Clara 'Aunt Clara' Brown


By Midge Kirk

Clara Brown was a kind-hearted, generous woman whose determination led her on a quest to be reunited with her daughter. Born in Spotsylvania County, Virginia in January 1803, her earliest memory was of being sold on the auction block. She grew up in Logan County, Kentucky, married at age 18, and had four children. At age 36, her master, Ambrose Smith, died, and her family was sold off to settle his estate. Despite her continued enslavement, Clara Brown vowed to search for her 10-year-old daughter, Eliza Jane.

When the Civil War ended in 1865, Clara Brown returned east, first to Logan County, Kentucky and then, Sumner County, Tenn., in search of her daughter Eliza Jane. Brown offered her $10,000 in savings and earnings as a reward for news of her daughter. When her search proved unsuccessful Brown returned to Gilpin County, Colo., bringing with her impoverished freed people she had befriended.

In 1879, at the age of 76, Brown traveled to Kansas as an official representative of Colorado Gov. Frederick Walker Pitkin, who had offered to assist thousands of destitute "Exodusters" to relocate in Colorado. Clara Brown's continual search for her daughter, her support for local churches and charities, and her financial assistance to young women who were educated at Oberlin College in Ohio eliminated most of her wealth.

In February 1882, however, when Brown was almost 80 years old, she received news that her daughter, Eliza Jane had been located in Iowa. In 1884, 79-year-old Brown traveled to Iowa to reunite with her 56-year-old daughter. The same year, Brown became the first woman member of the Colorado Pioneer Association, which also provided a stipend for her lifetime of good works. Clara Brown died in Denver in 1885. Slightly over a century later, Brown was inducted into the Colorado Woman's Hall of Fame in 1989.