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Santa Cruz County History - Cultural Diversity
To Know My Name: A Chronological History of African Americans in Santa Cruz County
by Phil Reader
PART 2: CHRONOLOGY 1542-1860
CALIFORNIA COAST 1542
When Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo first sighted the coast of California, there were crewmen of African ancestry aboard his vessel.
THE PACIFIC RIM 1565+
The Manila Galleons, Spanish trading ships making yearly commercial voyages to the east Asia region, also had a compliment of Negro sailors.
MONTEREY BAY 1602
On December 16, 1602, Sebastian Vizcaino, a Spanish merchant-adventurer, sailed into Monterey Bay on a voyage of discovery. One able-bodied seaman, who was among those to make first landfall, was said to have been of African ancestry.
MONTEREY BAY 1770
"The Sacred Expeditions" under Padre Junipero Serra arrived aboard the San Antonio to establish a mission. Two members of the crew were Alexo Nuno and Ignacio Ramirez, both former slaves of African descent.
MONTEREY BAY 1770
The Presidio of Monterey was founded and became the governmental center of Alta California, the northernmost province of New Spain.
UNITED STATES 1776
The thirteen colonies in British North America declared themselves to be a sovereign nation free from the rule of the monarchy.
SANTA CRUZ 1791
The Santa Cruz Mission was founded on August 28 1791 by Father Fermin Lasuen.
SANTA CRUZ 1797
The Pueblo de Branciforte was established on the bluffs above the east bank of the San Lorenzo River.
MONTEREY BAY 1818
Hippolyte de Bouchard, a French privateer, flying the flag of Argentine, sailed up the coast and sacked Monterey, the capital city of Alta California. Many of those aboard his two vessels were Africans.
The Mexican nation was created when the area known as New Spain declared its independence from the Spanish Empire. Alta California remained a province, with Monterey as its capital.
SANTA CRUZ 1835
Allen Light, a free black and native of Virginia, who was a crew member of the Pilgrim, (the ship which carried Richard Henry Dana), jumped ship at Santa Barbara and became a famous otter hunter. Known as "Black Steward", he explored the California coast, including Monterey Bay, where he probed the Pajaro, Soquel and San Lorenzo rivers in quest of pelts. He was the first African American to set foot in the land which one day would be Santa Cruz County.
Joseph McAfee, a former slave from Kentucky and Missouri, came west to California in the wake of John C. Fremont's expedition, settling first in Solano County. In 1846, he joined the Bear Flag Party when they marched on General Mariano Vallejo at Sonoma. This event began the struggle which ended with the conquest of California by the Americans in 1848.
Pio Pico, a Mexican political leader of African ancestry, became governor of Alta California.
SANTA CRUZ 1848
Jim Beckwourth, free born native of Virginia, led a life of unparalleled adventure as a mountain man, trapper, Indian chief, Indian fighter, scout, businessman and horse thief. In 1848, he led a party west to California via the Santa Fe Trail. For a time, Beckwourth carried the express mail between Nipomo and Monterey. While on the central coast, Beckwourth took time to explore the Santa Cruz region.
With the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, marking the end of the Mexican American War, Mexico ceded the lands of California to the United States. A few scant weeks later gold was discovered at Sutter's mill.
SANTA CRUZ 1848
The town of Santa Cruz came into being as a American settlement on the west bank of the San Lorenzo River.
SANTA CRUZ CO. 1849
Daniel Rodgers arrived at the Pajaro Valley with his master from Arkansas on their way to the gold fields. They worked on the Amesti ranch and cut redwoods in the mountains above Soquel before continuing on to the mines. By 1852, they were back in Arkansas where Rodgers earned his freedom and prepared to lead a wagon train of his neighbors out west to the Pajaro Valley.
Countless numbers of African Americans, both free and slave, traveled to California in quest of gold. Many would later settle in Santa Cruz County. They include, among others, Robert Francis, Joseph Smallwood, George Chester, London Nelson [a.k.a Louden Nelson], James Brodis, Dave Boffman and Jim Nelson.
California was admitted to the union as a free state although the Fugitive Slave Law was enforced during the first few years of statehood. A legislature dominated by southerners refused African Americans the right of testimony, equal educational opportunity, etc.
The 1850 U. S. Census revealed no identifiable African Americans living in Santa Cruz County.
Jim Brodis ran away from his master while mining on the Yuba River. He escaped to the Pajaro Valley where he worked for J. Bryant Hill and William F. White. Vowing never to return to his native Kentucky, he hid out until after Emancipation. Jim later purchased a farm on the Santa Cruz road near the Pioneer cemetery. There is a street in the area named in his honor.
