Question: How did Oscar Crosby, an African American slave, end up in Brigham Young’s Vanguard Company in 1847?
Answer: Oscar Crosby was born into slavery about 1815 in Virginia to Vilate Crosby. She was a slave in the John Crosby household. The Crosby family were among the well-to-do Southern people, who owned extensive plantations with black slaves to operate them.
When the Elders of the L.D.S. Church came to Mississippi in 1842, Elizabeth Coleman Crosby, wife of John Crosby, was a widow. Her husband had died in August 1840. The family embraced the Gospel, and Elizabeth, and her son, William, and her five daughters, all eventually became members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Elizabeth’s daughter, Elizabeth, married John Brown, Jr. in May 1844. He met her in Monroe County while serving a mission to the Southern States. He became an important leader in the migration.
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JANUARY 1847, (LDS History)
LDS Missionary, John Brown’s group, had arrived in Mississippi and was ready to bring the rest of the Southern Saints to Winter Quarters when John Brown received word from President Brigham Young to have the main group wait another year until the Saints had located in the West. Instead, he was to bring only a few able-bodied men to join President Young and the advance party in their 1847 trek from Winter Quarters west to the Salt Lake Valley. John Brown arrived in Winter Quarters with four white men and three African-American slaves, Oscar Crosby, Hark Lay (later Wales), and Green Flake.
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Oscar Cosby was assigned to be a member of Brigham Young’s Vanguard Company and was in the 13th Ten. William Crosby told him to build a home and plant crops so the family would have a place to go the next season when they arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. It is said that Oscar did his work very well. After the company's arrival in the Valley, Oscar Crosby worked hard to prepare a place for the Crosby family who were to follow. When the family arrived, they were reportedly welcomed by Oscar Crosby, a cabin, and patches of potatoes, buckwheat and turnips.
The family settled in Cottonwood for a short while, and that is where the mother, Elizabeth died, in 1849. William Crosby, Elizabeth’s son, made many freighting trips between Salt Lake City and California with Francis Lyman. In 1851, William Crosby and a number of Mississippi converts were sent to settle San Bernardino, California, where they helped to establish the freight route to Los Angeles.
Oscar accompanied them to San Bernardino. While in California, Oscar Crosby became free. California was a “free” state, and Oscar was liberated. William Crosby, helped him settle there. When the California mission was closed, William and his family settled in Kanab, Kane, Utah.
Oscar Crosby stayed in California and died in Los Angeles, California about 1870/72.
Source: “Biographies of the Original 1847 Pioneer Company,” Church News, Updated, 14 October 2009; “William Crosby, Mississippi Saints,” FamilySearch.org