The Journal of San Diego History
Fall 1975, Volume 21, Number 4
James E. Moss, Editor
Thomas L. Scharf, Assistant Editor

By Robert L. Carlton

Images from article

For seven decades after California became a part of the United States in 1850, its black population increased at about the same rate as the white population, but remained only about 1 percent of the total.1 During the first years of the Gold Rush, most blacks, like most whites, were in the gold country, and were initially engaged in mining. But as competition for the gold increased, the white miners increasingly froze out blacks,2 as well as Chinese3 and Spanish-speaking miners.4 The blacks who remained in California began to concentrate in San Francisco and Sacramento, and then more heavily in Oakland and Los Angeles in the 1880s.5

San Diego County, however, represented the reverse of this pattern from 1860 to the middle 1880s, blacks settling in the rural areas of the county much more than in the city of San Diego. Of the fifteen blacks listed in the 1870 census for San Diego County, only one lived in the city; of the fifty-five listed in 1880, only three lived in the city. Another difference in San Diego County, although less surprising, was that the percentage of blacks in the population there was lower than in California as a whole between 1850 and 1880. Blacks were generally just under 1 percent of California’s total population, but, until the late 1870s, only about two-tenths of 1 percent of the total population in San Diego County. A third peculiarity of the black population of San Diego County (and indeed of Southern California as a whole) in this period was the relatively large number born in slave states. In Northern California, especially San Francisco, the proportion of blacks born in slave states was much lower.

These variations from the usual pattern arose from several causes, which I will examine later. First, however, a brief outline of the social and legal background of blacks in California is necessary.

Blacks encountered much less racial prejudice and violence at the hands of whites in nineteenth-century California than did the Chinese and the Indians. Nevertheless, the degree of prejudice against blacks was still quite high, generally following patterns established in the other parts of the United States, particularly such Midwestern states as Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa.6 A peculiar development in California was the use of black slaves in the gold mines in the first years of the Gold Rush, which intensified the white miners’ animosity toward blacks. The constitutional debates which led to the exclusion of slavery from the state in 1850 were fueled especially by the miners’ racial prejudice and fear of slave competition.7

There was strong support throughout the 1850s for exclusion of blacks from the state, but repeated attempts to pass exclusion laws failed. Other anti-black laws, however, were enacted in the 1850s, the most important of which prohibited blacks from testifying in court against whites.8California’s Fugitive Slave Law was even harsher than the federal law. It was nullified by a legal decision in 1858, but stayed on the law books until 1867.9 Other laws restricted blacks in such areas as homesteading, racial intermarriage, voting, and education.10 Except for the law against intermarriage, which stayed on the books until 1948,11 these had essentially been repealed by the 1880s. In most parts of the state, however, blacks continued to face rigid customary discrimination in public transportation, theaters, restaurants, and hotels, as well as open hostility on the part of many whites.12 The San Diego area seems to have offered blacks neither much worse nor much better treatment than they found elsewhere.

The population of Southern California as a whole, and San Diego in particular, grew slowly until the 1880s. Despite William Heath Davis’s hopeful attempt at city-building in the 1850s, San Diego remained economically stagnant until the boom of the middle 1880s. Several factors contributed to its slow rate of growth. The basic one was its location: the large expanse of mountains and desert to the east made the building of a railroad difficult and also made San Diego a port without a hinterland. In comparison with the San Francisco and Los Angeles regions, this meant not only less shipping going through the port to supply the surrounding area, but also fewer farmers to help support a railroad to the port. San Diego businessmen finally succeeded in getting railroads in the 1880s, but even then they were only spurs connecting with the main routes to Los Angeles. Also, no important gold strike was made in San Diego County until 1869, in the Julian area, and that caused only a minor boom.

San Diego’s slow economic growth in this period was probably the main reason for the small number of blacks in the county. The city’s population rose only from about 700 in 1850 to about 2600 in 1880. After that it grew more rapidly; but until the 1880s, the population of such places as Marysville and Nevada City-which in the twentieth century have become small towns by comparisonstill far outstripped that of San Diego. Since the rate of expansion in San Diego was so very slow, there was little demand for new labor from outside.

In addition to this basic reason-lack of jobs-blacks may have been discouraged from going to San Diego County by psychological and social reasons. The existence of an established black community was undoubtedly important to a black immigrant to California, surrounded as he was by hostility, open or disguised. Simply being stared at as something unusual is unpleasant to most people and may have a marked psychological effect. A black community supplied companionship-people to talk to who could be trusted with opinions that a black person could not utter in the hearing of whites. The black community might also, in extreme circumstances, mean the difference between life and death for a black man in trouble.

