Flake, Martha Ann Morris


Martha Ann Morris Flake Gravestone

Martha Ann Morris was the wife of Green Flake an enslaved 1847 pioneer who was well remembered for his role in driving one of the first Latter-day Saint wagons into the Salt Lake Valley. Martha is less well know, but an eslaved pioneer in her own right. She also endured the pains of slavery and the abuses that it entailed. In fact, a scar from the abuse she suffered at the hands of her former enslaver was a constant reminder of her years of enslavement. She nonetheless helped to settle the Salt Lake Valley and raised two children in her adopted faith.[1]

Martha Ann Morris was born in Monroe County, Mississippi in 1828 where she was enslaved to John Crosby. When John Crosby died, Martha was sixteen years old and became the property of John H. and Nancy Crosby Bankhead. John Crosby's 1844 estate settlement listed Martha at a value of $275.00.[2]

Little is known about Martha's youth as an enslaved girl. Martha's granddaughter, Bertha Stevens Udell, did however pass on a family story that indicates the treatment Martha received at the hands of her original enslaver, Elizabeth Coleman Crosby.  According to Udell, when Martha was a young enslaved girl in the Crosby home she was tasked with watching over the Crosby children. One child played in the kitchen and accidentily put her hand on a hot kettle which caused a large burn. Elizabeth Crosby came to care for her daughter's burn but also turned on Martha in a fit of rage. Because Martha was in charge when the accident happened, Crosby was intent on exacting retribution. "Do you know how it feels to be burned, you wicked girl?" Crosby yelled at Martha. She then "took Martha's hand and held it on the hot iron kettle until the hand sizzled and fried." Because young Martha cried out in pain, Crosby forced her hand again to the kettle before Martha fainted in agony.  Another enslved woman carried Martha back to the slave quarters and nursed her burns there. Martha bore the scars from that incident for the rest of her life, a physical reminder of the cruelties of her enslaver. [3]

Around the same time that Nancy Crosby inherited Martha, she and her husband John Bankhead joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Nancy was baptized in 1844 and John converted the following year. Martha was likely baptized around the same time, although a baptismal record does not survive. The assumption that she was a Latter-day Saint has long been based on the fact that her husband and children were LDS, but to date no record of her LDS membership has been found. There is one surviving source, however, that does tip the balance of evidence in favor of her membership and that source comes after Martha's migration to Utah Territory.[4]

Martha likely migrated to the Salt Lake Valley in 1848 in the Heber C. Kimball Company along with John and Nancy Bankhead, however she is not mentioned in overland records (she appears in the pioneer roster as a number, with no name). Martha is also unexplainably absent from the 1850 census. The date of her manumission is uncertain.[5]

Martha married Green Flake, probably in 1852 or 1853, though no official verification survives. Few additional surviving sources mention Martha. Her two children were named Lucinda Vilate Flake, born 1854, and Abraham Flake, born 1860. Census records indicate that Martha “kept house” and no doubt engaged in the difficult work of running a farm with her husband. [6]

The fact that both of Martha and Green's children were baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and raised in the faith suggested that perhaps Martha too was a Latter-day Saint. However, the most significant clue as to Martha's religious affiliation comes not from Latter-day Saint membership records, but from an anomoloy in the history of U.S. census taking. The 1880 United States Census for Utah Territory included an informal religious accounting written in the margins of the census pages. There were no official religious categories on the census, but census takers in Utah that year agreed on various desiginations and wrote them along the left edge of each census page. A letter "g" next to a name meant "Gentile," a term used in Utah Territory to indicate peoplen who were not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, even if they were members of other faiths. An "m" next to a person's name (or no designation) meant "Mormon," while "a m" signaled "apostate Mormon" or someone who no longer practiced the faith. A "jm" indicated Josephite Mormon, or a person who belonged to the Reogranized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.[7] 

In the 1880 census for the Flake household, which included Green, Martha, and their son Abraham (baptized in 1869), an "m" appears next to Green's name with no markings next to Martha and Abraham's name. The pattern that census takers followed that year was to indicate that all members of the household matched the designation given the head of household unless otherwise indicated. An uninterrupted blank after an "m" was an indication of Mormon even if the ditto marks are not present. If Martha was not a Latter-day Saint, a "g" would have likely appeared next to her name. Both Green and Abraham were baptized and the 1880 informal religious census designation seems to indicate that Martha was too. This is the strongest evidence to date of Martha's membershhip in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.[8]

Martha died on the 20 January 1885 in Union, Utah. She and her husband Green are buried in the Union Cemetery in Salt Lake County under the headstone that Green carved for Martha, which reads, "In My Father's House are Many Mansions."[9]

By Benjamin Kiser and W. Paul Reeve

[1] Amy Tanner Thiriot, Slavery in Zion: A Documentary and Genealogical History of Black Lives and Black Servitude in Utah Territory, 1847-1862 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2022), chapter 1.

[2]Thiriot, Slavery in Zion, 56-57.

[3]Thiriot, Slavery in Zion, 57.

[4]Thiriot, Slavery in Zion, 57-59; United States, 1880 Census, Utah Territory, Salt Lake County, Union.

[5]Thiriot, Slavery in Zion, 57-59; United States, 1850 Census, Utah Territory.

[6]United States, 1860 Census, Utah Territory, Salt Lake County, Union; United States, 1870 Census, Utah Territory, Salt Lake County, Union; United States, 1880 Census, Utah Territory, Salt Lake County, Union; Thiriot, Slavery in Zion, 143-144; Steven K. Madsen,  A Union, Utah History (Union, Utah: Jordan Valley Sentinel, 1981), 46-58.

[7]Samuel A. Smith, "The Wasp in the Beehive: Non-Mormon Presence in 1880s Utah," MS thesis, (Pennsylvania State University, 2008), 27-36.

[8]United States, 1880 Census, Utah Territory, Salt Lake County, Union; Smith, "The Wasp in the Beehive," 32-34.

[9]Martha Ann Morris Flake, FindAGrave.com


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