Green Flake—Black Pioneer


Forced by mob persecution to leave their homes in Nauvoo, Illinois, many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints looked to the West to find a new Zion. The next year, 1847, under the direction of President Brigham Young, they migrated to the Great Salt Lake Valley. The first pioneer colony to arrive at the valley numbered one hundred forty-three men, three women, and two children. Among these first settlers was Green Flake, a former slave of a North Carolina planter, who had been converted earlier to the Church.

Born in Anson County, North Carolina, in 1825, Green was inherited by Madison Flake after his father’s death. As was the custom of the time, Green took the surname of his master. After Madison Flake joined the Church, he offered Green his freedom. However, Green chose to remain with Madison, and he moved to Nauvoo with the Flake family. In Nauvoo Green served for a short time as one of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s bodyguards.

Madison asked Green to go with the first wagon train of Saints to help prepare for the subsequent arrival of the Flake family. Life was hard for all of the pioneers. Green proved himself strong and reliable as the small band set up winter quarters in Nebraska; forged a trail along the Platte River to Ft. Laramie, Wyoming; in the spring, and conquered the Rocky Mountains.

President Young became ill with a fever when they arrived at Echo Canyon, which cut through the eastern slopes of the Wasatch Range fifty miles from the Great Salt Lake. He sent Orson Pratt ahead with a company of forty-two men, instructing them to build bridges and roads as they went. Green Flake was included in this group, which pushed on and reached the Great Salt Lake Valley on July 21, 1847. He rode in the first wagon to move through Emigration Canyon into the desert valley, later called by Brother Young a promised land.

Orson Pratt immediately dedicated the land to the Lord and blessed the seed that they had carried with them over a thousand miles. He then ordered the first crops to be planted. Green Flake plowed and sowed his seed before building a log house for the Flake family. He had chosen a site on the Amasa Survey in Cottonwood so that the Flakes could live near the Southern Saints who had come west with the Mississippi Company. It was they who established the first settlement in Utah outside of Salt Lake City.

When Madison Flake arrived a year later, he found a beautiful home ready for his family. At this time Green was only twenty-two years old. Shortly afterward Green married Martha Crosby, and they had two children. After his wife died in 1885, Green went to live near his son and daughter in Gray’s Lake, Idaho. He returned to Salt Lake City in 1897 to attend the Jubilee Pioneer Celebration and to receive a special certificate for being one of the first pioneers to enter the valley. He died six years later in Gray’s Lake at the age of seventy-eight.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dick Brown