This collection consists of materials documenting the financial affairs of Mary Ellen ("Mammy") Pleasant, an African American
woman and entrepreneur known as the Mother of Civil Rights. Items include a small autograph note; a signed promissory note;
three handwritten letters from A. P. Overton, president of the Savings Bank of Santa Rosa (California), to Pleasant; and three
handwritten copy letters from Pleasant to Overton. All items concern a promissory note for $3,000 and a mortgage to a Mrs.
Mary Ellen ("Mammy") Pleasant, called the Mother of Civil Rights, was an African American woman who was born a slave near
Augusta, Georgia, in 1814. In the 1840s she married James W. Smith, a wealthy mulatto, who died suddenly between 1844 and
1848. In the 1850s, she became the wife of John James Pleasance (the name was later anglicized to "Pleasant"). In 1852,
to escape persecution under the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, she moved to San Francisco and ran her own boardinghouse. The
money she earned was used to aid runaway slaves, provide legal assistance to them, and acquire numerous other businesses in
California. Pleasant became an expert capitalist, amassing a $30,000,000 fortune with her secret partner, Thomas Bell, a
Scotsman. In 1858 she decided to return to the East Coast to help her former brother-in-law gain his freedom from slavery
and to work with abolitionist John Brown. She continued to fight for this cause even after the Emancipation Proclamation
and the California Right-of-Testimony (the right to testify in court) were promulgated in 1863. In 1883 she even helped
challenge the powerful Senator William Sharon in a highly publicized human rights case. Mary Ellen Pleasant died in 1904.
Property rights reside with the University of California. These materials are in the public domain. For permissions to reproduce
or to publish, please contact the Head of Special Collections and University Archives.