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Key Points in Black History and the Gold Rush

Key points in Black African-American history and the California Gold Rush.

William Alexander Leidesdorff, an Afro-Caribbean businessman from Yerba Buena, is granted 35,000 acres along the south side of the American River in northeastern Sacramento County by Mexican Governor Micheltorena. Leidesdorff intends to operate a cattle-raising enterprise on the property that would produce beef and hides for sale. Leidesdorff would die in 1848 before his dream of cattle riches is realized.


James Marshall discovers gold in Sutter's Mill in Coloma. Marshall and John Sutter agree to keep his find a secret, but six months later word gets out about the discovery and a rush for the gold fields in Coloma and other portions of the Mother lode begins.


California's Constitutional Convention in Monterey drafts and ratifies the future state's constitution. On the issue of slavery Article I, Section 18 of the newly drafted constitution states: "Neither slavery, nor involuntary servitude, unless for the punishment of crimes, shall ever be tolerated in this state." This article clearly outlaws the practice of slavery in the state.

A small group of African-American miners establish one of the earliest mining claims in Sacramento County at Negro Bar, on property once owned by William A. Leidesdorff, on the south bank of the American River near what is now Folsom, California. The African-American miners mine the claim for nearly a year before moving on to nearby claims further north. The newer claims at Negro Hill and Massachusetts Flat were more permanent in nature and represented some of the first successful mining claims mined by African-Americans and other groups. Founded by Mormons mining at nearby Mormon Island, Negro Hill was rediscovered by an African-American miner named Kelsey from Massachusetts in the fall of 1849, thus giving the site its name. Mining activity at these sites continued until the late 1850s when the lure of mining began to fade and African-Americans and other miners found their way to the growing cities and towns of northern California. Other mining claims for African-Americans would be found around the gold country from Downieville in the north to the southern mines in Calaveras and Mariposa Counties.


California becomes the nation's 31st state as a result of the Compromise of 1850 where it is agreed that California would enter the Union as a free state.

A small African-American congregation establishes the Colored African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Sacramento in a building at 7th streets between G and H streets. Later renamed St. Andrews AME Church, this congregation is the first African-American church established on the Pacific Coast.

The first census of California counts 962 African-Americans in the state with 240 African-Americans counted in Sacramento County.


The all-Caucasian California Legislature passed a law banning African-American, Chinese, and Native American testimony in cases involving Caucasian plaintiffs and defendants. Laws also passed that prohibited African-Americans from voting and going to school with Caucasian children. These laws would hinder the development of African-American economic and political power in the state for the entire decade. The laws were eventually removed through the political efforts of African-American organizations such as the Franchise League and the Executive Committee.


The first of three statewide Colored Conventions is held at St. Andrews AME Church in Sacramento. These conventions focus on the political and economic well-being of California's African-American communities and plot strategy for the removal of unjust testimony, franchise, and education laws in the state. Two other conventions would be held during the Gold Rush in Sacramento (1856) and San Francisco (1857). The state's first African-American newspaper, the Mirror of the Times (San Francisco) was established in 1856 as a result of the first convention.


Archy Lee, a fugitive slave is brought to trial in California's most celebrated fugitive slave case. California's courts later
free Archy Lee when it is shown that his master illegally hired him out to others in California for over a year. State law prohibited extended stays in California by slaves and their masters. This case is similar in many respects to the Dred Scott case that was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in at the same time. Archy Lee later leaves for British Columbia in Canada where he resided for a number of years. He would later return to Sacramento to live out the rest of his life. The Sacramento Daily Union in November 1873 reported, "Archy Lee was found buried in the sand, with only his head exposed, in the marshlands of Sacramento. He was ill and claimed to have buried himself thus to keep warm. He was taken to the hospital where he died."


Many African-Americans leave California for the gold fields along the Fraser River in British Columbia, Canada. The exodus was caused in part by the frustration of many African-American Californians trying to overturn, effectively, the unjust testimony and suffrage laws that were earlier passed by the California Legislature. New legislative proposals to limit African-American and Chinese immigration into the state also hastened the urge to move elsewhere. The subsequent invitation of British Governor James Douglas to African-American migrants to settle British Columbia provides an added incentive to leave California. The stay in British Columbia, however, was short for many. Many of the same problems associated with racism and social inequality would appear in British Columbia as they had in California. Many African-American migrants would eventually return to the United States after the end of the Civil War.

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

Questions:   Curriculum Frameworks and Instructional Resources Division | | 916-319-0881
Last Reviewed: Thursday, April 25, 2024
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