Blacks in the Gold Rush

William Leidesdorff


Negro Bar, on the American River above Sutter’s Fort, was the likely spot blacks first began to mine in California. The land had belonged to William Leidesdorff, a prominent San Francisco businessman of mixed ancestry known to employ blacks on his ranch, who died soon after Marshall’s discovery. Joseph Folsom bought the property and the site later became a part of the city of Folsom and one terminus for the first railroad in California. Negro Bar was not a lucrative mining site and the gold played out early. Most of these early miners moved on to Negro Hill nearer Mormon Island or spread out into the rest of the gold country. But even today controversy surrounds a site long buried under the water of Lake Folsom.

Another Negro Hill flourished along the Mokelumne. Blacks also worked at Kentucky Ridge near Hangtown, African Bar on the middle fork of the American River and Negro Slide in Plumas County. In 1850 there were a little more than 950 blacks in California but many more would come. California became a state in 1850 and a big part of that statehood was the compromise of 1850 that allowed California into the union in return for the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act that decreed that blacks anywhere in the country must be returned to their owners. It was an act that increased racial tensions across the country and helped fuel the Civil War.

Blacks in the gold rush

Black miners in the gold rush


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