For these reasons, one might expect blacks to have avoided especially the rural areas of the county, which had essentially a frontier character until at least the 1880s. The reverse is true, however: over 90 percent of the blacks in the county lived in the outlying areas in 1870 and 1880. There were no restrictive city ordinances in San Diego in the nineteenth century which might have discouraged blacks from living there, nor is there any record of extraordinary violence directed against them. But the prospects for making a living and for making money in San Diego County in the 1860s and 1870s seem to have been better on the land. The cycle of boomlet-and-bust in San Diego’s early development, especially in the mid-1870s, may have promoted the tendency for new settlers to take up ranching or farming rather than stay in the city. In addition, the discovery of gold near Julian in 1869 was responsible for many blacks’ settling there. As will be seen later, however, they were more involved with raising crops than with mining gold.

It has been often said that one reason for the heavy urban concentration in the northern United States of blacks migrating from the south was their desire to escape from the farm and from farm labor.13 This may well be true, but in California at least the process of urban concentration of the black population was more complicated and probably had other causes.

In many rural parts of California, blacks were a considerable part of the population during the very early period of AngloAmerican settlement, filling a variety of the lower economic niches and often engaging in agriculture.14 They then gravitated toward the larger cities, leaving the mining and agricultural areas ever more exclusively white. This process occurred at different times in different places, depending on the chronology of their settlement and other variables. Generally speaking, however, blacks left rural areas by the end of their frontier period.15 This period in San Diego County lasted at least into the 1880s, and the “whitening” process went forward slowly into the twentieth century. It was eventually very thorough, however, hardly any blacks remaining in the outlying areas of the county in the first half of the new century. Many were absorbed into the white or Indian population, and the rest probably settled in cities.

The third variation in San Diego County from the usual pattern of California’s black population was the almost total absence of Northern blacks, a group which in Northern California accounted for as much as 40 percent of the total between 1860 and 1880.16 In San Francisco in 1860, those born in the North even outnumbered those born in slave states.17 The proportion of Southerners to Northerners increased in San Francisco between 1860 and 1880, but the latter group still accounted for over 20 percent in 1880. (Los Angeles County occupied an intermediate position: Northern-born blacks were 14 and 13 percent of the black population in 1870 and 1880 respectively.) San Francisco’s sophistication and relative similarity to Northern cities were probably the principal causes of this peculiarity. The geographic factor may also have been important: travellers following a direct land route from the South reached Southern California first. There is little information available about the motivations of black immigrants to Southern California, but what few accounts exist indicate that many of the earliest accompanied whites overland from the South, often as slaves.

The influence of place of origin on later developments in the black communities is almost indecipherable in the absence of more extensive evidence. One recent study, however, found no correlation between nativity and the financial or social prominence of San Francisco blacks between 1860 and 1880.18

The most prominent blacks in Los Angeles in this period had come from Georgia and Texas. But the small number of Northernborn blacks in San Diego County up to the 1880s is worth remarking, especially since it contrasts so strongly with the situation in San Francisco. If the pattern continued through the 1890s, it may have been a factor in the development of the somewhat unusual characteristics of San Diego’s black community in the twentieth century.19

At this point I will try to convey, through brief descriptions of three isolated incidents, something of the early racial attitudes of whites in San Diego. Then I will examine the census data in some detail, closing with a brief summary of what I have learned.

In the official report of a grand jury investigating lawlessness in the 1852, the foreman of the jury referred to a group of blacks as “a den of sable animals.” He recommended that “these colored men be compelled to leave our town, unless they be employed in some useful labor.” He thought that they were not so employed, and complained of their drunkenness, adding that “they indulge their brutal appetites by drugging the Indian women who infest our town.” The report also recommended that all Indians be kept to the north of the San Diego River, then the northern boundary of the town.20 An oblique reference in the newspaper the following week gave the impression that these were blacks from the United States, but it is also possible that they were from Mexico.

In 1853 a black laborer, who had worked during the morning on the “Derby Dike” (a short-lived levee to divert the San Diego River away from San Diego Bay), was told that he had to eat his lunch outside the place where the white workers were eating. He refused, saying that if he could not eat with the other workers, he would not work with them. He

then left town. The editor of the San Diego Herald that autumn was the well-known George Derby, whose main job at the time was to supervise the building of the levee. Derby employed intricate sarcasms in relating the incident, making it clear that he found such an attitude ridiculous in a black man.21

The best known illustration of racial prejudice in San Diego involved a lightskinned black woman who did not even live in the area. She was not named in any of the accounts, but worked as a matron on a passenger steamer between San Francisco and San Diego (probably the Orizaba). She had attended Mary Walker, San Diego’s newly-hired schoolteacher, when Miss Walker had suffered from sea-sickness on her way to San Diego in 1865. In May 1866, Mary Walker saw the woman eating crackers and cheese in a general store and invited her to lunch at the Franklin House, one of the principal hotels. The resulting uproar in the community lasted several weeks and almost caused the teacher to be fired. However, at least one member of the school board defended her strongly, and she may have been allowed to resign. At any rate, a new teacher was hired to take her place the next month. It is unclear whether Mary Walker suspected that her action would be so repugnant to San Diegans. She later married E.W. Morse and settled in San Diego, but did not refer to the episode in the articles that she later wrote about her early years in San Diego.22

