given the tenor of the times, Utah was obliged to follow a political expedient in order for the territory to be admitted into the Union and in order for the society of our forebears to begin to thrive and for it to be established as a headquarters and launching point to fulfill its mission to carry the kingdom of God throughout the earth. 

So...the ends justify the means?

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On 1/19/2020 at 3:14 PM, Robert F. Smith said:

San Bernardino was initially part of the larger state of Deseret, which was indeed a slave-state or territory. 

Are you sure about that? California became a state in 1850. Brigham Young approved some settlements earlier in Northern California but they weren't considered a part of Deseret (which was never a state). I'm pretty sure that the "slaves" of San Bernardino were actually free (even if they didn't know it).

Edited by katherine the great
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On 1/19/2020 at 5:22 PM, rpn said:

And the Church did not put up with typical slaveholder behavior either: there are records showing a slave owner member being excommunicated when his slave gave birth to a half-white child.

Yea, they probably were more upset that he had sex with a black woman, then that he probably raped her. My feelings are raw right now after watching "Harriet" and often young slave girls were raped by their masters. It's sick, and I'm so livid over inhumane people owning humans. 

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