Clara Brown was born a slave in Virginia in 1800. At nine years of age, she and her mother were sent to Kentucky. By the age of eighteen she married and subsequently gave birth to four children. At 35 years of age, she was sold by her owner at auction and separated from her husband and children. Freed by her third owner in 1859, she came to Denver by working as a cook on a wagon train in exchange for her transportation. Brown is reportedly the first black woman to cross the plains during the Gold Rush.
Once in Colorado, she lived in Central City and established the first laundry. By 1866, she had accumulated $10,000 and began to actively search for her family; and, in the process helped newly freed slaves to relocate to Colorado. As “Aunt” Clara Brown’s profits in mines and real estate grew, she became more charitable, never turning away anyone in need.
With the death of two of her four children, and having lost track of her son, Brown returned to Kentucky in an attempt to locate her surviving daughter, Liza Jane. When Brown returned to Colorado, she brought with her sixteen freed women and men but she was unable to locate her lost daughter at this time. Sometime between 1866 and 1885, when Brown died, she was reunited with Liza Jane and a granddaughter, Cindy.
Clara Brown was honored by the Denver community and made a member of the Society of Colorado Pioneers. In her honor, a memorial chair was placed in Central City’s Opera House and a stained glass window can be found in the rotunda of the Colorado State Capitol.