From the Archives: Black Internationalism in 19th Century Salt Lake City; or a Haitian-born African American in Utah Reports on the Fourth of July, 1873

By July 4, 2018

NOTE: The original version of this post was based, in part, on faulty research, for which I take full blame. What appears below is a revised version (with a slightly modified title).  There is no documentation identifying either Francis or Martha Grice as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Believing, however, that the source shared below is still sufficiently interesting and important, I’m keeping the post. A copy of the original can be seen here

I’ve been slowly making my way through Paul Ortiz’s new book, An African American and Latinx History of the United StatesIn a chapter on the Cuban Solidarity Movement of the 1860s through the 1890s, Ortiz quotes an 1873 letter from “an African American in Salt Lake City,” published in the black-owned newspaper, The Elevator.[1] Curious to learn more (and anxious to see if there were any clues where the SLC correspondent was a Latter-day Saint), I searched for the original letter in the digitized version of the paper (courtesy of the California Digital Newspaper Collection), and to my great delight, discovered that it was written by Francis H. Grice, a “mulatto” artist, miner, and restauranteur who moved to Salt Lake City in 1871.[2] 

Francis Grice was the son of Hezekiah Grice, a Baltimore-born free man of color and abolitionist who helped organized the first “Colored Convention” in Philadelphia in 1830. Sometime shortly thereafter (sources alternately offer 1832 and 1834/35 as the date), Hezekiah Grice emigrated to the Caribbean island nation of Haiti, where he assumed an elevated role in governmental and economic affairs. It was there, around 1835 or 1836, that Francis Grice was born. Francis Grice lived in Haiti until 1861, when he immigrated to California. Grice was an accomplished artist and inherited from his father the activist impulse. While living in northern California, took an active interest in and lent regular support to The Elevator, started in San Francisco in 1865 by Philip Alexander Bell. In the late 1860s, he moved to Elko, Nevada. The 1870 census for Nevada identifies him as a black hotel porter (and incorrectly identifies his place of birth as Louisiana). But Francis Grice had his sights set on loftier goals, and in the early summer of 1871, he moved to the Mormon capital of Salt Lake City, evidently drawn by the prospect of investing in mining operations there. In June of that year, he helped organize the “‘Elevator’ Prospecting Company,” which he identified as one of “two colored prospecting companies” in the territory.[3]

Grice also continued to serve as The Elevator‘s primary Salt Lake City correspondent. Because he was Haitian by birth, the paper relied on Grice for commentary on international black affairs, including especially in the Caribbean. In a letter dated June 7, 1873, he announced that he had “renounce[d his] allegiance to the Republic of Hayti and become an American citizen.”[4] His new standing as an American citizen, however, did not lessen his affinity for his home country. Nor did it lead him to narrow his focus to only domestic affairs.

In another letter to The Elevator, this one penned on July 4, 1873, Grice weighed in on Cuba’s fight for independence from Spain during the 1860s and 70s, and briefly reflected on Independence Day celebrations in Utah. I reproduce it here in its entirety, believing in provides an unparalleled look into the attitudes and activism of one 19th century black Utahn.[5]

Correspondence
[From our Salt Lake Correspondent]

Salt Lake, U.T., July 4, ’73.
Mr Editor, —We hail with gladness the returning anniversary of our glorious national birthday, and let us in an appropriate manner with the enthusiasm which characterize the Americans in honor of the day of days, the Easter or Passover of our national liberty, from the oppressive yoke of England, and let us forever swear before the shrine of liberty against all forms of royalty; and never shall we bow our knees to crowns or sceptres; for we as American citizens, standing Peers to Kings and Potentates of the earth; for our revolutionary fathers have secured for themselves their posterity, and the oppressed of all nations a free existence, and formed a just and free government.

The Greeks may look back on the history of the heroic achievements of their ancestors, and point with pride to Acropolis, Marathon and Platea — crowned with monuments of their valor. The Swiss peasants have congregated themselves together on the fields of Morgarten and Laupen, and decorated the graves of their martyred dead with garlands of flowers, whose actions preserved the independence of the Swiss Republic, against the powerful empires by which they were encircled. The Romans, in their superstition attached and paid veneration to the rock of the Capitol, and loaded its temples with the spoils of the world; but we as American citizens will ever venerate the Fourth of July with pride and gladness. The eyes of the oppressed sons of Europe are fixed upon us as a living example of freedom; where millions of her sons found an asylum, and where the unhappy found solace, and the persecuted reposed from tyrants under the cognomen of royalty; standing now upon our shores as citizens of our free government, champions of freedom and liberty—then let the fire of freedom and republicanism ardently burning ‘neath the azure skies, shedding its invigorating influence among the inhabitants of the earth, unfurling its redeeming standard on continents and the isles of the sea. France and Spain have already caught the kindling influence of that fire of freedom and have hurled emperor and king from their high and elevated positions to the ground, and have proclaimed a republican form of government.

