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Sun, 09.09.1770

American Slavery in California, an article

*On this date in 1770, slavery in California territory is affirmed. The arrival of the Spanish colonists introduced chattel slavery and involuntary servitude to the area. This included the systematic enslavement of Native American indigenous Californians.

White-Americans from the Southern and Eastern United States brought their systems of organized slavery to California. Many free and enslaved people of African ancestry were part of the California Gold Rush (1848–55), and many were able to buy their freedom and freedom for their families, primarily in the South, with the gold they found. During this time, the 30-state nation was divided equally between 15 free states and 15 slave states. With the addition of vast new, agriculturally rich territories, including California, the debate over slavery intensified dramatically. California itself was divided over the issue, as a large number of slave-owning Southerners had traveled to California to seek their fortunes in the 1849 Gold Rush, and many brought their slaves. Many miners expressed concern that slaveholders accompanied by slaves had an unfair advantage in the mining camps and that slavery's inherent inequality violated "the independent entrepreneurial spirit of the mines."

However, taking slaves into California, which had no laws or enforcement mechanisms for maintaining the institution, turned out to be quite risky for the slave owners themselves. The territory had no slave patrols, nor local police interested in maintaining slavery, so slave escapes were quite common. In October 1849, the first California Constitution Convention was held. One of the most heated debates of the Convention was on the status of slavery in the new state. While some Southerners who had come to California were staunchly in favor of giving official sanction to slavery in California, Northern abolitionists and White-American miners (who did not want competition from the slave-holders in the goldfields) were well represented within the ranks of the convention.

The chairman of the convention, William Gwin, was himself a slaveholder from Tennessee. Gwin, however, was much more interested in gaining control of the California Democratic Party than he was in favor of either side of the debate. To the later chagrin of his fellow Southern members of Congress, he did not write the institution of slavery into the 1849 Constitution. The Compromise of 1850 later permitted California to be admitted to the Union as a free state. Gwin and war hero/abolitionist John C. Frémont became California's first Senators. Although California entered the Union as a free state, the framers of the state constitution wrote into law the systematic denial of suffrage and other civil rights to non-white citizens. Some authorities went so far as to attempt to deny entry of all Blacks, free and slave, to California. The Legislature passed a bill that would ban the immigration of freedmen to California. State Senator David C. Broderick, a fierce opponent of slavery and former firefighter from San Francisco, managed to kill the bill through the parliamentary maneuver. Slavery did persist in California even without legal authority. Some slave owners simply refused to notify their slaves of the prohibition and continued to trade slaves within the state. Numerous state trials ruled in the favor of emancipation. 

· In 1849, a white man lost a case against a black man who was accused of both being a slave and being in debt to the accuser. At the time, California was not under U.S. rule, and Mexican law, which prohibited slavery, was used in the case. This resulted in the legal precedent of the official non-acknowledgment of slavery in California. There were a relatively small number of Gold Rushers of African ancestry, probably fewer than 4,000. One of the miners was a Black slave named Edmond Edward Wysinger. After arriving in the Northern mine area of the California Mother Lode with his owner in 1849, Wysinger and a group of 100 or more Black miners were surface mining in and around Morman, Mokelumne Hill at Placerville, and Grass Valley. It took him about a year to buy his freedom for $1,000. 

· In 1851, a fugitive slave named Frank was recaptured by his owner in San Francisco; Frank then sued the owner in court. The judge ruled in favor of Frank because the slave had taken his freedom in California and didn't cross state lines in the process, thus ruling the application of the Fugitive Slave Law, which was passed in Congress the previous year, invalid in this case. Furthermore, a California law passed in 1850 had ruled the testimony of non-whites in court inadmissible; hence, even though Frank had admitted to being the owner's slave, the case had proceeded in his favor because his admission was invalid.

· In 1852, a state fugitive slave law was passed in Sacramento and was unsuccessfully challenged in the Perkins escapee case. However, when the law lapsed in 1855, the Legislature failed to renew it, and the Mitchell case in San Jose resulted in freedom for Mitchell, a runaway slave.

· In 1856, Benjamin Ignatius Hayes freed 14 slaves, including Biddy Mason, who had been held in slavery in a Mormon settlement in San Bernardino for five years, saying the slaves had been kept ignorant of the laws and their rights. 

· In 1858, in one of the most protracted cases over the state-level status of slavery, Archy Lee, a slave who had run away from his owner, Mississippi native Terry Stovall, was arrested four times. He won the case through the support of the local freed Black community in San Francisco. To avoid further legal reprisals by his former owner, he fled to Canada, where he eventually died.  

· A backlash against these legal wins for the free Black community in California whipped up in the State government; the Chinese Exclusion Act was also being debated at that time. Fearful of the hostile maneuvers against them, over 700 Blacks left California in a mass exodus via steamship for the women and children and mass cavalcade for the men to Victoria, Canada, and the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush. During the American Civil War, clergyman and politician Thomas Starr King was a fervent speaker, he spoke in favor of the Union and was credited by Abraham Lincoln with preventing California from becoming a separate republic.

At the urging of activist and writer Jessie Benton Fremont, Starr King teamed up with writer Bret Harte. Starr King read Harte's patriotic poems at pro-Union speeches. Starr King also raised $1 million in fundraising for Union soldiers, California’s largest charity effort during this war. Slavery was, for the most part, abolished in all states under the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which took effect on December 18, 1865. This date was chosen to place this article because California was admitted to the union on September 9th.

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