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Free Black Communities in the Antebellum West
The antebellum West also saw the rise of a
free black population. The vignettes George Washington Bush
on the Oregon Trail and Diary of a Black Forty-Niner afford
a brief glimpse of the overland journeys of two such African
Americans The three vignettes, Black Rights in Antebellum Oregon,
Oregon Territory Bans African Americans and The Abner H. Francis
Petition reflect the desire to exclude most blacks and the desire
to attract all people committed to the region's development.
On the initial migration to the gold fields see African Americans
on the California Trail, Black Miners in the Mother Lode and
A Letter from California. The vignette The Bridget “Biddy”
Mason Verdict describes how one slave family became free in
California in 1856. The vignettes, African Americans in Gold
Rush California, The First California Negro Convention and Address
to the People of California, describe the attempts to limit
rights in the state that in the 1850s was home to the vast majority
of blacks in the Far West, and the African American response
to those attempts. The vignette Mifflin W. Gibbs in California
describes his first encounters in Gold Rush San Francisco, while
The Victorian Exodus, 1858, details the disenchantment of one
group of Californians with the Golden State. The vignettes The
Pacific Appeal on the Freedmen and The San Francisco Elevator,
introduce the two influential African American newspapers which
emerged in the 1860s to serve black communities in the West.
The three vignettes, Freedom in Kansas, 1863, Henry Clay Bruce
and Kansas "Freedom," and The Freedmen and Education,
describe the rapid Civil War era growth of the largest free
black community in the West while John Brown in the West: Kansas,
1858 describes one source of the "abolitionist heritage"
of the Sunflower state. Another source is the early recruitment
of African American troops as profiled in Black Soldiers and
the Civil War in the West.
Terms For Week Three:
- George Bush
- Abner Hunt Francis
- Black Laws of Oregon
- Peter H. Burnett
- Jacob Vanderpool
- Bridget "Biddy" Mason
- Robert and Minnie Owens
- Downieville, California
- Mifflin W. Gibbs
- Mirror of the Times
- Peter Anderson, Pacific Appeal
- Philip A. Bell, Elevator
- Mary Ellen Pleasant
- Salt Spring Island
- Charlotte Brown
- Kansas-Nebraska Act, 1854
- John Brown
- James H. Lane
- Underground Railroad
- Lawrence, Kansas
- Ladies Refugee Aid Society
- Army of the Frontier
- Henry Clay Bruce
- Captain William Mathews
GEORGE BUSH ON THE OREGON TRAIL
Like thousands of other settlers in the Pacific
Northwest, George Bush and his family migrated across the Oregon
Trail in 1844, seeking new opportunity. Bush, however, as an
African American, had another concern. He had heard of racial
restrictions being imposed on blacks in the Oregon Country and
shared with his friend, John Minto, his course of action. Eventually
Bush arrived in Oregon, but chose to settle north of the Columbia
River because he believed the sparsely populated area would
prove more accepting of his family. Bush's decision, and the
subsequent determination of his white traveling companions to
follow him, initiated the first significant settlement north
of the Columbia in what would become Washington Territory. Minto
correctly assessed Bush's influence on his fellow travelers.
However, as subsequent vignettes will show, he incorrectly indicated
that Oregon's anti-black laws were never enforced. Bush's thoughts,
as recalled by Minto, are presented below.
I struck the road again in advance of my friends
near Soda Springs [Idaho]. There was in sight, however, G.W.
Bush, at whose camp table Rees and I had received the hospitalities
of the Missouri rendezvous. Joining him, we went on to the Springs.
Bush was a mulatto, but he had means, and also a white woman
for a wife, and a family of five children. Not many men of color
left a slave state so well to do, and so generally respected;
but it was not in the nature of things that he should be permitted
to forget his color. As we went along together, he riding a
mule, and I on foot, he led the conversation on the subject.
He told me he should watch, when we got to Oregon, what usage
was awarded to people of color, and if he could not have a free
man's rights he would seek the protection of the Mexican Government
in California or New Mexico. He said there were few in the train
he would say as much to as he had just said to me. I told him
I understood. This conversation enabled me afterwards to understand
the chief reason for Col. M.T. Simmons and his kindred, and
Bush and Jones determining to settle north of the Columbia.
It was understood that Bush was assisting at least two of these
to get to Oregon, and while they were all Americans, they would
take no part in ill treating G.W. Bush on account of his color.
No act of Colonel Simmons as a legislator in 1846 was more credible
to him than getting Mr. Bush exempt from the Oregon law, intended
to deter mulattoes or negroes from settling in Oregon--a law,
however, happily never enforced.
Source: John Minto, "Reminiscences of
Experiences on the Oregon Trail in 1844 (Part II) Oregon Historical
Quarterly 2:3 (September 1901):212-213.
ABNER HUNT FRANCIS WRITES FREDERICK DOUGLASS, 1851
Abner Hunt Francis moved to Portland, Oregon
from Buffalo, New York in 1851 where he and his wife, Lynda,
opened a boardinghouse. Immediately upon his arrival Francis
plunged into the campaign to prevent his brother, O.B. Francis
from being expelled from the Territory under the provisions
of Oregon's Black Exclusion Law. Abner Francis's 1851 letter
to his friend and fellow abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, which
was subsequently printed in Frederick Douglass' Paper, in November
1851, alerted the Eastern abolitionist community to Oregon's
efforts to limit black rights. However it is quite apparent
from the letter and the petition which appears as the next vignette,
that many EuroAmerican Portlanders supported the efforts of
the Francis brothers to remain in Oregon. Indeed both remained
for the rest of the decade. Abner Francis's confident prediction
that the Exclusion Law would be repealed, proved incorrect.
It remained in force until superceded by the Fourteenth Amendment
to the United States Constitution was enacted after the Civil
War. Although unenforceable after 1868, it remained on Oregon's
statute books until 1926. The Hunt letter to Douglas is reprinted
MY DEAR FRIEND:
Since my last letter to you, mailed at San
Francisco, I had in part written out two communications intended
for publication. Before their completion, I was brought to the
knowledge of the fact, and experienced the result of an existing
law in this "free territory" of Oregon, so unjust
and devilish in all its features, that I waive other matter
that you may immediately give publicity to the facts relating
to it. After a two months' tour from Buffalo via New York to
Chagres, through New Granada, Mexico, California and Oregon,
I concluded in connection with my brother, to locate for a time
in Oregon. In accordance therewith, we went to a store and commenced
business at a very heavy expense. After the expiration of ten
days, I was called away for three weeks. Shortly after my departure,
my brother was arrested through the complaint of an Englishman
(said, by some, not to be naturalized), on charge of violating
one of the laws of the territory. And what do you suppose was
the crime? That he was a negro, and that one of the laws of
the "free" territory forbid any colored person who
had a preponderance of African blood from settling in the territory.
