Negro BarHistory of African-American miners in the Lower American River circa 1849.
The discovery of gold by James Marshall at Sutter's Mill in Coloma in January 1848 was, at first, meant to be a secret known only to a few. However, within six months, word of Marshall's discovery and subsequent gold discoveries in the Sierra foothills were leaked to the public and a human rush of unimagined proportions was triggered to the gold fields of California. By the end of 1848, over 10,000 miners from California, Oregon, Hawaii, and Mexico had begun mining in the Sierra foothills. By the summer of 1849, over 40,000 migrants would make their way to California's gold fields by ship, wagon, horseback, or on foot. These "forty-niners" came from many parts of the United States and the rest of the world and made California one of the first truly multi-cultural locations in the world at that time.
African-Americans were among the many immigrants coming to California at that time. One of the earliest recorded locations minded by African-American gold miners was on Negro Bar, a large sand bar located on the south bank of the lower American River, in what is now the City of Folsom. The site received its name because of a small number of African-Americans who were reputed to be the first to mine the area in late 1849. A February 9, 1850 newspaper article in the Sacramento Placer Times describes the diggings at Negro Bar as being located "about four miles below Mormon Island, on the American River…" The article later goes on to say, "Some colored gentleman discovered them. Gentlemen just from these diggings inform us that one to two ounces (of gold) to each man is the average per day…"
Most African-American miners were to leave Negro Bar by 1852. They eventually moved to other nearby gold fields such as Negro Hill, Little Negro Hill/Negro Flat, and Massachusetts Flat. These fields proved more successful for African-American miners than Negro Bar. Negro Bar was soon home to Caucasian and Chinese miners and became the town that was later to become the City of Folsom. The current Negro Bar State Recreation Area, located on the opposite side of the American River, retains the historic name of California's first Black gold mining site.
Information provided by:
Clarence Caesar, Historian
California Historical and Cultural Endowment
California State Library