Clara Brown was a slave from Virginia, who spent her entire life looking for her 10-year-old daughter, Eliza Jane.
Brown was sold on an auction block in the early 1800s. By the time she was 18, she had conceived four children, each of whom were sold off to different owners. Brown would spend the next 20 years raising Ambrose Smith’s children – her master. At age 53, after Smith died, Brown was declared free and covered over 1,000 miles searching for her daughter. Her search was during the Gold Rush years, so after traveling to Kentucky, Missouri and Kansas to search for her child, Brown ventured to Colorado in hopes that her daughter was there in search of gold.
Brown worked as a cook on a wagon train in return for transportation and a means to carry her laundry pots. Once she reached Colorado, Brown set up shop as a laundress and saved her money – enough to invest in real estate. The town would get to know her as Aunt Clara, and she was a caretaker of the people and visitors in town.
In 1865, Brown moved east to return to her search for Eliza, and now she had money. After landing in Tennessee, she would offer most of her savings and earnings – $10,000 – for information about Eliza. The search was a bust, but all was not in vain. Brown had brought poor, freed slaves with her to give them a better life. Her kindness was noticed by the governor of Colorado, who named her an official representative of newly freed slaves or “exodusters.”
Finally, in 1879, at 79 years old, Brown got word that her daughter was in Iowa. They were finally reunited when Brown was 80, and her daughter was 56 years old. The same year, Brown became the first female member of the Colorado Pioneer Association, and she was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of fame.
She died six years later