He was tried before a Justice of the Peace, and, I must say,
very generously given six months to leave the territory. The
law says thirty days.
The second day after my return, Sept. 15th,
the complainant, not being satisfied with the past decision,
carried the case up to the Supreme Court, Judge Pratt presiding.
Before his Judgeship we were summoned. After a formal hearing,
establishing the fact of negro identity, the court adjourned,
to meet the next morning at 9 o'clock. At the hour appointed,
the room was crowded, showing much feeling of indignation and
wrath against the complainant. Judge Tilford, late of San Francisco
(a Kentuckian), appeared as counsel for the defense. To be brief,
he conducted the case with the ability and skill rarely seen
by the legal profession, showing, by the constitution of the
United States, the right of citizens of one state to enjoy the
rights of citizens in another. To be understood on this point,
his argument rested that citizens of one state had a right to
enjoy the same privileges that the same class of citizens enjoy
in the state which they visit. This he contended was the understanding
or meaning of that article in the constitution. He demanded
for us, under this clause, all the rights which colored people
enjoyed in the territory prior to the passage of this law. (Those
in the territory at the time of the passage of this law are
not affected by it). He then took the position, and clearly
proved it, that the law was unconstitutional, on the ground
that [it] made no provision for jury trial in these arrests,
showing that any person, no matter how debased, had the power
to enter complaint against any colored persons and have them
brought before any petty Justice of the Peace and commanded
to leave the territory. Did space permit, I should gladly follow
the Judge further in this branch of his interesting argument.
At the close of it, the whole house appeared
to feel that the triumph was complete on the part of the defendants,
that unconstitutionality of the law must be conceded by Judge
Pratt. But alas! self-interest or selfishness led him to attempt
to override the whole argument, and prove the constitutionality
of the law; and it is none the less true that we now stand condemned
under his decision, which is to close up business and leave
the territory within four months.
This decision produced considerable excitement.
Some said the scoundrel (the complainant) ought to have a coat
of tar, while the mass have agreed to withhold their patronage
from him... The people declare we shall not leave at the expiration
of the time, whether the Legislature repeal the law or not.
Petitions are now being circulated for its repeal. The member
from this district, Col. [William M] King, one of the most influential
men in the house, declares, as far as his influence can go,
it shall be repealed at the commencement of the session, which
takes place on the first of December next. Thus you see, my
dear sir, that even in the so-called free territory of Oregon,
the colored American citizen, thought he may possess all of
the qualities and qualifications which make a man a good citizen,
is drive out like a beast in the forest, made to sacrifice every
interest dear to him, and forbidden the privilege to take the
portion of the soil which the government says every citizen
shall enjoy. Ah! when I see and experience such treatment, the
words of that departed patriot come before me. "I tremble
for my country when I remember that God is just, and that his
justice will not always sleep."
I find...that more than half of the citizens
of Portland were ignorant of any such law. The universal sentiment
is that it shall be repealed. God grant that this may be the
case. If I have been one who, through suffering severely, has
had the least agency in bringing about this repeal, I shall
freely surrender, and be well pleased with the result. Yours
for equal rights, equal laws and equal justice to all men.
Source: C. Peter Ripley, ed., The Black Abolitionist
Papers Volume 4, The United States, 1847-1858 (Chapel Hill,
1991), pp. 103-104.
THE O. B. FRANCIS PETITION, 1851
When the Oregon Territorial Legislature enacted
a law banning black migration to Oregon, Portland citizens successfully
petitioned to grant an exemption to merchant O. B. Francis.
The petition, mentioned in Abner H. Francis's letter to Frederick
Douglass, is reprinted below:
To the Honorable Members of the Council and
House of Representatives of the Territory of Oregon:
We the undersigned citizens of the Territory
of Oregon in view of an existing law passed by your honorable
body in September 1849 prohibiting Negroes and mulattoes from
settling in the territory beg leave to call your attention to
the severity of the law and the injustice often resulting from
the enforcement of it.
There are frequently coming into this territory
a class of men whom this law will apply. They have proved themselves
to me industri¬ous and civil. Having no knowledge of this
law some of them have spent their all by purchas¬ing property
or entering into business to gain an honest living. We see the
injustice done to them by unworthy and designing men lodging
complaints against them under this law and they thus ordered
at great sacrifice to leave the territory. We humbly ask this
body to repeal or so modify this law that all classes of honest
and industrious men may have an equal chance. We would also
represent to your honorable body that the reasons which dictated
the law, namely the dangers arising from a colored population
instilling hostility into the Indians has ceased.
We petitioners further ask your honorable
body that a special act may be passed at the earliest period
possible permitting O.B. Francis, citizen from the state of
New York located in business in Portland to remain. They having
for no crime but a malicious intent on the part of another been
arraigned before Judge Pratt on the 11th of September past and
proved to be of that class of men who came under this act, were
ordered to leave within four months which time will soon expire.
All of which your humble body will please grant to your humble
The Petition is signed by 211 people including
two territorial officials and Thomas Dryer, editor of the Portland
Source: Archives of the Oregon Historical
BLACK RIGHTS IN ANTEBELLUM OREGON
While the Francis case was contested, Territorial
authorities moved against another African American, Jacob Vanderpool
of Salem. Vanderpool was the only African American successfully
removed from Oregon under the provisions of the exclusion act.
Historian Elizabeth McLagan describes the legal exclusion of
Vanderpool and suggests the motives for the action.
On August 20, 1851, a black man named Jacob
Vanderpool, who owned a saloon, restaurant and boarding house
across the street from the offices of the Oregon Statesman in
Salem, was arrested and jailed. His crime was living illegally
in Oregon because he was black. Theophilus Magruder had filed
a complaint against him, saying that his residence in Oregon
was illegal because of an exclusion law passed by the Territorial
government in 1849. Five days later, Vanderpool was brought
to trial. His defense lawyer argued that the law was unconstitutional
since it had not been legally approved by the legislature. The
prosecution produced three witnesses who verified the date of
Vanderpool's arrival in Oregon. All three were vague. A verdict
was rendered the following day, and Judge Thomas Nelson ordered
Jacob Vanderpool to leave Oregon.... The decision was delivered
to him the same day by the sheriff of Clakamas County.... Jacob
Vanderpool was the only black person of record to be expelled
from Oregon because of his race.
From the beginning of governmental organization
in Oregon the question of slavery and the rights of free black
people were discussed and debated. Slavery existed, although
consistently prohibited by law. Exclusion laws designed to prevent
black people from coming to Oregon were passed twice during
the 1840s, considered several times and finally passed as part
of the state constitution in 1857. The takeover of Indian lands
prompted hostility between Indians and whites; the "Cockstock
Affair" raised fears that without an exclusion law settlers
might have two hostile minority groups to deal with.
