NOTE: This finding aid has been flagged for review and is currently under revision (2021-02-11)
This collection consists of materials documenting the financial affairs of Mary Ellen Pleasant, an African American woman
and entrepreneur known as the Mother of Civil Rights in California. 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. Guimaraes.
Mary Ellen Pleasant, referred to as the Mother of Civil Rights in California, was an African American woman who was born a
slave near Augusta, Georgia, in 1814. In the 1840s she married James W. Smith, 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.