Although some aspects of this topic require consideration of the county as a whole, I think it is best to go through the census data in two stages, first for the city and then for the rest of the county.23

In San Diego in 1850, the census takers limited themselves to the area immediately around the town. There were very few white settlers outside this area, and probably no blacks. All eight blacks listed in the 1850 census seem to have been either servants or slaves. All but one were listed as residing in white households and some seem to have been traveling with whites; the census takers did not bother to write down complete information for them. No property, real or personal, is listed for any of them, none seems to have been married, and four are listed only by their first name. All were born in slave states except Joseph Cross, whose birthplace was given as Chile.

At this point, a digression is in order, on blacks among the Californios of Spanish and Mexican origin. One of the most interesting facts about the people described in the census as blacks is the virtual absence among them of black Californios: Joseph Cross and Miguel Assisera (who was listed in the 1860 census as having been born in “South America”) were both described as “black” and may have lived in California during the Mexican period. There is no evidence confirming this possibility, however, and I think it more likely that they were among the large number of immigrants from the west coast of South America during the Gold Rush. These were the only two described as blacks in the census for San Diego County who were not of Anglo-American origin. There had been many blacks in California during the Spanish and Mexican periods, but most had been sufficiently assimilated, by a gradual process of social acceptance and intermarriage, to be able to pass into the “Spanish” population at the time of the takeover of the area by the United States, and to some extent before then.24 An unofficial census taken by Anglo-Americans in 1847 listed only three blacks in a total population of 2887.25 Moreover, at least two blacks from the United States are known to have been living in San Diego in 1847.26Evidently, Anglo-Americans accepted the Spanish-speaking blacks from California or Mexico as Californios, subject sometimes to unfair treatment as Californios but not to the much lower status reserved for blacks from the United States.27 Because of the obvious changes in the status of blacks, California provides a unique example of the contrasts in racial attitudes between the Latin American and the Anglo-American societies.

Although not restricted to the upper class, this assimilation of Californios of mixed blood was made easier by the fact that many were wealthy members of the upper class. A Spanish census of 1790 (the last one to designate race) described as “mulata” the grandmother of Pio Pico, the governor of California at the beginning of the AngloAmerican period. Andres Pico, one of Pio’s brothers, was a delegate to the California Constitutional Convention of 1849. He was not recorded as objecting to the anti-black provisions of the Constitution, and he was apparently not affected by them, since he and other Californios of mixed blood held public office in the following decades.28

Because the 1850 census obviously under-counted the population of California (it generally excluded Indians), the state itself took a census in 1852. It was done carelessly, using unexplained abbreviations and giving incomplete information in many cases. Nevertheless, one important fact stands out in the San Diego schedules: only one of the blacks listed in the 1850 census for San Diego reappeared in that of 1852. Also, none from 1850 or 1852 reappeared in 1860, none from 1860 reappeared in 1870, and the one listed in the town in 1870 did not reappear in 1880. So in the city of San Diego, two trends emerge: during the period 1850-1880, blacks seldom appeared in San Diego and seldom stayed for long. As will be seen later, there were some who were more permanent in other parts of the county.

Of course, the censuses give only a “photograph” of the population in the summer of the census year,29 and never include everyone. Also, until the Civil War, a fugitive slave would undoubtedly have preferred not to talk to any white official, and not to tell him the truth, in any case, about his name or place of birth. This reticence may have been characteristic of many blacks, since slave-catchers operated in California and were often unscrupulous about the legal status of blacks, for whom they could claim a bounty in a slave state.30 But even assuming some undercounting, the black population seems likely to have stayed fairly near the level indicated in the censuses. The trend of rapid and complete turn-over of the small black population presented by the censuses is corroborated by the paucity of references in other sources. For instance, the three incidents related above and the two below are almost the only references to blacks in San Diego that I have found while checking several hundred issues of the newspapers of the period. With two exceptions, blacks seem never to have stayed in the city of San Diego for more than two or three years.

The census of 1860 for San Diego listed two black cooks, a miner, and probably one servant. In 1870 the only black listed was a servant. Although the number of blacks in the county as a whole jumped to fifty-five in 1880, there were still only three in San Diego. Alexander Smith worked as a teamster, one of the better jobs open to blacks at the time. He was nineteen years old and the census taker described him as “black.” The only other reference to him is in the Coast County Directory for 1884/85; there, his occupation is not mentioned. Henry Holly Brown ran a saloon and barbered, and was exceptional in that he stayed in San Diego about eleven years (roughly 1872 to 1883). He was described as “mulatto,” and was fifty-one years old in 1880. Brown was married to a Mexican woman, and they had a three-yearold daughter; mother and daughter were both listed as “white.” Of the six “boarders” at his saloon in 1880, four were girls with Spanish names, all sixteen or seventeen years old. One of the “boarders” at another saloon was a girl named Martha, described as “mulatto” and twenty years old. There were many other girls residing in San Diego’s numerous saloons, with no occupation listed and usually called “boarders.” They were evidently prostitutes.