The people who settled in Oregon tended to
come from the frontier areas of the Middle West, particularly
the Ohio and Mississippi River valleys. The move West from many
included the expectation that they could settle in an area untroubled
by racial concerns.... Laws restricting the rights of black
people were not an original idea in Oregon, nor were they unknown
outside the South. In the first fifty years of the 19th Century
Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri had passed laws restricting
the rights of black people. These laws denied them the vote,
restricted free access into the territory, restricted testimony
in court, required the posting of bonds for good behavior, demanded
that black people carry proof of freedom, or excluded them altogether
from living in these territories. Exclusion laws similar to
those enacted in Oregon were passed in Indiana and Illinois
and considered, though never passed, in Ohio. Familiar with
laws passed in other frontier areas and desirous of keeping
Oregon free from troublesome racial questions, settlers who
brought racist attitudes with them across the plains saw legal
restrictions as the best solution to the problem.
Source: Elizabeth McLagan, A Peculiar Paradise:
A History of Blacks in Oregon, 1788-1940 (Portland, 1980), pp.
AFRICAN AMERICANS ON THE CALIFORNIA TRAIL
The following is a brief account of African
Americans on the California Trail.
The gold mines of California had a powerful
attraction for black men who saw this difficult venture as the
chance to buy their freedom more swiftly than they might black
home. Unknown numbers of these men were in the hordes that crossed
the plains and thronged the routes across Central America. Some
left wives and children behind as hostages and departed for
the gold fields with the approval of their masters, from whom
they hoped to purchase their liberty. Others who were already
free hoped to buy freedom for their families. A white Ohio forty-niner
noted in his diary, as he was on his way across the plains,
"I saw a colored man going to the land of gold prompted
by the hope of redeeming his wife and seven children. Success
to him. His name is James Taylor." Jessie Benton Fremont
recalled that on her first trip to California to meet her husband,
John C. Fremont, she met a free black man en route who was hoping
to attain the means of purchasing his family's freedom.
By 1852 two thousand black men and women were
in the state. California had become a free state, though hardly
possessed of rights for black people comparable to those to
be found in most New England states by this time. But its lure
as a land of opportunity persisted in the face of continuing
negative coverage in the East. The hopeful black argonaut could
brush aside the reports of prejudice, hardship, and death when
he heard stories such as that of the black New York leader,
William H. Hall. A forty-niner, Hall returned in 1851 in sufficient
affluence to be married in a wedding that was reported as having
a "splendor" that was "perhaps without a parallel
in the history of coloured society in New York..." Philadelphia
Negroes read in an anti-slavery paper that two blacks returned
to the East early in 1851 with $30,000 accumulated in four months
of gold mining.
The human flood that readied itself in Missouri
for the historic crossing of the plains and mountains in 1849
and 1850 was typically American. It was black and white and
included both free and slave blacks. The hardships that these
gold seekers were to face were to be shared equally. Hunger,
heat, drought, and disease were experienced by both races. Attacking
Indians on the plains or in the mountains did not discriminate.
Members of both races were buried along the trails that led
to the gold country... Black men in companies organized in the
North were uniformly freeman. A group of New Englanders, mostly
from Roxbury, Massachusetts, took with them two men they called
"colored servants." An Illinois black named Henry
Finley was noted as a member of an Ohio company headed by Major
John Love of that state. Similarly, Vardaman Buller, a Kentucky
free Negro, was hired to drive a team to California for William
Gill, a white Kentuckian. Another Kentucky-born free Negro,
John, earned his passage to California from El Paso, Texas,
by cooking, barbering, and caring for the pack animals for a
military unit headed west... A New York black went as cook with
a company of Germans who had organized their venture in that
city. If this group was composed of radical refugees from persecution
in Germany, as so many were at this time, this Negro cook was
in the most congenial of company. One black man had the misfortune
of being associated on the overland trek with a domestically
troubled white family. He found himself from time to time in
the awkward position of being ordered by the husband to beat
the wife. When this group arrived in the mines, the wife complained
of this treatment to nearby miners, who then whipped the black
The plains took their toll of these adventurers.
In 1849 the dread cholera from Europe competed with the gold
rush for the attention of the American people. In fact, the
gold rush facilitated the spread of the disease. Only the few
who plunged west ahead of the crowd had a chance of escaping
contact with those who were infected. Late-spring starters had
reduced chances of immunity. Four of the nine black slaves who
came with C.C. Churchill, a Kentuckian died on the plains because
of their master's late start. Another tragedy was noted by a
diarist simply, "Jones (a black boy) in my mess is very
sick..." and a day later, "...Jones died." Still
another surviving record stated, "A white woman and a colored
one died yesterday of the cholera."
Source: Rudolph M. Lapp, Blacks in Gold Rush
California, (New Haven, 1977), pp. 21-29.
DIARY OF A BLACK FORTY-NINER
Alvin Coffey, a former slave, and the first
African American to be elected to the California Pioneers Association,
left this account of his impressions of crossing the Western
United States in 1849 enroute to the California gold fields.
The vignette below provides excerpts from his diary. The first
four excerpts describe the overland journey and the last discusses
his first winter in California.
I started from St. Louis, Missouri, on the
2nd of April in 1849. There was quite a crowd of neighbors who
drove through the mud and rain to St. Joe to see us off. About
the first of May we organized the train. There were twenty wagons
in number and from three to five men in each wagon...
We got across the plains to Fort Laramie,
the 16th of June and the ignorant driver broke down a good may
oxen on the trains. There were a good many ahead of us, who
had doubled up their trains and left tons upon tons of bacon
and other provisions...
Starting across the desert to Black Rock at
4 o'clock in the evening, we traveled all night. The next day
it was hot and sandy...
A great number of cattle perished before we
got to Black Rock... I drove our oxen all the time and I knew
about how much an ox could stand. Between nine and ten o'clock
a breeze came up and the oxen threw up their heads and seemed
to have a new life. At noon we drove into Black Rock...
We crossed the South Pass on the Fourth of
July. The ice next morning was as thick as a dinner-plate....
On the morning of the 15th (of October) we
went to dry-digging mining. We dug and dug to the first of November,
at night it commenced raining, and rained and snowed pretty
much all the winter. We had a tent but it barely kept us all
dry. There were from eight to twelve in one camp. We cut down
pine trees for stakes to make a cabin. It was a whole week before
we had a cabin to keep us dry.
Source: B. Gordon Wheeler, Black California:
The History of African-Americans in the Golden State (New York,
1993), pp. 56-57.
BLACK MINERS IN THE MOTHER LODE
The following account provides a description
of blacks in the California gold fields, including the role
they played in founding the town of Downieville, the present-day
county seat of Sierra County.
