Slavery in Utah

Did Utah have slavery?

Yes, Utah established a form of slavery in 1852. The Utah Legislature passed "An Act in Relation to Service" which legalized a form of slavery for people of African descent,[1] and it also passed the "Act for the Relief of Indian Slaves and Prisoners," which was specific to Native Americans in the territory.[2]

From 1852 to 1862, Utah had a slave population of around 30 people.[3]

Timeline of Slavery in Utah

Timeline of Slavery in Utah


Mormon pioneers begin settling in Utah—in Mexico territory where slavery was illegal.[4] Three enslaved men are included in the first company of Latter-day Saints to Utah.[5]


The United States claims the Utah territory as part of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo with Mexico.[6]


The U.S. government enacts the Compromise of 1850, allowing territories to choose their own slavery laws[7] and creating Utah Territory.[8]


"An Act in Relation to Service" is passed in Utah Territory which makes slavery legal in Utah.[9]


"A Preamble and An Act for the Further Relief of Indian Slaves and Prisoners" is enacted in Utah Territory which outlines how Native Americans could be made indentured servants.[10]


South Carolina secedes from the United States over the issue of slavery and the American Civil War begins shortly afterward.[11]


Congress abolishes slavery in U.S. territories, ending slavery in Utah.[12]


Abraham Lincoln's[BIO] Emancipation Proclamation, which emancipated slaves in southern states that had left the Union, is enacted.[13]


General Robert E. Lee[BIO] surrenders the Army of Northern Virginia to General Ulysses S. Grant[BIO] at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia, effectively ending the American Civil War.[14]


The Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is ratified, abolishing slavery in the United States.[15]

Expand Timeline

What were the slave laws in Utah for Native Americans?

The "Act for the Relief of Indian Slaves and Prisoners" law stated that it intended to prevent Native American women and children from being killed by local tribes that engaged in the slave trade.[16] Under this law, white settlers could purchase slaves from Native American slave traders and create a contract for indentured servitude for a set period of time, no more than twenty years.[17]

How did Utah slavery differ from slavery in the South?

Utah slavery laws differed from Southern chattel slavery by mandating education for enslaved people,[18] stipulating that children of enslaved people would not inherit their parents' enslaved status,[19] and prohibiting the buying or selling of enslaved people without their consent.[20]

As written, this legislation would gradually eliminate slavery in the Utah territory over several generations.[21]

Comparison of slavery in Utah territory and U.S. Southern states


"An Act in Relation to Service"

"Act for the Relief of Indian Slaves and Prisoners"

U.S. Southern Slave Codes[22]


Required to give slaves 18 months of education.[23]

Required sending Native American slaves to school for three months each year.[24]

Illegal to educate enslaved persons.[25]




The assembly of enslaved persons was heavily regulated.[26]


Only to be indentured if their parents' debts were not yet paid off.[27]


Slave status inherited.[28]




Restricted travel.[29]




Limited property rights.[30]


Restrictions on punishments.[31]


Various punishments were encoded into law including whippings, mutilation, and death.[32]

Family Separation

Consent is required from the slave to transfer ownership.[33]


Children born to enslaved mothers belong to the master of their mother.[34] Enslaved families were not protected from separation.[35]


Slave owners are forbidden from having sexual intercourse with slaves.[37]


Marriages between white and black individuals were legally prohibited.[38]

Expand Table

Were there any court cases related to these provisions in Utah?

Yes. There is one record of a criminal charge against a slave owner,[39] but it ended in an acquittal.[40] There is also one known civil court case concerning the ownership of slaves.[41] There are no other known cases in Utah related to slave laws.

Why did Utah implement slavery?

There were several factors (see table).

Factors Leading to Slavery in Utah

Contributing Factors


Immigration of Enslavers and Enslaved People

By 1850, several Latter-day Saint families from Southern states had emigrated to Utah with enslaved individuals in their households.[42]

Native American slavery

Brigham Young[BIO] and other Latter-day Saints reported that slavery was common among Native Americans,[43] and they believed that buying them and placing them in indentured servitude could save them.[44]

Biblical curse of servitude

Brigham Young believed that people of African descent were descendants of Ham and Canaan and were under the curse found in Genesis 9:25,[45] and because of this, they were destined to be the "servants of servants" until the curse of Ham was removed.[46]

An interim step toward Utah as a free state.

Before slavery was legalized, some Latter-day Saint leaders had stated that they were avoiding the question of permitting or prohibiting slavery,[47] and Brigham Young stated that Utah would become a free state.[48]

Weren't the Latter-day Saints expelled from Missouri because they opposed slavery?

Yes, this contributed to the expulsion of Latter-day Saints from Missouri.[49] The Latter-day Saints were accepting of people of African descent[50] into their congregations, and opposed to slavery,[51] which angered Missourians.[52] This lead to violence against Latter-day Saint by Missourians until in 1838 an extermination order was issued by the Governor of Missouri and they were driven out of the state.[53]

And wasn't Joseph Smith an abolitionist?

