The Negro Trail Blazers of California, Delilah L. Beasley, pp. 69-72 (1919):
PERSONAL SKETCHES OF SLAVES
Mr. George Washington Dennis arrived in San Francisco, California, September 17, 1849. He came with the gamblers who opened the Eldorado Hotel, which was a tent 30x100 feet, brought from New Orleans. They ran a Faro Bank and a Monte Game. Ten tables were going night and day. The tables were played during the day by men and at night by women. The hotel was located at the corner of Washington and Kearney streets, the present Hall of Justice now occupies this place. Mr. Dennis was brought here as a slave by Green Dennis, a slave trader from Mobile, Alabama. Joe and Jim Johnson, coming from Ohio, were in the party of gamblers and another man by the name of Andy McCabe.
Previous to coming to California, unable to obtain accommodation from New Orleans to Colon, they were compelled to row up the Chagress river to Panama. While en route these gamblers won and lost Mr. Dennis three different times. It cost them $350 fare for him from Panama to San Francisco, because he was a Negro slave. It was after arriving and establishing the Eldorado Hotel that Green Dennis made the proposition to George Dennis that if he saved his money, he could buy his freedom.
The gamblers employed Dennis as a porter in the Eldorado Hotel, and at the end of three months, from the sweepings of the floor he had saved, in five and ten-cent pieces $1,000, which he paid for Freedom Papers for himself from Green Dennis, who was his own father and also his master.
He again saved the sweepings and when Joe Johnson, from Ohio, who was one of the party owning the Eldorado Hotel, told him that he was going back east to bring out some graded cattle and would bring Mr. Dennis's mother with him to his former master, Mr. Dennis paid $950 for his mother, and she returned with Mr. Joe Johnson to California. She lived many years afterward and died in San Francisco at the age of 105 years. After Mr. Dennis's mother arrived in San Francisco he rented one of the gambling tables at $40 a day with the privilege of his mother serving hot meals in the gambling house on it. Boiled eggs sold for $12 per dozen, apples 25 cents apiece, and a loaf of bread $1. But she also paid $25 for a sack of flour containing one hundred pounds. These prices were during the early Fifties.
The case of Alvin Coffey was very unjust and has been commented on by Historian Bancroft. It has been the custom of the writer, if possible, to secure original information pertaining to every case mentioned, and this account of the subject was given by a Mr. Titus Hale, a lifelong friend of Alvin Coffey, who came from the same part of the country. He said: "Alvin Coffey was born in 1822, in St. Louis County, Missouri. He came to California with his master, a Mr. Duvall, landing in San Francisco September 1, 1849. His master was sick and they did not remain long in this place, but went to Sacramento, October 13, 1849. During the next eight months Alvin worked in the mines and made for his master the sum of $5,000, and by washing and ironing for the miners after his workday ended, earned for himself the neat sum of $700."
"After staying nearly two years in California the master, continuing in poor health, decided to return to his home in Missouri. Alvin had nursed him tenderly and now was to care for him on the return trip. When they reached Kansas City, Missouri, the master sold Alvin Coffey to Nelson Tindle, after first taking from him the money earned for the master by working in the mines and also the money earned by working at night in washing for the miners."
"Nelson Tindle took a great liking to Alvin and in a short time made him overseer of a section of slaves. Alvin, however, longed to return to California and, in order to earn his freedom, bought his time from his master and took contracts to build railroads."
"One day Nelson Tindle said to Alvin that he was too smart a man to be a slave and ought to try and buy his freedom; whereupon Alvin told him if he would let him return to California he could easily earn enough money to purchase his freedom. Nelson Tindle replied: "But when you reach California you will be free and then I will lose the money that I paid to purchase you." Alvin replied: 'If I tell you that I will send you the money, I will do so. What do you wish for me!" He was told $1,500. Alvin made the return trip to California and in a short time sent his master the money to pay for his freedom."
"He then went to work to earn the money to pay for the freedom of his wife and daughters, who were slaves of Dr. Bassett, of Missouri. He earned the required sum and then went back in person to pay it over and, after securing the freedom of hig family, started with them to Canada, where he left his daughters to be educated, he and his wife coming to California. It cost him for the freedom of himself and wife, Mahala, and his two daughters, together with their education and trips to California, something like $7000. He earned this money through placer mining in California in and around Redding and Bed Bluff."
After the arrival of his wife Coffey located in Red Bluff and opened a laundry. He also made a small fortune making hay at $16 per day, and in a few years was worth $10,000. Then a friend of Alvin's, a white minister, who owned a farm in the Sacramento Valley, borrowed a few thousand dollars from Alvin until his crops were harvested. But floods destroyed his crops and Alvin, not holding a note against him, of course lost his money.