Well over half of the Afro-Americans in the
Mother Lode counties by the beginning of 1850 were free persons.
The overwhelming majority, whether free or slave, were classified
as miners... Many blacks tried their luck in the gold fields,
but only those whose luck was exceptional gained any notice.
Perhaps the first of these fortunate gold hunters was a cook
named Hector, who deserted the naval squadron ship Southampton
in Monterey in 1848. An on-the-spot observer was present when
Hector returned to Monterey with $4,000 in gold. One of the
richest strikes made by anyone was that of a black man known
only as Dick, who mined $100,000 worth of gold in Tuolumne County
in 1848, only to lose it by gambling in San Francisco. [Yet]
the average daily earnings of most successful miners were like
those of Mr. Smith, a black miner in Amador County, who worked
his claim hydraulically, paid for his water at "two bits"
an inch, and made five to six dollars a day.
In the environment of the gold rush it was
inevitable that a mythology emerge about blacks and gold. News
of black men making lucky strikes took on an aura of almost
superstitious inevitability. The mythology was fed by true tales
like that of a white prospector whose slave told him that in
a dream he had found gold underneath their cabin. The unbelieving
miner finally dug under the cabin and came upon a rich find...
When the New England Quaker Pancoast heard that a black man
had made a lucky strike at Mariposa Flat, he hurried there to
take a claim next to him. He must have become a true believer
of the myth because while he did well, making twenty-five dollars
a day, the black man made one hundred dollars a day just a few
feet away from him...
Black miners, like the whites, from time to
time formed associations among themselves for purposes of mutual
aid... In that uncertain and overwhelmingly white world blacks
had a real need for mutual aid... The manuscript census clearly
suggest that groups such as the eighteen blacks on the middle
fork of the American River in 1850 were organized into a company...
Organized black companies became even more visible when they
occasionally associated themselves with whites. Such associations
not only served the usual purposes, but for the blacks they
sometimes worked as an umbrella of protection against hostile
whites... A striking case of black-white collaboration is that
of the company organized by the Scotsman, William Downie, the
founder of Downieville. His party had nine men, seven of them
black, mostly sailors and most, if not all of them, from the
States. Downie had been alternating between mining and storekeeping
on the Yuba River. His opportunity came when several Negro miners
who had been working the river nearby dropped in to Downie's
store for a drink. The congenial conversation that ensued resulted
in a new partnership that made gold rush history.
When the organization of this group was completed,
it was composed of Downie, a white lad named Duvarney, and seven
Negroes, of whom only Albert Callis and Charley Wilkins are
known by name. Downie surmised that Callis was a runaway slave,
originally from Virginia. This was not implausible, as some
slaves brought to California had effected their freedom by this
The nine men proceeded to the upper reaches
of the Yuba River, until they came upon the beautiful site of
the river forks where the town of Downieville now stands. There
they struck gold and decided to remain. On Sundays, for religious
reasons, the blacks would not do any digging. One of them, Callis,
became a permanent resident of Downieville. He eventually turned
to his trade of barbering, married, and raised a family...
Source: Rudolph M. Lapp, Blacks in Gold Rush
California, (New Haven, 1977), pp. 49-58.
A LETTER FROM CALIFORNIA
In 1851, Peter Brown wrote his wife, Mrs.
Ally Brown, in St. Genevieve City, Missouri, about his experiences
in the California gold fields. Peter Brown may have been a slave,
and surely his son was, because his letter spoke of buying his
son's freedom. The letter appears below.
Cosumnes River, California
December 1, 1851
I take the present opportunity of writing
you a few lines to inform you that I am well and enjoying good
health. I am now mining on the Cosumnes River about 25 miles
from Sacramento City and doing very well. I have been working
for myself the last two months by paying 80 dollars a month
and cleared three hundred dollars since I have been in this
country and a good prospect for next summer and think I shall
start home in the fall. Mr. Brown speaks of coming home this
winter but I hardly think he will start.
It is very strange indeed that you never write
to me. I have written you letters, and have never yet received
the first mark of a pen.
California is the best country in the world
to make money. This is the best place for black folks on the
globe. All a man has to do, is to work, and he will make money.
Best climate in the world and a healthy country to live in.
Most of the miners are waiting for rain to wash in the ravines
and gulches during this winter. But [we] have had very little
so far and [I] hardly think we will until next spring. If we
do not have some then, there will be a great many [miners] ruined
and compelled to stay until the next winter to come. The miners
are doing equally as well as they were last year when I came
to this country. Wages are four dollars a day and some diggings
more. The company that I came out with are doing well and have
been all summer.
Robert Isom and Harrison, his brother, have
been working with me, both [are] in good health. Tell Mrs. Eliza
Brown that Harrison Isom sends his best compliments.... I wish
you to tell Peter to be industrious... I am trying to make enough
money to buy him when I get home, and not to let my mother suffer
for anything and get what is due me from Mr. Pratt, if you need
it. I conclude by sending my best respects to all of my friends,
white and black, to Peter in particular, and be sure and write
when you receive this letter and send it in care of Mr. Pratt,
Sacramento City, California.
Your husband until death,
Source: Amoureux-Bolduc Papers, Missouri Historical
Society, St. Louis, Missouri.
AFRICAN AMERICANS IN GOLD RUSH CALIFORNIA
The status of blacks in California during
the first decade of statehood indicated the precarious position
of African Americans who sought freedom and opportunity in the
West. Although only 1,000 blacks resided in California in 1850
out of a population of 175,000, they became the focus of intense
legislative debate. In the account below historian Malcolm Edwards
describes the debate which prompted 400 black Californians,
ten percent of the state's black population in 1858, to emigrate
to British Columbia in that year.
As early as the autumn months of 1849 the
proper position of black people in California had been debated
long and heatedly by the constitutional convention at Monterey.
San Francisco's delegate had been instructed "by all honorable
means to oppose any act, measure, provision, or ordinance that
is calculated to further the introduction of domestic slavery
into the territory of California" and they and their fellows
agreed that slavery was unacceptable within the boundaries of
the proposed state....
Having disposed of the slavery question directly,
the convention then moved to the critical question regarding
the exclusion of "free persons of color" from California....
M.M. McCarver, born in Kentucky and arrived in Sacramento in
1848 urged the exclusion of all free persons of color and "to
effectively prevent the owners of slaves from bringing them
into this State for the purpose of setting them free".
McCarver's logic, and that of many conventioneers, was that
slaves freed by their masters solely to become indentured servants
in the mines would constitute a threat to order "greater
that slavery itself."
The prejudice against free blacks expressed
in the constitutional convention carried over into the first
legislature and maintained momentum as the debate progressed.
