Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Guest Post: Marinda Redd Bankhead: A Slave in Zion

Guest Post: Marinda Redd Bankhead: A Slave in Zion

By: Amy Tanner Thiriot - March 26, 2012

In December 1898, Julius Taylor, publisher of a newspaper, The Broad Ax, a weekly whose audience was Utah’s black population, traveled from Salt Lake City to Spanish Fork to interview Alex and Marinda Redd Bankhead about their experiences as slaves in Utah Territory.

The aging couple told Taylor that Alex had belonged to the Bankhead family of Alabama, and Marinda had belonged to the Redd family of North Carolina. As was the custom, they each took the family name of their slave owner.

The Redd family lived on the North Carolina shore. The head of the family, John Hardison Redd, was a ship’s captain and a farmer. John’s wife, Elizabeth Hancock Redd, brought two slaves into the marriage, Venus, her personal maid and midwife, and Chaney (also Chancey or Chinea), a slave she inherited from her father. Chaney was probably the mother of two daughters, Marinda and Anna. Venus may have had two sons, Luke and Sam. The fathers’ identities are not known. Marinda was described alternately as mulatto, yellow, and black; she may have been of mixed race, perhaps part white or Indian.

In 1838, when Marinda was about seven years old, the Redds followed John Redd’s half-sister Mary Redd Holt and her family to Rutherford County, Tennessee.

In 1843, John Redd and his brother-in-law John Holt travelled a days’ journey to hear the Mormon missionary John D. Lee. A month later Lee noted in his diary:

At 8 a.m. we repaired to first conveniens & after Making such remarks as was necessary to preceed the ordinance of baptism I administered or Inducted the following persons into the Kingdom or church milotant on earth. John H. Redd a sea captain, Elizabeth Redd, Venice & Chinea 2 servants belonging to Mr J Redd.

The Redds and other converts from Tennessee sold their lands and gathered to Zion, taking their slaves with them. Marinda told Julius Taylor:

She, in company with a number of other slaves, were on their way to Utah; and while passing through the State of Kansas, during the dark hours of the night, the majority of them made good their escape, which was a great loss to their owner. But Mrs. Bankhead was not so successful in that direction, and she was brought on to Utah.

Besides a handful of deaths to cholera and other diseases, the 1850 trip across the Plains was uneventful. Phil Margetts summarized their trip thus:

Every day was to us a new drama, every incident a new scene, and the company the dramatis personae and the audience in one. The incidents took a wide range, running all the way from the lively to the severe, from the devotionally religious to the completely ridiculous, from the profound serious to the irresistably [sic] comic— each in its turn and neither long.

The Redds settled in Utah Valley and helped found Spanish Fork.

Marinda, Venus, Chaney, and Anna were baptized in 1852. For some or all of them, it would have been a rebaptism.

The Redds were touched by tragedy repeatedly in the 1850s. One of John and Elizabeth’s daughters died at age seventeen. A couple of years after her death, a son died in an accident, and three days later, Elizabeth Hancock Redd died, it is said, from a broken heart. Marinda’s sister Anna died the next year and her mother Chaney died about three years later. John Hardison Redd remarried a young Welsh immigrant, but he died shortly thereafter.

Sometime among all these deaths, Marinda was “transferred” to a new owner, Dr. William Taylor Dennis, in nearby Pond Town, now Salem. Marinda did not accompany the Dennis family when they left to settle in Piute County, and she was next noted living in Spanish Fork with Venus and Venus’s son Luke.

When was Marinda freed?

When the Redds left Tennessee as some Redd descendants claim? When Elizabeth Hancock Redd died? When John Hardison Redd died? When the United States freed the slaves in the Territories? As noted above, Marinda described herself as a slave in her story of the trip to Utah, and Julius Taylor noted in his interview with Alex and Marinda that they “both have a very distinct recollection of the joyful expressions which were upon the faces of all the slaves, when they ascertained that they had acquired their freedom through the fortunes of war.”

In the mid-1860s, Marinda gave birth to two sons, William and Edward. The circumstances surrounding their births are unknown. Edward died as an infant.

Sometime in the mid- to late- 1860s, Marinda married Alex Bankhead, who had entered the territory as a slave in the George Bankhead family. The Bankheads sold Alex to Abraham O. Smoot in Provo, and he was probably freed during the war. Alex was described as being of middle height, a kindly man, and a hard worker.

Alex and Marinda, known to her family and community as “Rindy,” and her son, Billy, made a life for themselves in Spanish Fork. They lived in a home on 100 East between 200 and 300 South in a home surrounded by asparagus plants, which grew to the roof of the house in the summer. Billy was said to have moved to Salt Lake to work as a servant. He visited his mother regularly in Spanish Fork, but nothing more is known about him.

