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Archy Lee Slavery In California

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Bradis McGriff

Iris M Jerke

CAlifornia History

Everyone knew that slavery took place in the southern United States, but to this day few people know that slavery existed in the state of California. As far as African Americans as well as the rest of the country were concerned California was supposed to be a free state under state law because back in 1857 slavery had not been outlawed in the United States. In this piece of literature you will find out about African Americans in the state of California who were slaves, but most importantly you will find out about one man in particular who goes by the name of Archy Lee.

Archy Lee was born in 1840 in Mississippi. For the first seventeen years of his life, Archy and his family lived on his master's plantation in Mississippi. Archy Lee was 17 years old when Charles A. Stovall, his slave master, separated Archy from his mother, his sister and brothers and took him to Sacramento, California in 1857. Charles A. Stovall was hired as a teacher, and hired out his slave to do labor work for anyone in the community who needed a worker. Charles A. His master Mr. Stovall took the money that Archy Lee had worked all day long for away from him. Archy Lee was fed up with his slave master and he knew that in the state of California he was a free man, or so he thought. Stovall was outraged when he noticed that Archy Lee was missing. His slave was worth a lot of money, and he wanted Archy back because Archy was smart and was Mr. Stovall main income. Charles A. Stovall immediately called the local police and so the manhunt began for Archy Lee. Although there was slavery in the South, California was a supposed to be a free state when it was admitted to the Union in 1850. While state law did not protect slavery, neither did it free the slave. Negroes who wished to gain their freedom in California had to hope for a favorable interpretation of the law. Judges in the state who ruled unfavorably for the Negro cited the National Fugitive Slave Law and in some cases used language that anticipated the Dred Scott Decision. California, in fact, passed its own fugitive slave law in 1852. This was done to counteract the interpretation of some judges that the federal Fugitive Slave Law did not apply to masters who tried to force the return of their slaves to the South. The federal law was designed to catch runaway slaves, and it was obviously extremely unlikely that the Underground Railroad was transporting runaway Negroes to California in the 1850 's.

The fugitive slave issue kept the Negro community who lived in the state of California in a constant state of uncertainty due to the fact that they never knew rather or not they would be returned to slavery. Archy had discovered that he was in a free state, and he did not ever want to be anyone's slave again. Archy then ran into the hills and the forest and hid successfully for weeks surviving off of the water from the river, and off whatever food he could find. Eventually the day came when he was captured by the police and thrown in jail. Before the case went to court, the news of Archy's escape reached people throughout California and they couldn't believe the news so the African American citizens of the state of California did everything in their power to help Archy get his freedom. The Colored State Convention, composed of an active committee that worked for the rights of Black residents, hired a lawyer to represent Archy. The news also reached San Francisco about his escape and his day in court.

The following notice was posted on the Athenaeum, a Black library on Washington Street in San Francisco: "There will be a public meeting of the colored citizens, Friday Evening, 8:00 PM on March 5th, at the AME Zion Church" (Evening Bulletin News, 3/6/58). The purpose was to raise funds to hire the best lawyers, and it was a successful campaign.

There were several trials, and finally Archy was released. All In all Archy was sent to court eight times. Against Archy's own will Mr. Stovall forced him onto a ferry even though Archy was a free man. Charles A. Stovall's plan was to go to Angel Island and board a ship to take Archy back to Mississippi. At that time, there was no Bay Bridge or Golden Gate Bridge for horses or carriages to ride on. Travelers had to depend on the ferries or the steamers for transportation across the bay and this method of travel took a significant amount of time. Since San Francisco was the only port that had ships sailing to the Southern United States, the allegations against Mr. Stovall were that Stovall would bring Archy to the city of San Francisco on a boat. Mary Ellen Pleasant hired a ferry to meet the boat that would be carrying Archy when he arrived ashore in San Francisco. She had also donated large sums of money to fight for his freedom.

Lastly, there was word that Archy and Stovall had boarded the ferry and were on their way to San Francisco. In the middle of the night, people gathered along the shore, and the boat that Mary had hired was ready to pick up Archy and send him away to his freedom. Along with the ferry that Mary had waiting on Archy, the police were also on hand waiting in another boat offshore. As the ferry approached Archy jumped off the ferry into the water in order to escape. There was an uproar by the citizens who had gathered alongshore when they heard a plash, which was Archy. No one knew what had happened or if Archy had fell or had been pushed overboard, or if it were even Archy. However, the crowd would eventually find out that it was Archy who had jumped off the ferry. He had jumped to escape for his freedom, but the police, who had blocked the boat that Mary had hired, got to Archy first and immediately picked up Archy and placed him back in custody.

At this time the states Supreme Court was made up of three man: Chief Justice David Terry, and Associate Justices Peter H. Burnett and Stephen J. Field. All three of these men were democrats but Terry and Burnett were from the south and were hostile when it came down to the freedom of Negroes. Peter Burnett was in politics in Oregon before he came to California and up n Oregon he practiced anti Negro laws, especially toward free black males who had migrated to the west from the south. On Friday February 5th 1958 it would come down to Archy's lawyer against Stovall Lawyer and each of their presentations took one hour and a half. On Thursday February 11th the ruling came down that Archy was going to go back into Mr. Stovall's custody. Archy was freed again but nevertheless went back to court again and this time the case was a federal case.

Mary Ellen Pleasant took him to her boarding house on 920 Washington St. For the first time



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