The state's first governor, Peter Burnett, openly opposed....free
negroes within California's boundaries. The legislature, which
gathered in 1850, was divided on the question.... Northern and
Southern whites representing the mining districts, feared economic
competition with alien or colored races and worked....without
success for the exclusion of blacks. The majority was [opposed
to] prohibition but promptly began to write statutes which humiliated,
restricted, and periled any blacks who chose to enter California.
By 1858 eight California legislatures had
built an appallingly extensive body of discriminatory laws including:
the prohibition of testimony in civil and criminal actions involving
whites; the institution of poll and property taxes; the invalidation
of marriages between whites and blacks or mulattoes; exclusion
from the state homestead law; exclusion from jury eligibility;
and the lapsing of legislation affection free blacks' rights
under Fugitive Slave laws. In practical terms this meant that
free blacks, and those brought in indenture to California during
the late 1840s and early 1850s, lived a lean socio-political
Source: Malcolm Edwards, "The War of
Complexional Distinction: Blacks in Gold Rush California and
British Columbia," California Historical Quarterly, 56:1
(Spring 1977), pp. 34-37.
THE FIRST CALIFORNIA NEGRO CONVENTION, 1855
Black Californians shared the concerns of
their African-American brethren in the East but they were particularly
disturbed about the rash of anti-black laws enacted by the state
assembly. The McClay Negro Testimony Bill was the most objectionable
measure because it prevented blacks from testifying in court
even on their own behalf. Delegates from throughout the state
met at the Colored Methodist Church in Sacramento in November,
1855, to voice their concern. This resolution of the convention
appears below and the "Appeal to the Citizens of California"
appears on the following page.
Whereas, We the colored people of the State
of California, believing that the laws of this State, relating
to the testimony of colored people in the courts of justice,
recorded in 394th section of chapter 3d of an act entitled "an
act for regulating proceedings in the court practice of the
courts of this State," as follows: "And persons having
one-half or more of Negro blood, shall not be witnesses in an
action or proceeding to which a white person is a party"--to
be unjust in itself and oppressive to every class in the community;
that this law was intended to protect white persons from a class
whose intellectual and social condition was supposed to be so
low as to justify the depriving them of their testimony.
And, whereas, We believe that careful inquiries
into our social, moral, religious, intellectual, and financial
condition, will demonstrate that, as a class, allowing for the
disabilities under which we labor, we compare favorably with
any class in the community.
And whereas, We believe that petitions to
the Legislature, to convene in January, praying for the abrogation
of this law will meet with a favorable response; believing,
as we do, that it cannot be sustained on the ground of sound
policy or expediency...
Resolved, That we memorialize the Legislature
at its approaching session, to repeal the third and fourth paragraphs
of section three hundred and ninety-four of an Act passed April
20th, 1851, entitled, "An Act to regulate proceeding in
civil cases, in the Courts of Justice of this State," and
also for the repeal of sections fourteen of an Act entitled
"An Act concerning Crimes and Punishments," passed
April 6th, 1850.
Resolved, That a State Executive Committee
be appointed by the Convention, with full powers to adopt such
measures as may be deemed expedient to accomplish the object
Resolved, That we recommend the organization
of a State Association, with auxiliaries in every county, for
the purpose of collecting statistical and other evidences of
our advancement and prosperity; also to encourage education,
and a correct and proper deportment in our relations towards
our white fellow citizens and to each other.
Resolved, That we regret and reprobate the
apathy and timidity of a portion of our people, in refusing
to take part in any public demonstration, having for its object
the removal of political and other disabilities, by judicious
and conservative action.
Resolved, That we recommend the creation of
a contingent fund of twenty thousand dollars, to be controlled
by a Committee having discretionary powers, to enable us to
carry forward any measure that has for its object the amelioration
of our condition.
ADDRESS TO THE PEOPLE OF CALIFORNIA
The colored citizens of this Commonwealth,
would respectfully repre¬sent before you, their state and
condition; and they respectfully ask a candid and careful investigation
of facts in relation to their true character.
Our population numbers about 6,000 persons,
who own capital to the amount of near $3,000,000. This has been
accumulated by our own industry, since we migrated to the shores
of the Pacific.
Most of us were born upon your soil; reared
up under the influence of your institutions; become familiar
with your manners and customs; acquired most of your habits,
and adopted your policies. We yield allegiance to no other country
save this. With all her faults we love her still.
Our forefathers were among the first who took
up arms and fought side by side with yours; poured out their
blood freely in the struggle for American independence. They
fought, as they had every reason to suppose, the good fight
of liberty, until it finally triumphed.
We again call upon you to regard our condition
in the State of California. We point with pride to the general
character we maintain in your midst, for integrity, industry,
and thrift. You have been wont to multiply our vices, and never
to see our virtues. You call upon us to pay enormous taxes to
support Government, at the same time you deny us the protection
you extend to others; the security for life and property. You
require us to be good citizens, while seeking to degrade us.
You ask why we are not more intelligent? You receive our money
to educate your children, and then refuse to admit our children
into the common schools. You have enacted a law, excluding our
testimony in the Courts of justice of this State, in cases of
proceedings wherein white persons are parties; thus openly encouraging
and countenancing the vicious and dishonest to take advantage
of us; a law which while it does not advantage you, is a great
wrong to us. As the same time, you freely admit the evidence
of men in your midst, who are ignorant of the first principles
of your Government--who know not the alphabet. Many colored
men, who have been educated in your first colleges, are not
allowed to testify! And wherefore? Our Divine Father has created
us with a darker complexion.
People of California! We entreat you to repeal
that unjust law. We ask it in the name of humanity, in the enlightened
age in which we live, because of the odium it reflects upon
you as a free and powerful people; we ask you to remove it from
your civil code; we ask it, that our homes and firesides may
be protected; we ask it, that our earning as laborers may be
secured to us, and none offered impunity, in withholding from
us our just hire; that justice may be meted out to all, without
respect to complexion; the guilty punished; the innocent protected;
the shield of wise, and wholesome and equal laws, extended over
all in your great State; upon her mountains, in her valleys
and deep ravines; by her winding streams; may your State be
a model, even to the elder sister States, in respect of your
just laws; may your growth, prosperity and happiness, be bounded
only by time and immortality.
Source: Philip S. Foner and George E. Walker,
Proceedings of the Black State Conventions, 1840-1865, (Philadelphia:
Temple University Press, 1980, pp. 120-121, 130-131.
