The Mormon Faith & Black Folks
Question #37

Q. I’ve heard that slavery was legal in Utah, and that Mormons owned black slaves. Is this true?

A. Yes and no. When Joseph Smith sent out missionaries to gather the Elect he also sent some to the Southern United States; which at that time practiced slavery. Some Southern whites who owned black slaves were converted (often along with their slaves). Even though Joseph Smith wanted black folks to be free, there was no law in the Church against owning slaves. This was true in the time of Jesus and the ancient Apostles as well; when the great majority of slaves were white.

In Paul’s epistle to Philemon , a runaway Christian slave named Omesius excaped from his Christian master (Philemon) and went to Paul; seeking asylum. Paul wrote to Philemon begging him to take Omesius back without punishment. Paul writes to Christian slaves (98% of whom were white in those days) to “obey your masters”. Christian slaves (98% of them white) were supposed to be good servants, obey their masters, and thereby impress their masters; who may then convert to Christianity. Because the Christian slaves became the best slaves that anyone could own, masters constantly requested them.

Eventually Christian slaves became the most important and sought-after slaves of all the Elite of Rome. The slaves were so faithful and trusted by their masters that the masters loved them, and granted them great responsibilities. The slave nannies converted the young children, who then grew up Christian. They became the Elite of the Roman Empire; which eventually converted the entire Empire to Christianity, and it became the Holy Roman Empire.

In 1847 the United States declared war against Mexico; mainly for the reason that rich mine-barons and cattle-barons wanted to annex the Mexicans territories of California, Alta California, and New Mexico. The politicians, acting as agents of these wealthy white men, decided to annex these territories; using a disputed portion of Texas as an excuse to invade. The Union (U.S. government), who had ignored the Saints cries in Missouri and Illinois, asked Brigham Young for 500 “volunteers” to fight in the war. The Mormons did not want to fight Mexico; because Mexico had done nothing against them, but the Union had. Nevertheless, the Saints needed the money from the Union to help them cross the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains to the Great Salt Lake valley. The volunteers became known as the “Mormon Battalion”.

The Mormon Battalion were given money to buy uniforms, but instead of uniforms they gave the money to the other Saints; to help them with food and provisions for their journey to the Great Salt Lake. Before marching Brigham Young prophesied to the Battalion that if they remained worthy (in a state of worthiness) none of them would be killed, but they would still have “trouble with animals”.

The Mormon Battalion marched out and into New Mexico; part of Mexico at that time. They took the town of Tucson without a shot being fired, and they also took the port city of San Diego, California, again without any of them being killed. The only incident in their entire 1500-mile march was when a herd of wild bulls attacked them, but nobody (except some of the bulls) was killed.

After conquering New Mexico, Arizona, and Southern California, the Mormon Battalion disbanded and headed for the Salt Lake Valley; the final destination point of all the Saints at that time. Several of the men stopped in Sacramento, California, at Sutter’s Mill, to work for a while so they could provide more funds for their families; now in the Salt Lake Valley. One of these former Mormon Battalion members was walking near a river, and in the river he saw something glittering. He picked it up, and saw that it was gold. This was the beginning of the great California Gold Rush.

When people back East heard of the gold discovery in California, many thousands of them decided to travel there. A few took ships around South America, but this took years. Most of them came across the Great Plains, across the Rocky Mountains, on the same trail that the Mormons had blazed. When the Saints first landed in the Salt Lake Valley, they were dirt poor. Some of them didn’t even have shoes; not even for the cold winters. Others wore rags. At that time, there were no cities or towns for thousands of miles. Nothing.

Yet, Heber C. Kimball, an Apostle, prophesied to the female Saints that within 3 years they would be wearing the latest fashions of Paris on their backs. Many laughed. Most didn’t believe it.

Yet, after gold was discovered in California, many hundreds of merchants from the East knew that there would be rich men and women in California, from the gold mines, and they loaded up their wagons with the most expensive fashions of Paris, and headed for California. Once they reached Salt Lake City they discovered that west of the city was one hundred miles of salt flats; the remnants of an ancient ocean. Wagons often got stuck in the salt flats; so many of these merchants had to greatly lighten their loads in order to cross the flats. So many of them sold up to half their wares at extremely low prices; which included the most fashionable dresses from Paris. Soon, Mormon ladies who had been wearing rags walked along the dirt streets of Salt Lake City in the latest fashions from Paris; just as Heber C. Kimball had prophesied.

Many merchants decided to stay in Utah, and make money supplying all the people on their way to California. The Mormons called these people “Gentiles”; an English term translated from the Hebrew goyim. It means “non-Jews”, but the Mormons considered themselves Ephraimites, of Israel, and used it to describe “non-Mormons”. Some of these men were from the South, and owned black slaves. Also, at least one dozen Mormons from the South came to Utah with their black slaves; some of whom were also Mormons.

Some of the Gentiles with slaves were on their way to California. Others wanted to settle in Utah and become merchants; selling wares to the “49ers” and others on their way to the gold fields and mines.