The only other black whom I have found referred to as living in San Diego for several years was James Rankin, who deserves fuller attention. According to a long newspaper article in 1887, Rankin had been a cook in the 1860s on a steamer based in San Francisco, and had married a white woman there.31 The steamer was wrecked in 1870 and the Rankins then came to San Diego, evidently in the late summer of 1870. Rankin took part as a hod-carrier in the building of the Horton House-which was to be the grandest hotel in San Diego for almost two decades-and became its “chief cook” after its completion in October 1870. Sometime in the 1870s he bought three lots on the southeast edge of town for $100, with the deeds in Mrs. Rankin’s name. The Rankins went to Tombstone, Arizona Territory, in 1882, and were divorced there in 1885. Rankin returned to San Diego and was working as a porter in a saloon in 1887, when his former wife came to San Diego and tried to gain sole title to the lots. Strangely, I have not found any reference to this couple in the business directories or other newspapers that I have checked.32 Also, I could not find him in the 1880 census, although, according to the 1887 story, he was so dark that no one would have mistaken his race. If the story is accurate, Rankin was the only black man married to an Anglo-American woman in this period in San Diego.

Meanwhile, as farmers gradually took over the arable land, the population of San Diego County as a whole was growing more steadily than that of the city. The U.S. Army drove the Indians onto reservations in the less desirable parts of the hinterland in 1876 and 1877.33 The population of the county doubled between 1870 and 1880, while the population of San Diego grew only by 15 percent.34 Part of the reason for this gain in population was Julian’s gold boom, but farmers in other areas of the county were responsible for the bulk of the increase.

The first permanent black resident of San Diego County was evidently Nathan-or Nathaniel-Harrison, referred to usually as “Nigger Nate.” He built a cabin halfway up the west slope of Palomar Mountain and settled there sometime between 1848 and 1857. Harrison did not claim the land legally until long after the anti-black provisions of California’s homestead laws had been repealed. He evidently worked on farms over a wide area; his two appearances in the 1880 census35 occurred on widely separated farms, about ten miles miles from Palomar Mountain in different directions. His own “farm” was too rocky to grow much, and it is unclear whether or not he kept any livestock. Until the early 1970s, the road going up the mountain near his cabin appeared on maps as “Nigger Nate Grade.” Harrison died in 1920.

The 1860 census lists two laborers on ranches in San Luis Rey Township as blacks, as well as a vaquero and a farmer in Temecula. Temecula, which remained part of San Diego County until the formation of Riverside County in 1893, was settled relatively early by Anglo-American farmers. The black farmer of 1860, James Brown, owned a 160-acre farm worth $1000. He was married to an Indian woman, but no children were listed.

James Brown does not appear in any records thereafter, although he was only forty years old in 1860, but in 1870 two other black families were farming in Temecula. James Hamilton, forty-nine years old and a widower, was living with his four children on a 160-acre farm worth over $5000, well above the median value of farms in the area. His wife was probably Indian, judging from the names and photographs of his children. In the 1880s Hamilton was forced off his farm by a suit connected with Spanish land grant claims, but he and two of his sons continued to raise cattle in the area to the north, around Anza.36

Jesse Tull’s family was farming on a smaller scale in Temecula in 1870. He may be the “Uncle Jess” mentioned, without a last name, in an article in the San Diego Weekly World in 1872. The article states that “Uncle Jess” was “the first colored man ever summoned as a juror in San Diego County.”37 He was evidently excused after being summoned, since his name does not appear in the list of jurors. Jesse Tull probably died in the 1870s, for his wife Susan was listed in Julian in 1880 as a widow. She and her thirteen-year-old grandson were the only others, in addition to those already mentioned, who appeared in the census in both 1870 and 1880. Susan Tull’s two older daughters did not reappear in 1880, but according to James Jasper, a newspaper editor and pioneer historian, one of the daughters married Albert Robinson in Julian in the 1880s.38 In 1887 this black couple built the Hotel Robinson (known later as the Julian Hotel, and still operating) and they ran it for twenty-eight years. The other four blacks listed in 1870 lived at Poway and Warner’s Ranch.