MIFFLIN W. GIBBS IN CALIFORNIA
Mifflin W. Gibbs, a Philadelphia native, was
one of the four thousand African Americans who arrived in California
during the Gold Rush. He arrived in San Francisco in 1850 with
only sixty cents and after initially working as a bootblack,
formed a partnership in 1851 with fellow Philadelphian, Peter
Lester to create the Pioneer Boot and Shoe Emporium. Gibbs,
who later moved to British Columbia, and after the Civil War,
became a municipal judge in Reconstruction Arkansas, describes
his arrival in a chapter from his 1902 autobiography, Shadow
and Light. That description which includes the account of the
"caning" of his partner which sparked the antebellum
civil rights campaign in California, appears in the vignette
Having made myself somewhat presentable upon
leaving the steerage of the steamer, my trunk on a dray, I proceeded
to an unprepossessing hotel kept by a colored man on Kearny
Street. The cursory view from the outside, and the further inspection
on the inside, reminded me of the old lady's description of
her watch..."it might look pretty hard on the outside,
but the inside works were all right..."
I immediately went out, and after many attempts
to seek employment of any kind, I approached a house in course
of construction and applied to the contractor for work. He replied
he did not need help. I asked the price of wages. Ten dollars
a day... He said that if I choose to come for nine dollars a
day I might. It is unnecessary for me to add that I chose to
come... I was not allowed to long pursue carpentering. White
employees finding me at work on the same building would "strike."
On one occasion the contractor came to me and said, I expect
you will have to stop, for this house must be finished in the
time specified; but if you can get six or eight equally good
workmen, I will let these fellows go. Not that I have any special
liking for your people. I am giving these men all the wages
they demand, and I am not willing to submit to the tyrany [sic]
of their dictation if I can help it... I could not find the
men he wanted or subsequent employment of that kind.. All classes
of labor were highly remunerative, blacking boots not excepted.
I after engaged in this...
Saving my earnings, I joined a firm already
established in the clothing business. After a year or so engaged,
I became a partner in the firm of Lester & Gibbs, importers
of fine books and shoes... Our establishment on Clay Street
known as the "Emporium for fine books and shoes, imported
form Philadelphia, London and Paris," having a reputation
for keeping the best and finest in the State, was well patronized,
our patrons extending to Oregon and lower California. The business,
wholesale and retail, was profitable and maintained for a number
of years. Mr. Lester, my partner, being a practical bookmaker,
his step to a merchant in that line was easy and lucrative.
Thanks to the evolution of events and march
of liberal ideas the colored men in California have now a recognized
citizenship, and equality before the law. It was not so at the
period of which I write. With thrift and a wise circumspection
financially, their opportunities were good from every other
point of view they were ostracized, assaulted without redress,
disfranchised and denied their oath in a court of justice.
One occasion will be typical of the condition.
One of two mutual friends (both our customers) came in looking
over and admiring a display of newly arrived stock, tried on
a pair of books, was pleased with them, but said he did not
think he needed them then; lay them aside and he would think
about it. A short time after, his friend came in, was shown
the pair the former had admired... He tried on several and then
asked to try on his friend's selection; they only suited, and
he insisted on taking them; we objected, but he had them on,
and said we need not have fear, he would clear us of blame,
and walked out. Knowing they were close friends we were content.
Possibly, in a humorous mood, he went straight to his friend,
for shortly they both came back, the first asking for his boots;
he would receive no explanation (while the cause of the trouble
stood mute), and while vile epithets, using a heavy came, again
and again assaulted my partner, who was compelled tamely to
submit, for had he raised his hand he would have been shot,
and no redress...
Source: Mifflin W. Gibbs, Shadow and Light:
An Autobiography, (Washington, D.C., 1902), pp. 40-46.
THE VICTORIA EXODUS, 1858
The precarious citizenship of black Californians,
as described by Mifflin Gibbs in the previous vignette, prompted
an only partially successful civil rights campaign. Because
the situation for free blacks in the state, and nation, seemed
increasingly dismal, some California blacks began to explore
the possibly of a mass emigration to Sonora, Mexico or British
Columbia. Eventually they fixed their attention on the British
Colony to the north. By 1858 approximately four hundred blacks
comprising about ten percent of the state's African American
population, left San Francisco bound for Victoria, British Columbia
and freedom. Mifflin Gibbs and Peter Lester were among those
who migrated. The poem below, written by one of the emigrants
captures the mood of the times.
A Voice From the Oppressed
to the Friends of Humanity
Composed by one of the suffering class.
Mrs. Priscilla Stewart
Look and behold our sad despair
Our hopes and prospects fled;
The tyrant slavery entered here,
And laid us all for dead.
Sweet home! When shall we
find a home?
If the tyrant says that we must go
The love of gain the reason,
And if humanity dare say "No".
Then they are tried for treason.
God bless the Queen's majesty,
Her scepter and her throne,
She looked on us with sympathy
And offered us a home.
Far better breathe Canadian
Where all are free and well,
Than live in slavery's atmosphere
And wear the chains of hell.
Farewell to our native land,
We must wave the parting hand,
Never to see thee any more,
But seek a foreign land.
Farwell to our true friends,
Who've suffered dungeon and death.
Who have a claim upon our gratitude
Whilst God shall lend us breath.
May God inspire your hearts,
A Marion raise your hands;
Never desert your principles
Until you've redeemed your land.
Source: Delilah Beasley, The
Negro Trail Blazers of California (Los Angeles, 1919), p. 263.
THE PACIFIC APPEAL ON THE FREEDMEN
Founded in San Francisco in 1862 by Philip
A. Bell and Peter Anderson, the Pacific Appeal was the second
African American newspaper in the far West and the only one
in publication during the Civil War. The Appeal claimed to be
the voice of the black West, often featuring articles from correspondents
as far away as Arizona Territory in the South and Idaho Territory
in the North. In the editorial that appeared six weeks after
the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, the newspaper
urges a plan of large scale settlement of the ex-slaves in the
West. The editorial appears below.
While the free colored people in the eastern
States, as also those who are on this coast, are jubilant over
the Emancipation Proclamation, it must not be forgotten that
there will be a vast number of freedmen that will not be enrolled
in the army or placed in the navy--that outside of the Government
protection, their characters, their future destiny, will in
a great degree, be in their own hands. It has been a favorite
theme of debate. "Whether the character of a man is formed
for him or by him?" As far as this question relates to
the freedmen, every mishap or weakness of theirs will be misconstrued
by the enemies of freedom into vices of the deepest dye. To
prevent this, our leading men in the east should start a system
of land speculation west of Kansas, or in any of the Territories,
and endeavor to infuse into the minds of these freedmen the
importance of agriculture, that they may become producers. By
this means they can come up with the expected growth of the
Great West, receive some of the innumerable benefits that well
accrue from the building of the Pacific Railroad, and the taxes
that they would be compelled to pay in common with other people,
for the improvement of the new towns that will spring up, would
entitle their children to the benefits of a common school education.
The freedman's association in the east will
be but temporary and of little avail, except they adopt some
practical plan to guide them in the way that they may obtain
some of the waste land in the West. As a large number will be
thrown on their own resources, it will be best to encourage
them to do just like other men: by putting up with hardships
until they make themselves homes.
