Chattel Hood to Freedom – Black
During his lifetime
James W Marshall
had become a living legend as the "discoverer of gold” in
died in 1885 it was a black man, his friend Andrew Monroe of
Coloma who buried him. Andrew’s story begins with a slave woman named
Nancy Gooch of
she was his mother.
In 1849 Nancy gave birth to Andrew whom she
left almost immediately behind in
while she continued on to California
with her masters arriving here that same year during the fervor of the
Gold Rush. Nancy soon realized her freedom
as the miners would not tolerate slave or peon labor in the diggings.
was admitted into the Union the following year joining as a free state in
1850, by that time Gooch had been self-employed for nearly a year as a
laundress and domestic for the miners.
She earned enough
gold to return to
and buy her son’s freedom, what year Andrew arrived in California is
unclear, but he arrived as a young man married to his wife, Sarah
In time the Monroe
family purchased 80 acres in
Coloma which they successfully operated as a fruit farm, which by
the 1880’s had expanded to 320 acres.
Sarah Ellen gave
birth to nine children, two died at birth, the family is buried in the
Pioneer Cemetery. Beginning at the Marshall Monument in
Coloma the Monroe Ridge Trail is named to honor this pioneer
Former slave Nancy Gooch bought her son,
Andrew Monroe, seated with a child on his lap at center, and his family
out of slavery and brought them to her farm in
courtesy the El Dorado County
Mrs. Ellen Mason was
an early arrival in the diggings and one of the first women on the
Georgetown Divide. Born a slave she became a free woman in 1849 and
came west with thousands of others to man the
California Gold Rush. Mrs. Mason worked
long hours as a laundress for the miners who always paid in gold. In
time she purchased her two sisters out of slavery whereupon all three
settled in Georgetown. Mason remained a resident here until moving to
Oakland in 1878, where in 1908 she died at the age of 96.
Settling along Weber
Creek in 1870, were Addison and Florence Tiree. Addison was born a
slave in Virginia who won his freedom and moved to California
where he met his
Indian wife, Florence Cadelia Tiree who’d been raised
and educated by a white Tulare County family. Although Addison is well
remembered as a good man, neighbor, provider and successful vintner
one year after arriving here he would survive the first of many
violent tragedies during his life.
While Addison was working in the vicinity
of Morrill’s Bridge, Placerville
resident James Riley had broken into the Tiree home and sadistically
murdered Florence. The editor of the Mountain Democrat reported…
"Addison Tiree found his wife dead having been literally cut to pieces
with a knife. The cuts entered below the knees to the throat, and must
have been a dozen in number.” Riley took $50, a revolver, watch
and several items of his victims clothing. For the next twenty years
his identity would remain a secret.
Suspected by many in his wife’s slaying
Addison lived under a cloud of suspicion, two years after the death of
Florence he shot and killed a man on Main Street, Placerville, after being stabbed
three times in an unprovoked attack. Although arrested he was released
as officers believe he had acted in self defense.
His own life came to a
violent end on the 41st anniversary of Florence’s death when
returning home from Placerville one
evening, his horses spooked. Tiree’s legs both became entangled in the
run-a-way, dragging him for miles. He was found 20 hours later and
transported to the County Hospital where he died three days later at the
age of 62.
During those 20 years from Florence’s death in
1871 until Riley confessed to the crime on his deathbed in 1891, Tiree
relocated to Ringgold where he married his second wife, and developed a
successful vineyard, he kept the school stocked up on cut firewood, and
the couple attended all community social gatherings. His second wife
worked at the Governor’s Mansion for the First Lady frequently and was a
mid-wife in the Ringgold area.
1866, Lawrence & Houseworth. This image available for
photographic prints and downloads
Born into slavery, Nelson
Ray is thought to have been orphaned young and was raised by a white
family, that of John and Velinda Ray of
Velinda died a widow in 1846 and freed Nelson in her will. In 1852 Nelson
Ray arrived at Placerville where he
worked as a miner. His success in the mines was extraordinary, after one
year he had mined enough gold to purchase his wife, Lucinda and children
out of slavery, for the sum of $3,700.
The family settled in Placerville and owned the land where the
Post Office sits today, along with a number of rental properties which
provided them with an income. He is recognized as having built a church in
this same area which sat an all black congregation. From slavery to the
frontier, black men and women pioneers came to these very sierra foothills
to make a better life for themselves, and to share in the American dream.
© Anthony Belli, 2004
*This story is dedicated to the memory of Andrew Jackson, a black miner
who in 1852 was lynched by a white mob at Negro Hill after it was alleged
Jackson had stolen a $10 gold specimen. Without evidence or any hint of
due process Jackson was hung in full view of the Negro quarter.
**Negro Hill in its heyday was a
Rush boomtown, although it took its name for the first four black
miners who discovered these diggings the village was segregated with a
white section, the Black quarter, and its own Chinatown.
Freedom is never given; it is won.
-- Asa Phillip Randolf
About the Author: Anthony M. Belli is a
native of California
currently living in the Sierras of El Dorado County. Having a background
in law enforcement, he was the youngest police chief in
Now, Belli is a recognized historian, writer and lecturer on the
California Gold Rush, and serves on the research staff for the El Dorado
County Museum. He has been featured in a number of television shows, writes for
Lost Treasure Magazine, wrote the book
Mysteries of Tahoe - Lost
Treasure, and is currently working on a second book.
James W Marshall
- Images include collages, photographs with with
watercolor and poster effects, colorized black & white photos, and
digital enhancements to improve the composition of the finished
product. The vast majority of the original photographs were taken
during Legends of America's
travels; however, a few are enhanced
photographs. Artwork by