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Massachusetts Flat

History of African-American miners in the California Gold Rush.

Founded by New Englanders in 1854, Massachusetts Flat was a mining camp located roughly 1.5 miles north of the site of the Negro Hill mining camp. By 1855, James Hutchings, a Caucasian traveler through the Sacramento area, described Massachusetts Flat in his diary as a "thriving little town but [sic] the population mostly Portuguese and Negroes." Little else is written about Massachusetts Flat by contemporary sources. Hutchings does go on to state that many of the residents at Massachusetts Flat had claims at a location south of the camp called "Jenny Lind Flat", a place that yielded gold in quantities as high as $70 to a bucket.

Historian Rudolph M. Lapp, in his book Blacks in Gold Rush California (New Haven, 1977), notes that in the presidential elections of 1856 the residents of Massachusetts Flat voted overwhelmingly for anti-slavery candidate John C. Fremont. Lapp contrasts this vote with that of the Caucasian residents of nearby Negro Hill who voted overwhelmingly for Fremont's pro-slavery opponents. Lapp does not state whether African-Americans in either mining camp had an opportunity to vote. Given California's laws against African-American suffrage; however, it is highly unlikely that African-American miners would have had the opportunity to cast any ballots in the election.

Massachusetts Flat, like many Placer mining camps in the Sierra foothills was non-existent by the 1860s. The Placer diggings that were so plentiful in the 1850s were exhausted by this time, forcing many miners either to abandon their claims and move on to California's growing cities or to invest money into the more expensive quarts mining industry. For most African-American miners, the movement into the cities was the preferred option. The African-American populations of California's major cities grew somewhat in proportion to the numbers of African-American miners leaving the mining camps for more stable urban occupations. The legacy they left behind in the mining camps of the lower American River is reflected in the names these places held and the historical events that took place in their historical periods of significance.

Information provided by:
Clarence Caesar, Historian
California Historical and Cultural Endowment
California State Library

Questions:   Curriculum Frameworks and Instructional Resources Division | CFIRD@cde.ca.gov | 916-319-0881
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