Ford, Barney Launcelot

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Barney Launcelot Ford


Barney Launcelot Ford, born in Virginia, rose from slavery to become a conductor on the Underground Railroad. In the 1840s he was hired out by his master to work on a steam ship, from which he escaped. Ford left not knowing if he would ever get caught but seeking a better life for himself. On his run for freedom, Ford encountered another escaped slave named Henry O. Wagoner. The men taught themselves to read and helped each other as well as they could as they made their way to the Underground Railroad.

Enters Business and Political Ventures

By 1848 Ford had married and left with his wife, Julia, for Central America. While there, Ford built several hotels that prospered, making him a very wealthy businessman. Returning to the United States, he lived briefly in Chicago and then headed for the West. Ford wanted to be part of the gold rush, but he encountered much racism and was driven off by white prospectors. In 1850, Ford moved to Denver and soon opened hotels and barbershops around the city. He provided food and shelter to runaway slaves escaping Colorado during the Civil War.

After the war ended, the state of Colorado proposed a law that would prohibit black suffrage. Ford traveled to Washington along with Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, who led the fight for the elimination of the provision by trying to persuade President Andrew Johnson to veto in 1867 a new bill providing statehood with white suffrage only. The ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870 ended this phase of Ford's career.

This legislation delivered a painful blow to Ford and to all black people, but he refused to allow the decision to change him. Ford and Wagoner returned to Denver where they and others decided to establish the first adult education classes for blacks in Colorado. Ford was a member of the Arapahoe County Republication Central Committee and also made an unsuccessful bid for the state legislature in 1873.

While engaged in these activities, Ford continued to manage his restaurants and hotels. He operated his restaurant in Cheyenne, Wyoming from 1867 to 1870, until it was destroyed by a fire. The Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce requested that Ford open an elegant hotel there in the place of the restaurant. According to the Dictionary of American Negro Biography, Ford opened the hotel, boasting in advertisement that the Inter Ocean Hotel was "the largest and Finest Hotel between Omaha and San Francisco." President Ulysses Grant stopped to check out the hotel. However, Ford was unable to generate enough business to sustain the place and had to sell.

In 1880, Ford moved to San Francisco. He rented a lunch counter and again had an unsuccessful venture prospecting for gold. In 1882, he returned to Denver and opened another series of restaurants; this business venture was worse than before. As he absorbed losses in the depression of the 1890s, Ford reevaluated his business plan. He rebuilt his fortune and opened two barbershops and residential properties, which were highly successful business ventures.

Becomes First Black on Colorado Grand Jury

Ford and Wagoner remained friends through various shared experiences. Ford was the first black to serve on a Colorado grand jury. Wagoner was the first to serve as deputy sheriff of Arapahoe County. In 1882, Ford and his wife Julia were the first blacks to be invited to a dinner given by the Colorado Association of Pioneers. After the Supreme Court civil rights decision in 1883, Ford organized a successful drive for a state public accommodations bill prohibiting discrimination (1885). This action was a notable achievement for a black American at the time.

Ford's wife died of pneumonia in 1899. Ford died three years later from a stroke. They had three children: Louis Napoleon, Sadie, and Frances.


Born a slave in Virginia
Hired out by his master to work on a steam ship; escapes
Encounters another escaped slave, Henry O. Wagoner
Becomes a conductor on the Underground Railroad
Marries Julia; moves to Central America; begins to build hotels and becomes wealthy businessman; returns to the United States and moves west; joins the gold rush
Moves to Denver
Opens many hotels and barbershops all over Denver
His Cheyenne, Wyoming restaurant destroyed by fire
Opens hotel in Cheyenne
Establishes the first adult education classes for Negroes in Colorado
Becomes a member of the Arapahoe County Republication Central Committee; makes unsuccessful bid for the state legislature
Moves to San Francisco and rents a lunch counter and again prospects for gold
Returns to Denver and opens a series of restaurants
Invited as first black to a dinner for the Colorado Association of Pioneers
Organizes a successful drive to pass a bill that prohibits discrimination
Dies from a stroke



Logan, Rayford W., and Michael R. Winston, eds. Dictionary of American Negro Biography. New York: Norton, 1982.


Denver History. (Accessed 3 December 2005).

African American Resource Center. 3 December 2005).

                                   LaVerne Laney McLaughlin

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Ford, Barney Launcelot

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