Frank Frary, who became mayor of San Diego three decades later, referred several times in his diary for 1876 to “Nigar John Moore.” Frary was a young Ohioan recently arrived in San Diego, where relatives- had settled some years earlier. The entries, like others in the diary referring to white men, mention Moore’s “coming by” and sometimes staying overnight at Frary’s ranch, which was evidently in the area of El Cajon. Ranch houses were still scattered at great distances from each other, and a rough and democratic frontier hospitality seems to have been common. The references to Moore in the diary occur only over a period of a few months; there seems to be none in diaries of subsequent years. Although Moore was listed in the 1880 census as a farm laborer in El Cajon, it is unclear whether he had been working occasionally for Frary or just visiting; the former seems more likely.39

There are several striking characteristics of the black population of San Diego County in 1880. First, as mentioned before, the relative increase of blacks in the farming areas, as opposed to the city, paralleled the general increase in the rural population from 1860 to 1880.

Second, of the eight blacks listed as married, two were black women (both described as “mulatto”) married to white men. At least one of them-Ramona Wolf-was part Indian, and many white men had Indian wives at the time. Louis Wolf, who had been born in Alsace, ran a general store at Temecula; he later became postmaster and was important enough to be mentioned in the earliest history of the county.40 Ramona Wolf is reported to have inspired the title of Helen Hunt Jackson’s popular novel Ramona; she was also clearly the prototype of one of the minor characters, Mrs. Jim Hartsel, who is called Mexican in the novel but who in other respects matches Ramona Wolf. The character of Jim Hartsel is clearly based on Wolf. It seems likely that Ramona Wolf was not regarded as a black; the only references to her being black are in the 1850 census for Santa Barbara and the 1880 census for San Diego County.41

If we add Rankin, it appears that three of the nine married blacks in 1880 were married, illegally, to whites. The two women may have generally been considered Indian, but if the newspaper story of 1887 is correct, the unorthodoxy of the Rankin marriage was obvious. The writer of the article expressed surprise at the fact that “the color line was not drawn,” but gave no indication of any legal difficulties concerning the marriage.

Third, almost 60 percent of the blacks in the county lived in the Julian area. The discovery of gold there in 1869 and 1870 is at least part of the reason for this concentration. Fred Coleman, a light-skinned black, started the first Julian gold rush in 1869 by finding gold in a creek subsequently named after him. The discovery of large gold deposits the next year led to a bigger rush, and several mines paid well for some time. In 1880, however, none of the thirty-one blacks in Julian called himself a miner; several were laborers and two-Coleman and Thomas Jackson-were farmers. Coleman was married to an Indian woman and had eleven children. Jackson’s wife was black; they had three children. The Colemans were not mentioned in later references to blacks in the area, however; and the Jacksons seem to have been little esteemed in the community: James Jasper remarks that Jackson’s “only claim to fame was a countless flock of pickaninis that attended the public schools.”42 Later accounts indicate that this sizable black community existed in the Julian area through the 1890s, but that it had essentially disappeared by 1920.

The census lists nine black children as attending school in Julian in 1880,43 and Jasper’s remark, although begrudging, implies that they continued in school after that. In other parts of the county, some black children of school age attended school, while others evidently did not. These references reflect the situation in the state as a whole, where large numbers of black children had begun to attend school in the 1870s. They were generally accorded the right to attend by 1880, although isolated attempts to bar them continued until 1890.

On the whole, there is no evidence of any organized or active opposition to blacks living in San Diego County in this period. The earlier open and violent opposition to such attempts at “social equality” as blacks’ eating with whites had probably lessened by 1880. The open derision of blacks in the newspapers of the 1850s and 1860s diminished in frequency and virulence in the 1870s as San Diego grew larger and more sophisticated.

On the other hand, blacks were restricted in many ways, perhaps the most important being economic. Although not precise enough to be certain, the evidence points to a very low economic position for blacks in San Diego throughout this period. Most of them worked at menial jobs; they were almost all transient, only a handful staying in one place for more than a couple of years. In the censuses which listed property figures (1850, 1860, and 1870), the amounts shown for the blacks are negligible; Hamilton’s ranch is the only exception, and he lost that in the 1880s. They were clearly not accepted as equal members of their communities: the infrequent references to them are patronizing at best and are often derogatory. They were usually referred to only by first name in the reminiscences or diaries of other early residents, and often even in the newspapers. The men were commonly given such identifying and separating titles as “Uncle” or, more often, “Nigger.”