It will be fatal to their interest and progress
for our leading men in the east to...encourage them to stay
in the larger cities--Philadelphia, New York and Boston. The
responsibilities of their failure in this sphere of freedom
would be a stigma and reproach on the free colored people of
the North, as also on our white friends who have been battling
in the cause of human freedom.
Hence we of the Pacific States should not
be hasty in connecting ourselves with any movement that has
not a practical bearing upon our welfare. While the Government
is disposed to aid and give encouragement by enrolling and enlisting
large numbers of our race in the army and navy, there will rest
a great responsibility on the free colored people of the North
in shaping their movements in a direction that will induce many
of these freedmen to take up lands in the West. Our friends
in the East should form these land associations forthwith.
Source: The Pacific Appeal, February 14, 1863,
THE SAN FRANCISCO ELEVATOR
The political feud between Peter Anderson
and Philip Bell founders of the Pacific Appeal in 1862, prompted
Bell to create a rival newspaper in 1865, the San Francisco
Elevator. The papers competed for the support of black San Francisco
for the next two decades, giving the small African American
community a rare luxury for the time, two well-managed, uncompromising
newspapers. In the vignette below Bell describes the purpose
and goal of the Elevator.
OUR NAME is indicative of our object, we wish
to elevate the oppressed of all nations and of every clime to
the position of manhood and freedom. We wish to place all mankind
on a level; not by lowering them to one standard, but by elevating
them in virtue, intelligence and self-reliance on a level with
the most favored of the human race. We are levelers, not to
level down, but to level up.
We would abolish caste, not class, we would
teach the serf that he is by nature created equal to his lord,
the slave to his master, the Pariah to the Brahmin; but we would
also teach them that something more than natural equality is
required to elevate them to a conventional equality with the
We know this is a work which will take ages
to accomplish, generations must pass away before an end so glorious
can be attained, but we will labor on in our humble way, and
lend our feeble aid to the noble band who are battling for "God
and truth and suffering man."
OUR MOTTO.--We claim full "Equality before
the Law," we desire nothing more, well will be satisfied
with nothing less. Social equality is a bug-bear, a hideous
phantom raised by political necromancers to frighten the people
from their duty. Laws cannot govern our social relations--custom,
stronger than law regulates them, and despite of law or any
rules which may be laid down social equality will always find
its level. We do not expect, because we trade with a merchant,
to visit his house, and mingle with his family; nor do we invite
him to our house, and make him a welcome guest; neither can
worshiping in the same church, riding in the same car, or voting
at the same ballot box, make men associates. We shall strive
for "Equality before the law," and let our social
relations arrange themselves.
OUR POSITION--We will publish nothing in the
columns of the ELEVATOR, which we are afraid or ashamed of,
and nothing for which we are not willing to assume the responsibility.
Editors and publishers of newspapers are held responsible in
law for whatever appears in their columns, and as we are legally
responsible, so are we willing to become morally and personally
responsible. We do not confine our correspondents to our own
peculiar views, but we will publish nothing which will be subversive
of the interests and the well being of the community in which
we live, and the people with whom we are identified.
Source: San Francisco Elevator, May 5, 1865,
JOHN BROWN IN THE WEST: KANSAS, 1858
John Brown remains the most infamous of the
abolitionist figures of the 1850s because he chose a path of
violence to challenge slavery. Brown's 1859 raid on Harper's
Ferry, for example, helped precipitate the Civil War, and his
earlier (1855) execution of five proslavery partisans at Pottawatomie
Creek, Kansas, suggested his ruthless disregard of his enemies.
Yet Brown remained one of a handful of white abolitionists who
risked their lives to free slaves. His Christmas raid into Missouri
in 1858 for that purpose is described below.
One bitterly cold Christmas night in 1858,
the firebrand abolitionist John Brown rode through the howling
prairie winds of pioneer Kansas in the company of eleven fugitive
slaves whom he had rescued from a Missouri plantation. Having
tried in vain to find refuge for the bondsmen, the liberator
clattered up to a rude log hut a mile west of the predominately
free-state settlement of Osawatomie at the source of the Osage
River. Rev. Samuel L. Adair, Brown's brother-in-law and owner
of the unpretentious dwelling, came to the door and let a grave
ear to Brown's urgent plea to shelter the fugitives. The clergyman
consulted with his wife on the wisdom of complying with that
dangerous request. Florella Brown Adair responded, "I cannot
let those poor slaves perish. Bring them in." The next
morning, according to one chronicler, "the negro men were
secreted in cornshacks and the negro women were safely packed
away in the house. The following night, they were taken to a
cabin about five miles west of Lane, where they were concealed
for more than a month, while officers were riding the country
in every direction in search of John Brown and the kidnapped
Source: Gunja SenGupta, "Servants for
Freedom: Christian Abolitionists in Territorial Kansas, 1854-1858,"
Kansas History 16:3(Autumn 1993):200-201.
FREEDOM IN KANSAS, 1863
Black Kansas was literally created by the
Civil War. Between 1861 and 1865 the African American population
of Kansas increased from 627 to over 12,000. Black fugitives
arrived from nearby Missouri but also from as far away as the
Indian Territory, Arkansas and Texas. As the former slaves poured
into the state some white abolitionists such as Richard Cordley
of Lawrence assisted their adjustment. In the statement below
Cordley however addresses white Kansans who were concerned about
Lawrence was settled as a Free State town
and soon became recognized as the headquarters of the Free State
movement. As a result it was the center of proslavery hate,
and at the same time the center of hope to the slaves across
the border. The colored people of Missouri looked to it as a
sort of "city of refuge," and when any of them made
a "dash for freedom," they usually made Lawrence their
first point... When the war broke out in 1861, the slaves on
the border took advantage of it to make sure of their freedom,
whatever might be the result of the conflict. They did not wait
for any proclamation, nor did they ask whether their liberation
was a war measure or a civil process. The simple question was
whether they could reach the Kansas line without being overtaken....
* * *
What occurred at Lawrence was only a specimen
of what was happening all along the border. In all the border
communities and in all the Union camps the freed slaves made
their appearance. The question of their education and of their
Christian training become at once a grave one, and has been
a serious one ever since.... The question can hardly be made
too prominent--what we do for these people, we do for ourselves.
They are a part of the nation, and no wish or will or ours can
separate them from us, or separate their destiny from ours.
We may restrict immigration as we will, but those people area
already here. It is of no use to shut the door. They are already
The negroes are not coming. They are here.
