Virginia City, Montana – The Montana Heritage Commission has been awarded a 2021 National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) American Rescue Plan Humanities Organizations grant. The $191,488 grant is for the commission's project, “African American Heritage on Montana's Mining Frontier,” documenting properties owned by Black settlers in Virginia City, Montana. These properties were home to entrepeneurs Sarah Bickford and sisters Minerva and Parnethia Coggswell, and freighter Jack Taylor.

In a news release announcing the grant,  Elijah Allen, Executive Director of the Montana Heritage Commission, wrote  “In Virginia City, we are fortunate to have three properties where visitors can visit and imagine what life was like for Montana’s Black pioneers, just after the Civil War, in the earliest mining districts."

Sarah Bickford, born a slave in Tennessee in 1852, came to Montana as a nanny after the Civil War. Read more about her life HERE.

Restraunteurs Minerva and Parnethia Coggswell are believed to be the first African-American women to own a business in Virginia City. Read their story HERE.

The same blog post tells the story of Civil War Veteran Jack Taylor, came to Montana as a freighter, and invested his earnings in building a sizable spread.

MHC staff and consultants will research and preserve these heritage properties with research on the African American settlers and preservation of their buildings, period artifacts and heritage garden restoration, as well as new virtual programming such as a mobile app tour, online exhibits and more. The two-year project will begin this fall and continue through 2023.

The Montana Heritage Commission, a state agency founded in 1997, preserves and manages historic resources in Virginia City, Nevada City and Reeder's Alley and promotes the appreciation of history through quality visitor experiences. For more info visit MHC website or  Facebook page.

Two other Montana groups received grants.

  • The Crow Language Consortium will use its grant produce two books on Crow history
  • The University of Montana received funding for three projects.