All of these characteristics fitted the general pattern of black-white relationships in California and in the United States as a whole. So, while some demographic features of the small group of blacks in San Diego County were unusual, in the important areas of life their experience was essentially the same as that of blacks elsewhere.



a. California State Census. Total for San Diego not given. Totals do not match because the census takers wrote down incomplete information.

b. This figure is low because the census taker covered mainly the area immediately around San Diego, and because Indians were generally not counted in the 1850 census. Similar discrepancies between white and total population are obvious also in 1852 and 1870.

c. All figures for the black population are derived from the manuscript schedules. d. Missing at least one, Nathan Harrison.

e. Missing at least Nathan Harrison and probably Fred Coleman and those six of his children who were born by 1870. Also, Ramona Wolf, those three of her children born by 1870, and her sister Isabel, all described as white in the 1870 census.

f. The published census volumes for 1880 give the number of blacks in San Diego County as thirteen (e.g. Tenth Census, Compendium, Part I, 338), but careful examination of the manuscript schedules indicates fifty-six persons described as “black” or “mulatto.” Of these, I have excluded one (see note 23), arriving at a total of fifty-five. Also, Margaret Tull was probably missed by the census taker and Isabel Place was probably listed as Indian or white.

g. Of the six people in this category, four were born in Kansas, one in Ohio, and one in Pennsylvania.

h. See note 23 for the uncertainty about this category.

i. See note 43 for information about school attendance.

j. Different places in each census.



1. U.S. Census, 1850-1920; California State Census, 1852; Warren S. Thompson, Growth and Changes in California’s Population (Los Angeles: 1955), 75-76. Because of undercounting in the mining districts, especially of slaves, the actual ratio of blacks to whites may have been somewhat higher in the early 1850s. See note 23 for a description of the scope and reliability of the censuses, and the Table for a tabulation of pertinent census figures for San Diego County.

2. W. Sherman Savage, “The Negro on the Mining Frontier,” Journal of Negro History 30 (January 1945): 34-36, 41; Frank Soule, Annals of San Francisco (New York: 1855), 412.

3. Ping Chiu, Chinese Labor in California, 1850-1880: An Economic Study (Madison, Wisconsin: 1967), x, 10-15; Walton E. Bean, California: An Interpretive History (New York: 1973), 164-165.

4. Leonard Pitt, The Decline of the Californios (Berkeley: 1966), 48-68; Louise A.K. S. Clappe, The Shirley Letters (Santa Barbara, California: 1970; orig. 1854-1855),126-127,142-143; Bean, California, 162-163.

5. U.S. Census, 1850-1900; California State Census, 1852; Commonwealth Club of California, The Population of California (San Francisco: 1946), 146; Savage, “The Negro on the Mining Frontier,” 41; Soule Annals of San Francisco, 412; Warren Beck and David Williams, California: A History of the Golden State (New York: 1972), 280.

6. See the chapter on California in Eugene Berwanger, The Frontier Against Slavery (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1967), 60-77. Berwanger stresses his contention that the white miners’ prejudices resulted mainly from the fact that most of them had grown up in the Old Northwest at a time when prejudice against blacks was very strong. He sees an extremely hostile attitude toward blacks as universal in the West in this period, and traces anti-black legislation in western states to similar legislation in the Old Northwest, particularly in Illinois. See also Gerald Stanley, “Racism and the Early Republican Party: The 1856 Presidential Election in California,” Pacific Historical Review 43 (May 1974): 171-187.

7. On the subject of slavery in California generally, see Delilah L. Beasley, “Slavery in California,” Journal of Negro History 3 (January 1918): 33-54; Savage, “The Negro on the Mining Frontier,” 30-36; Clyde A. Duniway, “Slavery in California after 1848,” Annual Report of the American Historical Association for 1905, 241-248; Rudolph M. Lapp, “The Negro in Gold Rush California,” Journal of Negro History 49 (April 1964): 82-85.

8. James A. Fisher, “The Struggle for Negro Testimony in California, 1851-1863, Southern California Quarterly 51 (1969): 313; Velesta Jenkins, “White Racism and Black Response,” in Charles Wollenberg, Ethnic Conflict in California History (Los Angeles: 1970), 124-127.

9. A. Odell Thurman, “The Negro in California Before 1890” (Master’s thesis, University of the Pacific, 1945), 46; Kenneth G. Goode, California’s Black Pioneers: A Brief Historical Survey (Santa Barbara, California: 1974), 64-65.

10. Goode, California’s Black Pioneers, 73-87.

11. Perez v, Lippold, 32 Cal 198 P2 d17. California Supreme Court, 1948.

12. Delilah L. Beasley, The Negro Trail-Blazers of California (Los Angeles: 1919), 60-64; Goode, California’s Black Pioneers, 78-88.

13. For example, by Theodore W. Schultz, in “Urban Developments and Policy Implications for Agriculture,” Economic Development and Cultural Change 14 (October 1966): 4.

14. James A. Fisher, “A Social History of the Negro in California, 1860-1900” (Master’s thesis, Sacramento State College, 1966),173; Lapp, “The Negro in Gold Rush California,” 86.

15. This contention is based on general reading, on the references cited in notes 2 and 5, and on spot checks of the census manuscript schedules for Lassen, Plumas, El Dorado, and Alpine Counties in 1870 and 1880.