The Mormons wondered what to do; whether to force these settlers to free their slaves, or allow them to pass through to California or settle in Utah with black slaves. Brigham Young once said:

“Human flesh to be dealt in as property is not consistent or compatible with the true principles of government. My own feelings are, that no property can or should be recognized as existing in slaves, whether Indian or African.” (Neither White Nor Black, pp.67-8)

But President Young did believe that Negroes should be the servants, not slaves, of whites until the Curse of Canaan (proclaimed by Noah) should be removed. The difference between a ‘slave’ and an ‘indentured servant’ is that a ‘slave’ is considered as ‘property’ of a master; while and ‘indentured servant’ is not considered property, but an individual with rights of their own.

Brigham Young decided that the best course of action was to create ‘An Act in Relation to Service’ (Feb. 4, 1852) ; to establish a law for Indentured Servitude. An indentured servant is a bond-servant, or a bondsman or bondswoman.. Brigham Young’s own father was a bondservant at one time; to a man who had both black and white bondservants, or bondsmen. The Utah Act in Relation to Service was probably based upon the 1819 Illinois law regulating indentured servitude. Illinois had always bee a free state; opposed to slavery. (Saints, Slaves, and Blacks, p.82n.121)

*Indentured Servitude

An indentured servant is not a slave; nor is he (or she) a free man. An indentured servant makes a contract with a master to be his servant in exchange for money or for being housed and provided for. An indentured servant has more rights than a slave, but less than a free man. The first black people in the New World were not slaves, but in fact indentured servants. There was also white indentured servants. White men who didn’t have property (and thus could not borrow money) had collateral only in their labor. So they became indentured servants of rich men, for 7, 14, or even 21 year contracts, in order to receive money for land, businesses, or a pension when they were old. Many whites who first came to America did so as indentured servants; which was the only way they could afford the passage across the Atlantic.

All soldiers and sailors in the armed forces, whether officer or enlisted, are in fact indentured servants to the government of the United States (or whatever government they serve) for as long as their contract lasts. Professional athletes are very well compensated indentured servants; during at least the part of the year they are playing.

What is the difference between being a slave and an indentured servant?

A slave has little or no rights. An indentured servant has many. A slave is under involuntary service, but indentured servants are under voluntary service.

Why would a black person wish to be an Indentured Servant?

One must understand that not all masters treated their slaves cruelly. In some cases, the black slaves had no other family other than the white family they served. Some Southern gentlemen raised by black nannies loved their nannies more than their own white mothers.

Indentured servitude was also a way for some to gain security in a day without social security and few opportunities for free blacks to find secure stable employment. The ‘key’ would be that the black slaves would have a choice between leaving their masters, or becoming indentured servants with rights and rewards for their service.

Some people called employees under contract today feel more like they are indentured servants. There isn’t that much of a difference between the two.

Brigham Young knew that some masters would take advantage of their black servants, and treat them like slaves; with no rights or will of their own. He thus had enacted certain rights of indentured servants, and had the Probate Courts of Utah oversee that the masters adhered to these laws and regulations. Severe penalties were allotted for those masters who abused their servants; either physically or sexually. On February 5, 1852, before the Deseret (Utah) legislation he declared:

“I am as much opposed to the principle of slavery as any man in the present acceptation or usage of the term. It is abused. I am opposed to abusing that which God decreed, to take a blessing and made a curse of it. It is a great blessing to the seed of Adam to have the seek of Cain as servants, but those they serve should use them with all the heart and feeling, as they would use their own children and their compassion should reach over them and round about them, and treat them as kindly, and with that human feeling necessary to be shown to mortal beings of the human species.” (Governor Brigham Young’s Speech before the Joint Session of the Legislature, Feb. 5, 1852, LDS Church Historian’s Office, p.5)

Brigham Young believed that indentured servitude, and not slavery, would fulfill the requirements of the Curse of Canaan that Noah pronounced upon Ham’s posterity. But he considered Southern slavery to be a horrible and a cruel and evil practice. On March 8th, 1963, while the Civil War was raging, Brigham Young declared:

“I am neither an abolitionist nor a pro-slavery man. If I could have been influenced by private injury to choose one side in preference to the other, I should certainly be against the pro-slavery side of the question, for it was pro-slavery men that pointed the bayonet at me and my brethren in Missouri, and said, ‘Damn you we will kill you.’ I have not much love for them, only in the Gospel. I would cause them to repent, if I could, and make them good men and a good community. I have no fellowship for their avarice, blindness, and ungodly actions. To be great, is to be good before the Heavens and before all good men. I will not fellowship the wicked in their sins, so help me God.” (Journal of Discourses 10:111)

Brigham Young was, like most white men of his day (including Abraham Lincoln), a moderate racist. He believed that black folks were inferior in some respects, but that they should not treated like animals, but treated with all the dignity and respect as any human being deserves. Unless the white man repented of his ill treatment of blacks, Brigham Young believed, God would curse the white race; unless they repented.

In answer to the question: Yes, about a hundred black slaves existed in Utah between the years 1847 and 1852.

*The Origin of Black African Slavery in Christendom

Black African slavery among Christians began in the year 1454, with the Bull (official papal declaration) Dum Diversa of Pope Nicholas V (1397-1455); which authorized Portugal to enslave black African heathens. The Bull was not supposed to apply to black Catholics.

The pagan Romans and Greeks had some black slaves, but they had many more white slaves. Black African slavery among Arabs began before Muhammad, and continued well after him into the 20th century. Still today there are black slaves in the countries of Mauritania, Sudan, Gabon, and possibly other countries. All of the masters of these black slaves are black as well.

Please feel free to e-mail Darrick Evenson

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