Minority Experience Throughout The 1848 California Gold Rush

By: Kyle Laguerre

During the 19th century many Americans sought out wealth through means of westward expansion.  With this expansion came new opportunity for many because of the abundant untapped natural resources, both renewable and nonrenewable.  In 1848 after James W. Marshall discovered there was gold in California, many flocked there in search of fortune (Parsons 82).   It is noted that globally “gold fever” was nothing new and that it was not exclusive to California, but it is important to recognize that it transformed the would be state into something entirely new at the time (Tuckerman).  As opposed to many of the rural areas in the central United States California flourished because the gold attracted permanent settlers looking for work, wealth, and land.

Over the next two years California presented freedom for all kinds of people in large part because it had yet to officially be declared a state of the United States until 1850. In comparison to American migrations preceding 1848, the gold had attracted white, black, and Asian men, not just in America but across the globe.   The diversity brought on by the gold rush made California on par with major cities like New York in terms of ethnicity the variety of races occupying the state.  It was recorded “about seventy percent of all immigrants in these years remained as permanent residents” (Roske 188). This residence meant gave minorities somewhat of a presence and granted them some rights  not available in the American east. The diversity had lasting influence on California’s constitution which rejected the practice of slavery outside of legal punishment.  While this presented some assistance in maintaining equality, it did not stop the implementation of legislation the banning black people from attending school with white children or the law banning black, Asian, and Native American testimony against white people at the time (CA Dept. of Education).

During the Gold Rush there were plenty of European immigrants who did not speak English, but for many Americans their intolerance of race superseded their intolerance over differences in nationality. It is stated during the early 1850s that the nativism fueled bigotry previously directed towards the Latin and French emigrants “metamorphosed into a racism against African Americans and Chinese, whose skin color and other phenotypical features differed from those of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants” (Chan 67).  This had much to do with the perceived ‘levels of whiteness’ these races reflected.

Despite the discrimination and oppression faced by minorities in California, there were still plenty who acquired enough earnings from the Gold Rush to improve the lives of their families as well as their own.  It was stated that “blacks in California sent about three-quarter million dollars to their loved ones in the early 1850s to purchase the latter’s freedom” (Chan 68).  Although plenty took up permanent residence in the US, many the Chinese working men were collecting money in order to return home with fortune.  This was significant because it shows that many of the men driven by the Gold Rush were driven by the chance to grant their families better qualities of life.  While plenty of men were just looking to selfishly get rich quick, the overall sense of community in the minority communities helped them rise above the racism and claim a stake in the American landscape they could call their own.



Works Cited

Parsons, George Frederic. “The Life and Adventures of James W.” 1870. EBSCOhost, login.proxy.libraries.rutgers.edu/login?url=https://search-ebscohost-com.proxy.libraries.rutgers.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edshtl&AN=njp.32101078192398&site=eds-live.

Roske, Ralph J. “The World Impact of the California Gold Rush 1849-1857.” Arizona and the West, vol. 5, no. 3, 1963, pp. 187–232. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40167071.

“Key Points in Black History and the Gold Rush.” Key Points in Black History and the Gold Rush – Instructional Materials (CA Dept of Education), www.cde.ca.gov/ci/hs/im/didyouknow1.asp.

H.T., Tuckerman. “The Gold Fever.” [“Godey’s Lady’s Book”]. Godey’s Lady’s Book, 01 Mar. 1849.

Chan, Sucheng. “A People of Exceptional Character: Ethnic Diversity, Nativism, and Racism in the California Gold Rush.” California History, vol. 79, no. 2, 2000, pp. 44–85. JSTOR, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/25463688.

Varying Perceptions on the Civil War Experience

By: Kyle Laguerre

When it comes to the commemoration of the Civil War, there has been a difference in realizing the varying experiences of the war, not just through death but life as well.  As a result conflict consistently arises when discussing what parts of the war deserve to be commemorated.  This conflict is primarily caused due to the varying experiences northerners, southerners, and people of color have had involving the Civil War and the impact it has had on their communities.   While many white southerners see statues as a way of preserving their southern culture, African Americans are reminded of a time when they were seen as less than human.  As a result conflict over Civil War commemoration has erupted into a protest in more recent years

During the Civil War, American citizens were forced to handle death and burial in ways that deviated from the norm prior to the war.  For many American families the remains of dead family members were buried together within close proximity to each other, but due to the brutality of the Civil War many soldiers’ bodies remained irretrievable and unidentifiable (Faust 212).  As a result people on both sides of the conflict decided it was appropriate to honor the soldiers who died on both sides of the conflict especially those they could not identify (135).  Despite this the northerners and southerners in power after the Civil War who were primarily white, left of many soldiers of color when it came time to honor soldiers with statues and monuments in recognition of their hardships.  The 180,000 black soldiers who fought in the Civil War faced discrimination, inequality, and were used as cannon fodder, because they were seen as less than on both sides (44).  Because of this, informed African Americans have taken offence and action in response to the lack of commemoration in the north and glorification of Confederates who fought to enslave them in the south.