16. Fisher, “A Social History of the Negro in California, 1860-1900,” 175-176; James A. Fisher, “The California Negro, 1860: An Analysis of State Census Returns,” San Francisco Negro Historical and Cultural Society, Monograph No. 4 (December 1965); Francis M. Lortie, San Francisco’s Black Community, 1870-1890: Dilemmas in the Struggle for Equality; A Thesis (San Francisco: R and E Research Associates, 1973), 49. For reasons mentioned below (inaccurate information given by respondents), the 1860 figures may be distorted in the categories of Northern and foreign birth, but the distortion seems unlikely to be more than 5 percent.

17. Fisher, “A Social History of the Negro in California, 1860-1900,” 176.

18. Lortie, San Francisco’s Black Community, 1870-1890, 28-29.

19. Because of the scarcity of information about San Diego blacks after 1880 (see note 23), it is unclear whether this pattern continued. The few that I know about in the 1880s were also born in slave states, however. This uncertainty will be resolved when the 1900 census schedules become available.

20. San Diego Herald, 17 April 1852; brought to my attention by Henry Schwartz.

21. San Diego Herald, 1 October 1853.

22. This episode is fully described in Henry Schwartz, “The Mary Walker Incident,” Journal of San Diego History 19 (Spring 1973): 14-20. Schwartz suggests that the matron may have been Margaret Ogden, a San Francisco black woman working on the Orizaba at the time.

23. The basic source of information for the period is the U.S. Census. The manuscript schedules for the Seventh through the Tenth Censuses (1850 through 1880) give information including name, race, occupation, and birthplace. The 1850 census gives the value of real estate owned, and the 1860 and 1870 censuses give both real and personal property valuations; the 1880 census gives no financial information. For total population figures in the county and the state, I have used the published volumes of the censuses. The large unexplained discrepancy for 1880 (see Table, note.) is, surprisingly enough, the only discrepancy that I have found between the schedules and the published volumes. Photographic copies of the manuscript schedules for 1850 and 1870, the originals for 1860, and a microfilm for 1880 are available in the San Diego Historical Society Library, Serra Museum, San Diego.

The information given in these schedules cannot, of course, always be taken at face value. For instance, the classification by race or color is sometimes doubtful. The five members of the Hamilton family were described in 1870 as “black” and in 1880 as “mulatto.” This might be attributed to upward mobility, but it may also represent a change in procedure by the Census Bureau or by the census takers, since all fourteen blacks outside San Diego in 1870 were described as “black,” and the one in the city as “colored.” The usual designation of “mulatto” was not used at all in San Diego County in 1870, although printed as usual at the head of the race column on the schedules. Also, at least one of the people described in 1880 as “mulatto” was of European and Polynesian parentage; I excluded him from my tabulation. No such obvious case occurs in the earlier censuses; but since the forms listed no abbreviations for other racial groups than white, “black,” “mulatto,” Indian, and sometimes Chinese, the possibility of others’ being called “black” or “mulatto” exists throughout. Nevertheless, judging from names, birthplaces, and parentage, I think all the others in my tabulations are, in fact, blacks. (See Jesse S. Douglas, “Origins of the Population of Oregon in 1850,” Pacific Northwest Quarterly 41 (April 1950): 95-108, for an example of hundreds of non-blacks’ being described as “mulatto” and then being tabulated in the published volumes of the census as “Negroes.” I have also found similar cases in the Los Angeles and Santa Barbara censuses, but in none of them was the mistake carried over into the published volumes.)

Even less trustworthy are the columns headed “Cannot Read” and “Cannot Write.” The census takers seem often to have ignored these columns. It is probably safe to assume that a person was illiterate if the blanks are checked, but not to assume that unchecked blanks necessarily mean that he was literate. For instance, Nathan Harrison appears twice in the 1880 census (after being missed in 1860 and 1870). The first time, he is listed as unable to read; the second time, both blanks are unmarked.

Harrison’s responses also differed slightly as to his age, marital status, birthplace, and parents’ birthplace. These descrepancies probably resulted either from Harrison’s not knowing and not caring, or from his having a little fun with the U.S. Census, and not from carelessness on the part of the census taker. Still, they indicate that many other entries may be equally unreliable. (There is no doubt that the two “Nathan Harrisons” listed were the same man, interviewed by different census takers in different places a week apart. Harrison often gave contradictory information about himself. See the Serra Museum Library Biography File on him, which includes several twentieth-century newspaper articles and Harrison’s voter-registration forms.)

Another source of error in the census is undercounting. Besides the probable instances of this mentioned in the notes to the Table, there must be others, especially in the earlier years. The 1880 census seems especially thorough and complete, but it is difficult to check, for two reasons. First, the 1890 manuscript schedules for California—and for most of the rest of the United States-were destroyed by fire in Washington, some time after having been tabulated for the published volumes. Second, the regional and city business directories which began to be published in the 1880s at first listed almost no blacks.

