Manuel Lopes, Seattle’s first black resident, businessman, and property owner, arrived in 1852, and operated a barbershop equipped with the first barber chair to be brought around Cape Horn.
Manuel Lopes was born in Africa about 1812 and went to New England, first to Maine and then to the New Bedford area of Massachusetts. It has been written that he was either enslaved or kidnapped and brought to America. He worked as a sailor there, most likely on a whaling ship, as many black men did during the 1830s and 1840s.
When he came to Seattle he opened the barbershop and a restaurant on Commercial Street (renamed First Avenue S), both in the same building where he lived. His customers were mostly loggers, mill hands, sailors, and miners, and he was known to provide meals whether they had the money to pay or not.
When Robert Dixon, a black barber, first came to Seattle in 1865, Manuel Lopes befriended him. Later on Robert Dixon was to use his friend’s barber chair in his own shop.
In the 1850s, Manuel Lopes was the only snare drummer in Seattle, and he was known to lead the Fourth of July parades through the small community. He also announced meal times by beating the drum.
Sometime after 1870, he moved to Port Gamble and lived there until 1885 when he was admitted to Providence Hospital for dropsy. The date and circumstances of his death are not known.