Alex and Marinda were active members of their ward in Spanish Fork. Julius Taylor reported:

They are both devout and strict Mormons. She belongs to the Ladies’ Relief Society of her Ward, and takes an active part with her white sisters in all work of that character. Mrs. Bankhead visited Salt Lake during the Pioneer Jubilee, and observed in the parade, Flake Green [sic], who now lives in Idaho, and Mrs. Jane James, of this city, who formerly lived with Prophet Joseph Smith, and her brother, Isaac Manning, who assisted to erect the Nauvoo Temple.

Marinda developed breast cancer and had surgery to remove her left breast, but the disease spread and she died in January 1907, about five years after Alex died of a stroke. The doctor who filled out her death certificate noted that her parents were unknown: “Could not get more information [She] Did not know much about herself.”

Maud Jex Park, the granddaughter of one of Alex Bankhead’s employers, remembered:

each Decoration Day we would clean around the graves of Uncle Alex and Aunt Rindy and then Kate Dowley and I would pick wild flowers and decorate the graves. As long as I lived in Spanish Fork we decorated them all summer long. My dad kept the lettering on the headboards bright and readable. Sometimes I wonder if there was ever a stone marker put up for them, and if anyone ever thinks of them.

They do have a grave marker; someone placed one in the 1990s, and thanks to Julius Taylor and others who helped preserve their memory, people do think of Alex and Marinda and their curious experience as some of the original pioneers, slaves in Zion.



  1. Excellent research. Had I started from the conversion of the Redd family in Tennessee and tried to follow them forward, I don’t think I could have done nearly as good a job as you have. Thank you.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — March 26, 2012 @ 12:52 pm

  2. “[She] Did not know much about herself.”

    Realizing how much it means to me to know about myself and where I came from, this line epitomizes everything that was wrong with slavery, that is wrong with any system or individual behavior (slavery, war, promiscuity, abandonment, economic injustice that disrupts normal life, immigration policy that divides families, failure to aid refugees) that cuts someone off from knowledge of who he or she is.

    And bless Maud Park and Kate Dowley!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 26, 2012 @ 1:16 pm

  3. I had only run into a mention of The Broad Ax this last week while doing some other research in the Utah Digital Newspaper archives, but did not know that it was serving Utah’s black population. Interesting to know that there were enough blacks in the state to support such a paper in the 19th century. I know the railroad brought in some blacks to the Ogden area, and later during WW II with the Defense Depot Ogden, Hill AFB, and the Naval Supply Depot in Clearfield (now the Freeport Center).

    Comment by kevinf — March 26, 2012 @ 1:25 pm

  4. “[She] Did not know much about herself.”

    This theme came up yesterday afternoon on Henry Louis Gates, Jr. PBS show, Finding Your Roots. Congressman and pioneering civil rights activist John Lewis and Newark Mayor Corey Booker were highlighted, and the same problem was discussed. It is not always straightforward in tracing the ancestry of the descendants of slaves. In both cases, though, Gates was able to get some pretty interesting information back to about 1867 on both men. Fascinating stuff, and for me a moving moment came when Congressman Lewis said that it is as if his ancestors’ spirits were trying to reach out to him.

    Comment by kevinf — March 26, 2012 @ 1:42 pm

  5. Not only did Salt Lake City support The Broad Ax (well, for about four years), it also had a paper for the same audience called The Plain Dealer, run by William Taylor. (Not related to Julius.)

    Slave research presents a particular kind of difficulty, as Ardis and Kevin mentioned, and the slaves in the West don’t even have the benefit of being in the Freedmans’ Bureau records. But some of them do have the benefit of being remembered by the good women of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers, and others.

    Comment by Amy T — March 26, 2012 @ 3:18 pm

  6. Wonderful piece. Are these the Redds that Bruce Redd McConkie is descended from?

    Comment by reed russell — March 26, 2012 @ 3:35 pm

  7. Yes, also the same family as the Redd Center at BYU.

    Comment by Amy T — March 26, 2012 @ 4:09 pm

  8. Amy – What an interesting article. I was initially interested when I saw the name. I was named for my great-grandmother, Caroline Marinda Mickelsen Nielsen born in UT in 1879. She also went by Aunt Rindy. Apparently, my parents tried to call me Rindy as a child, but I wouldn’t let them. Thanks for your research!

    Comment by Marinda W — March 26, 2012 @ 8:05 pm

  9. Amy T, thanks for sharing your research here, especially of those people who are too frequently forgotten.
    #3, Kevinf, If you are interested in more on the Broad Ax and Julius, there have been a couple of articles in the UHQ, one fairly recently I believe.

    Comment by Paul Reeve — March 26, 2012 @ 8:08 pm

  10. I was interested in Marinda’s account of the slaves running away while the party was in Kansas. I always thought that those LDS slaves coming west to Zion were freed slaves who willingly accompanied their families.

    Comment by Maurine Ward — March 26, 2012 @ 10:33 pm

  11. Maurine, I think this suggests a bigger story about slavery in Utah Territory. I’d like to know more myself.

    As I read this I wondered about the baptisms of slaves. It seems that the former slaves in this narrative were active members of the Church. Given that the Church stresses free agency, did the slave owners require their slaves to be baptized or allowed their slaves to decide on their own? I’m sure there were all sorts of different approaches to this. If anyone knows more about this I’d be interested.

