“Green Flake—Black Pioneer,” Tambuli, June 1989, 6
Forced by mob persecution to leave their homes in Nauvoo, Illinois, many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints decided to go westward to find a new home. The next year, 1847, under the direction of President Brigham Young, they moved to the Great Salt Lake Valley, Utah. 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 group of men set up winter quarters in Nebraska, made a trail along the Platte River to Fort Laramie, Wyoming, in the spring, and found a way through 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 eighty kilometers 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 21 July 1847. He rode in the first wagon to move through Emigration Canyon into the desert valley, later called by Brigham Young “the 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 the earth and sowed his share of the seed before building a log house for the Flake family. He had chosen a site that the Flakes could live near the Southern Saints who had come west with the Mississippi Company.
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.