Dr. Quintard Taylor, Jr.
Scott and Dorothy Bullitt
Professor of American History
 
 
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African American History | African American History in the West (Now available at www.blackpast.org)  


History 313:
The History of African Americans in the West
Manual - Chapter 3
Free Black Communities in the Antebellum West

Introduction | Chap. 1 | Chap. 2 | Chap. 3 | Chap. 4 | Chap. 5 | Chap. 6 | Chap. 7 | Chap. 8 | Chap. 9 | Chap. 10

CHAPTER THREE: 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 below.

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 consideration.

The Petition is signed by 211 people including two territorial officials and Thomas Dryer, editor of the Portland Oregonian.

Source: Archives of the Oregon Historical Society


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. 23-25.


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 man...

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 time.

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

Dear Wife:

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,
P. Brown

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 existence.

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 in view.

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 below.

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 air
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, p. 2.


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 ruling classes.

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, p. 3.


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 slaves.

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 the influx.

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 in....

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 in Iowa.

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 figures.

Source: Richard Cordley Pioneer Days in Kansas (New York, 1903), pp. 138-140, 142-143.