James Watson, for whom Watsonville is named and the first county judge, arrived at the Pajaro Valley with " his slave Jim". Although legend has it that Jim earned his freedom in the mines, what became of him is unknown.
MONTEREY BAY 1852
A band of outlaws, led by a renegade black man-- probably a runaway slave- prowled about the Monterey Bay region, running off hundreds of head of horses and cattle. After they massacred more than a dozen people at the San Luis Gonzaga ranch, the gang was chased south by a vigilance committee.
The 1852 California Census showed no African Americans living in Santa Cruz County.
The town of Watsonville came into being as a settlement at the ford of the Pajaro River.
SANTA CRUZ 1852
Dave Boffman, after earning his freedom in the mines, moved to the Santa Cruz mountains where he rented a sawmill. He later owned farms in Rodeo Gulch and on Vine Hill. He was the first Black to buy land in Santa Cruz County.
The Franchise League was organized in San Francisco for the express purpose of gaining the right of testimony for Negro citizens.
Robert Johnson and his family settled in Watsonville, being the first of Daniel Rodgers' Arkansas River Valley group to arrive. Johnson bought a large section of land in the East Lake district with the help of pioneers such as Sanborn, Alexander, Cooper, Martinelli and other like-minded liberal whites.
The James Anthony family, a Black family who operated a inn and ferry service on the Salinas River, were massacred by a band of desperadoes.
A series of Colored Citizens Conventions were held at San Francisco and Sacramento aimed at securing citizenship enfranchisement for African Americans. Santa Cruz was represented by William H. Mills and later, Philip Bell. Joseph Smallwood, who represented El Dorado county at the meetings, moved to Santa Cruz in 1868.
SANTA CRUZ 1856
London Nelson [a.k.a Louden Nelson], born in North Carolina, relocated to Santa Cruz after gaining his freedom in the mines. He earned a meager living doing odd jobs while growing fruit and vegetables on his home site on Water Street.
Lewis Bardin, a slave of the James Bardin family, was brought to California where he worked as a servant in the Bardin household at Salinas. After ducking out on his old master, he farmed a few acres in the Corralitos district.
As an offshoot of the Colored Citizens Convention, The San Francisco Mirror of the Times, the first Black newspaper on the west coast, began publication.
SANTA CRUZ 1857
George Chester, native of Philadelphia, located in Santa Cruz for a short time before moving on to San Jose where he farmed a tract of land near Gilroy. In 1862, he returned to Santa Cruz and opened up a series of small businesses.
John Derrick, a recently freed slave, and another of the Arkansas River Valley group, arrived at Watsonville to join Robert Johnson. He took Up farming and awaited the arrival of Daniel Rodgers. He would later marry one of Rodgers' daughters and raise a large, very successful family.
SAN JUAN 1858
Ishmael Williams, a club-footed ex-slave from Georgia arrived in eastern Monterey county, later San Benito county. He established himself at San Juan where he entered into business. The 1860 census appraised his real and personal property at over $10,000. However, as the result of a bad marriage, he lost his capital and found work as a teamster at the New Idria Quicksilver Mines, hauling the Cinnabar to Alviso. He became well known through out the area.
A few black children were allowed seats in the primary school by the teacher Dr. William Miller. But after a number of white parents complained, the children had to be removed and were taught in private homes.
The Archy Lee fugitive slave case draws much needed attention to the problem of runaway slaves. It also sparks another round of Black activism. As a result, Lee was given his freedom and the Fugitive Slave law was no longer enforced in California.
Richard Campbell, an ex-slave from Alabama, who had come west to California in '49, settled in the Pajaro Valley. For 33 years, he was employed as the janitor for the Bank of Watsonville.
SANTA CRUZ CO. 1860
The 1860 U. S. Census revealed that there were 32 African Americans living in Santa Cruz County.
SANTA CRUZ 1860
Black jockeys and trainers began to appear at the horse racing track located near what is now Lighthouse Point.
Daniel Rodgers arrived at the Pajaro Valley after a year-long ox cart journey across the plains. He bought with him his family and the news that a large number of other families would be following him from Arkansas. He quickly assumed the leadership of a flourishing African American community in Watsonville.
SANTA CRUZ 1860
London Nelson [a.k.a Louden Nelson] died after a long illness. In his Will, he left his entire estate to the school children of Santa Cruz to be used for the enhancement of their education. His gift made it possible for the public school to reopen after white citizens had allowed it to close.
SANTA CRUZ 1860
Ex-slave Dave Boffman, called "Uncle Dave", was bilked out of his land and possessions by then Sheriff John R. Porter. Uncle Dave lost the suit because Negroes were not allowed to testify in court.
Back to the Introduction.
Copyright 1995 Phil Reader. Reproduced with the permission of the author. Photographs courtesy of Phil Reader.
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