Yes. In 1844, Joseph[BIO] made public declarations opposing slavery and made abolition part of his presidential campaign.[54]

What was the position of the Latter-day Saints in Utah on slavery before the 1852 legislation?

Three years before the law was implemented in Utah, Wilford Woodruff[BIO] stated that the Latter-day Saints would not support slavery.[55] And in an 1851 news article, Orson Hyde[BIO] said that Mormons neither approved nor condemned slavery.[56]

Did anyone dissent against the slave law in Utah?

Yes. During the legislative session of 1852, apostle Orson Pratt[BIO] vigorously protested legalizing slavery in Utah.[57]

Did Church leaders own slaves?

Yes. Bishop Abraham Smoot[BIO] and apostle Charles C. Rich[BIO] both owned slaves.[58]

Brigham Young was listed as Green Flake's[BIO] master in the draft of the 1850 U.S. Census, but the official 1850 census lists Green Flake as a free person.[59] Brigham's son-in-law adopted a Native American girl who had been bought from Native American slavers and Brigham stated that she "has fared as my children, and is as free."[60]

How many slaves were in Utah?

Records regarding the number of enslaved people in Utah are inconsistent and incomplete.[61] However, U.S. Census data from 1850 to 1860 suggests that Utah had between 24 and 45 enslaved individuals at a given time.[62]

Weren't enslaved people required to be registered with the state?

Yes. Utah law required that enslavers register their slaves in probate court as servants.[63] However, there are only six known probate records for enslaved African-Americans,[64] one record for a Native American boy,[65] and one probate record for a deceased man listing two Native American boys and three people of color as part of his property.[66]

Why weren't there accurate records kept on enslaved people?

It's unclear. It's possible that there was pressure to minimize the practice of slavery in Utah to appease congressmen in Washington D.C. who opposed slavery.[67] Another possible reason could be that there was a lack of interest in record keeping because slavery was not a significant part of the Utah economy.[68]

Government Records of Enslaved People in Utah


Number of Enslaved People

U.S. 1850 Census (unofficial)[69]


U.S. 1850 Census (official)[70]


U.S. 1860 Census[71]


Slave Registrations (in probate records)[72]


Probate records[73][74]


Were slaves in Utah members of the Church?

Yes, some of them (See table below).[75]

Enslaved Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Utah[76]



Green Flake[BIO]

Green Flake was baptized in 1844[77] and was sent to Utah in the advance party.[78] He appears in Brigham Young's household in the draft of the 1850 census,[79] but in the 1860 census, he is listed among the free inhabitants of Utah territory.[80] Amasa Lyman[BIO] wrote to Brigham Young on behalf of Agnes Flake[BIO] asking him to sell Green and send them the money, but Brigham refused saying that Green was in poor health.[81] Brigham noted that Green had worked for him for a year before moving to Cottonwood, Utah.[82] In the 1890s, Agnes Flake's son William[BIO] recalled that Green worked for Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball for two years until he was freed.[83]

John Burton[BIO]

John is listed as a member of the Robinson household in Iron County, Utah Territory, in the 1850 census.[84] He is later listed as a tithe payer in the Parowan Ward records.[85]

Martha Morris[BIO]

Martha Morris was probably a Latter-day Saint, although no historical record has been found to confirm her membership.[86] She likely came to Utah with the Bankhead family.[87] She was married to Green Flake and they lived in Union, Utah.[88]

Nancy Lines Dennis[BIO]Nancy Lines Dennis was baptized in Lehi, Utah, in 1857.[89] Nancy was listed as a servant in the Dennis household in the U.S. 1860 census.[90] She died in 1877 and was buried in Spanish Fork.[91]
Betsy Brown Fluellen[BIO]Betsy Brown was listed with the Brown family in the John Brown[BIO] Pioneer Company, which traveled to Utah in 1848.[92] There is no record of her baptism, but the Lehi Ward notes her rebaptism.[93]
Marinda Redd Bankhead[BIO]In the 1850 census, Marinda was listed as living in Utah territory as part of the Redd household.[94] In the 1860 census, she is listed as living with two individuals who were also indicated as enslaved in the Redd household in 1850.[95] The Spanish Fork Ward records note that she was rebaptized in 1852.[96] In 1899, the newspaper The Broad Ax (a progressive African American newspaper established in Utah in 1895) reported that Marinda was a "devout and strict Mormon."[97]
Amy[BIO]Amy is listed among the Redd's slaves in 1850.[98] Her rebaptism[99] and death[100] are recorded in the Spanish Fork Ward records.
Alexander Bankhead[BIO]Alexander Bankhead likely came to Utah with the Bankhead family.[101] He is listed in the Bankhead household in the 1850 census.[102] He seems to appear on a short list of enslaved individuals among Brigham Young's papers.[103] An article from The Broad Ax described Alexander and his wife Marinda as early residents of the territory and faithful Latter-day Saints.[104] He died in January 1902.[105]
Expand Table

A portrait of Green Flake from the Salt Lake Triubune article "Fifty Years Ago Today," from May 31st, 1897.

