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Celebrating the Emancipation Proclamation: Nevada as part of Utah Territory



In 1847 the Mormon pioneers entered what would be called Utah Territory with freedmen and a slave.

As church founder, Joseph Smith had condemned slavery, overseen the baptism of Ezekial Roberts, the first black man to be given the priesthood in the LDS church, and run for president of the United States in 1844 on an anti-slavery platform :“ hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal;…but at the same time some two or three millions of people are held as slaves for life, because the spirit in them is covered with a darker skin than ours.”……He also proposed the sale of public lands to pay for the release of every slave and to abolish slavery by 1850.

Killed in Missouri before the exodus to Deseret, Smith was succeeded by Brigham Young, who had a more checkered history.

With the Compromise of 1850, Utah Territory was created with its western border at the now Nevada-California line and given the privilege of organizing territorial government. Church President Young was appointed governor and superintendent of Indian affairs.

In a speech to the joint session of the legislature in February 1852, Young stated, “The moment we consent to mingle with the seed of Cain, the Church must go to destruction–we should receive the curse which has been placed upon the seed of Cain, and never more be numbered with the children of Adam who are heirs to the Priesthood until that curse be removed.”

The legislature made slavery legal that year with several “unique” provisions including termination of the owner’s contract in the event that the master had sexual intercourse with a servant “of the African race,” neglected to feed, clothe or shelter or otherwise abused a servant or attempted to take him from the territory against his will. Some schooling was also required for slaves between the ages of six and 20. The state of Deseret subsequently amended its Constitution to eliminate the words “free, white, male” from voting requirements in 1867, but theoretically, the law for the Nevada land that was originally part of Utah Territory was slavery from 1852-1861.

Young never recognized the priesthood of the blacks ordained by Smith.

Persecution of the Mormon state caused Young to declare martial law on September 15, 1857, further weakening Utahʼs ability to control the Eastern Sierra region.

By 1860, the Utah census listed 50 blacks, 29 of whom were listed as slaves. For “Nevada Territory” (not yet officially declared), the census lists 16 freedman, two mulatto women and one slave in Genoa, T.J. Singleton.

For the years 2012-2013, Our Story, Inc. will be be celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Project and its legacy in Nevada. This article is part of a series that will be published during that time. Please feel free to circulate and share (credited), comment or submit your own articles.

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