Slavery in Butte County

Even though California was a free state, slavery certainly existed here. Slaveholders brought their slaves with them from the South, and they did everything they could to hold on to their “property.”

Chico Record 18 October 1917

But were slaves bought and sold in California?*

Up until now I hadn’t seen much proof, but I am not surprised to find out that it happened, as evidenced by this article in the Chico Record, October 18th, 1917. It actually must have happened a lot, as men came and went in the goldfields.

The article says that “two negro slaves” were brought to California from Texas (probably in 1849) and in 1850 they were sold to the owner of a mining claim at Bidwell Bar. The two black men didn’t have any say in the transaction, of course.

They are described as “good workmen” and since their price was $2400 each, they were valuable workers indeed. $2400 today would be about $59,400, according to Measuring Worth.

It’s likely that their “owner” took the gold that they mined and the money he made from selling them, and headed back to Texas with his profits.

The article notes that “there is no record of their history after that” but they had a better chance of getting their freedom in California than they would have had in Texas.

The other transaction recorded in this article is of a servant sold to satisfy a southern man’s debt. Again, the man who was sold didn’t have any say in the matter. He was sold for $600, a more typical price. Alvin Coffey was trying to earn $600 so that he could buy himself, that being what his “owner” had paid for him.

I haven’t gone to the Butte County Hall of Records to look up this transaction but that is something that would be worth doing.

My thanks to Craig Wisti, who posted this item on Facebook in the Butte County Pictures and Information feed.

*In this post I am only writing about African American slavery. Native California Indians, especially children, were bought and sold, and women were sex-trafficked.

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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1 Response to Slavery in Butte County

  1. Nosey Bear says:

    I saw Craig West’s post and captured this information into my Bidwell database. While I always like new information this was a sad addition. Thanks for your added information.

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