They will stay here. They are American born. They have been
here for more than two hundred and fifty years. They are not
going back to Africa. They are not going to South America. They
are not going to other parts of our own land. They are going
to stay where they are. They are not able to emigrate if they
would. We are not able to send them away if we wished. Even
if we would and they would, the thing is not possible. It is
not possible for eight millions of people to be transported
from the land in which they were born, to some land across the
seas, or some continent far away. They are to remain, and they
are to increase. They are with us and with us to stay. They
are to be our neighbors, whatever we may think about it, whatever
we may do about it. It is not for us to say whether they shall
be our neighbors or not. That has been settled by the providence
that has placed them among us. It is only for us to say what
sort of neighbors they shall be, and whether we will fulfill
our neighborly obligations.
Source: Richard Cordley Pioneer Days in Kansas
(New York, 1903), pp. 137, 150-151.
HENRY CLAY BRUCE AND KANSAS "FREEDOM"
In the following vignette Henry Clay Bruce,
brother of Blanche K. Bruce, the second black U.S. Senator from
Mississippi during Reconstruction, tells of his escape from
slavery in Missouri. Bruce's decision to flee Missouri was motivated
as much by his desire to avoid conscription into the Union Army
as to escape the horrors of slavery.
The enlistment of Colored men for the army
commenced in Chariton County, Missouri, early in December, 1863,
and any slave man who desired to be a soldier and fight for
freedom, had an opportunity to do so. Certain men said to be
recruiting officers from Iowa, came to Brunswick, to enlist
Colored men for the United States Army, which were to be accredited
not to Missouri, but to certain townships in Iowa, in order
to avoid a draft there.... Being in the United States service
themselves, they thought it...right to press in every young
man they could find. Being secretly aided by these white officers,
who, I learned afterwards, received a certain sum of money for
each recruit raised and accredited as above described. These
Colored men scoured the county in search of young men for soldiers,
causing me to sleep out nights and hide from them in the daytime.
I was afraid to go to town while they were there, and greatly
relieved when a company was filled out and left from some point
Our owner did not want us to leave him and
used every persuasive means possible to prevent it. He gave
every grown person a free pass, and agreed to give me fifteen
dollars per month, with board and clothing, if I would remain
with him on the farm, an offer which I had accepted to take
effect January 1, 1864. But by March of that year, I saw that
it could not be carried out, and concluded to go to Kansas...
I made the agreement in good faith, but when I saw that it could
not be fulfilled I had not the courage to tell him that I was
going to leave him.
I was engaged to marry a girl belonging to
a man named Allen Farmer, who was opposed to it on the ground,
as I was afterwards informed, that he did not want a Negro to
visit his farm who could read, because he would spoil his slaves.
After it was know that I was courting the girl, he would not
allow me to visit his farm nor any of his slaves to visit ours,
but they did notwithstanding this order, nearly every Sunday.
The girl's aunt was our mutual friend and made all arrangements
for our meetings. At one of our secret meetings we decided to
elope and fixed March 30, 1864, at nine o'clock, p.m., sharp,
as the date for starting.
She met me at the appointed time and place
with her entire worldly effects tied up in a handkerchief, and
I took her up on the horse behind me. Then in great haste we
started for Laclede, about thirty miles north of Brunswick,
and the nearest point reached by the Hannibal and St. Joe Railroad.
This town was occupied by a squad of Union Troops. Having traveled
over the country so often, I had acquired an almost perfect
knowledge of it, even of the by-paths. We avoided the main road,
and made the entire trip without touching the traveled road
an any point and without meeting any one and reached Laclede
in safety, were we took the train for St. Joe, thence to Weston,
where we crossed the Missouri River on a ferry boat to Fort
Leavenworth, Kansas. I then felt myself a free man.
I am satisfied, even now, that I was braver
that night than I have ever been since. I was a good shot and
knew it, and intended to commence shooting as soon as my pursuers
showed up; but it was a Godsend to all concerned, and especially
to myself and bride, soon to be, that we were not overtaken:
for I was determined to fight it out on that line, as surrender
meant death to me. I had buckled around my waist a pair of Colt's
revolvers and plenty of ammunition, but I feel now that I could
not have held out long before a crowd of such men, and while
I might have hit one or two of them, they would in the end have
killed me.... They expected to overtake us on the mail road,
where they would have killed me, taken the girl back and given
her a severe flogging, but they were badly fooled, for we traveled
east, nearly on a straight line for six miles, then turned north,
the correct course of our destination.
Source: Henry Clay Bruce, The New Man, Twenty-Nine
Years a Slave, Twenty-Nine Years a Free Man: Recollections of
H.C. Bruce (York Pa., 1895), pp. 107-110.
THE FREEDMEN AND EDUCATION
In the vignette below Kansas abolitionist
Richard Cordley explains the initial attempts by Lawrence residents
to educate the new Kansas freedmen.
They came in by scores and hundreds, and for
a time it seemed as if they would overwhelm us with their numbers
and their needs. But they were strong and industrious, and by
a little effort work was found for them, and very few, if any
of them, became objects of charity.. They were willing to work
and they were able to live on little, and the whole community
of freed slaves was soon able to take care of itself.
But it was soon evident that they needed help
in other directions than of securing a livelihood. They were
mostly ignorant, only now and then one being able to read. In
slavery no one was permitted to learn, it being a crime to teach
a slave to read. We could not think of having this multitude
with us, and not do something to teach and elevate them. They
were very anxious to learn. They had got the impression that
there was a connection between liberty and learning. Our public
schools would soon provide for the children. but the grown people
had no time to attend the public schools, and there was no provision
for them in these schools if they had been able to attend them.
Mr. S.N. Simpson...conceived of the idea of
applying the Sunday-school methods to this problem. He proposed
a night school where these people could have free instruction.
There was no money to pay teachers, and he proposed that citizens
volunteer to teach each evening for a couple of hours. He secured
a room and organized a corps of volunteer teachers, mostly ladies,
and commenced the school. About a hundred men and women, eager
to learn, came to it.... The teachers were naturally from among
the best people of the town... It brought them in contact with
these newcomers, and the interest did not cease with the closing
of the session. Many of the colored people got a start in this
school which enabled them to learn to read... Besides teaching
the lessons, lectures were given on their new duties and their
new relations to society....
They had to begin, like little children, with
the alphabet. But they earnestness with which they learn is
exceedingly interesting. They seem to be straining forward with
all their might, as if they could not learn fast enough. One
young man who had been to the school only five nights, and began
with the alphabet, now spells in words of two syllables. Another,
in the same time, has progressed so that he could read, quite
rapidly, the simple lessons given in the spelling-book. The
scholars were of all ages. Here is a class of little girls,
eager and restless; there is a class of grown men, solemn and
earnest. A class of maidens in their teens contrasts with another
of elderly women. But all alike showed their same intentness
of application... Some who began when the school opened, can
now read with some fluency, and were ready to commence with
Source: Richard Cordley Pioneer Days in Kansas
(New York, 1903), pp. 138-140, 142-143.