In June of 1867, Philip Bell, editor of The Elevator, received a letter from a correspondent named Ann J. Trask. She said that she lived at Mud Hill in Nevada County and offered to write short stories for children.
The Elevator was a weekly newspaper published in San Francisco for the black community. Mrs. Trask was a faithful reader of the paper and thanked editor Bell for his “efforts in behalf of our people.”
“Ann J. Trask” was not the woman’s real name. Like so many newspaper correspondents of the day, she preferred to use a pseudonym. In later writings she also used the byline “Semper Fidelis.” Her true name was Mary Jane (Jennie) Carter, and she lived in Nevada City with her husband, Dennis D. Carter.
Jennie had grown up in New Orleans, a free person of color. Although her maiden name and her parents are unknown, she seems to have had a comfortable upbringing and a good education. She came to California around 1860 with her first husband. Just what happened to him is also unknown, but in 1866 she married Dennis D. Carter, a musician and band leader.
Stories were drawn from her childhood, like the first one, about the death of her beloved dog Nino and the kindly neighbor who helped to bury her pet. She usually had a moral to express, but did it in a pleasing and engaging manner.
Here is the beginning of a column she wrote about race relations. Jennie Carter knew what was what, but she strove to promote unity and harmony among people of all colors.
“Civility to all, servility to none” is still a worthwhile maxim.
Toward the end of the column she writes, “Well, Mr. Editor, I see I have made a mistake. I commenced writing for the children, and have would up writing for everybody.” And that’s the way it would go. All ages would read and enjoy her words.
You can read writings by Jennie Carter by accessing The Elevator on the California Digital Newspaper Collection. A book about her — Jennie Carter: A Black Journalist of the Early West, by Eric Gardner — brings all the columns together, but I haven’t acquired the book. You can read some of it on Amazon. I am looking forward to reading more of her writings. She sounds like someone whom it would be a delight to know. Too bad that I can’t find a picture of her.