The republics of olden time, as Greece, Rome and Carthage have passed away in oblivion, but with the protection of Omnipotence, our great republic shall live now and evermore, with all its freedom and glories in splendor, with all its arts and sciences, and all that is great, grand and good, tending to the amelioration and the condition of mankind, and to their elevation, irrespective of color or nationality. We extend our hand of fellowship to all oppressed sons of earth, who are willing to accept our civilization and customs, and are willing to let their dead bones remain in the sacred soil of America, sanctified with the blood of our patriotic sires.

Hail glorious Fourth! Hail stars and stripes, which fill the hearts of freemen with delight, the beacon and pilot for the children of earth, from a long obscure night of oppression and wrong; our stars will illuminate them in their pilgrimage to our shores, while our constellations blazed brightly dispelling the darkness and gloom, and will strike their oppressors with amazement and blindness like Saul of old, until they themselves bow down on their knees before the shrine of liberty, repent of their sins and join the rank of freemen.

Hoping ere long that the inhabitants of the Antilles will flock to our shores, renouncing the crowns and sceptres by which they are bound, and increasing our political influence in every part of the wide domain of our great republic, and singing with us our national jubilant song, on every Fourth of July. Hoping those who are already on our shores may see the folly of not joining with us in our band—the band of American citizens, the grandest title that can be conferred on man; higher and grander than the ancient title of Roman citizen.

This day swells our hearts with joy and gladness and magnanimity toward all our enemies, and to those who were more fortunate than we during the dark nights of our people’s oppression, wrong and injustice; and in our disfranchisement, haughtily laughed at us in derision of our misfortunes inflicted upon us by our ungrateful countrymen. Now to some extent the story is changed, vice versa; we need no retaliation, seeing that we are elevated to the highest principle of freedom and liberty, and look down upon them and pronounced the kindest words of forgiveness on their guilty heads, and bid them from their low level in due form ascend our platform and be worthy members of our band in peace and in union.

While we are rejoicing over our national anniversary, let us not forget the patriotic sons of Cuba in the struggles for their national existence, from the misruling of the government of Spain; whose troops, brute-like and fiendish in disguise have perpetrated acts of brutalities and cruelties on the Cuban patriots; not for the first time have they disgraced her banner and civilization. May the brave sons of Cuba, courageously continue the contest for freedom and right, for in far North we faintly perceive in the clouded canopy of heaven, the gleam of her star of destiny, which will ere long dispel the cloud which for years shadowed its appearance, and will display itself in the azure skies. Guard yourselves, sons of the Queen of the Antilles, our sympathy is with you in your struggle, and ere long you shall take your stand among the galaxy of nations of the earth; unlike the wretched mother country, without tarnish or blot of innocent blood on your proud banner.

Arm yourselves sons of liberty with the shield of liberty and the sword of justice; although your tears and groans are many, take courage, and they shall turn to joy and gladness; for the sweet zephyrs from our country, from Hayti, and from the Central and South American republics gently whisper to you that the day of your deliverance is near at hand, for they have passed the same ordeal before.

July 5th.

The city was alive with citizens from different parts of the State to participate in the celebration of our anniversary. At 8 o’clock A.M., the fire department turned out in a procession with all their appendages, and made a very creditable appearance on our streets. This was the only procession in this city since the 4th of July, 1871, when there were on that occasion two processions ; since that time it appears that the Mormons and Gentiles cannot agree.

Madame Anna Bishop gave a grand festival at the new Tabernacle, and a large number of our citizens left the city on an excursion on the great Salt Lake, on board the steamer City of Corinne. In my next I will give you the details of my traveling to Little Cottonwood and American Fork Mining Districts.

Yours, F. H. G.

Grice’s letter is openly celebratory of America and its potential for good. That potential, as his letter suggests, rests not only in the nation’s legacy of throwing off the fetters of monarchy in 1776, but also the much more recent Civil War and the early legislative successes of Reconstruction. A decade earlier, Grice would not have been able to celebrate the United States as “tending to the amelioration and the condition of mankind, and to their elevation, irrespective of color or nationality.”