About this time his wife died and, as his daughters were married and he still had a few hundred dollars left, he became the prime mover in organizing the 'Home for Aged and Infirm Colored People,' located near Beulah, California, where he spent the remaining days of his life.
Daniel Rodgers came to California across the plains with his master in 1849, coming from Little Rock, Arkansas. He worked in the mines in Sonora, California, during the day for his master and at night for himself, earning and paying for his freedom by giving to his master the sum of $1,100. Soon afterward the master returned with him to Little Rock and sold him. This time a number of the leading white gentlemen of the town raised the money and paid for him and gave him his Freedom Papers. Copies of both his Freedom Papers and an extract of his wife's will be found with the collection of other Freedom Papers.
Cooper Smith told the writer that he worked in the mines two years after coming to California to pay for his freedom.
Sowarie Long worked in the mines of California, earning the money to pay for the freedom of himself and wife. They had come to California in 1849 with their master. After securing their freedom, they located in San Jose, California.
Henry Valle, coming with his master from Fredericktown, Mississippi, to California, worked in the mines, paying $2500 for himself and $2200 for his wife. This was paid three years before the Civil War. He afterward earned enough money to enable him and his wife to return to Ironton County, Missouri, and ever afterward live comfortably on the money thus earned in the mines of California.
William Pollock and wife, coming to California with their master from North Carolina, located in Cold Springs, Coloma County, California, paid $1000 for himself and $800 for his wife. This money was earned by his washing for the miners at night, and his wife making and selling doughnuts to the miners. After obtaining their Freedom Papers they moved to Placerville and earned their living by acting as cooks in taking party and wedding work from those able to secure their services.
Jacob Johnson came to California with his master from St. Louis County Missouri. He worked in the mines and paid for his freedom, afterward sending a large sum back to pay for the freedom of his family, but never received any word from either his money or family.
Mary Ann Israel-Ash, of Sonoma County, California, mortgaged her home in 1852 and then begged to enable her to raise the sum of $1100, and paid the same to the master of a family of slaves who were being returned to the South and into slavery.
Basil Campbell worked ten years to pay for his freedom after coming to California with his master. After obtaining his freedom he located in Woodland, California, where he engaged in ranching. When he died he left property valued at $80,000.
Ellen Mason, coming to California with her master in 1849, under contract to pay for herself at fifty cents a week, not only paid for her own freedom but that of her sister. After securing her Freedom Papers, she then worked to secure herself some good clothes and celebrated the event, so they say, by an outfit costing a hundred dollars. Afterward she sent for her brother Benjamin, and was paying for his freedom in California when he, learning that the State was a Free State, ran away from the master, who did not compel Ellen to finish paying the bill of sale. Mrs. Mason afterward lived many years and died in the ''Home for Aged Colored People'' in Beulah, California.
Nathaniel Nelson came to California with his master, William Russell, from Cook County, Tennessee. He worked in the mines and in four years paid for the freedom of himself and his family of several children and his wife. Afterward he earned enough to bring them to live in California in 1854, and located in Marysville. He died leaving his family well provided for.
Mrs. Langhorn and family, who were slaves, came with their master, a Doctor Langhorn. She earned the price of her own freedom and that of her husband, daughter and three grandchildren by working at night. After obtaining their freedom they located in San Jose, California.
Joseph Bathelome, coming to California with his master, hired his time and worked in the mines and procured enough gold to buy his freedom and that of his wife and four children. He continued to work and save his money until 1861, when he returned to Missouri and moved his family to Sparta, Illinois, where he bought a home and forever afterward lived happily. The following are the names of his children: Christian, Joe, Henry and Frank.
The history of the Samuel Shelton case was given to the writer by one of the members of his family. She said: "Samuel Shelton came to San Francisco in 1840, which was before the Indians had been driven out of the country. He was his master's offspring by his little African girl, whom he had stolen from Africa. He came to California with his master and the first thing he did, after the purchase of his own freedom, was to earn the money to purchase the freedom of his wife and that of his son Frank. He earned the money in the mines in California. After securing their freedom he worked to pay for the freedom of other members of the family, namely, Moulton Shelton, Moses Brown and Lucy Shelton. The Irish kidnapped Moulton Shelton in New York and when Lucy Shelton arrived in San Francisco and related the news to Samuel Shelton he held a lawsuit between San Francisco and Washington City, for the sale had been recorded in Washington City. This suit lasted months, but finally Moulton Shelton was given his freedom and landed safely in San Francisco, California. Samuel Shelton spent thousands of dollars in purchasing the freedom of himself and immediate family and their families and bringing them to live in California."
The Negro Trail Blazers of California. A Compilation of Records from the California Archives in the Bancroft Library at the University of California, in Berkeley; and from the Diaries, Old Papers, and Conversations of Old Pioneers in the State of California (1919). . . .Delilah Leontium Beasley