In modern day, America has yet to find a way of commemorating the Civil War in a way where most people are satisfied with the result.  Many American southerners state the Confederate Army fought for freedom of rights and deny slavery was the main motivation of the Civil War.  As a result the racist foundation reinforced by the Confederates’ actions still affect the American south today, and the lack of acknowledgement limits discussion on how they should be properly commemorated.   Concerning the removal of Confederate memorials I think there is a place for them in society were more historical context can be provided like a museum.  Places like museums and cemeteries provide information through tours and historically recorded content. This is much more constructive in comparison to general public settings where many of these statues yield a blind devotion and reside without unbiased context.  While the leading motivation of the Confederate Army was to preserve the heinous practice of slavery, it would not be beneficial to simply pretend it did not exist.  Destroying Confederate memorials would be like covering up history and in turn could end possible conversations and acknowledgements of wrong doing.

Even though the Confederate monuments have been deemed offensive to African Americans, there are ways to utilize said monuments in order to appease them and Southerners who feel their history should be preserved.  Although it may not change everyone’s opinions on the Confederate figures, providing a proper historical context of their right and wrongdoings with their preexisting monuments allows for more openness towards the viewpoints on opposing sides.  With the understanding that can take place among the groups, dialogue can be opened to find new ways of respecting everyone’s history.

Works Cited:

Faust, Drew Gilpin. This Republic of Suffering : Death and the American Civil War. New York :Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.

Harriet Jacobs’ Account of Sexual Abuse

By: Kyle Laguerre

Harriet Jacobs was born a black enslaved person, but eventually managed to escape to freedom.  In her autobiography Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, the chapters titled “The Trials of Girlhood” and “The Jealous Mistress” are significant because of the attention it brings to the commodification and exploitation of enslaved women’s sexuality.   While some narratives mention sexual abuse, they tend to leave out the details from the enslaved women’s perspective. This tends to happen because many of these accounts are either taken from the male perspective or were too painful for female authors to recount in full detail.  Jacobs’ narrative is unique because it provides a first person account into the events leading to the sexual abuse of enslaved women and how social dynamics affected its occurrence.  She goes on to describe these occurrences as such:

“She listens to violent outbreaks of jealous passion, and cannot help understanding what is the cause. She will become prematurely knowing in evil things. Soon she will learn to tremble when she hears her master’s footfall. She will be compelled to realize that she is no longer a child. If God has bestowed beauty upon her, it will prove her greatest curse” (Jacobs 45-46)

This account shows how young enslaved girls lost their innocence far too early just from bearing witness to the sexual abuse that would take place around them. As a result many enslaved women learned how to use their sexuality to their advantage. These advantages ranged from leniency when it came to work and the higher probability that they could keep their children especially if they happened to be father by the slave master.  In Sarah Sherman’s analysis of Jacobs’ narrative she states “The ideology of woman’s innate “piety, purity, submis- siveness and domesticity” could be a significant weapon against male aggression, but it also opened new areas of vulnerability” (170). She is saying that through the submission of the enslaved women’s sexuality they could use that to their own advantage against the men who enslave them.  Jacobs actually gained the ability to read by entertaining the sexual advances of Dr. Flint, the man who had enslaved her, which she recounts stating:

“One day he caught me teaching myself to write. He frowned, as if he was not well pleased, but I suppose he came to the conclusion that such an accomplishment might help to advance his favorite scheme. Before long, notes were often slipped into my hand. (Jacobs 49-50)



A visit from old mistress

A Visit From Old Mistress:  This painting was created by Winslow Homer in 1876, over a decade after the conclusion of the American Civil War.  Through the painting Homer intended to reflect the relationship between slave women and their former master, now mistress.  This piece displays the lasting effects of the structural power dynamic that took place during slavery. While these women are technically free and employed by the mistress the same oversight occurred during slavery still takes place.  The situation in painting relates to the Trials of Girlhood and the Jealous Mistress chapters in Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, because both highlight how slave women found solace in each other and how the women of the free households would often keep tabs on them, often fearing them as sexual competition.