Also striking is the emphatically global worldview expressed by Grice. In this, his views mirrored the broader white American population of the time. The late 19th century marked the beginnings of American imperialism overseas — by century’s end, the U.S. would be embroiled in wars of conquest in both the Caribbean and Asia. But Grice’s views more accurately spoke to the international outlook of African Americans in this era. Grice thus singles out Hayti, the republics of Central and South America, and Cuba in his commentary, both championing their own democratic struggles for independence and inviting “all oppressed sons of earth” to seek and find refuge in America.

What Grice could not have known in 1873 is that the legislative achievements of Reconstruction would soon be undone by new black codes passed throughout the United States. What he likely did not foresee was that, while the United States did open in doors to immigrants and refugees in the years and decades to come, that the full benefits of citizenship would only be extended to those deemed “white” by government officials, and that quotas and exclusion policies would be established to ensure that aim.

__________________________

[1] Paul Ortiz, An African American and Latinx History of the United States (Boston: Beacon Press, 2018), 76.

[2] The 1880 census lists both Francis and Martha Grice as “Mulatto,” and his place of birth as “Hayti.”

[3] “From our Salt Lake Correspondent,” The Elevator, June 28, 1873.

[4] “Correspondence,” The Elevator, June 14, 1873.

[5] “From our Salt Lake Correspondent,” The Elevator, July 19, 1873.

Article filed under Biography Categories of Periodization: Territorial Period From the Archives International Mormonism Race


Comments

  1. Wow, great find, Chris! It may be too early to know, but do you have any sense of the scope and relevance of the rest of Grice’s correspondence/commentary?

    Comment by Ryan Tobler — July 4, 2018 @ 8:09 am

  2. Thanks, Ryan.

    I read through a handful of letters last night, and there’s quite a bit there. I plan to start making my way through them more systematically soon.

    I’ll keep you updated.

    Comment by Christopher — July 4, 2018 @ 8:41 am

  3. This is great Christopher! Did I hear you volunteer to write his entry for CenturyofBlackMormons? We have him listed as a mining associate of Green Flake and Miles Litchford (both of whom he identifies as black Latter-day Saints in one of his articles) but no one has signed up to do the research and write the entry on Grice . . . yet . . .

    Comment by Paul Reeve — July 4, 2018 @ 10:53 am

  4. Thanks, Paul. And absolutely – I would be thrilled to contribute!

    Comment by Christopher — July 4, 2018 @ 10:56 am

  5. Fantastic, Chris!

    Comment by Jeff T — July 4, 2018 @ 12:23 pm

  6. Nice. Frank and Martha Grice are some of my favorite 19th century Utahns. Would you like additional information here, or should I send it privately? Most importantly, the source for the 1848 date was seriously confused about the members and history of the entire extended family, and I’ve never seen any sources documenting that Frank and Martha were LDS or in Utah before the 1870s, but I’d be happy to see information proving otherwise, since it would be a great addition to the project to have a civil rights author of his caliber as part of our religious tradition.

    Comment by Amy T — July 4, 2018 @ 3:03 pm

  7. Thanks, Amy, for the important correction, which I have spent the better part of the day coming to realize even before I saw your comment.

    I’ve edited the post above to reflect the additional information (while linking to an unedited version of the original). Ardis Parshall and Jeff Turner have been helpful in sharing information throughout the course of the day, but if you would like to share your research on the Grices, I would love to see it. chrisjones13 AT gmail DOT com. Thank you, thank you!

    And Paul, this obviously means that the Grices are not eligible for the CBM database. I apologize for getting your hopes up. :/

    Comment by Christopher — July 4, 2018 @ 3:45 pm

  8. The edits look great. I didn’t know that about Frank’s father. I don’t know what I have that you wouldn’t have found in a concentrated days’ work with the assistance of Ardis and Jeff, but I’ll look when I get back to my research materials. Frank and Martha were present at the murder of Sheriff Andrew Burt a decade later; that happened outside their downtown Salt Lake City restaurant. I don’t recall that there’s any record of their reaction to the lynching that evening of the black veteran/shooter, but I can’t imagine that they weren’t deeply shocked and dismayed to see the mob action on the streets of their city. As you note, racial relations got more difficult after the happier days of the early 1870s. I do hope you or someone else takes up the subject of Utah’s 19th century black civil rights fighters.

    Comment by Amy T — July 4, 2018 @ 4:18 pm

  9. Without stealing any of Chris’s thunder here, can I say that during Christoper’s study today, he found something that is significant to the Century of Black Mormons, a fact that has been lost to Church records but which was preserved in one of Grice’s letters. So that database is benefitted —

    — as all of us are by reading these words of a “sojourner among us.”

    Comment by Ardis — July 4, 2018 @ 6:50 pm


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