    Comment by Steve C. — March 27, 2012 @ 7:26 am

  12. Maurine — those stories were told by the descendants of the slave-owning families and tend to contradict the few accounts left by the slaves and records left by the slave owners.

    I’ve heard that myth called the Magnolia Myth: that slavery was a benevolent institution and that the slaves desired to remain with their owners, even after being freed. See, for example, the book and movie Gone With the Wind.

    It is curious seeing the myth show up in Utah, since these families left the South in the 1840s and early 1850s, but as I understand it, that myth has been perpetuated by the women of the South, so I suppose it’s fitting to have it turn up in the materials preserved in the collections of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers.

    Comment by Amy T — March 27, 2012 @ 8:16 am

  13. Wow.

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — March 27, 2012 @ 10:26 am

  14. There is a great new article recently published in the UHQ which partly addresses this issue. Some of the sentiment expressed by Maurine in #10 may have come from Utah’s territorial law itself, “An Act in Relation to Service” (it does not use the word slave or slavery at all, and was clearly designed to set Utah apart from the chattel slavery of the South and to align it more closely with gradual emancipation provisions such as those passed in Indiana and Illinois). The 1852 law as passed by the territorial legislature required that masters register any servant with a probate court, but stipulated that the servants had to enter the territory “of their own free will and choice.” In practice, it is impossible to know how this provision played out, but the law nonetheless deferred to a servant’s agency. It also stipulated that servants were to “receive a reasonable compensation” for their service. For a detailed analysis of Utah’s law in historical context see Christopher B. Rich, Jr., “The True Policy for Utah: Servitude, Slavery, and ‘An Act in Relation to Service,’ Utah Historical Quarterly 80 (Winter 2012): 54-74.

    That said, Brigham Young himself seemed to buy into a qualified paternalism prompted by southern slave masters, that slavery was far from a necessary evil, but a moral good. They were doing for the slaves (providing food and clothing and shelter) things that they were racially incapable of doing for themselves. Young reminded lawmakers that he loathed “the abuses to which the slave in a great many instances is exposed,” but insisted that “[w]hen a master has a Negro, and uses him well, he is much better off than if he was free.”

    Comment by Paul Reeve — March 27, 2012 @ 4:10 pm

  15. Oh, that’s interesting, Paul. The language in the family stories might trace back to the Act in Relation to Service?

    I just checked again, and I don’t see any of these families listed in any possible Probate Court records, with the exception of two entries which are not detailed as to year or content of the file, so if the law required registration, it looks like they either considered the slaves free, or were ignorant of the provisions of the law, or simply didn’t comply. (Any other possible explanations?)

    Comment by Amy T — March 27, 2012 @ 7:10 pm

  16. The language in the family stories might trace back to the Act in Relation to Service?

    Amy, I think that is too direct of a connection that would be difficult to substantiate. I was only trying to give some context to Maurine’s question in #10, and suggest that the law as written required a “servant” to enter the territory of her or his choice and enter a contract with her or his master. As you note, what that actually looked like in practice is an entirely different matter. I’m still stumped by the law, that those who wrote it believed a black person would choose the form of servitude it dictates over freedom. But as the BY quote indicates, he actually believed that the servants would be “better off” in servitude than free. How ever we slice it, Utah still had a form of involuntary servitude which treated black people inferior. And it is important to remember that the 1852 law was designed to provide legal cover for the masters who were already in the territory with their slaves.
    So, I’m overly complicating the issue. The most direct answer to Maurine’s #10 is that those coming west were not all freed slaves who willingly accompanied their families. The 1852 law said that they had to enter the territory of their own free will; whether they did or not is an entirely different matter complicated by the fact that there are so few sources from black pioneers themselves.

    Comment by Paul Reeve — March 27, 2012 @ 8:40 pm

  17. #11, Steve C., Look at D&C 134:12. It is NOT a revelation, but a statement on government and is deeply immersed in the historical context from which it emerges. It outlines the general policy that missionaries were not to preach to or baptize slaves “contrary to the will and wish of their masters.” It grows out of the larger context of the Mormon expulsion from Jackson County in 1833 and the charge that they were inciting a slave rebellion, but really that they were promoting “amalgamation,” the word for race mixing at the time. JS, Warren Parish, and Oliver Cowdery reinforced this position in editorials in the Messenger and Advocate in 1836. The editorials reminded missionaries in the South not to preach to slaves without the permission of their masters and the editorials themselves were in response to the visit of a radical abolitionist to Kirtland. Mormons wanted to be sure they were not lumped in with an immediate abolitionist just because he visited Kirtland and gave a speech there.

    Comment by Paul Reeve — March 27, 2012 @ 9:00 pm

  18. Thanks for the additional insight into this, Paul.

    Comment by Steve C. — March 28, 2012 @ 11:22 am