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Fri, 01.31.1812

Manuel Lopes, Pioneer Businessman born.

Seattle, WA. 1866

*The birth of Manuel Lopes is celebrated on this date in 1812. He was a Black barber, businessman, and sailor.

Lopes was born in the Cape Verde Islands of Africa. He was enslaved, kidnapped, and brought to America. He worked as a sailor in New England, first in Maine and then in the New Bedford area of Massachusetts.  Lopes worked on a whaling ship, bought his freedom, and was a sailor before moving to Seattle, where he opened a restaurant and barbershop, with a barber chair shipped from the East, around Cape Horn.  

Esther Hall Mumford wrote in "Seattle's African American Victorians: 1852-1901." Although they were just a tiny fraction of the population, Seattle's African American pioneers -- starting with Lopes -- played an important role in shaping the city's earliest history and character. This fact has largely faded from the public's collective memory. "There were African Americans in Seattle almost from the beginning," Mumford said in an interview, "and they were contributing to the growth and development of the place."

Lopes also owned the only snare drum in the village. He used it as a surrogate dinner bell, beating a tattoo three times a day to signal mealtimes and to muster participation at patriotic events." Each Fourth of July, he headed up a procession of villagers which wound itself through the mud and among the stumps and shanties of early Seattle." Seattle, WA. was barely a year old, just a muddy frontier settlement when Manuel Lopes became its first black African resident in 1852.

Lopes eventually moved to Port Gamble, but other blacks joined Seattle's ranks. By 1880, there were 19 among a population of more than 3,000. There were more African Americans outside the city, in the mining towns of Roslyn, Newcastle, and Franklin, communities that no longer exist. Some were brought in as strikebreakers (unknowingly, in some cases), angering white miners who lost their jobs. Manuel Lopes died in 1885.

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