While the toleration of sexual advances might have granted leniency in non-sexual ways from the men in the households, enslaved women gained the scorn of their wives and mistresses in turn.  Jacobs was not outwardly forced to participate in sexual behavior, but was consistently harassed by Dr. Flint.  This was mainly because Flint wanted to save face around his wife and the people they had enslaved, especially since Jacobs was closer in age to his own children. Concerning relations between the women they enslaved, saving face was not uncommon among many slave masters.  While it was frowned upon, it was such a common practice that many mistresses would take it out on the enslaved women, despite the fact the vast majority were unwilling participants.  Jacobs describes this hypocrisy stating:

“The mistress, who ought to protect the helpless victim, has no other feelings towards her but those of jealousy and rage” (Jacobs 45)

Overall Adrienne Davis states it best when she says “The political economy of slavery systemically expropriated black women’s sexuality and reproductive capacity for white pleasure” (105).  This systemic abuse created a damaging lasting effect on the way black women were perceived sexually.  Slave narratives like Jacobs’ are so important because they dismantle the negative perceptions surrounding black women by showing how they have been victims for generations.


Jacobs, Harriet A. “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself, ed. Jean Fagan Yellin.” Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press80 (1987): 44-58.

Sherman, Sarah Way. “Moral Experience in Harriet Jacobs’s “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl”.” NWSA Journal 2, no. 2 (1990): 167-85. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4316015.

Davis, Adrienne. “‘Don’t Let Nobody Bother Yo’Principle’: The Sexual Economy of American Slavery.” Sister circle: Black women and work (2002): 103-27.

Fractured Family Dynamic of a Slave

By: Kyle Laguerre

Separation of family members was a prevalent part of the slave trade.  Even though many slave masters fathered children with the women they enslaved, these children were treated as chattel due to the fact freedom was determined by the freedom of the mother.  Despite the fact many of these biracial enslaved persons had a lighter complexion, European heritage, and were their master’s own offspring they were not exempt from the injustices of slavery. In William Craft’s slave narrative Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom he describes this injustice occurring with his biracial wife Ellen, who was also an person, stating:

“Notwithstanding my wife being of African extraction on her mother’s side, she is almost white–in fact, she is so nearly so that the tyrannical old lady to whom she first belonged became so annoyed, at finding her frequently mistaken for a child of the family, that she gave her when eleven years of age to a daughter, as a wedding present” (2).


Ellen Craft’s disguise when escaping North to freedom.

Because of her similarity to her half-siblings Ellen is separated from her mother due to her step-mothers spite. Later in life, Ellen used her lighter complexion to disguise herself as a white man to escape with her husband to freedom. Instances of separation were not uncommon at all in slave trade of the American south. Laws and general attitudes during the 1800s reinforced such practices by giving slave holders the rights over the lives of enslaved persons, to the degree that using them for sexual pleasure and selling their own children was common practice. Craft states that:

“Any man with money (let him be ever such a rough brute), can buy a beautiful and virtuous girl, and force her to live with him in a criminal connexion; and as the law says a slave shall have no higher appeal than the mere will of the master, she cannot escape, unless it be by flight or death.”(16)

This attitude was perpetuated because of how the cruelty of slavery was downplayed during the 1800s. In America slavery was an institution built on contradictions and self-justification.  Besides the monetary value, one of the justifications used to argue for the necessity of slavery was that enslavement was allowing slave masters to elevating black people through religion and labor, because they could not help themselves. As absurd as the notion is, it was one of the reasons used by many religious slave owners to justify the use of black people as enslaved persons.    In Walter Johnson, Turning People into Products he discusses how slave owners needed to find ways to justify the cruelty of slavery.  He goes on to state that this is why slave traders would use proslavery rhetoric to reinforce their justifications, and craft narratives like the amputation of a enslaved persons’ fingers being performed out of mercy rather than punishment (127).  Craft exposes this hypocrisy by providing his own personal account:

“My old master had the reputation of being a very humane and Christian man, but he thought nothing of selling my poor old father, and dear aged mother, at separate times, to different persons, to be dragged off never to behold each other again, till summoned to appear before the great tribunal of heaven” (9).


Mother separated with her child at slave auction

Through his narrative Craft exposes much injustices and hypocrisy that occurred with slavery especially when it came to the treatment of black women and separation of families.  Through the telling of his wife’s experience, he even confirms that those who even share the same blood as their oppressors were not exempt from the injustices faced by enslaved persons.  Although they did not face extreme physical abuse, the scars of separation left a lasting effect on William and Ellen when deciding to start a family and acted as their driving force to escape to freedom.