Clara Brown was born a slave in Virginia in 1800. She married and had children, but when the owner of their plantation died, the family was sold at auction, breaking them apart.
Years later, when she was in her fifties, Brown was freed and she made her way west. She eventually settled in Colorado’s gold rush region, the first African American woman to do so. Brown ran a successful laundry business in Central City, Colorado and gained a reputation for her generosity. She eventually saved enough money to invest in real estate.
After the Civil War, Brown liquidated all of her assets to finance a search for her family. In the process of searching for her husband and children, she helped 16 relatives and other former slaves relocate to Colorado. Brown never found a trace of her husband or son. However, in 1882, she finally received news that her daughter, Eliza Jane, was alive and living in Iowa. After nearly 50 years of separation, mother and daughter were reunited.
Brown died three years later, but before her death, she was inducted into the Society of Colorado Pioneers for her role in the state’s gold rush.