Did slaves help build the Salt Lake Temple?

No, probably not. There are no known accounts of enslaved people involved in the construction of the Salt Lake Temple.[106]

Did slaves help build any Latter-day Saint temples?

No, probably not. However, cash and produce gained from slave labor were donated to the Church in Nauvoo to help construct the temple,[107] but there are no records of slave labor being employed to build the temple.

Does the Bible condone slavery?

Yes. Slavery and servitude were part of ancient Near Eastern culture[108] and there are numerous references to slavery in the Hebrew Bible[109] and the New Testament.[110] However, the nature of the institution of slavery varied depending on time and place,[111] and ancient Biblical slavery was different than nineteenth-century Southern chattel slavery.[112]

Is it true that slaves were used to pay tithing?

No, probably not. However, in 1894, William J. Flake, the son of enslavers James and Agnes Flake, reported that Green Flake was given to Brigham Young as tithing when his family left for California in 1851,[113] but this account is contradicted by the historical record.[114][115]

There is no other evidence that any other slaves, or their labor, were given to the Church as tithing[116] or other donations.[117]

Does the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, or Pearl of Great price say anything about slavery or servitude?

Slavery is condemned in the Doctrine and Covenants.[118] The Book of Mormon also references slavery and servitude, with one reference indicating that slavery was against the law[119] (see table below).

Restoration Scripture

Description of Slavery

1 Nephi 4:20-37[120]

Nephi deceives a "servant" into opening his "master's" treasury and that he would be made a "free man" if he followed Nephi's family.

Mosiah 7:15[121]

King Limhi says it is better to be "slaves" to the Nephites than to pay tribute to the Lamanites.

Alma 27:8-9[122]

The king of the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi says that his people will go to the Nephites and be their "slaves". Ammon informs him that slavery is forbidden by Nephite law.

Alma 48:11[123]

Captain Moroni finds joy in keeping his people out of "bondage and slavery".

3 Nephi 3:7[124]

Giddianhi invites the Nephites to join the Gadianton robbers, not as "slaves" but as "our brethren and partners."

D&C 87:4[125]

Joseph Smith prophecies that war will start after a slave uprising.

D&C 101:79[126]

In a revelation, Joseph Smith says that it is not right for anyone to be "in bondage."

D&C 130:12-13[127]

Joseph Smith prophecies that violence leading up to the Second Coming will begin in South Carolina, most likely regarding slavery.

D&C 134:12[128]

An 1835 declaration on government by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints says that it is not right to interfere with "bond-servants" or to preach to them without their "masters'" permission.

Expand Table

Has the Church apologized for slavery in Utah?

No. The Church's gospel topics essay "Race and the Priesthood" acknowledges that slavery was established in Utah territory, but does not apologize for Church leaders' role in allowing it to be legalized.[129]

The Facts

  • African and Native American slavery (referred to as "servitude") was legalized in Utah territory in 1852.

  • Utah slave laws are similar to Northern slave codes as opposed to Southern slave codes which were intended to phase out slavery over time.

  • Records of enslaved people were not accurately maintained, but records indicate that Utah maintained a slave population of about 30-40 people.

  • Some enslaved people were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during their enslavement.

  • Brigham Young briefly owned a slave before setting him free, and some other Latter-day Saint leaders owned slaves.

  • There is no evidence that slaves were given to the Church as tithing or other donations or that slave labor was used to build temples.

Our Take

The topic of slavery in Utah and the involvement of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in this historical context is a sensitive and complex issue. The acknowledgment of this part of history can be painful, especially for the Black and Native American communities who were directly harmed by these practices. It's crucial to confront and understand this aspect of the Church's past and to learn and grow from it.

Brigham Young and other Church leaders of the time, while they may have been products of their era's prevailing beliefs, are not exempt from scrutiny for the roles they played in perpetuating systems of slavery and racial inequality. The modified form of slavery in Utah, though different from the chattel slavery of the South, was still a system that denied individuals their fundamental rights and freedoms. The motivations behind these practices, whether well intended or not, do not diminish the reality of their impact.

Today, the Church's position is clear: it disavows all forms of past racism and actively condemns any form of present racism. It's important to remember and honor the resilience and faith of Black Saints like Green Flake, Nancy Lines Dennis, Marinda Redd, and Alexander Bankhead who persevered under extraordinary challenges. Their stories are a powerful reminder of the strength of faith and the capacity for change within the Church community.

In reflecting on this history, it's vital to embrace a perspective of love, recognizing that all individuals are beloved children of our Heavenly Father. By acknowledging and learning from the past, the Church and its members can continue to move forward in a spirit of love, unity, and respect for all God's children.

What's Your Take?

280 characters remaining
These takes are curated for a general audience and may contain minor edits when posted.
  • Anonymous
    Kudos to the younger generation for taking on these topics and carrying on the tradition of bringing the truth to the forefront.