Even considering these failings, I have a higher opinion now of the reliability of the censuses than when I started reading the forms. Given the difficulties involved, the census takers in general did a thorough and conscientious job in the basic columns of the schedules. They clearly did not see themselves as obliged to fill in every column for every person, however, and often differed from each other in race designations and in other ways.

24. This process of assimilation occurred throughout Mexico, but seems to have been more pronounced in the northern borderlands. See David J. Weber, Foreigners in Their Native Land (Albuquerque: 1973), 17-18; and Gonzalo Aguirre Beltran, La poblacion negra de Mexico, 1519-1810(Mexico: 1946), 200.

25. William E. Smythe, History of San Diego, 1542-1908 (San Diego: 1908), 255.

26. David J. Weber, “A Black American in San Diego,” Journal of San Diego History 20 (Spring 1974): 29-35.

27. Jack D. Forbes,”Black Pioneers: the Spanish-Speaking Afro-Americans of the Southwest,” Phylon (1966): 233-246; Royce D. Delmatier, et al.,The Rumble of California Politics, 1848-1970 (New York: 1970), 5-7. See also Thomas. Rylan Darnall to James Darnall, 18 October 1855, inHistorical Society of Southern California, Annual Publication (1934): 58-65, for a contemporary expression of surprise at the number of Californians of black ancestry in San Diego.

28. Jack D. Forbes, Afro-Americans in the Far West (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1970),14-20 passim.

29. The period of census taking was cut in 1880 to one month, June.

30. Kenneth Stampp, The Peculiar Institution (New York: 1956),153.

31. San Diego Union, 28 July 1887.

32. These directories are somewhat haphazard in their listings, however. Of the business directories that I have checked, only the one for San Diego of 1889/90 identifies blacks as such consistently. I found only six of the fifty-five blacks who had appeared in the 1880 census in one or another of the directories of the 1880s, including a cook and a teamster whom I did not expect to find, but not others (Such as the hotel-owners of the late 1880s in Julian) whom I did expect to find, on the basis of their prominence in the business community.

33. Richard Pourade, The History of San Diego, 6 vols. (San Diego: 1960-1967),4:146.

34. This trend was reversed in the 1880s: according to the 1890 census, the county’s population as a whole had increased since 1880 by 400 percent, while San Diego’s population had increased by 600 percent.

35. See note 23 for more information about Harrison.

36. There were many such suits in north San Diego County at that time. For a detailed account of the Hamiltons, see the chapter on them in Lester Reed, Old-Timers of Southeastern California (Redlands, California: 1967). This book also contains a valuable chapter on some black cowboys of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties.

37. San Diego Weekly World, 17 August 1872.

38. James A. Jasper, “Trail-Breakers and History-Makers … in San Diego County, California,” 2 vols. (unpub. ms., ca. 1930); typescript, 2:182 ff.

39. Several of Frary’s diaries are in the Serra Museum Library. Beasley mentions a John Moore (Negro Trail-Blazers of California, 103, 131), giving the impression that he came to San Diego in the 1850s. She also gives that impression in regard to six other blacks whom she mentions in connection with San Diego. However, since I have found nothing on five of the seven in the censuses, directories, or other sources, I think that most of them actually arrived in San Diego later, probably after 1890.

40. History of San Bernardino and San Diego Counties, California (San Francisco: W. W. Elliott and Co., 1883), 150, 202. This is one of several large histories, some on San Diego County alone, published after 1883. These contain some useful source material, but none is a coherent history. They consist principally of physical descriptions of the area and of biographical sketches of prominent men. Also, because almost all of them were written to encourage immigration and investment in the area, they tended to avoid subjects that might discourage potential investors or immigrants. Therefore, reflecting the spirit of the times, they almost totally ignored minority groups.

41. San Diego History Center Library, Biography File, Serra Museum, “Ramona Wolf.” Ramona Wolf’s father, William Place, was listed in 1850 and 1852 in the Santa Barbara census. He was a cook and was described as “mulatto” in both years; in 1850 he gave his birthplace as New York and in 1852 as St. Vincent, in the West Indies. His wife Maria was listed only in the 1852 census and was described as an Indian, born in California.

42. Jasper, “Trail-Breakers,” 2:182. The Jackson family presumably continued to grow after 1880.

43. The census column for school attendance asked for those under seventeen years of age who had “attended school within the last year,” matching the impreciseness of the literacy columns. It does seem to show, however, that there was no open or systematic restriction of attendance by black children.


Robert L. Carlton studied German and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley, and received his Master’s degree in Comparative Literature in 1965. After a year’s travel, he taught in the English Department at Western Washington State College for four years, and is currently working toward his Master’s degree in United States History at San Diego State University. His article published here was an award-winning paper presented at the San Diego History Center’s 1974 Institute of History. Illustrations are from the Historical Collections, Title Insurance and Trust Company, San Diego, and the San Diego History Center.