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.