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The Negro Hill Area

History of Afro American miners in the Lower American River circa 1849.

Although a few African-American miners continued to mine the Negro Bar diggings as late as 1852, the majority of African American miners on the lower American River at that time were mining claims located roughly four miles north at a mining camp known as Negro Hill. Located near Mormon Island, the claim is alleged by some early sources to have been first mined by Mormon miners as early as 1848. A man named Kelsey, an African-American from Massachusetts and a Methodist minister along with other Black miners, rediscovered the diggings in 1849. Together, these men established a community of African-American, Caucasian, Chinese, and Portuguese miners that were to grow as large as 400 persons by 1855.

The success of the diggings near Negro Hill prompted settlement of a nearby hill that became known as Little Negro Hill or Negro Flat. Both of these mining camps and their nearby claims yielded enough gold to keep them going well into the mid-1850s. The riches, however, were not enough to prevent racial tensions from boiling over at least once at Negro Hill. Historian Rudolph Lapp notes in his book Blacks in Gold Rush California (New Haven, 1977) that physical confrontations between Caucasian and African-American miners resulted in injuries, deaths, and arrests in 1855. A court in Coloma, despite the fact that an African-American miner was killed, later released the Caucasian miners involved in the incidents. Lapp also states that Caucasian miners at Negro Hill were also supportive of pro-slavery candidates in the presidential elections of 1856.

Despite these problems, Negro Hill and Little Negro Hill/Negro Flat were the home to a Black-owned store and boarding house and a church headed by a Caucasian Methodist clergyman. The camps were described by contemporary sources as being the home to "sources of hardy miners that made good wages." Negro Hill, 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.

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

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Last Reviewed: Thursday, April 25, 2024