Escape from Slavery

Delilah L. Beasley tells this story in her ground-breaking book The Negro Trail Blazers of California:

Robert Anthony came with his master to Sacramento, California, in 1852, from St. Louis, Missouri, by ox team across the plains. Two years to pay for his freedom he worked in the mines by day for his master. At night he worked for himself and with the money thus earned he purchased and built two quartz mills at Horncutt [Honcut], California, which is located between Yuba and Dry Cut.

While working his mills he heard of a colored girl at Hansonville [now Rackerby], in the mountains, who was being held as a slave. She was working as a sheepherder. He drove out to the place and asked her if she did not wish her freedom. She replied: “Yes.” He requested her to get into his wagon and he drove with her to Colusa. Some time afterward this slave girl became his wife. The writer interviewed the subject a few years ago at the poor farm in Marysville, and he made the following remark in regard to his marriage: “The marriage of Miss Addie Taylor to Robert Anthony was witness by Allen Pinkard and Thomas Scott.” He further stated he had an only son, who worked on one of the Hearst papers, but who had forgotten his old father. (p. 90)

The first part of this story is clear enough. Robert Anthony was an enslaved man, like Alvin Coffey, brought by his owner to California to work in the mines. Like Coffey, he was able to earn enough money to purchase his freedom. Unlike Coffey, he had no family in slavery back in Missouri to worry about. At the age of about 40 he married Ida (or Addie) Taylor.

Weekly Colusa Sun 9 September 1870

(“No cards” in this announcement meant that the couple did not wish to receive visits or calling cards from their acquaintances. Perhaps because they were not planning to stay in Colusa.)

They were married on September 9th, 1870, sometime after Robert Anthony rescued her from slavery. How did Miss Taylor come to be held in slavery in California as late as 1869 or ’70?

It’s possible. If she was brought to California before slavery was abolished, and if she was kept isolated, tending sheep in the hills, it could have taken several years before she found out that things had changed. Her owner would have had no incentive to tell her that she was free, and she wouldn’t have had any way to find out, until someone took an interest in her. Even if she did find out, it might be difficult for a poor, vulnerable, uneducated young woman to walk away from the only people and job she knew.

Other than that one marriage announcement, I can’t find Addie in any other record — no birth announcement, no census record, no death record. Robert Anthony shows up occasionally. He was a blacksmith. He moved around — records show him in Colusa, Tehama, Butte, and Yuba Counties. Some time before 1889 Addie must have died, because in that year Robert married again, to Nancy Cooper in Oroville.

Robert Anthony died at the age of 87, a widower, in 1917. He is buried in the Marysville Pioneer Cemetery.

What a shame we don’t know anything more about Addie Taylor’s story. She shows up all too briefly, and then disappears. But what we do know demonstrates the lingering effects of slavery, in the free state of California, well after the war to free the slaves.

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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